Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Emancipation as a Political-military strategy

Ben has posted my latest piece in my series on the Civil War for Ashbrook. The topic is emancipation as a part of Lincoln’s strategy.

I find Allan Guelzo’s argument very persuasive. Lincoln’s preferred approach to emancipation, which he hoped to implement at the beginning of his presidency, called for convincing the legislatures of the slave states to agree to gradual, compensated emancipation, and simultaneously convincing the Congress to provide the funds for compensation. After all, the states, not the federal government, had the consitutional authority to pass laws with regard to slavery.

For Lincoln’s scheme to work, slavery had to be excluded from the federal territories. That’s why he refused to compromise on the issue of slavery’s expansion.

Secession threw a wrench into Lincoln’s origional plan, so he modified his approach. Now success depended on a combination of military success on the one hand and acceptance of the plan by the loyal slave states on the other. Neither was forthcoming by the end of 1862.

Emancipation as a military measure, under Lincoln’s executive war power, was the best of the remaining alternatives--contraband, confiscation, and martial law emancipation. The Republicans paid a heavy political price in the elections of 1862, but the decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation was a critical element in saving the Union.

Let the food fight begin.

Discussions - 41 Comments

"The Republicans paid a heavy political price in the elections of 1862, but the decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation was a critical element in saving the Union."

Wait! How could that be? I thought the North was made up of nothing but purist egalitarian paragons of moral virtue? How could they possibly have been bothered by Lincoln's EP?

Who has EVER claimed that?! Historians for many, many years have attacked the northerners as a bunch of racists who did not enlist to free blacks but to save the Union. Whilst not true for every individual, that certainly was a sentiment. And, racist attitudes in the north are easily discoverable in numerous events in the war.

Attitudes changed when Union forces actually got down South, when they saw blacks with whipped backs, when they saw the scars, when they saw the instruments necessary for keeping other human beings in servitude. Letters home started to reflect a disgust, a moral outrage. And let's not forget the role that Uncle Tom's Cabin played as a catalyst for the struggle.

Union songs during the war often reflected their mission of liberation. Which is contrary to many an historian's view that the North fought only to preserve the Union. If that was the case, what then of songs like John Brown's Body for instance, and of course the great union anthem of the war. Southern soldiers remarked after the war what it was like hearing a Union army singing that song, 60,000 men belting out: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord ... As he died to make men holy, let us live to make them free, ... Our God is marching on." It was unnerving to say the least.

If you would like to learn more about the view from the Union ranks, check out VDH's THE SOUL OF BATTLE, Part II, on Sherman.

Fascinating reading. VDH at his very best, ................. and THAT'S saying something brother.

"Historians for many, many years have attacked the northerners as a bunch of racists who did not enlist to free blacks but to save the Union... And, racist attitudes in the north are easily discoverable in numerous events in the war."

Of course that is true, but the people who normally point out that inconvenient little fact are usually either radical leftists out to prove that "America was founded on the backs of slaves" or paleos and neo-Confederates who wish to point out that America was not founded on some egalitarian proposition.

Read Jaffa and the boys. It is all one big historical revision bases on the lie that Lincoln was fighting for some abstract proposition instead of for the shear raw retention of power.

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord ... As he died to make men holy, let us live to make them free, ... Our God is marching on."

A "Christian" song that was written by an apostate Unitarian, by the way. I'm sure that is what God wants. Troops marching to kill other people in His name for the purpose of advancing a liberal Unitarian kingdom.

You have to wonder about any army that marches into battle singing praises for a terrorist like John Brown. It is little wonder that Karl Marx sided with the Union. Or that Spanish Communists would fight under the name "The Lincoln Brigade."

I have to, however, give Owens credit for this latest installment. It's the only one so far where he doesn't spend all his time attacking some "Lost Cause" strawman.

Of course, with such thinking, conservatives in America ... all of them ... should be regard as fascist and racist because some parts of the fringe side with them (KKK, Christian Identity movement, etc).

Yeah, I know, it doesn't make good Southern Confederate propaganda when you actually apply such logic (or, rather lack thereof), Brutus.

Then again, the Civil War wasn't about slavery ... was it?

"The limitation of Slavery to its constitutional area, as proclaimed by the Republicans, was the distinct ground upon which the menace of Secession was first uttered in the House of Representatives on December 19, 1859. Mr. Singleton (Mississippi) having asked Mr. Curtis (Iowa), “if the Republican party would never let the South have another foot of slave territory while it remained in the Union,” and Mr. Curtis having responded in the affirmative, Mr. Singleton said this would dissolve the Union. His advice to Mississippi was the sooner it got out of the Union the better — “gentlemen should recollect that [ ... ] Jefferson Davis led our forces in Mexico, and [...] still he lives, perhaps to lead the Southern army.” Quite apart from the economical law which makes the diffusion of Slavery a vital condition for its maintenance within its constitutional areas, the leaders of the South had never deceived themselves as to its necessity for keeping up their political sway over the United States. John Calhoun, in the defense of his propositions to the Senate, stated distinctly on Feb. 19, 1847, “that the Senate was the only balance of power left to the South in the Government,” and that the creation of new Slave States had become necessary “for the retention of the equipoise of power in the Senate.” Moreover, the Oligarchy of the 300,000 slave-owners could not even maintain their sway at home save by constantly throwing out to their white plebeians the bait of prospective conquests within and without the frontiers of the United States."

- Karl Marx, 'The American Question in England', New-York Daily Tribune, October 11, 1861

Ironic, isn't it that even Marx recognizes this, but the supposed freedom loving South didn't?

I have yet to see any arguments put forth by those who wish the South had successfully broken away from/left the Union which come anywhere near as thorough and satisfying as those put forth by Owens. That said, I always find it much more interesting to hear the anti-Federalists make actual arguments rather than attack a phrase Owens uses throughout his factful essays.

Thank you Dale for proving my point exactly. Now you admit that your interpretation of the War for Southern Independence is the exact same one put forward by Karl Marx!

And now let's look at what a reasonable conservative like Lord Acton said about the war. He wrote the following to Robert E. Lee.

"Without presuming to decide the purely legal question, on which it seems evident to me from Madison's and Hamilton's papers that the Fathers of the Constitution were not agreed, I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo."

"If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the government, is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority, in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments, are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this. Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?

"Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left."

Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address

The crux of the debate over the alleged right of American states to secede centers on the notion of the federal government as an alliance or league of states rather than a real national government whose actions stand as "the supreme law of the land"; or as Lincoln put it, "if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely."

Didn't Mac Owens say he was a Southerner? The man must really have some issues with his family of origin to take up the fight for the enemy the way he does. The enemy who murdered his ancestors and invaded his homeland. I find that disrespectful, ungrateful and traitorous. Which sounds better, Mac "Vichy" Owens or Mac "Judas" Owens?

Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus and enacted Marshall Law in the North during the War for Southern Independence or during the North's Invasion of the South. Lincoln used the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus to throw approximately 13,000 people into prison, shut down approximately 200 newspapers and had Ohio Congressman Vallandigham arrested for a speech he gave a few days earlier denouncing the war as “wicked, cruel and unnecessary.” A military commission found Vallandigham guilty of “declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions,” and sentences him to prison for the duration of the war.

The civilians thrown into prision and the newspapers shutdown by Lincoln were protesting and writing articles about the fact that Lincoln had no Constitutional right to invade the South for seceeding from the Union. No one was ever thrown into jail for supporting slavery.

Moreover, it might have been nice if Lincoln persuaded his main War General - General Grant - to release his slaves at the time of the EP of 1862. This might have given the impression that Lincoln and his military staff did not support slavery. At the end of the War when Grant was asked if he was going to free his slaves, he replied "Good help is hard to find". Also, General Lee the South's main military guy did not own slaves - he was a career officer in the military.

Lincoln support the Illinois Fugitive Slave act and many times during his presidential debates sat on the fence (much like Ms. Clinton) on the issue of slavery. Lincoln was a "student" of Henry Clay - who believe in a strong central government. Lincoln believe things like the government should control the banks, railroads, etc.

One might look to the state of the money situation in Washington DC at the time of succession. Lincoln's federal government had a budget of about $120 million per year. Since things like property and personal income taxes did not exist, the federal government's main source of income was from tarrifs. $90 million of the fed's budget came from the South while only $30 million came from the North. Lincoln poured millions of federal dollars into the industrialization of the North and looked down on trying to move the south forward out of slavery. If the South left the Union, Lincoln would no longer have his strong, central federal government. Slavery might have been one of the issues of the War for Southern Independence, but it was not the cause. Greed and power wins every time.

Lucas Moral raises some good points, as usual. But if secession is the
"essence of anarchy" that means that Lee and Davis were anarchists, and I just don't see that as a serious argument.

Ah, the old secession equals anarchy canard. Of course all statists and tyrants would love us to believe that. Do you get the fundamental perversity of that? The breaking of a political bond is tantamount to no government at all. Of course this is rank foolishness. That suggests that had the South seceded there would have been anarchy in the South (and North). Does anyone really believe that?

In fact, most modern secession and self-determination efforts are philosophically leftist. (I think in effect they would all be rightist.) Quebec, Vermont, +/- Scotland, etc. If Quebec broke away would there be anarchy in Quebec? Actually it would be more Socialist than it already is. Ditto Vermont.

I have had people tell me that Vermont can't secede because they would become a socialist republic, and that would be unfair to the conservative loyalist that remain there. In other words, we must protect these loyal conservatives from their socialist neighbors who wish to secede. Well you can't have it both ways. Secession can't both equal anarchy and mean the advent of socialism.

Well then. On another thread I was called a "pimp" for the Federalist state. Now, Mr. "Real Conservative" calls me a traitor to my region, or even worse, "Judas." I think the word you were looking for is "apostate." Of course from the standpoint of the true believer, nothing is worse than apostasy, but I prefer Mac "Road to Damascus" Owens.

The idea that I am a traitor to my region is based on the false idea that the South was unified during the rebellion. It was not. Unionists and pro-secessionists fought a vicious civil war within the Civil War. As I mentioned in an earlier post, every Confederate state with the exception of South Carolina provided at least one regiment of white troops to the Union cause.

But my people were not Unionists. They were secesh. My Texas forebears fought with Hood and my Maryland ancestors fought with Confederate Maryland units or crossed into Virginia. Some of the latter rode with Jeb Stuart. I grew up in a household that revered Lee and Jackson, though not Jefferson Davis--he was blamed for the Confederate defeat in my neck of the woods.

I imbibed the Lost Cause narrative and grew up believing, among other things, that the war had nothing to do with slavery. “States' Rights” was my mantra. My "Road to Damascus" moment came when I discovered what advocates of secession were saying before the war, as opposed to afterwards. After the war, the Confederate apologists stressed states' rights and constitutionalism. But that's not what they were saying before the war. Read the secession documents. Slavery was the central issue. Read Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion. Secession was driven by the imperative to protect the institution of slavery. All the states’ rights jibber-jabber and “constitutionalism” rhetoric of the apologists for secession were just window dressing.


My husband is a distanct relative of General Pierre Gustav Tustant Beauregard and The War for Southern Independence is a weekly topic in our house.

I strongly suggest you read Shelby Foote's Civil War Triology. This may uncloud your foggy vision on the War for Southern Independence. By the way, 85% of the Confederate Soldiers killed in the War were not slave owners. Only 6% of the population in the south owned slaves, with the average slave owner owning about 4 slaves. Very rarely did slave owners own huge amounts of slaves. Hollywood has done a complete injustice to Southern Slavery. If the War was about Slavery then why did Lincoln order the burning and pillage of every southern farm on Sherman's way into Atlanta? Even farms that never owned slaves? Because Lincoln was determined to punish the south for sececession. Again, Lincoln at on the fence on slavery until his union army started to lose the way... And if Lincoln was so against slavery, why did he not free all the slaves in his EP act of 1862 - Read the EP - it only freed the slaves in the south that WERE NOT under Northern occupation. Sorry to place the cause of the War on slavery is to do disservice to the history of this country.

This is for Cowgirl ... well ... for Brutus and pretty much Southern true believer of the Lost Cause ...

"In some of them it had been thirty years or more since the reign of the carpetbaggers, but the legend of Reconstruction was revived, refurbished, and relived by the propagandists as if it were an immediate background of the current crisis. A new generation of Southerners was as forcibly impressed with the sectional trauma as if they had lived through it themselves. Symbols and paraphernalia of the Redemption were patched up and and donned by twentieth-wearers."

- C. Vann Woodward, 'The Strange Career of Jim Crow', Oxford University Press, 2002, originally published in 1955, pages 85-86

This is for Dale...
You are pretty adept at quoting from books, however, I see a real lack of facts from your posts. No real sense of what really happened. Again, Shelby Foote's Civil War Triology maybe a great enlightment for you.

Drar Ms. Cowgirl

Shelby Foote was a fine gentleman and a wonderful writer. I read his trilogy many years ago, and while it is entertaining, it is hardly definitive. He was, after all, a novelist. It's rather like follks reading Michael Shaara's Killer Angels and thinking they know the whoe story of Gettysburg.

One source does not give you a "real sense of what really happened." I conclude from your posts that you have a set of beliefs and that no facts are going to sway you from those beliefs.

The purpose of my series is to provide an overview of the war for non-specialists. It is based on courses that I have taught for years. I am pretty well acquainted with the events about whihc I write. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation. I commend you at least for not calling me a "traitor" to the South like one of the other commenters.

“The North had a much more difficult time defining its war aims than the South. The aims of the South were firm and obvious from the start and remained constant until rendered hopeless —-the establishment and defense of independence. The North moved gradually and gropingly toward a definition of its war aims. Its progress was obstructed by doubt and misgiving and characterized by much backing and filling. The debate and the outcome were shaped by the course of the war itself, by military necessities, foreign propaganda needs, and domestic morale demands, as well as by the exigencies of party politics and political ambitions.”

C. Vann Woodward, _The Burden of Southern History_, pp. 69-70.

What's that the South fought for again? Oh yes, "the establishment and defense of independence." Where does one fit the Emancipation Proclamation in all this? I think "foreign propaganda needs" would be a pretty good place.

As for post 19 above let's think about that quote for a moment. Woodward is arguing that 30 years after the end of Reconstruction southerners patched up the red shirts of the Redeemers and used their legacy to push for legalized segregation and formalized disfranchisement.

So that means that Southerners waited until roughly 1907 to start pushing through an agenda that existed in the North before the Civil War began. What does any of that have to do with the war aims of the Confederacy? Absolutely nothing.

I have had people tell me that Vermont can't secede because they would become a socialist republic, and that would be unfair to the conservative loyalist that remain there. In other words, we must protect these loyal conservatives from their socialist neighbors who wish to secede. Well you can't have it both ways. Secession can't both equal anarchy and mean the advent of socialism.

Actually, it can. Secession in theory tends toward anarchy, but in practice someone with guns will inevitably step in and prevent secession from going beyond a certain point. Suppose that Vermont seceded, and then, while in the process of creating a socialist paradise, part of the state decided to break away from the rest. Would the now-sovereign government of Vermont allow that to happen? Would the Confederate State of Tennessee have allowed its pro-Union eastern half to break away? Would the Confederate State of Virginia have allowed West Virginia to break away to remain in the Union, had Union forces not occupited the region?

"For Lincoln’s scheme to work, slavery had to be excluded from the federal territories. That’s why he refused to compromise on the issue of slavery’s expansion."

The reason why the Republicans wanted to ban slavery from the territories is because their constituents did not want any competition from black labor. Several free state Constitutions, including the one put up by anti-slavery forces in Kansas, banned not only slavery but even the immigration of free blacks.

Owen's argument does not make sense here. If the federal government had the power to ban slavery from the territories then it would also have the power to compensate slave owners who brought their slaves into those territories.

In response to post 24, I would direct Moser to look at Article IV, Section 3 of both the United States Constitution and the Confederate Constitution. They both say the exact same thing on this subject:

" new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned, as well as of the Congress."

West Virginia is an unconstitutional abomination that the Republican-dominated Congress allowed into the Union as a cheap way to get Lincoln a few additional electoral votes. The Republicans thereby demonstrated their contempt for both the Constitution of the United States and for their very own theory that the states of the Confederacy never actually left the Union.


Virginia, as Lincoln argued, had never left the Union but its legislature was in the hands of rebels. The LEGITIMATE state legislature of Virginia, not the rebels in Richmond, gave their consent to the separation of the western part of the state and its admission into the Union.

Darn those pesky facts ...

They get in the way of good propaganda everytime!

As I demonstrated on another thread, Brutus, Woodward clearly stated that while segregation started in the North, the beginnings of it were already in place in the South before it become an institution.

So, again, your argument is invalid ... bogus.

And where did this so-called "legitimate" legislature meet, in Lincoln's living room? Give me a break. How can a legislature be legitimate if the people of the state do not support it?

And Dale, why don't you go learn something about the logical fallacy known as the "straw man."

Yet apparently the wishes of the people of western Virginia (or, presumably, eastern Tennessee) were not to be given such consideration.

That's right, under both Constitutions they explicitly receive no consideration. Don't blame me, blame the framers.

This whole mini-fracas about West Virginia also demonstrates a larger truth: Lincoln and his fellow Republicans conveniently forgot their "secession equals anarchy" argument once they saw an opportunity for a few additional electoral votes. Even when, unlike the secession of a state, the Constitution explicitly forbids the breaking up of a state without the consent of that state's legislature.

Brutus, we already know that you are good at knocking down straw men.

You know, the tensions between the eastern and western portions of Virginia were stewing long before it was spit. Even Thomas Jefferson was involved for a time.

So, was this just another supposed example of Lincoln grabbing power as Brutus and his gang like to call it or was this a bit more than some like to portray it?

Ho hum ... who cares about facts, though?

Do you mean the fact that you agree with Marx’s interpretation of the war? Or the fact that Lincoln and the Republicans supported secession when it was the secession of counties, but not of states? Or how about the fact that Lincoln’s own Illinois, like Kansas, banned the migration of free blacks? Perhaps you mean the fact that you think getting the last word means winning? I have never seen a Civil War thread in which you don’t make the last post. Don’t you think that is odd? I’ll bet you do it here as well…

I should add one more fact: the first four lines of comment 35 are yet another straw man courtesy of our friend Dale.

Did anyone suggest that the two halves of Virginia had not had long-running tensions regarding a variety of issues? No. No one suggested any such thing.

I am certainly as aware of the 1829-1830 apportionment debate as anyone else. I've even read the book Dickson Bruce wrote on the subject. So why put up the straw man suggesting that I implied that such tensions did not exist until Lincoln took advantage of them? Why?

No, Brutus, I am not knocking down a staw man, you are and have done so tirelessly.

Boiling things down to the point that you make Lincoln appear nothing more than a power hungry tyrant in every situation and the reason for all the ills of that time period and beyond is the perfect example of the straw man argument.

Trying to connect Marx's political and social views to the Civil War and the supporters of the North because of his generally correct view on why it happened is a variant of the same

No, Brutus, what I have done on this thread and others is not even close to a straw man argument.

Maybe you are projecting ... hmmmm?

A straw man argument consists of misrepresenting what your opponent says. You claim he says something that he does not say, then you tear down that fake argument.

Now I've have addressed a number of specific issues in this thread: the position of the Republican party on the migration of free blacks to the west; the position of the Republican party on the question of the secession of West Virginia; Marx's position on the War for Southern Independence. You can take those arguments or leave them. I don't care.

But I challenge you to find a place where I make this argument that you, employing the straw man fallacy, attribute to me: "Lincoln was nothing but a power-mad tyrannt who was responsible for all the ills of his time as well as ours."

Dale, on many occasions I have used a snarky tone with you. I have insulted you personally. And I want to take this occasion to withdraw every single one of those insults. I ask for your forgiveness. That's my apology. I was not raised to talk to people that way and, frankly, I'm ashamed that I have done it. But I'm not backing down on any of the substantive issues.

Brutus, Dale

Ah, civility. It's a beautiful thing!

Funny, I was taught in grammar school that the Civil War was about slavery. Period, end of sentence. That is what I believed for many years - by the way I am a native Californian and have lived there most of my life. Abounding political correctness in Califoria dictates presenting the Civil War as a war about slavery - no other cause, facts or issues are presented as that would hurt someone's feelings. However, I took it upon myself with encouragement from my husband to read the "Southern View" of the War. I have read many, many fine books about the war - from many sides. However, it is quite obvious from reading those many books that there was MORE to the War for Southern Independence thanjust slavery. Many people look at Lincoln as a great president - why - because they were not alive during his presidency... After all he won the presidency much like Bill Clinton - with 40% or so of the vote. When Lincoln enacted the EP, 10% of the Northern Army hit the road.... They would not fight a war to help the slaves. Furthermore, it would have been quite helpful to the slaves if Lincoln would have had some type of plan for helping slaves aclimate to the new found freedom. This did not happen because Lincoln cared only for keeping the Union together. Thus the freed slaves had even a harder time surviving once they were freed. As far as calling you a "Traitor" I find no logical reason to call someone names when trying to debate an issue. I find facts more helpful than name calling.

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