Net: For those who didn’t follow us in the spring, on June 3 a debate erupted over the origins of the Civil War after a Network commemoration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birthday. Our original respondent, Hey Jude, has replied. In the spirit of public debate, we offer her comments.
From Hey Jude: Hey Almighty Network. Listen, the Civil War would never have been fought if the issue was as easy as whether slavery was moral or immoral. Net: True, but your original statement was “The Civil war was not fought over slavery.” Period. And that’s wrong. The South knew it had to move its economy away from a slave-based one, and it was. The South’s importation of slaves had dropped off, and the agrarian economy of the South was using more and more mass production and manufacturing techniques, thus lessening the number of slaves needed. The Supreme Court reined in and stopped the growth of slavery in the territories and new states. Net: Right — which led southerners to move to territories like “Bleeding Kansas” and kill people for the right to own slaves in the territories under popular sovereignty.
It was unmistakable that the times were changing — Southerners could see that and were changing; but they were going to do it on their time scale, and not because the federal government told them to. Net: And now you know why David Koresh was based in Waco, not Olympia.
While I don’t think all in the South took this noble anti-federalist position Net: Noble? Maybe if you’re Newt Gingrich, in the tradition of other great anti-federalists such as Thomas Jefferson Net: Slave owner and James Madison, because they really believed it but because they were protecting an institution that had lined their pockets for generations; I do believe that Jefferson Davis and Robert Lee, along with the other great anti-federalists, honestly believed the anti-federalist stance. Net: And we wholeheartedly agree. We aren’t necessarily disagreeing here. We do have different points of emphasis. But we understand the validity of your interpretation.
Lincoln was elected by the “little tenters” in the Republican Party on the position that the federal government could set a national domestic policy for the states on the issue of whether the South could use slave labor. I’ll give you that. Net: Thanks.
Remembering my original premise that the Civil War was fought over federalism, that takes us to why wars occur. All wars occur because the leaders of two or more nations or governments have an argument, in this case Lincoln and Davis arguing over federalism. Net: That seems simplistic. Lincoln and Davis weren’t totalitarian leaders. They needed popular support to start the war, and the public understood racism a lot better than federalism. You seem to lean toward their being a necessary threshold of the quantification of some arbitrary reasons for a war to occur, and you’re wrong. Net: We’re not saying that at all. We’re just saying that reality is more compelling than principle. All wars occur because leaders (usually men) Net: Except the Falklands have a disagreement — the reasons for the disagreement range between the trivial to the dire. There is no formula for why war occurs.
As you so eloquently stated, “… 750,000 Americans died simply over interpretation of the Constitution…” is correct; people fight and die in wars because their leaders tell them to. It is sad that 750,000 Americans had to lose their lives, but I don’t think the South would have been able to shrug off the evil of slavery — it was too ingrained into the culture and economy, without war. Net: Wait a minute — didn’t you say earlier that the South was moving away? Which one is it? Any other opinions out there? We know full well that several of our arguments can be torn apart. That’s the beauty of historical debate. We don’t know why things happen. But it’s good to make the attempt. It’s the soul of Academe. Have a great day.