October 31, 2017


Why There Was a Civil War : Some issues aren't amenable to deal making; some principles don't lend themselves to compromise. (YONI APPELBAUM, MAY 1, 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]he Civil War was fought over slavery. "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world," Mississippi declared as it seceded. "The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery," said Louisiana. "The servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations," insisted Texas.

And Lincoln understood it, too. "All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war," he said. "To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it."

The entirely uncontroversial consensus among professional historians is that slavery caused the war, although this conclusion has not reached much of the general public. Leaders like Jackson, then, only postponed the inevitable reckoning. It's still tempting, though, to believe that the Civil War might have been avoided, the loss of three-quarters-of-a-million lives averted, the bloodiest conflict in our history forestalled. And for a century, many of America's political leaders did everything in their power to turn a blind eye to the carnage of slavery, staving off sectional crises.

The first century of American history, in fact, can be told through the long litany of deals struck by strong leaders working to suppress, or at least delay, open conflict over slavery. The delegates in Philadelphia were deal makers; the Constitution they produced strengthened the federal government, but at the price of shielding slavery. The three-fifths compromise ensured the South would wield disproportionate power in the House and in presidential elections; the document protected the international slave trade for 20 years.

If some at the convention had hoped that compromise might buy enough time for slavery to pass out of existence on its own, they were disappointed. Instead, slavery--in all its horrifying brutality--became a cornerstone of American economic development. An ever-increasing number of human beings were held in bondage, their labor forcibly extracted, and their financial worth heavily leveraged.

Posted by at October 31, 2017 8:47 PM