Presidential Leadership caused the Civil War

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5fish

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I argue: Presidential leadership of the 1850's led to our Civil War in 1861.

Our nation was led by some of it poorest presidents in history during the 1850's. lets look at each one:

Fillmore: Appeasement describes the presidents time in office. All this man did along with Senator Douglas was appease the southern slave interest time and time again with the Compromise of 1850 to the Fugitive slave act.

Pierce: He brought us "popular sovereignty"and with this the Kansas Nebraska Act which led to Bleeding Kansas and open the west to slavery. He again sympathies with the South Slave interest.

Buchanan: He wanted to avoid the issue by conspiring with Chief Justice Taney on the Supreme Court to Appease the southern slave interest with the Dred Scott ruling open the west to slavery. He sat like Nero and watched our nation dissolve and did nothing to stop the south from seceding.

None the these presidents were from the south but all wanted to appease the southern slave interest and never learned from past presidents examples that when secession is threaten then a line must be draw in the sand.

These presidents appeasement behaviors embolden the secessionist moment in the 1850's which led to our Civil war in 1861.

We call the Compromise of 1850, Fugitive Slave Act, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act compromises but they were appeasements to the people who wealth came from slavery.

Every time the Southern leaders would never satisfied with these appeasement always whining for more.

Appeasement never works against vile behavior like slavery only drawing a line in the sand and making a stand on values works...

When our presidents are ranked by historians these three always ranked in the bottom ten...:frown:

Leadership does matter!!
 

ole

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These presidents appeasement behaviors embolden the secessionist moment in the 1850's which led to our Civil war in 1861
Perhaps, 5fish, but .... Appeasement can work ... sometimes ... now and then? Occasionally?

The first reaction of a a government, when faced with contrary goals of sections within it is to seek a compromise. That an offer of compromise might be considered appeasement is a risk run in order to achieve a compromise.

In our unique history, I don't recall when any one side has been able to ride roughshod over another and demand concessions. Close, maybe, but not without some give and take. Our most powerful presidents and Congressional leaders did have to resort to at least a little bit of trade-off to smooth the path to agreement. No one set scheme passes the people unscathed.

But then, I habitually figure the glass is half full -- but I know the bartender is skimming.

ole
 

Freddy

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I agree that the three occupiers of the White House prior to Lincoln did little to prevent the Civil War. They all should have listened to the prophetic words of their predecessor, Andrew Jackson. After the Nullification Crisis, which itself threatened the Union in 1831-1833, had subsided Jackson predicted that the Southerners were eventually going to form a confederacy. Too bad none of the three listened to Jackson's prediction.
From the link.

"The threat to the Union was over, and most Americans breathed a sigh of relief. Yet there were those who, like Jackson, had doubts that the new tariff would bring enduring sectional peace. In the spring of 1833, when some nullifiers denounced the new tariff and called for continued and unceasing efforts to protect the South and slavery from prejudicial legislation, Jackson predicted that the nullifiers, having failed to break up the Union on the tariff issue, would now grasp "the negro, or slavery question" as their "next pretext." Additional signs of restiveness in the South were evident among many Democrats, who considered Jackson an unreliable guardian of states' rights."

http://www.presidentprofiles.com/Washington-Johnson/Jackson-Andrew.html
 
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cedarstripper

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Fillmore: Appeasement describes the presidents time in office. All this man did along with Senator Douglas was appease the southern slave interest time and time again with the Compromise of 1850 to the Fugitive slave act.
Was the 1850 Compromise only an appeasement of the South, and had no appeal to the North, or to Unionists?

Cedarstripper
 

ole

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We need to remember that the nation was still getting used to the idea of democratic procedure. (I'm not sure that we are now all that comfortable with it.) The lack of foresight that 5fish bemoans is with us today. A hundred years from now, a forum of geeks will be wondering, "What were they thinking?"

ole
 
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Oxkern

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lack of foresight
Lack of foresight is often one of the curses of politics. Work to solve the immediate problem, and leave the consequences to your successor.

I like the idea of presidential leadership being the main cause of the war. Jackson's handling of the nullification crisis showed much political skill, especially as he was essentially seeing how far the powers of the executive could be pushed. Yet I wonder if only a character like Jackson would have the audacity to attempt such a move. Neustadt's classic definition of the main power of the president being 'that to persuade' seems rather apt.

Whether it's right for the president to act in such a way depends in part one's own conception of the role of the office. If we're arguing that presidential leadership was main cause of the war, are we not criticising the Congress for concentrating on regional and local issues rather than the national picture? Or would we expect a strong president to be able to show Congress the error of its ways?

More questions than answers, I'm afraid, but it should be fun to what we can make of the argument.
 

5fish

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These Presidents

In general there was no leadership from either these Presidents or congress in the 1850's on the issue of slavery or on the preservation of the union.

I will give congress a pass but not the Presidents of that period. I our political system the President sets the tone, the political priorities, and any precedents on an issue. The nation follows the direction the President is leading the nation in.

Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan set tones of appeasement, set priorities of Slavery is Okay, and the precedent of cowing to whatever the secessionist want.
The direction they led our nation in was one towards Civil War.

These Presidents from what little I have read never preach about the preserving the Union.

These Presidents compromise not to solve a slavery issue but to satisfy the moment and pass the issue on to the next guy.

These Presidents fail any test of leadership!


These Presidents empowered the Abolitionist to fill the void in leadership on slavery and antagonised the north with their Compromises which always gave into slavery demands.

Look at the bright side their poor leadership gave rise to the republican party which gave us Lincoln and leadership.
 

cedarstripper

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In general there was no leadership from either these Presidents or congress in the 1850's on the issue of slavery or on the preservation of the union.
I agree with your assessment when it comes primarily to Buchanan. Standing by while federal properties and assets were seized, while federal officers and politicians collaborated with sessionists, and while confederate forces inhabited states still in the Union, was not carrying out the duties of the office. (he should have started with his own cabinet) He simply passed the burden on to Lincoln. I'm just not as clear that the other two had as clear-cut opportunities to use their office to extinguish anti-union sentiment, since there were no other actual conventions called to secede.

As for appeasement, that animal has a lineage going back to the Declaration of Independence. Fillmore was continuing on with the works of Clay and Douglas, and a tradition of many of the politicians who had come before. Even the Fugitive Slave Act had its genesis in the US Constitution as a result of compromise between the sections.

Would you (or anyone) have some tangible events that you could ellaborate on where you think Fillmore should have acted more like a Jackson, or maybe a Washington?

Cedarstripper
 
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blue_zouave

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The lack of foresight that 5fish bemoans is with us today. A hundred years from now, a forum of geeks will be wondering, "What were they thinking?"

ole

Ole, the same thing exists in medicine, the retrospectoscope, used to scrutinize the past after a bad outcome.

Personally, I wonder what they're thinking right now.

Zou
 

M E Wolf

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Dear List Members,

It would be a case of "What If" again however, if there was the heavy hand of the Government and or Military Discipline; many of those to whom began to squirrel away/steal US Government property; be hunted down and caught--tried, and--if Military Justice was in jurisdiction, e.g. military personnel ... firing squads could have wiped out many a 'Confederate General' to be -- to include General Robert E. Lee, Longstreet, Hood, Gregg, Beauregard, Johnson, T. "Stonewall" Jackson, Bragg, etc.

I do believe it would have been a much different 'Civil War' if the career Army officers and men remained.

Could these future CSA Officers face death before the rebellion got to the stage of departing from the Union? [Smiles]

Just some thoughts.

Respectfully submitted for consideration,
M. E. Wolf
 
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5fish

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Avoiding!

Would you (or anyone) have some tangible events that you could ellaborate on where you think Fillmore should have acted more like a Jackson, or maybe a Washington?

Cedarstripper

In the what I have read these three Presidents avoid such event that would cause them to draw a line in the sand on the issue of slavery -Vs- preserving the union.

These guys would rather move the line then have a confrontation with the Southern Slavers.

A big issue in the 1850's was Cuba but it was over expanding slavery but not about secession.

These three Presidents detested the Abolitionist and had sympathy of the slave owners and again none of these guys were from southern states.

Peirce had an opportunity in Kansas like sending troops forcing the locals to support his "popular sovereignty" instead of killing each other. Peirce, it seems he mishandle this issue too.

These guys seemed to ignore the northern sentiment on the issue of slavery...

It seems to them avoiding conflict or confrontation was always the goal not resolving the issue.

Come down to poor Leadership....Hind sight is wonderful!
 

elektratig

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Confining myself to poor Millard Fillmore, I think the assertion is plainly wrong. I recently posted the following:

Was the Compromise of 1850 a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

In defending Millard Fillmore’s performance in helping to engineer the Compromise of 1850, I have encountered flack on several occasions. The objections do not focus on Millard or the efficacy of his efforts. Rather, the complaints are, in effect, that the Compromise was a Bad Thing, not a Good Thing; therefore, Fillmore should be blamed, rather than praised, for his actions.

The proposition that the Compromise was a Bad Thing, in turn, appears to rest upon two assertions. First, if the North had held firm, and not appeased the South, the South would have capitulated. There would have been no war, and indeed, a firm, uncompromising position might have utterly discredited the proto-secessionists, eliminating the threat of war in the future. In short, if the North had not caved, not only would there have been no war in 1850-51, there might have been no war in 1860-61, or ever.

The second sub-assertion is that, even if war would have resulted, well, that was a risk worth taking. The North defeated the South when the South foolishly seceded in 1860-61, and the North would have won if the crisis had come to blows ten years earlier.

Both of these are, in effect, “what if” questions, and as such not susceptible of definitive response. Nonetheless, I’m in the midst of rereading David M. Potter’s The Impending Crisis, and I’m sure that I can do no better that he in discussing these issues. (Also, I’m sure that Professor Potter’s opinions are far more persuasive than mine.) So here, brief, is Professor Potter.

On the first sub-issue, Professor Potter clearly believes that, if the Compromise had not been reached, war would likely have resulted. Professor Potter noted, with apparent sympathy, that “Daniel Webster was not alone in believing that ‘if General Taylor had lived, we should have had civil war.’” Several pages later, he made his position clear (emphasis added):

"No historian can declare with certitude [whether war would have resulted if the North had held firm]. What then can he say? He can say that in 1832 and again in 1861, people also faced crises in which some thought the danger of disunion was exaggerated, that it would die down if firmly handled and not encouraged by 'appeasement.' In 1832 this proved at least partially right, though concessions were certainly made; in 1861, it turned out to be wrong. Were the dangers of 1850 more like those of 1832 or of 1861? In my opinion, the evidence, on balance, indicates that by 1850 southern resistance to the free-soil position was so strong and widespread that if the Union were to be preserved, the South had either to be conciliated or to be coerced. It is true that disunionists in the South began to lose ground to the southern moderates long before the Compromise was enacted, but I believe this was because compromise was confidently expected and the South distinctly preferred compromise to disunion."

On the second sub-issue, Professor Potter is more equivocal, but he clearly has doubts as to whether the Union would have prevailed in a military conflict in 1850-51:

"If [Zachary Taylor] was wrong, his policy would have forced the North to face the supreme test of war for the Union before it had attained the preponderance of strength, or the technological sinews, or the conviction of national unity which enabled it to win the war that finally came in 1861.

* * *

"[T]he decade of delay was also a decade of growth in physical strength, cohesiveness, and technological resources which enabled the Union to face the supreme challenge far more effectively."

More fundamentally, Professor Potter points out that that, when war ultimately came, it was the concept of Union that bound the North together. He doubts whether an uncompromising stance in 1850, which sacrificed Union before all other options had been exhausted, would not have been fatal to the North – and to the goal of ultimate abolition:

"Even as for antislavery, it is difficult to see that the Compromise ultimately served the purpose of the antislavery idealists less well than it served those who cared primarily for peace and union, though it is easy to see why antislavery men found the medicine more distasteful. If, as Lincoln believed, the cause of freedom was linked with the cause of Union, a policy which dealt recklessly with the destiny of the Union could hardly have promoted the cause of freedom."

http://elektratig.blogspot.com/2008/04/was-compromise-of-1850-good-thing-or.html
 

5fish

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Elektratig!

The Compromise of 1850 was a bad thing as you put it. In that moment of history it may have keep the union together to only plants the seeds of dissolution for later.

It is like the treaty of Versailles that ended WWI just to plant the seeds of WWII later.

If The Compromise of 1850, was just about how to divide the lands out west and ending the slave trade in Washington D.C., It would have been a good thing.

It was the Fugitive Slave Act part that makes the Compromise of 1850 a bad thing. This one law radicalised the North against slavery.

The Fugitive Slave law embolden the Abolishion moment.

The Fugitive Slave law invaded all parts of Northern society driving many people into the anti-slavery moment. Who wouldn't have other wise.

The Fugitive Slave law was like forcing Southern slavery values on the Northern people.

The Compromise Of 1850 with the attached Fugitive Slave Act radicalised the North against slavery as much as the south was radicalised for slavery. In ten years with both sides radicalised an unwilling to find a compromise anymore the only choices left was either dissolution or slavery had to go.

If you look at it the Compromise of 1850 with that one attachment ignites the fuse of our Civil War in the 1860's.

The radicalisation of the North is what led to the Civil War and the three Presidents and congress of the 1850's did not realize it. Their only concern was to appease the Southern Salve interest and ignoring Northern anger....
 
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elektratig

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5fish,

Obviously, I agree that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a Bad Thing. If I'd been a legislator in 1850, I would have voted against it, or at least skulked in the hallways while that vote was taken (which is what many northern legilators did).

But I stand by my post: from a long-term, strategic standpoint, it was probably a Good Thing that the Compromise passed, because it is more likely than not that, otherwise, (a) a number of southern states would have seceded, and (b) the North would have been unwilling or unable to force them to return.
 

Freddy

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Jackson had serious doubts about making any concessions to the nullifiers. In hindsight he felt he should have told them to take it or leave it with the tariff and used the Force Bill to put down any nonsense by Calhoun and company. I think Jackson was right, but I also think he was not the same man who saved New Orleans and defeated the Creek and Seminoles. As Washington had to lead an army during the Whiskey Rebellion Jackson could settle for the nullifiers backing down over secession. If they had ever attempted it I am confident Jackson would have crushed them.
 

5fish

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Elektratig!

Eelektratig,

But I stand by my post: from a long-term, strategic standpoint, it was probably a Good Thing that the Compromise passed, because it is more likely than not that, otherwise, (a) a number of southern states would have seceded, and (b) the North would have been unwilling or unable to force them to return.

I think the Compromise of 1850 without the Fugitive Slave act would have done on harm, resolve the issue of the day but not resolve bigger problem of slavery and westward expansion.

I argue that Compromise of 1850 along with Fugitive Slave Act was a good thing not because it adverted secession and preserve the union.

The Compromise of 1850 was a good thing because it force the people of the Northern states to face up to slavery and take a position on it.

The Compromise of 1850 consolidates Northern opinion and made the people of the Northern states to come to a consensus on Slavery.

I can argue the the Compromise of 1850 unified the Northern States around anti-Slavery with this unification prepared them to fight the our Civil War as one nation.

The Compromise of 1850 was the KEY STONE of the Civil War.
 
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J_Man0507

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We need to remember that the nation was still getting used to the idea of democratic procedure. (I'm not sure that we are now all that comfortable with it.) The lack of foresight that 5fish bemoans is with us today. A hundred years from now, a forum of geeks will be wondering, "What were they thinking?"

ole
Ole, I like what you said here, because it is what I think is a key to the whole issue. If one wants be to really generic, you can divide United States history into two categories: before the Civil War and after the Civil War. This is, in fact, what most history classes do. But it is really, I think, a great idea, because the two periods are quite different.

The antebellum United States was still a nation politically trying to define itself. The government formed by the founders was one that had never been attempted before and was wholly different from anything else previous. The question still remained to be answered who had more power: the people, the states, these two combined, or the national government. It can be said that prior to the Civil War, the States had a far greater amount of say, than after. The national government became much more powerful after the war and has remained that way ever since. States still have rights, but they are far more defined, though there will always be issues pertaining to states rights.

But one issue that most likely faced all three of these presidents was states rights. And while I think that the presidents from Fillmore to Buchanan were practically failures, it isn't to say that things weren't done. You have the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1820 isn't working anymore, so they try to revamp it a little bit. The issue of slavery in Kansas and popular sovereignty (power to the people!) becomes an issue, and the Kansas-Nebraska act is signed. The government was still trying, I think, to find that balance between national and state power to solve this issue. Buchanan I think is the worst of the three, because he basically did nothing to stop the final schism that split the nation. He left it all in Lincoln's lap, for him to solve. Much like Clinton did to Bush, I think. We had chances to destroy one of the most dastardly terrorists, and we didn't take them. Clinton leaves, Bush comes in, and we get 9/11.

But to reiterate my point, it isn't necessarily failed leadership, though they did a pretty bad job and are three of the unknowns to most Americans, but an example of the American system still trying to define itself and find that perfect balance between state and national they were so desperately looking for.
 

OpnDownfall

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It was faulty leadersyhip of those Presidents that led directly to the Civil War. The mistakes of one fed into the mistakes of the others.
The basic problem, was the lack of political acumen and personalizing their administrations, to the detriment of the nation as a whole. They saw their administrations as the fount of eventual reconcilliation of the increasingly sectionalized polity of the country. When, in fact, they were actively trying to lead the United States against the their time. The march of western civilizations (or drift, if you will) Including the majority of the states and citizens of the U.S.A was towards increasing freedom. But the president's were looking to the past and trying to salve southern slave owners worries over the future of slavery, by trying to find ways to project (by protecting) slavery into the forseeeable future.
In retrospect, it is now obvious that to assuage the very real fears of one section without exciting the very real fears of the others. There was no middle ground, as Lincoln realized, when he gave voice to the truth that A house divided could not statnd.
Many people always like to think that Lincoln was a middle of the roader concerning slavery, he was not, he was on one of the extremes, Slavery must be extinquished. He was middle of the road only as to the means slavery was to be extinquished.
Neither were Lincoln's predecessors really middle of the roaders, they detested abolition (the wave of the future) and favored southern interests over national interests (the ebb tide) as an impossible panacea, for solving an increasingly virulent action-reaction division of America's society caused by slavery.
Lincoln's predecessorts bear a considerable load of the ultimate responsibility for the actions that led directly to war. They looked to the past rather than the future.

.
 
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