Should the Founders Be Blamed for the Civil War?

Should the Founders be blamed for the Civil War?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Partially


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Horrido67

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Sep 29, 2019
Huh? I have to be reading this wrong. There is no way anyone believes the colonies did not know they were under British control considering, oh I don't know, the founding colonial charters pretty much spelled it out with ink.

My bad, Mr. Huskerblitz. Probably I did not make myself clear. English is not my first language and I make grammatical errors here and there.

The 13 American colonies did not signed up for royal charters like at their will, did they? They were 'granted' a right to be a colony. Is it correct to assume that it was an entirely different process with ratifying a constitution that those colonies did later on? Therefore, American Revolution was not unilateral secession, but more of rebellion against the Crown.
 

huskerblitz

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Location
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My bad, Mr. Huskerblitz. Probably I did not make myself clear. English is not my first language and I make grammatical errors here and there.
Fair enough. I teach some refugee students so I know how challenging English can be. No harm, no foul.

The 13 American colonies did not signed up for royal charters like at their will, did they? They were 'granted' a right to be a colony. Is it correct to assume that it was an entirely different process with ratifying a constitution that those colonies did later on? Therefore, American Revolution was not unilateral secession, but more of rebellion against the Crown.
Meh, it depends. Some colonies were royal from the beginning, some were proprietary colonies and lost that status when they began to struggle financially. And of course, the charter colonies had to get their charter from the British government in the first place. Keep in mind, even up to a bit after 1776, the colonists were proud British citizens. Heck, that's why they rebelled because they felt their status of being full British citizens and protected by the English Bill of Rights were being violated. So, yes, they were a complete rebellion against the Crown, and not what I would describe as unilateral secession. In that, sir, we are in agreement.
 

Horrido67

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Joined
Sep 29, 2019
Fair enough. I teach some refugee students so I know how challenging English can be. No harm, no foul.

Thank you for your understanding, Mr. Huskerblitz.

Even up to a bit after 1776, the colonists were proud British citizens. Heck, that's why they rebelled because they felt their status of being full British citizens and protected by the English Bill of Rights were being violated.

That's interesting. I have heard that Benjamin Franklin felt proud to be British up until he was effectively treated as a second class citizen by British for being from a colony in the UK. Was there any moment that the Southern Oligarchy felt the same? Also, I've been told that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 greatly offended Free states.

Is it fair to say the issue of slavery helped each section of America to develop some sort of nationalism?
 

huskerblitz

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Nebraska
That's interesting. I have heard that Benjamin Franklin felt proud to be British up until he was effectively treated as a second class citizen by British for being from a colony in the UK. Was there any moment that the Southern Oligarchy felt the same? Also, I've been told that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 greatly offended Free states.

Is it fair to say the issue of slavery helped each section of America to develop some sort of nationalism?
Yes, the Fugitive Slave Act was not popular in the North because now they were forced to return escaped blacks to the South, but that could also mean free blacks that lived in the North as well if they were suspected of being a fugitive slave.

The Southern slave states felt they were being oppressed or was going to be oppressed by laws the new Republican Party was threatening to pass in Congress. When Lincoln, a Republican candidate, was elected, for the the South it was like a bull horn announcing slavery was doomed. Of course, this does run counter to what Lincoln said he was going to do and not do, but regardless the Southern states felt Lincoln was not to be trusted.
 

dwarflord

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Joined
Jul 6, 2017
Good post, but here's an interesting follow-up:

Did any state have the right to assume nothing could be changed? Didn't the very structure of the Constitution provide the mechanisms for change, as one of its primary features?

Nowhere in the Constitution does it proclaim that anything contained therein is beyond amendment. Not even the Bill of Rights (scary thought there, folks). This 'everything is fair game' concept is what makes the Crittenden Compromise offer so interesting to discuss.

There were reasonable expectations of what WAS included, at the time of ratification. Those expectations were met.

But think for a minute. Constitutionally speaking, anything contained within the Constitution is open to change, within the mechanisms provided and with the appropriate processes followed. It's not willy-nilly nor easy (it's intentionally difficult, in fact), but it is in there.

Did the slave owners who ran the slave states have any 'reasonable' expectation that slavery could never be a constitutional issue?

Even if the majority no longer wanted it?

Obviously the slave states thought so (duh). But there's nothing actually in the Constitution itself that guarantees inviolability to any provision therein. In fact, the Constitution is built to accommodate change - even radical change (albeit slowly and with difficulty).

I raise this only in the context of the OP's question: the FF did not put in a Crittenden Compromise style proviso granting inviolability to slavery. They acknowledged its existence, counted its members, but also ended its importation. Clearly over the years, the slave states politically fought (as was their right) for each aspect of slavery they wished to defend.

But I come back to the follow-up question: based on how the Constitution is actually written, did the slave states honestly have a 'reasonable' expectation that slavery was completely inviolable?

If Yes, well it isn't in the document. If No, then they should expect to be subject to the will of the people as expressed through voting (and the mechanisms established by the Constitution). This is why they panicked at their loss of political control (which demographics backed by world opinion was making inevitable anyway).

And thus to the OP's original question: if we fault the FF for not either ending slavery, or making it inviolable, then they are at fault. I think that's a bridge too far myself.

Just my thoughts.

- K.
When it comes to making an amendment to throw out a previous amendment. That is a right that congress took at the time of amendment 21 took. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say they have the right to over rule and throw out a previous amendment. I believe when the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights, they weren't saying this is what we say is the law. They were saying we verify these are rights from God that no government has the right to mess with. I do believe they even discussed that some where in their writings.
 

Jody Hoffman

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Joined
Nov 7, 2019
View attachment 320378
Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison.
The American Civil War is at the heart of the mid-19th century and this forum has numerous threads dedicated to how our Victorian friends dealt with it. I recently enjoyed a visit to Montpelier and since have enjoyed contemplating some of James Madison’s writings and their implications (if any) on the Civil War. Should Madison and the other Founders be blamed for the Civil War?

I think the Constitutional Convention likely had enough to do without trying to solve the complicated issue of slavery. Slavery was already 168 years old as a North American institution. The Founders no doubt had their hands full just trying to unite half a continent under a singular government. Nonetheless this question hangs over the head of men such as James Madison. In the Virginia Resolutions written by James Madison he says that the states "have the right of political protest." Did our Confederate ancestors think he was trying to assert more?

I certainly don't place all the blame for the Civil War on James Madison or his contemporaries, the Founding Fathers. However, I think they may have sowed a few seeds. What do you think folks in the late 19th century would have said about that? Share your opinions, but please remember to view it from the perspective of a 19th century citizen and not as yourself today.

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(Had to include this pic for @USS ALASKA and our other CWT railroad fans.)
Maybe I should have asked President Madison instead of reading over his shoulder. :giggle:
Jefferson wrote that "slavery is like holding a wolf by the ears, you didn't like it but you didn't dare let it go" when you own hundreds or thousands of acres of land, you need to plant crops and it's all done by hand you needed dozens of people. What was cheaper, feeding,clothing & housing slaves or paying workers? It was a matter of economics.
 
Joined
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Location
mo
Yes, the Fugitive Slave Act was not popular in the North because now they were forced to return escaped blacks to the South, but that could also mean free blacks that lived in the North as well if they were suspected of being a fugitive slave.

The Southern slave states felt they were being oppressed or was going to be oppressed by laws the new Republican Party was threatening to pass in Congress. When Lincoln, a Republican candidate, was elected, for the the South it was like a bull horn announcing slavery was doomed. Of course, this does run counter to what Lincoln said he was going to do and not do, but regardless the Southern states felt Lincoln was not to be trusted.
To some degree, both sides viewed the slavery issue as an assault on liberty

The best comparison would be the 2nd amendment, while not as expressly stated as the 2nd amendment, slavery was included in the Constitution with the FSL and 3/5th representation. So just at through history any effort to ban or limit the right to bear arms is viewed as an assault on a constitutionally protected liberty by many. To the south any effort to limit or ban slavery was a comparable assault on liberty and the Constitution
 
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Dead Parrott

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 30, 2019
To some degree, both sides viewed the slavery issue as an assault on liberty

The best comparison would be the 2nd amendment, while not as expressly stated as the 2nd amendment, slavery was included in the Constitution with the FSL and 3/5th representation. So just at today any effort to ban or limit the right to bear arms is viewed as an assault of constitutionally protected liberty by many. To the south any effort to limit or ban slavery was a comparable assault on liberty and the Consitution

I think its fair to say that issues regarding the boundaries of state vs federal power existed and remained to be defined in the 19th century across several issues.

I think it a bit disingenuous to suggest that Slavery was 'just another one' of those issues. All by itself, it was 'the' issue.

Far too much contemporary evidence to say otherwise.

But it is fair to say clarifications of some of the state\federal boundary lines were political topics in the 19th century.
 
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mo
I think its fair to say that issues regarding the boundaries of state vs federal power existed and remained to be defined in the 19th century across several issues.

I think it a bit disingenuous to suggest that Slavery was 'just another one' of those issues. All by itself, it was 'the' issue.

Far too much contemporary evidence to say otherwise.

But it is fair to say clarifications of some of the state\federal boundary lines were political topics in the 19th century.
I never viewed it this way till I read Nicole Etchison Bleeding Kansas Contested Liberty in the Civil War, I thought she makes very good case how Abolitionists, Free Staters (not necessarily abolitionist) and the pro slavery factions all viewed it as a matter of liberty

Its a question of whose liberty. Whether the slaves, poor whites especially among the immigrant class , or proslavery

 

kieran

Cadet
Joined
Nov 17, 2019
@Eleanor Rose that is a super question, and one that takes some really in depth soul searching thinking on my part.

They needed to form a nation, but did they need the colonies/states/nations that pushed for slavery? They made a compromise to include slavery to forge a new nation. "All men are created equal", but IIRC 41 signers of the Declaration of Independence held slaves. Thomas Jefferson, was against slavery, so he said, yet owned slaves. Several other men throughout the early part of our nation's growth also said they were against slavery, yet held slaves. It really is a delicate and confusing part of our history.

The morally correct thing to have done was to abolish slavery or not make a compromise with those states with slavery that would not join the other colonies/states/nations in forming the start of our great nation..........

If they truly believed in "All Men are created equal" then they should not have made the compromise................So I have to blame them for leaving the door open that led to the War for Southern Independence.

Respectfully,
William

One Nation,
Two countries
View attachment 320420
your sweeping statement that some of the signatories to your constitution had slaves but there was a man of his word "all men are created equal".he signed and freed his only slave.
l.o.l.kieran in ireland
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
Holding slaves was all about liberty. That would be funny if it wasn't a centuries long blood soaked horror show.

Nobody gave a fig about the Constitution, any more than they did with the Bible. Very important, foundational texts for our nation and civilization, where you ignore the parts you don't like and cited the one you do like. Slave owners threw "states' rights" over the side along with the Bill of Rights when they came in conflict with the prerogatives of slave owning. They fished them out again and waved them about when slavery was helped by "states' rights.' Then they threw them back into the drink when slavery required a strong federal government.

They're not hypocrites or inconsistent. They consistently defended and extended the institution of chattel slavery.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The founders had enough to do. It was not clear that a paid labor nation could succeed and grow, and no one knew if slavery would endure. The problem was not clearly defined in 1787. In 1787 the problem was not So. Carolina and Georgia, it was that Virginia was not ready to adopt a more stable system.
At the time of the Louisiana purchase, and at the time of the Missouri compromise, if the Northwest Ordinance could not be modified and slavery kept out of the Trans-Mississippi, the two sections should have separated until there was a clear dominant section.
Including Texas as a state permitting slavery was virtually certain to cause a complete rupture and I think they knew it at the time.
 
Joined
Aug 4, 2019
I must report my position that the Founders were of a mixed sort. There were those who were involved in the acts of slave holding who enter rebellion to preserve slavery as their goal. They saw the British as an evolving state of abolitionists. There were those who enter rebellion for an overthrow of the Monarchy and establish a Republic as their goal with more of a political ideological motivation. These colonists quietly entered a compromise that the issue of slavery was not be an issue in the Rebellion and the can was kicked down the road for future generations to deal with. One could claim they were partially responsible for a future American Civil War because they would not deal with the issue at time they were responsible.
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
At the time of the Missouri Compromise, if the slave owning interests insisted on protecting slavery in Missouri, the game was up.
The US should have become a paid labor nation, with no states involved that did not have a New Jersey style plan for abolition. That would have been a smaller nation, but it would have put made the issue clear. It might slowed growth in the US, or it might have started trans Atlantic voluntary immigration sooner. But there would have been no mistaking what the issues were. The capital would have been moved at the US would not have propping up slavery in Maryland and Virginia with the national capital and the paid labor states would not have been involved in the US/Mexican war.
 
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mo
Holding slaves was all about liberty. That would be funny if it wasn't a centuries long blood soaked horror show.

Nobody gave a fig about the Constitution, any more than they did with the Bible. Very important, foundational texts for our nation and civilization, where you ignore the parts you don't like and cited the one you do like. Slave owners threw "states' rights" over the side along with the Bill of Rights when they came in conflict with the prerogatives of slave owning. They fished them out again and waved them about when slavery was helped by "states' rights.' Then they threw them back into the drink when slavery required a strong federal government.

They're not hypocrites or inconsistent. They consistently defended and extended the institution of chattel slavery.
You just made the case it was about liberty with your "if it wasn't a centuries long blood soaked horror show."

It was indeed a constitutional protected liberty under the Constitution, just it had been under the Dutch, English, Spanish, French...….it had indeed been viewed a legally protected practice under virtually everyone for centuries...…..You do have the right or liberty to practice what is indeed legal to do so.

Liberty-a right or privilege, especially a statutory one.

Theres little doubt slavery was statutory protected. That we don't agree with it today, doesnt change how it was veiwed in the period
 
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Joined
Oct 3, 2005
You just made the case it was about liberty with your "if it wasn't a centuries long blood soaked horror show."

It was indeed a constitutional protected liberty under the Constitution, just it had been under the Dutch, English, Spanish, French...….it had indeed been viewed a legally protected practice under virtually everyone for centuries...…..You do have the right or liberty to practice what is indeed legal to do so.

Liberty-a right or privilege, especially a statutory one.

Theres little doubt slavery was statutory protected. That we don't agree with it today, doesnt change how it was veiwed in the period
Slavery was liberty. Welcome to 1984.
 
Joined
Mar 15, 2018
Instead of putting the onus of blame on the Founders of our Nation, we should place it where it rightfully belongs, i.e. on the international slave traders and on all who played a role in the International Slave Trade, and that includes even the Abolitionists and especially the "yellow press" of the day that was fanning the flames of war against the Southern states. The Federal government was a creation of the individual states, and the individual states had a right to pull out of a union which they had joined voluntarily.
 
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Location
mo
I think its fair to say that issues regarding the boundaries of state vs federal power existed and remained to be defined in the 19th century across several issues.

I think it a bit disingenuous to suggest that Slavery was 'just another one' of those issues. All by itself, it was 'the' issue.

Far too much contemporary evidence to say otherwise.

But it is fair to say clarifications of some of the state\federal boundary lines were political topics in the 19th century.
I dont think they viewed slavery as a state vrs federal power at all, but as a constitutionally protected federal right.

The crisis didnt arise from a state electing to not participate in slavery......... But from the Federal government suggesting it was going attempt to curtail what it still said it was to protect........
 

Dead Parrott

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I dont think they viewed slavery as a state vrs federal power at all, but as a constitutionally protected federal right.

The crisis didnt arise from a state electing to not participate in slavery......... But from the Federal government suggesting it was going attempt to curtail what it still said it was to protect........

That's stepping out of the argument a little. There were questions of State vs Federal power directly involved in the ability to restrict slavery from the territories. Slavery expanding to the territoires was the direct issue causing the war - the seceding states said so in no uncertain terms. This was a direct question of a states right to slavery vs. the federal government's rights to decide on the rules for territories. There really isn't any argument about that.

The crux came with the loos of control of the Congress by the slave-owning powerbrokers of the southern states. Without that control, slavery would not expand. Without expansion, more free territories, more free states, and coupled with US demographics and the anti-slavery trends in the rest of the Civilized World, the future of slavery is eventually doomed, without a shot fired. The Sothern leaders may have been arrogant men, and wrongly inspired men, but they were not stupid men. They knew the balance was broken, likely irretrievable, and thus Federal policy would equal Free policy. Thus they had their moment of truth - what course would they take in the face of this inevitability? How would they respond? There were options.

We know the answer.

Relating this to the OT of the thread, the Founding Fathers (to the extent they envisioned this moment), likely expected (or hoped) slavery would die off through lack of utility, principle of liberty and legislative compromise. Prbably the best they could do under the situation at the time.

Events changed things. Didn't happen that way.
 
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mo
That's stepping out of the argument a little. There were questions of State vs Federal power directly involved in the ability to restrict slavery from the territories. Slavery expanding to the territoires was the direct issue causing the war - the seceding states said so in no uncertain terms. This was a direct question of a states right to slavery vs. the federal government's rights to decide on the rules for territories. There really isn't any argument about that.

The crux came with the loos of control of the Congress by the slave-owning powerbrokers of the southern states. Without that control, slavery would not expand. Without expansion, more free territories, more free states, and coupled with US demographics and the anti-slavery trends in the rest of the Civilized World, the future of slavery is eventually doomed, without a shot fired. The Sothern leaders may have been arrogant men, and wrongly inspired men, but they were not stupid men. They knew the balance was broken, likely irretrievable, and thus Federal policy would equal Free policy. Thus they had their moment of truth - what course would they take in the face of this inevitability? How would they respond? There were options.

We know the answer.

Relating this to the OT of the thread, the Founding Fathers (to the extent they envisioned this moment), likely expected (or hoped) slavery would die off through lack of utility, principle of liberty and legislative compromise. Prbably the best they could do under the situation at the time.

Events changed things. Didn't happen that way.
I agree with the highlighted comment, however as long as slavery was legal, protected by the constitution, and especially in light of Dred Scott...….....a American from the south had every bit as much right to move to the territories with all their property as any American from the north.......thats not a state issue at all, but a federal liberty. There was absolutely no legal basis for the federal government to prohibit what was entirely legal and constitutionally protected by the United States.

A state deciding to end it, or even a territory deciding itself as it applies for statehood would be a state issue...…The federal government discriminating against some settlers from taking all their property (which is legal property by the United States) to a US territory which isnt a state, isnt a state issue at all.
 
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