Restricted Debate Slavery as Cause of the Civil War: "Revisionists," "NeoRevisionists," and "Fundamentalists"

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Pat Young

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I was reading James Oakes's "The Great Divide" in this week's New York Review of Books:
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/05/23/civil-war-history-great-divide/

He offered an interesting discussion of the role of slavery as the cause of the Civil War in the modern historiography of the era:

Most historians now agree that the slave states seceded to protect slavery. Gone are the days when the so-called revisionist historians argued that the South left the Union in defense of states’ rights or because of high protective tariffs that favored Northern industry over Southern agriculture. These days scholarly disagreement arises over what motivated the North, or, more specifically, the Northern Republicans and their standard bearer, Abraham Lincoln, to choose war over disunion. One group of scholars argues that antislavery politics were weak and relatively inconsequential among mainstream Republicans like Lincoln. They were elected to preserve the Union and reserve the western territories for free white labor, not to undermine slavery in the South. Hence for these scholars—call them “neorevisionists”—secession in response to Lincoln’s election was a hysterical overreaction to a nonexistent threat.

By contrast, “fundamentalists,” as we are sometimes labeled, argue that Northerners who had grown up in societies that had long ago abolished slavery were determined to defend the principles and practices of their free labor society, just as Southerners who had grown up with slavery were equally determined to defend their way of life. Hostility to slavery was so deeply rooted in the North that it had become inseparable from Unionism.1 Most importantly, Lincoln and his fellow Republicans were committed to a number of federal antislavery policies that they believed would lead to what Lincoln called the “ultimate extinction” of slavery.

For Civil War fundamentalists, secessionists understood clearly what Lincoln stood for and concluded, not unreasonably, that his election—along with the growing number of Republicans in Congress—represented a genuine menace to slavery’s long-term survival. Southerners made this very clear in their statements justifying secession. Withdrawing from the Union turned out to be a spectacular miscalculation, but it was not an overreaction. The three books under review offer a useful, if partial, introduction to this scholarly divide.
 

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Robin Lesjovitch

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The fundamental error in all three of these defined groups is a common equation of secession and war. Secession began as a defensive measure by SC, a defense from the creation of large numbers of free Blacks, and the defense spread. The defense of slavery began secession, but not all the original 7 CSA states seceded solely on that issue. And, only 7 of 15 slave states were involved. One can make an evaluation of thought here; I think only SC,GA,LA,and MS felt mortally threatened by a possible sudden end to slavery. There was more to the creation of the CSA than just slavery.
But the question is about war. The war was about fundamental political concepts. Put to many Virginians, the war was not caused by secession, but, rather secession was caused by the war.
If secession had been such an egregious act that it required military correction then SC should have been corrected in Jan, 1861. If secession were so clearly illegal as some say, then the CSA could never have been formed. Secession and war do not seem to equate.Historians do not wish to discuss why the CSA was allowed to form.....it messes with whatever emotional narrative they might employ. That narrative sells books, to whatever audience is targeted.
 

leftyhunter

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The fundamental error in all three of these defined groups is a common equation of secession and war. Secession began as a defensive measure by SC, a defense from the creation of large numbers of free Blacks, and the defense spread. The defense of slavery began secession, but not all the original 7 CSA states seceded solely on that issue. And, only 7 of 15 slave states were involved. One can make an evaluation of thought here; I think only SC,GA,LA,and MS felt mortally threatened by a possible sudden end to slavery. There was more to the creation of the CSA than just slavery.
But the question is about war. The war was about fundamental political concepts. Put to many Virginians, the war was not caused by secession, but, rather secession was caused by the war.
If secession had been such an egregious act that it required military correction then SC should have been corrected in Jan, 1861. If secession were so clearly illegal as some say, then the CSA could never have been formed. Secession and war do not seem to equate.Historians do not wish to discuss why the CSA was allowed to form.....it messes with whatever emotional narrative they might employ. That narrative sells books, to whatever audience is targeted.
Other then slavery what political issues were there? It certainly can't be tariffs since as previously discussed the South favored certain tariffs on tobacco,sugar and rice. Tariffs were at a historical low before Secession.
Leftyhunter
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Other then slavery what political issues were there? It certainly can't be tariffs since as previously discussed the South favored certain tariffs on tobacco,sugar and rice. Tariffs were at a historical low before Secession.
Leftyhunter
I do not know how to more simply explain that war and secession were not one in the same.
The war was about political notions. Secession began over questions of slavery.
Had secession been obviously illegal, war would have commenced BEFORE Lincoln was inaugurated. The Civil War was clearly a struggle over the nature of Union.
 

leftyhunter

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I do not know how to more simply explain that war and secession were not one in the same.
The war was about political notions. Secession began over questions of slavery.
Had secession been obviously illegal, war would have commenced BEFORE Lincoln was inaugurated. The Civil War was clearly a struggle over the nature of Union.
President Buchanan argued Secession was illegal but he didn't think force could be used against it. When Lincoln was inaugurated he wanted to avoid a Civil War but Davis forced his hand with the bombardment of Ft.Sumter. without slavery there would be no Secession.
Leftyhunter
 

Pat Young

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The fundamental error in all three of these defined groups is a common equation of secession and war. Secession began as a defensive measure by SC, a defense from the creation of large numbers of free Blacks, and the defense spread. The defense of slavery began secession, but not all the original 7 CSA states seceded solely on that issue. And, only 7 of 15 slave states were involved. One can make an evaluation of thought here; I think only SC,GA,LA,and MS felt mortally threatened by a possible sudden end to slavery. There was more to the creation of the CSA than just slavery.
But the question is about war. The war was about fundamental political concepts. Put to many Virginians, the war was not caused by secession, but, rather secession was caused by the war.
Just a point of chronological clarification:

The war had begun before Virginia seceded.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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President Buchanan argued Secession was illegal but he didn't think force could be used against it. When Lincoln was inaugurated he wanted to avoid a Civil War but Davis forced his hand with the bombardment of Ft.Sumter. without slavery there would be no Secession.
Leftyhunter
The only circumstance that Lincoln would accept was reunion, or reconstruction. He would accept no war under that circumstance. the war was about the union.
 

matthew mckeon

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I like Oakes' argument because it turns secession from an hysterical and inexplicable overreaction to a much more rational if misguided response to the election of an anti-slavery president. Still an awful reason to secede or base a new nation of course, but more Team Evil, then Team Crazy.

The ground had been plowed a long time before the election of 1860. By 1850, John C. Calhoun was threatening if the federal government harmed a hair on slavery's head, SC would secede. If loyalty to the nation became contingent on the unfettered* support of slavery, either slavery or the nation had to go.

*get it? fetters, and slavery?
 

lurid

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I was reading James Oakes's "The Great Divide" in this week's New York Review of Books:
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/05/23/civil-war-history-great-divide/

He offered an interesting discussion of the role of slavery as the cause of the Civil War in the modern historiography of the era:

Most historians now agree that the slave states seceded to protect slavery. Gone are the days when the so-called revisionist historians argued that the South left the Union in defense of states’ rights or because of high protective tariffs that favored Northern industry over Southern agriculture. These days scholarly disagreement arises over what motivated the North, or, more specifically, the Northern Republicans and their standard bearer, Abraham Lincoln, to choose war over disunion. One group of scholars argues that antislavery politics were weak and relatively inconsequential among mainstream Republicans like Lincoln. They were elected to preserve the Union and reserve the western territories for free white labor, not to undermine slavery in the South. Hence for these scholars—call them “neorevisionists”—secession in response to Lincoln’s election was a hysterical overreaction to a nonexistent threat.

By contrast, “fundamentalists,” as we are sometimes labeled, argue that Northerners who had grown up in societies that had long ago abolished slavery were determined to defend the principles and practices of their free labor society, just as Southerners who had grown up with slavery were equally determined to defend their way of life. Hostility to slavery was so deeply rooted in the North that it had become inseparable from Unionism.1 Most importantly, Lincoln and his fellow Republicans were committed to a number of federal antislavery policies that they believed would lead to what Lincoln called the “ultimate extinction” of slavery.

For Civil War fundamentalists, secessionists understood clearly what Lincoln stood for and concluded, not unreasonably, that his election—along with the growing number of Republicans in Congress—represented a genuine menace to slavery’s long-term survival. Southerners made this very clear in their statements justifying secession. Withdrawing from the Union turned out to be a spectacular miscalculation, but it was not an overreaction. The three books under review offer a useful, if partial, introduction to this scholarly divide.
My question is: did the south know how do anything else except to grow cotton backed by slavery(agrarian society)?. It appears, the entire southern economy depended on growing cotton and engaged in nothing geared towards technology advances that would have phased out slavery. To me, it seems like the north made preparations with all its inventions/innovations/patents and the south was content with its status quo. The illiteracy rate in south during that era was well above 50%, which seems a little like obscurantism. I think this is the whole essence of why the CW was fought, at least from the south's standpoint. There were no preparations prior to the CW at all on the south's end via education to boost industry/technology to increase social contract/standard of living and to end forced labor.
 

Greywolf

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President Buchanan argued Secession was illegal but he didn't think force could be used against it. When Lincoln was inaugurated he wanted to avoid a Civil War but Davis forced his hand with the bombardment of Ft.Sumter. without slavery there would be no Secession.
Leftyhunter
Two different presidents, two different ideas about the constitution, just as there were various different thoughts on the constitution by political leaders since the beginning. I'd like to know your thoughts on how Lincoln wanted to avoid a civil war, when it is fact he was not going to negotiate with the csa and his #1 aim was preservation of the union.
 

leftyhunter

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Two different presidents, two different ideas about the constitution, just as there were various different thoughts on the constitution by political leaders since the beginning. I'd like to know your thoughts on how Lincoln wanted to avoid a civil war, when it is fact he was not going to negotiate with the csa and his #1 aim was preservation of the union.
Per the US Constitution there was nothing to discuss about secession. Lincoln was hoping cooler heads would prevail and a Civil War could be avoided. Lincoln thought a force of 75k Militia could reclaim forts and mints seized by the secessionists. Lincoln unfortunately was overly optimistic about that.
President Buchanan decided to let Lincoln deal with the thorny problem of Secession.
Leftyhunter
 
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