Discussion The Confederacy's Fatal Mistake.

GwilymT

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Pittsburgh
Then what does that make Raphael Semmes and his counterparts? Or Jubal Early?
Leaders in the rebellion to keep African Americans enslaved, or, in the eyes of many, heroes. Its only thievery if something is taken from a white southerner. The victim complex is still strong even after a century and a half. You see, it was the white southerner who only wanted to be left alone that is the real victim of our history, not the millions they enslaved. In before “Yankees killed native Americans”, as if white southerners weren’t willing participants in that endeavor and “the north forced slavery on the south”....
 

Potomac Pride

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Location
Georgia
The Confederacy's Fatal Mistake
March is the month that Lincoln was inaugurated for the first time. It is also the month that marks the manifestation of the Confederacy's fatal mistake. The South Carolina hot heads had tried on the secession thing on Andrew Jackson... he threatened to start hanging traitors as he crossed the border & keep at it until his horse stepped into salt water. Not even the South Carolina hot heads were out to lunch enough to not take Jackson at his word. President James Buchanan, on the other hand, was the perfect victim of their bully boy tactics. Look at it from their perspective, Buchanan was an empty suit & Lincoln was just a country lawyer from Illinois. It was a perfect opportunity.

Step one was to shower media outlets with lies about what an extremist Lincoln was. Then, having created the straw man, they went on to create a myth of victimhood. Lincoln's going to free your slaves! Lincoln wants our daughters are going to date black boys! The god given right of white men to hold black human beings as property is going to be taken away by Lincoln! I will not quote the extreme & obscene characterizations of Lincoln that filled the pages of Southern newspapers. Having created a ten foot tall ape like bug-a-boo, South Carolina & many other states used that straw man as their excuse for seceding. After all, what had they to fear from a country bumpkin lawyer who had never held office for more than a single term years ago.

Who can argue with their logic? The poor man was going to be sworn in with secession an accomplished fact. The Yankees couldn't fight & surely would not rally to a goof like Lincoln's call to arms. Everybody knew that the slaves were loyal, loved their masters & in any case were constitutionally incapable of independent thought or action. During the brief time it would take for superior Southern manhood to dispatch the Yankee shopkeepers, the loyal slaves would gladly hold down the fort at home. Neighbors who did not own slaves would be honor bound to fight to the last ditch to protect the property rights of their more fortunate neighbors. Everybody knew all this to be true.

On the face of it in March 1861, who would bet on Lincoln being able to cope with the fire hot drive for secession? There was absolutely nothing in his background to indicate that he was anything but a run of the mill Western deal making politician. The exhalation amongst the South Carolina hot heads & secessionists was one long hosanna to the highest. Their time had come at last & this ape like bumpkin was not going to get in their way. Of course, we know differently.

They had made a fatal strategic mistake of the first order. Even before he assumed power, Lincoln was writing letters & gathering his supporters. A mob of men surrounded Lincoln who were absolutely convinced that they could do a better job than Lincoln any day & only sought to make him their puppet. Generals with delusions of grandeur like MacClellan treated him with sneering disrespect. How & from where Lincoln gathered the intellectual & moral strength to reign them all in is unknowable. From what inner wellspring he gathered the spirit to grow exponentially as a Commander & Chief is unknowable.

The one thing that is knowable is that the secessionists made a profound, fatal strategic mistake when they underestimated Lincoln. The one thing they though they knew for sure turned out to be the one thing that guaranteed they would fail... history is an amazing thing, don't you know?
On the other hand, Lincoln underestimated the resolve of the southern politicians. He initially did not believe that any of the southern states would secede and considered their threats to withdraw from the Union as only a bluff. Lincoln thought the Unionist sentiment in the south was much stronger than it actually was. One of the reasons for this was that he had limited political experience on the national level. He was basically a machine politician from Illinois. Furthermore, once he became President, he refused to compromise with the southern states. During the Nullification Crisis in 1832, Andrew Jackson and Congress were able to agree on the Compromise Tariff of 1833 with the state of South Carolina which resolved the situation.
 
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Andersonh1

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South Carolina
On the other hand, Lincoln underestimated the resolve of the southern politicians. He initially did not believe that any of the southern states would secede and considered their threats to withdraw from the Union as only a bluff. Lincoln thought the Unionist sentiment in the south was much stronger than it actually was. One of the reasons for this was that he had limited political experience on the national level. He was basically a machine politician from Illinois. Furthermore, once he became President, he refused to compromise with the southern states. During the Nullification Crisis in 1832, Andrew Jackson and Congress were able to agree on the Compromise Tariff of 1833 with the state of South Carolina which resolved the situation.

He considered any compromise an act of political surrender to "extortion". He gave lip service to the idea that the secessionists were serious, but he clearly believed that it was all an "experiment" that would be repeated in the future. He simply did not understand how serious the Southern States were about leaving the Union.

Confidential. Hon. J. T. Hale Springfield, Ill. Jan'y. 11th 1861.​
My dear Sir---Yours of the 6th is received. I answer it only because I fear you would misconstrue my silence. What is our present condition? We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us, or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union. They now have the Constitution, under which we have lived over seventy years, and acts of Congress of their own framing, with no prospect of their being changed; and they can never have a more shallow pretext for breaking up the government, or extorting a compromise, than now. There is, in my judgment, but one compromise which would really settle the slavery question, and that would be a prohibition against acquiring any more territory. Yours very truly, A. LINCOLN.​
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
On the other hand, Lincoln underestimated the resolve of the southern politicians. He initially did not believe that any of the southern states would secede and considered their threats to withdraw from the Union as only a bluff. Lincoln thought the Unionist sentiment in the south was much stronger than it actually was. One of the reasons for this was that he had limited political experience on the national level. He was basically a machine politician from Illinois. Furthermore, once he became President, he refused to compromise with the southern states. During the Nullification Crisis in 1832, Andrew Jackson and Congress were able to agree on the Compromise Tariff of 1833 with the state of South Carolina which resolved the situation.
I think you make a good point. Lincoln was a neophyte in national politics. In short order, of course, he became a master politician. His learning curve was almost vertical. Of course, Jackson made it explicitly understood that if the SC hotheads attempted to secede he would hang them... all of them. A mortal threat from Jackson must have focused the minds of the negotiators.
 
They were not President to my knowledge. They were soldiers and had no reason to steal Southern Cotton.
The President/Commander-in-Chief of an internationally recognized belligerent has the authority to confiscate enemy property. Confederate President Jefferson Davis did the same thing when for example, he authorized Jubal Early to make ransom demands on Northern towns or seize Blacks and send them south into bondage or when he authorized Semmes and others to confiscate Northern merchant ships and goods. You can whine about it all you want, but you won't change the fact that it was legal for both belligerents to do.
 

jackt62

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Location
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once he became President, he refused to compromise with the southern states.
That is a specious argument. Lincoln campaigned and was elected on his position (and that of the Republican party), to oppose the expansion of slavery beyond states where it already existed. But one of the primary components of the Crittenden Compromise, proposed after 7 southern states seceded, would have permitted slavery in United States territories that were north of 36 30 latitude. That was a non-negotiable position that if accepted by Lincoln, would have destroyed the basic foundation upon which he stood.
 

jackt62

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I think you make a good point. Lincoln was a neophyte in national politics. In short order, of course, he became a master politician. His learning curve was almost vertical. Of course, Jackson made it explicitly understood that if the SC hotheads attempted to secede he would hang them... all of them. A mortal threat from Jackson must have focused the minds of the negotiators.
And of course, there was a vast difference between the nullification and secession crises. Unlike 1860, South Carolina acted unilaterally in 1832 without significant support from any other southern state. Moreover, tariff policy did not represent the same type of existential threat to the southern way of life as did the pushback against the expansion of slavery. South Carolina and the "fire-eaters" understood that the rise of the new Republican party represented a totally different menace than previous disagreements that could have been negotiated over with its traditional allies in the Democratic Party.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
And of course, there was a vast difference between the nullification and secession crises. Unlike 1860, South Carolina acted unilaterally in 1832 without significant support from any other southern state. Moreover, tariff policy did not represent the same type of existential threat to the southern way of life as did the pushback against the expansion of slavery. South Carolina and the "fire-eaters" understood that the rise of the new Republican party represented a totally different menace than previous disagreements that could have been negotiated over with its traditional allies in the Democratic Party.
Buchanan was President when SC seceded. It was the seceding states not returning to congress that gave Lincoln’s part control of both houses. All the seceding states had to do was show up to defang the Republicans. My impression, from reading what they wrote, was that they were almost pathologically arrogant. Lincoln, et al, were nothing but useful propaganda tools. As we all know, they misrepresented Lincoln’s positions on practically everything to stir up secessionist feeling. They did not respect Lincoln at all & in their arrogance, were convinced he would fail. Not exactly an irrational position given the evidence. .
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
One fatal mistake was after the establishment of the confederacy was to not take a cold hard look at the facts, secession being a done deal it was time to pivot to good governance mode.
A look at the facts would have revealed the absolute need for keeping the peace with the US.
Confederate secession is a text book case on how not to do it. The peace commissioners should have been roaming the halls of US congress offering military alliance, free trade, customs union to any congressman who would listen.
 

jackt62

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New York City
Buchanan was President when SC seceded. It was the seceding states not returning to congress that gave Lincoln’s part control of both houses. All the seceding states had to do was show up to defang the Republicans. My impression, from reading what they wrote, was that they were almost pathologically arrogant. Lincoln, et al, were nothing but useful propaganda tools. As we all know, they misrepresented Lincoln’s positions on practically everything to stir up secessionist feeling. They did not respect Lincoln at all & in their arrogance, were convinced he would fail. Not exactly an irrational position given the evidence. .

Or to put it in the words of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, September 22, 1862:

"This was a most wonderful history of the insanity of a class that the world had ever seen. If the slaveholders had stayed in the Union they might have kept the life in their institution for many years to come. That what no party and no public feeling in the North could ever have hoped to touch they had madly placed in the very path of destruction."
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
He considered any compromise an act of political surrender to "extortion". He gave lip service to the idea that the secessionists were serious, but he clearly believed that it was all an "experiment" that would be repeated in the future. He simply did not understand how serious the Southern States were about leaving the Union.

Confidential. Hon. J. T. Hale Springfield, Ill. Jan'y. 11th 1861.​
My dear Sir---Yours of the 6th is received. I answer it only because I fear you would misconstrue my silence. What is our present condition? We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us, or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union. They now have the Constitution, under which we have lived over seventy years, and acts of Congress of their own framing, with no prospect of their being changed; and they can never have a more shallow pretext for breaking up the government, or extorting a compromise, than now. There is, in my judgment, but one compromise which would really settle the slavery question, and that would be a prohibition against acquiring any more territory. Yours very truly, A. LINCOLN.​
I think Lincoln and others concluded that the easiest time to fight the Confederacy was before it had established an experienced national government, and had established commercial links to Great Britain and France.
I also think we under estimate how events pivoted on the decisions of Kentucky men not to secede and join the Confederacy. If Kentucky had seceded there could very well have been a period of separation and competition.
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Or to put it in the words of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, September 22, 1862:

"This was a most wonderful history of the insanity of a class that the world had ever seen. If the slaveholders had stayed in the Union they might have kept the life in their institution for many years to come. That what no party and no public feeling in the North could ever have hoped to touch they had madly placed in the very path of destruction."
That's another miscalculation. If the contest switches from ballots to firearms, many men who have moved internally or internationally, and were not yet eligible to vote because they did not meet residency requirements or had not been naturalized, suddenly became eligible to fight for the US. Suddenly Republicans and paid labor Democrats, many of them Irish, in Missouri, Colorado, and California, were united.
And as Chase noted, in a state like Kentucky, emancipation was not the issue. Non enforcement, then recruitment and hiring disassembled slavery in a state that never would have abolished slavery on its own.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Or to put it in the words of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, September 22, 1862:

"This was a most wonderful history of the insanity of a class that the world had ever seen. If the slaveholders had stayed in the Union they might have kept the life in their institution for many years to come. That what no party and no public feeling in the North could ever have hoped to touch they had madly placed in the very path of destruction."
Amen, brother.
 

Andersonh1

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I think Lincoln and others concluded that the easiest time to fight the Confederacy was before it had established an experienced national government, and had established commercial links to Great Britain and France.
I also think we under estimate how events pivoted on the decisions of Kentucky men not to secede and join the Confederacy. If Kentucky had seceded there could very well have been a period of separation and competition.

Could be, but there was no Confederate States of America when Lincoln wrote that letter on January 11th. He's strictly talking about the few States that had seceded at that point, and Kentucky was not yet an issue.
 
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