Who Gets to Decide the PRIMARY Cause of South Carolina's Secession and the War that Followed?

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James Lutzweiler

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Who ever writes the books.
How many books does it take to declare victory (victory being that slavery was the PRIMARY cause)? And is it the volume of books themselves or the value of the evidence in them? And if the evidence in them, how much evidence?

Most posters on this thread asserting that slavery was PRIMARY simply quote the Secession documents and add something like, "There! That proves it was slavery." That simplicity means nothing to me.
 

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jgoodguy

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How many books does it take to declare victory (victory being that slavery was the PRIMARY cause)? And is it the volume of books themselves or the value of the evidence in them? And if the evidence in them, how much evidence?

Most posters on this thread asserting that slavery was PRIMARY simply quote the Secession documents and add something like, "There! That proves it was slavery." That simplicity means nothing to me.
That seems like asserting just because of the convicted man for the murder claimed the murder, was caught in the act and had blood all over him, that simplicity is nothing.
 

James Lutzweiler

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In understanding why secession happened, slavery is all important.
I for one have never said it was not important. For the record once again I say: It was important. Also for the record I add: The TRr was PRIMARY. I do NOT assert that slavery was NOT PRIMARY, as proving negatives is far too difficult for any of us, just as it is difficult for you or anyoen to prove that the TRR was NOT PRIMARY. I have stated a positive proposition and backed it up with compelling evidence like this quote from the Washington Globe for June 19, 1833 that asserted that "the construction of the Charleston Railroad was a part of the disunion plan of nullification to make Charleston a free port, connect with the contemplated [rail]roads in Tennessee [read: what became the Memphis and Charleston Railroad], rob the Mississippi of half the rich freight carried to market, blotting out the river, while the Old Dominion was to be thrown like a stranded whale upon the frontier." p. 362 of Hayne bio. And what did a poster do with this quote? How did he handle it? he handled it with an assertion that it proved nothing. This is not only unacceptable reasoning but at least it has the benefit of being a hilarious way to debate. The poster should have explained what he meant rather than relying on a simply declaration of his own that it showed nothing.
 

James Lutzweiler

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If the question is "who gets to decide?" Do you mean, who gets to decide what the reason for secession is? Or who got to decide if the state would, in fact, secede in 1860?

If the former, historians decide. I define historians as John Lukacs does: "A historian is someone who describes the past. The tools he uses are words. The words he chooses are a moral choice."

If the latter, then the people pushing for secession were the secessionists groups in various states, and they were pretty clear about what they were trying to do. They weren't asking the world to try to guess why they were seceding, or that anybody's guess is as good as anothers'. They were stating their reasons for the world(again, copying the Declaration of Independence "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind"), but the immediate and crucial audience were the citizens of their own states.
"Who gets to decide what the reasons were for Secession, particularly South Carolina's Secession?"

If historians decide, how many historians do we need to draw that conclusion? Is there a magic number? Are we talking academic historians? 20th century historians? 19th century historians?

I do not agree that the 1860-61 Secessionists were all that clear for reasons I have already stated, so I won't repeat. but I thank you for addressing my specific question with a specific answer which I take to be "historians." if I err, I will await your correction.

I agree that their immediate audiences were the citizens of their own states, but I would argue that they certainly had in mind the "opinions of mankind" --mankind then, since, and now.
 

James Lutzweiler

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Thanks. In that case, history being a branch of the humanities and not a science, don't most historians follow the evidence and then make their conclusions based on that evidence? And in this instance don't they simply make their best case to their readers and thus we become the ultimate arbiters of what the primary cause of SC's secession? If their case is weak or flawed then we (the unwashed masses) won't accept the conclusions and if its a good and strong argument then we tentatively accept it?
I myself incline to the answer you suggest, i.e., that we are the arbiters. Thank you for being specific in re: my question.

But do most historians really just "follow the evidence"? If so, how did McPherson, Freehling, Durden, and Davis all basically miss the Pacific Railroad Surveys of Jefferson Davis and fire-eater James De Bow's Review --to say nothing of the American Railroad Journal-- all very important antebellum literature? This is part of my beef. They seem to have studied antebellum American history as if it were just the history of the South and not the history of all America: North, South, Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, West and Southwest. To read them alone a visiting Martian might think that the only thing that happened in America between 1830-1860 was a sectional divide over slavery --when, e.g., it was Robert Walker, a Mississippian, who in the antebellum (1845) long before Seward was looking to acquire Alaska (no Southern bastion for planters, only polar bears --and maybe a trans-Bering straits RR to Siberia and on to China). Ah, but I digress. Clue: Gilpin.
 

WJC

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Although slavery was not illegal.
Whether legal or not, the practice aroused strong emotions. On the one hand, this led to the abolitionist movement; on the other hand, it forced slaveholders to 'double down' to protect their investment. As often happens in life, emotions have the power to cause people to do irrational things. In 1860/61, fear of losing their slave-based fortunes was enough to cause slaveholders to believe that the only sure way to save the institution and thus their fortunes was independence.
They were wrong.
 
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Dear Strat,

I asked the question because I wanted to invite commentary. Some posters have simply declaimed slavery as the Primary cause as if the case were a slam dunk. As you know by now, others do not see it that way and have not seen it that way --Charles Beard, no sluch, being one of them. I am game to give Beard as much credibility as anyone on this thread; and as you have now read what he had to say, he dismissed slavery as even a fundamental cause of Secession and war, let alone a Primary cause.

So, I am simply raising the question, "Who gets to decide what is Primary?" Book publishers? Posters on this thread? British Privates? The Moderators? Charles Beard? James McPherson? What's-Her-Name at Harvard (ah, now I recall, Drew Faust)? William Freehling? My thesis advisors? Who?

I forget. Have you declared whom yet? Just now got back into this.

James
Hi James,

Thanks for your response.

I think Charles Beard is a great place to start with respect to the "who decides" on history question. Indeed Beard was no historical slouch, in fact he could be claimed as a titan of his time. However, he died in 1948 and received his PhD in 1904. Are you saying that our state of knowledge, interpretation, etc. has not changed since this time? Or in your view is history a static thing, once a conclusion is made it becomes unchangeable?

As you decry McPherson et al. for not looking at the TRR, Beard (by my reading) didn't spend a lot of time discussing slavery, as he deemed it less important (or even non-important) comparative to economic factors. How, in your view, is it okay for Beard to not focus on an important factor (slavery) and not okay for McPherson et al. to not focus on an important factor (the TRR in your view)? These are good illustrations of the ever changing landscape of Civil War historiography.

Beard focused on the economic factors that led to conflict between the sections, there has been a significant volume of study since his time regarding the importance of slavery as causal to secession. This is a supposition, and as such pretty well useless, but I wonder if Beard was working today, would his views have changed? It's an idle question, impossible to answer, but I hope that it makes my point that history (as with most fields of study) is an evolving environment.

Personally I haven't declared as to who "decides" on history as I believe that 'decision' implies a finality that I don't believe exists in the study of history. We are constantly finding new information, continually developing new interpretations. I agree with some and disagree with others. Evidence and solid analysis wins the day, until new evidence and analysis arises (which it often does).

Being academically trained, I have tended to view the consensus of historians as the most important. But I really like @jgoodguy 's assertion that it's the consumers of history that decide. That seems most complete to me, as consumers change so do 'decisions' then change.
 

James Lutzweiler

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Hi James,

Thanks for your reply and clarification of your position.



Thanks very much for the book recommendation, it does sound interesting. I will certainly put that on my, ever growing, reading list. In the meantime, are you able to post some quotes or information that you fund particularly interesting?

While majority rule may not be convincing for you (and indeed might be wrong) the historical method currently functions that orthodoxy is reached in exactly that way, that is the majority of historians agree on a position (or positions). It is then incumbent on the doubters to prove them wrong. It would be very interesting to see more evidence regarding your position.



Perhaps we're reading different books, but most historians that agree that slavery was the primary cause of the war treat that cause back far beyond 1845 to the founding of the nation and earlier. So I believe that argument does a disservice to, or misrepresents, the work of those historians who say that slavery is the primary cause. My understanding of the majority of their argument is that slavery sowed the seeds of civil war generations prior to the Civil War, hence the need for the many compromises in the antebellum years.



My apologies if I have accidentally straw-manned your position, my understanding of your argument is that you do not take what the secessionists themselves said "at face value". Perhaps I am wrong, but this sounds as though you do not accept what they themselves said. I many have used the wrong words in saying that you had written those sources off, but if you don't take them ar face value, in my opinion it is incumbent on you to prove why we shouldn't believe what they themselves said.



My apologies, but I think I may have missed the evidence you've provided for self-delusion among the secessionists, could you please let me know where you provided this? I'd be very interested to have a look. Or if you haven't as yet provided it, please post it as I'm sure it would provide for some very interesting debate.



Indeed, historians are wrong all the time. Or perhaps more correctly (and charitably) our interpretations of events change with new examinations. It's very easy to say that they're all wrong, but it must be done with evidence and that evidence must then be critically examined and tested.

Post-fact analysis is actually the basis of current history and historiography. We take the data that we have (through research) and then interpret/analyse that information. In this case antebellum data (documents, etc.) provides the evidence for our analysis. This is how interpretations change, old ideas die and new ones are born, some stand the test of time (after having been critically tested).

As you say, all that matters is the evidence. Much of what we have points to slavery as being the primary (certainty not only) cause of secession, it would require significant evidence, I think, to prove otherwise.



I'm not sure that insulating yourself from other historians' ideas is a great idea. I may have misunderstood what you mean here, but I read this as meaning that you view arguments that don't support yours as a deception. How else do you test and examine your and others' views if you are wishing to isolate yourself from them? I'm certainly not saying that you have to agree with them, but it's incumbent on dissenters to prove the opposite.

Without evidence all that is left is opinion. Opinions are great things, but without supporting evidence they're not history.
Friend Strat,

A couple of things:

First, I had no intention whatsoever of absenting myself personally from those exposed to self-deception. None whatsoever. I intended my indictment as universal. You will notice, if you have followed the other threads on the TRR, that I took special steps to avoid self-deception by posting the availability of my book on the TRR WITH THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF INVITING CRITIQUES OF IT, NOT PUSHING MY VIEW ON ANYONE. My own historical methdology is to throw my propositions to the wolves and see if they can tear them to shreds or else chip theiir teeth beyond repair. Edited. I say all that simply to say that my attempted antidote to self-deception is to let the wolves have their way with my propositions and see what's left of them. So far I don't even think my skin is broken. Simple declarations that I am wrong mean nothing to me.

Second, I am glad you liked the book reference. it should be good fodder for all those in opposition to my view. I have no objection to making available to them all the material that supports their views. This book for tthe most part will do exactly that. You will NOT find within it my own view. I did not cite it as evidence of my view. However, you did good by posting a couple of pages with the marvelous quote by Charles Beard, no slouch, that slavery was not even fundamental, let alone PRIMARY, when it came to Secession and War. I know of a couple posters on this thread, Edited would do well to read what Beard had to say on the subject.

Third, the more evidence of my view that you seek was available on the other threads where I offered copies of my book in e-format free of charge, an offer I withdraw in light of Edited. --and in light of the fact that I sold a copy for $50.00 last night. I made that book and evidence available for the purpose described above, and am simply not going to repeat it all on this thread which is devoted to another question. Besides, I have provided a byte or two already, and have met with the very powerful argument, "That statement doesn't mean anything!" What can I say? Please remember: I am NOT out to make converts. I am out to have critics comment upon my evidence with no intent on rebutting them but at least replying, if they wished a reply. Can you call this unfair?

Fourth, Edited.

Fifth, thank you for calling to my attention your sense that I have misrepresented other historians. I would not do that for the world (well, maybe for the whole world but not much less). If your claim could be substantiated, I would repudiate whatever I said and apologize to any historian in question. No problem at all. What I have said is that historians like McPherson, Freehling, Davis, and Durden have virtually and in some cases totally ignored the Pacific Railroad Surveys of Jefferson Davis and De Bow's Review, published by perhaps the number Unon fire-eater of the entire antebellum --and these right on the cusp of Secession!! Can you answer me this question: Is that not ignoring a mass of antebellum evidence of something? A yes or no with all the word you wish to follow.

Sixth, I am totally in the dark as to what you mean by me "insulating myself" from other historians. Would my 20,000-volume library, a thousand or two on the Civil War, convince you otherwise? Did I miss De Bow? Did I not read William Freehiling? James McPherson? Robert Russel? Have I not visited personally with at least six major Civil War historians whose names you know? Could you explain further what you mean by my "insulation"? have you read the Pacific Railroad Surveys? De Bow's Review? Fremont's Reports? A biogrpahy of California Senator Gwin? What means this indictment of my insularity?

Seven, yes, you did misunderstand something when you said that I view arguments that don't support mine as a deception. All I would say to you about this is that you rethink that charge for a bit, and see if you might not want to adjust it a bit.

Now let me add in closing that I appreciate the irenic spirit of your questions and dialogue. It would be nice if all posts could be developed in this way.

Cordially,

James
 

James Lutzweiler

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Stratagemo, I did a search for the book and found it on InternetArchive. I currently have it borrowed w/ access for the next 13 days, so if James would like to point to anything in his support therein, I would be more than willing to post it for all to view.

Thank you for pointing it out @James Lutzweiler, it does look to be an interesting set of essays. I have not had the opportunity to dive in as yet.

https://archive.org/details/slaveryascauseof00rozw/page/n1
View attachment 218033 View attachment 218034
Dear Joyful,

My apologies for attributing yoour gift of these pages to Strat. I am sure you will forgive me. Nice job. I was wondering what I had done with my quote by Beard. Now I know!! Threescore and twelve will do that to a fellow.

James
 

James Lutzweiler

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Good points and I'd add that historical writing is competitive, always someone wanting to upset the status quo for fame, glory, book sales, and speaking fees. The orthodoxy exists because it has not been supplemented by better interpretation and research. The othodoxy may be wrong in some manner but so far no one has found it.
Just an FYI. I would like fame, glory, book sales, and speaking fees but none of those have a thing to do with my writing my book. If I had not written it, I would have burst like the locomotive boiler on "The Best Friend of Charleston" when that poor Black fellow tried to cap the steam valve without knowing what it would do.

Let me add, while I am at it, that totally unknown eavesdroppers are entitled to their share of the answer to the question, "Who gets to decide?" It was an unknown eavesdropper who, uninvited, first tapped me on the shoulder maybe 30 years ago now, as I was declaiming on slavery and the Civil War, "Son, that was a railroad war," and then disappeared as if he had walked out of the twilight zone and right back into it before I could ask myself, "Who was that masked man?" I couldn't shake the asymmetry of what he said and began to smoke (steam?) down that trail until I found out what he meant. He gets to decide, too, and I encourage each of you to lift a glass to his provocative memory even if you cannot embrace my view. There is no doubt the exchanges have been stimulating, and our debt is to him. i think all I have done is to have written what he would have written --and maybe did, but couldn't find a publisher because the publishers then, as now, knew so much more about the subject than he did in spite of never submitting their own theses to a fiery test.
 

jgoodguy

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Hi James,

Thanks for your response.

I think Charles Beard is a great place to start with respect to the "who decides" on history question. Indeed Beard was no historical slouch, in fact he could be claimed as a titan of his time. However, he died in 1948 and received his PhD in 1904. Are you saying that our state of knowledge, interpretation, etc. has not changed since this time? Or in your view is history a static thing, once a conclusion is made it becomes unchangeable?

As you decry McPherson et al. for not looking at the TRR, Beard (by my reading) didn't spend a lot of time discussing slavery, as he deemed it less important (or even non-important) comparative to economic factors. How, in your view, is it okay for Beard to not focus on an important factor (slavery) and not okay for McPherson et al. to not focus on an important factor (the TRR in your view)? These are good illustrations of the ever changing landscape of Civil War historiography.

Beard focused on the economic factors that led to conflict between the sections, there has been a significant volume of study since his time regarding the importance of slavery as causal to secession. This is a supposition, and as such pretty well useless, but I wonder if Beard was working today, would his views have changed? It's an idle question, impossible to answer, but I hope that it makes my point that history (as with most fields of study) is an evolving environment.

Personally I haven't declared as to who "decides" on history as I believe that 'decision' implies a finality that I don't believe exists in the study of history. We are constantly finding new information, continually developing new interpretations. I agree with some and disagree with others. Evidence and solid analysis wins the day, until new evidence and analysis arises (which it often does).

Being academically trained, I have tended to view the consensus of historians as the most important. But I really like @jgoodguy 's assertion that it's the consumers of history that decide. That seems most complete to me, as consumers change so do 'decisions' then change.
FWIW I am just a cranky old man layperson in history. OTOH, my training is as an information analyst. When I read history, it is with the analytical view, rather than a classic historical view.
 
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Hi James,

I will try to get a more detailed response to you as soon as I'm able. But a quick response/clarification to one of your points:

Sixth, I am totally in the dark as to what you mean by me "insulating myself" from other historians.
You had previously posted the below:

I have no intention of allowing South Carolina's Seceshers or James McPherson or posters on this thread or any other Monday morning quarterbacks to deceive me in so far as I can insulate myself from such deceptions.
(emphasis is mine)

I may have misunderstood what you meant, but I thought you meant that you wish to insulate yourself from such historians, historical figures and their opinions that disagreed with yours.
 
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