The Anti-Lincoln Brigade

December 16th, 2011 at 9:32 am David Frum | 151 Comments |

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You know what’s really discouraging?

This is discouraging, this apologetic by Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, on behalf of Ron Paul.

Welch takes exception to my restatement of the I thought notorious fact about Ron Paul’s preference for the Confederate over the Union cause in the Civil War. Welch:

There is no hyperlink on that “openly prefers the slaveholding cause in the US Civil War.” A Google search leads me to this Paul interview with Bill Maher, in which the lifelong anti-war advocate asserts that “the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery,” and avers that there were better options for ending the peculiar institution, formulations that he also gave in 2007 on Meet the Press. Here’s the relevant part of the Maher interview:

I disagree with Paul’s assertion that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery (read Charles Oliver’s classic 2001 Reason piece arguing the contrary), and I think his revisionist counter-proposal to have the North buy up the South’s slaves sounds more than a bit naive, but none of that sounds to me like an open preference for “the slaveholding cause.” Being against wars does not mean being in favor of the other side. It would be a queer thing indeed to favor the cause of slaveholding in one breath, while denouncing slavery-era Supreme Court justifications for slavery in the next.

Here is Ron Paul engaged in pure Confederate apologetic, and yet Matt Welch sees only a set of low-salience open questions.

The role of slavery in the Civil War may remain a controverted issue in the pages of Reason magazine. But contemporaries had no such uncertainty. Here’s the resolution of the state of South Carolina, the first state to exit the Union, justifying secession. Could it be clearer? And note the very last paragraph, where South Carolina denounces as grounds for secession the decision of some northern states to allow blacks to vote and exercise other rights of citizenship. Slavery was not safe in the South unless blacks were subjugated everywhere.

an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

As to Ron Paul’s brainwave that perhaps the North could have bought the slaves at lower cost than fighting a civil war? The same idea occurred to the man whom Ron Paul condemns as a bloodthirsty despot, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did not make that point in a few obscure places, overlooked by history. He made it – among other places – in the document that concludes with one of the most famous phrases he ever wrote:

“We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.”

That’s the State of the Union address of December 1, 1862. Fully half that document was taken up with the elaborate details of Lincoln’s proposal for compensated emancipation.

The proposed emancipation would shorten the war, perpetuate peace, insure this increase of population, and proportionately the wealth of the country. …

[A] dollar will be much harder to pay for the war than will be a dollar for emancipation on the proposed plan. And then the latter will cost no blood, no precious life. It will be a saving of both.

How can you not know this stuff? Even the government schools teach it!

It’s truly bizarre that certain kinds of ultra-libertarians insist on endlessly contorting the historical record to provide excuses for the Confederate cause. I should have thought this style of libertarianism was different from the version on offer at Reason--but no.

So let’s put it more sharply still. Ron Paul wants credit for the consistency of his commitment to human liberty. Yet when it comes to the greatest struggle for liberty in American history, Ron Paul is not even lukewarm. He loves liberty so much that he wants to protect the right of motorcyclists to bash out their unhelmeted brains on the curb–while making retrospective excuses for those who claimed their liberty included the right to enslave, flog, rape, and murder other human beings.

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151 Comments so far ↓

  • PatrickQuint

    The South defended slavery because the governing class of the South felt that slavery was an economic necessity. Modern literature claiming that it was unsustainable is irrelevant. The South defended its economic interests, which meant defending slavery. Wars are fought over land and money.

    The Northern threat to slavery came on two fronts: the people who believed that the slaves should be freed to live among whites and the people who would not tolerate the idea of black people living in the United States as slaves *or* free people. Both were strong political movements within the North. Neither North nor South was particularly virtuous. I can’t help but see the Civil War much the way I see the battle of Stalingrad, in that a lot of good people died for causes that did not deserve their blood. Rooting for the demise of one political group doesn’t make me a fan of the other. Racism was rife at the time in all corners of the United States.

    Barring a constitutional amendment, there was/is no constitutional basis for secession. There probably should have been, because I think that government should act only with the consent of the governed.

    The South started the Civil War with shots fired on their countrymen. That alone makes it treason through and through.

    • theendisfar

      Barring a constitutional amendment, there was/is no constitutional basis for secession.

      Did it take a Constitutional Amendment to join the United States? No it took the ratification of the Independent STATE Legislatures. These same INDEPENDENT States decided that it was not in their best interest to remain connected politically to the Northern States that they felt were exploiting them. It did not take Constitution to join, and it did not take one to exit. They were Declaring Independence as the Founders did.

      That said, while I am happy that the war ended Slavery, I am unhappy that the Federalists (Hamiltonians) won. They got their Supreme Federal Gov’t that has transformed into the Quasi Socialist State that is run from Washington today.

      Central Planning = Central Authority = Central Ownership = Socialism (aka Serfdom, Mercantilism, Marxism, State Capitalism, Corporatism, Fascism, etc) If the Few (i.e. Gov’t, Corporation, etc) decide to Plan for the Many, then they must assume the Authority to do so. If the Few have the Authority to Plan the property of the Many (i.e. Savings, Labor, Land, Intellect, etc), then the Few in practice, de facto, OWN said Property. The 16th Amendment is the Deed to ALL of America’s Property.

      While it is necessary for the Federal Government to Centrally Plan/Own some Private Property, it must be kept to a minimum since Gov’t and Power have always proven to be extremely susceptible to Scope Creep.

      Ron Paul represents those of us who seek a LIMITED Gov’t, not a ‘smaller’ one as NeoCons often tout for. See Article 1 Sections 8, 9, 10 for details.

      • Dex

        About those state legislatures…over what territory did their remit extend?

        Arkansas and Louisiana were purchased by the federal government from the French.

        Tennessee was taken from the native tribes and their British allies first by the Continental Army and then by Federal troops.

        Alabama and Mississippi were taken from the Spanish by Federal military might.

        Florida was taken from the native tribes and the Spanish by Federal military might.

        And then there was Texas, which the federal government had just fought an expensive war to defend from Mexico.

        In short, each one was a creation of the United States which had no right to unilaterally decide to split itself off.

        • JimBob

          There would have been no constitution if it wasn’t understoon states could leave the union. New York and New Jersey would not have agreed to ratify the constitution. The First Secessionist were New Englanders in 1812-1814

        • Secessionist

          Exactly. It’s not about accurate history for most of these guys. It’s about Lincoln hagiography and anti-Southern propaganda — it’s about maintaining the lie that the side that bowed out peacefully when the number of lives lost was ZERO is somehow worse than the side that invaded and ultimately caused 600,000 deaths. For neocons like Frum, it’s about those two things, protecting the gravy train to Israel and throwing up smoke to distract people from the fact that Ron Paul is the only anti-war candidate.

        • Gus

          So it was understood, but they opted not to put it in writing in the document itself? I’m more than a little skeptical.

  • Mildred Smith

    Oy Vey! Frum serves on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.End all Foreign Aid(Military kickback spending)now. The Moneychangers all sound alike,Canada is North,Israel is 7000 miles east-please go home Mr. Frum – Ron Paul 2012

  • Secessionist

    At best, Lincoln was a whoring opportunist who concealed his lifelong hatred of Blacks for political reasons once elected president. At worst, he was one the most evil men to ever occupy the office. The South exercised its moral and legal right to leave the union, and they did so peacefully. The South was not the aggressor. The South did not invade the North, capture Washington DC by force and then leave; they left peacefully. Lincoln then embarked on the path of mass slaughter leading to 600,000 deaths. Almost none of the 300,000 union dead would have viewed themselves as fighting to end slavery. And almost none of the 300,000 CSA dead owned slaves.

    • Dex

      “Secessionist” hates America so much that he defames the man who single-handedly preserved it in its hour of greatest peril. He also claims to be a medium who has polled 300,000 Union casualties in order to quantify their motivations.

      Will he also now contact the souls of all those abolition society members from the North and let them know that their work was all in vain?

      I hope he also takes the time to summon forth from the depths of hell some of those treasonous rebels who opened fire on Ft. Sumter, so that they can clue him into the fact that the South did not leave the union peacefully – they started the shooting, having already committed numerous acts of theft in the weeks beforehand.

      • Secessionist

        Yes, the average Union soldier would have viewed himself as fighting to preserve the union not to end slavery. Shelby Foote is my source. Maybe you haven’t heard of him.

    • midcon

      I would love to hear your legal basis for the right of any state to leave the union.

      Yes, almost none of the 300,000 were slave owners. Of course most of the 300,000 did not have any significant landholdings of their own, but worked for those who did.

      Regardless of the attempts to revise history, in the end it was about the southern states inability to accept the loss of their property (the slaves) and (God forbid!) having to pay for labor that was until then, free to them.

      Traitors and whiners! What a combination!

      • Dazedandconfused

        It was widely thought that the states had the better legal argument on the basic right to secede. Here’s a sampling of quotes from Jefferson, Madison, and others.

        However, seceding en mass and forming another complete nation with states that had been fought for and supported with help, like Texas, and the Louisiana Purchase ones? That complicates matters…

        Some things just can’t be decided by law. That’s what wars are sort of for, really.

      • Secessionist


        The moral justification for the South seceding can be found in the Declaration of Independence. The relevant idea is that government derives it just powers from the consent of the governed. People have an absolute moral right to withdraw their consent at any time.

        For the legal justification, you have to consider how the relationship between the states and the federal government was viewed BEFORE the Civil War. It was widely accepted that when a state joined the union by ratifying the Constitution, the state could legally withdraw from the Union at any time. Although there are other relevant pre-Civil War legal theories, the 10th amendment alone contains a legal basis for secession. The powers not granted to the federal government are specifically reserved to the states and to the people.

        People lose sight of the fact that the CSA was operating based on pre- rather than post-Civil War legal theories. Under post-Civil War theory, the right of a state to secede is much less clear than it was pre-Civil War.

        Again, the fact that the CSA peacefully seceded via the ballot box rather than by invading the North and killing people like the North did to the South shows they felt they were within their legal rights.

        At a minimum, the legal issues around secession were sufficiently unclear that it took a war to settle the matter. And since the North won on the battlefield rather than in the courtroom, the only reason its interpretation (now today’s interpretation) holds sway is because it was imposed force.

        Basically, Lincoln’s armies won a war of conquest against a sovereign nation. From a moral standpoint, Lincoln’s war was about as moral as the United States’ wars of slaughter against the North American Plains Indians.

        • Dex

          The states that seceded all had slave populations of 25% or more. The slaves did not give their consent to secession so that their bondage could be perpetuated.

          Your “moral justification” is neither.

        • Dazedandconfused

          And the morality of slavery is??

          Confederates may have a valid legal argument, but they best leave the moral ones alone. The institution was an abomination, pure and simple. I give them a lot of leeway because they inherited it, and ending it suddenly was of very questionable wisdom, but they sure as hell can’t claim much high ground, if any at all.

          They didn’t put the decision to popular votes, as your ballot box comment implies. South Carolina seceded the day it was known Lincoln had won, and so did many other states. The reason for attacking Ft. Sumter was to get Virginia “off the fence”.

        • Secessionist

          The elected representatives of the Southern states made the decision to secede. So secession was via the ballot box, exercised indirectly via the representatives to whom the people had delegated the decision.

          Obviously there is no moral or ethical defense for slavery. But that has nothing to do with the South’s moral justification in the political arena to secede based on their right to withdraw consent. Those two issues should not be conflated. If the presence of slavery nullifies the South’s moral argument for political secession based on withdrawing consent, it would mean the 13 colonies had no moral basis for separation from England as there was slave activity throughout the colonies at the time, including in some Northern states.

          I think you are correct to point to the historical context. The South inherited slavery, and it was woven into the economic life of the elites that ran the South. Slavery had the effect of keeping the South an economic backwater. This harmed everyone except the relative few who profited from slave activity.

          That said, slavery was not economically sustainable as only a very few benefited, and almost certainly would have died out in short order without Lincoln’s war. Slavery was was either already dead or dying all over the Western hemisphere by the 1860s. Although there is no way to know for sure, it doesn’t seem likely the South would have bucked a worldwide trend.

    • jg bennet

      So you agree with the historians that the war was not just about slavery there was a big economic and limited government reason.

      How would Jefferson Davis the president of the Confederate States vote?

      Davis’s principles were those of free trade; strict constitutionalism; a limited federal government and expansive state’s rights; outspoken opposition to federal spending on “internal improvements,” which were the proper province of the states or better still private enterprise, unless they could be justified on grounds of national security. So that makes it all but certain that he would cast his vote Republican & most likely for Ron Paul.

      Today’s Republicans are not Lincoln Republicans they are Jefferson Davis Republicans

  • Medicodon

    Dear Mr. Frump. I mean Frum.

    Dr. Ron Paul has forgotten much much more, than you will ever know.

    • Dex

      Yes, he is far too old to be taken seriously as a candidate, isn’t he…

    • busboy33

      Personal insult and misdirection — what a thoughtful way to refute the points raised in the OP. Nothing says “I’m demonstrably correct” like holding your breath until you turn blue.

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