Friday, July 8, 2011

The South Also Rises

Note: I didn't include this Q&A from my latest Formspring round-up for a few reasons. First, it's really really long, and that post was long enough already. Secondly, it's totally different in tone from the typical sardonic smart-assery and I figured it would be jarring. But finally, I really am curious what people think about this issue, and in particular I want to be educated about what Southerners think about the Civil War today. So have at it, Southerners.

Are you still doing political-type questions? Because i have one. On NPR today a guy said, Violence was the only way to end slavery, because pacifism wasn't going to work." As a pacifist, i want to disagree. Opinions?

Before getting to the meat of the question, there are a few points that need to be made for clarification.

First, we have sadly been learning more and more about how alive slavery is today, so it very unfortunately can't be said that slavery has been ended in the world. I presume the caller was referring to the violence of the Civil War, and the ending of legally recognized institutionalized slavery in the United States.

It should also be pointed out that the Civil War was not technically fought over slavery -- it was fought over the secession of the Confederate states, and the federal government's unwillingness to allow them to do it. Of course, the trigger for secession itself was the abolition of slavery represented by the Emancipation Proclamation, so clearly slavery was involved, but it is a point worth making that the war itself was not directly fought over slavery.

However, it is clear that it took the Civil War to stop secession, bring the seceding slave-holding states back into the Union (some slave-holding states did not secede), and end slavery at that particular moment in time. So I think it needs to be conceded even by staunch pacifists that it took violence to end institutionalized slavery in the United States at that particular time.

What would have happened without violence? It's pretty much impossible to say, but I think we can make a few fairly safe assumptons.

First, slavery would have continued in the Confederate States of America for a period of time following secession. How long is a total guess, but I would have to think, given how violently civil rights was contested in the United States (and particularly in the South) up until the 1960s, that it would have been many decades, maybe even a century.

Secondly, it seems almost unfathomable that slavery would not have ended in the Confederacy at some point. Even by the early 1800s, many European nations were outlawing slavery. Britain in particular was entering into dozens (I think) of pacts with various countries to end or curtail the slave trade. By the 1860s, the world mood was generally one of abolition, with the United States one of several notable holdouts. So imagine if you will the level of animosity, sanction, and pressure leveled by the international political and economic community against a nation in (let's say) 1971 that still believed in buying and selling human beings as though they were livestock, which is essentially what they were under the law. Imagine South African circa 1980, but worse. It's hard to imagine a country not caving in to this pressure eventually, via comparatively more peaceful means, as South Africa did. And of course, then would begin the long and tumultuous process of Jim Crow laws and segregation and institutionalized racism and disenfranchisement -- but five or seven or fifteen decades behind schedule, and with all that extra corrosive water under the bridge, to boot.

(Incidentally, if any of my Southern friends would like to educate me on the true causes and motivations behind the War of Northern Aggression, and why they think -- if they do think this -- that the South being allowed to secede would have been a long-term good thing for the South, I am quite sincerely all ears. It seems like it would have been a total friggin' disaster for the Confederacy.)

So, I don't think that I would agree with that NPR caller that violence was necessary to end legal institutionally recognized slavery in the United States. Justice will win in the end. It's sort of a tortoise and the hare thing. Violence was 'merely' necessary to end it right at that moment in history. But the ramifications of letting that string play out would have been momentous, and logically it seems unlikely that the effects would have been positive. Ask a descendant of slavery if they think it would have been favorable to keep that institution around for another 70 years or so. Be careful how you word the question, though.

But more than that, it's possible that the world that we now inhabit, so hostile to slavery, might not exist in the same form today that it now does. To give just one obvious example, during the amazing upheavals of the two World Wars, the United States as it was composed would not exist. We would have been two countries -- one industrialized, urban, and perhaps like the United States as we understand it to have been at that time, but certainly greatly diminished by its loss, and the other agrarian, slave-holding, and as a result almost certainly alienated from other European countries (such as France and particularly Britain), with whom we aligned ourselves in those conflicts, and perhaps, just maybe, more amenable to a doctrine of race purity. It's difficult to know what worlds may have turned upon the decision to go to war with the Confederacy over secession.

That is a lot of speculation, especially at the end. But I don't think I'm going too far afield with it. I think we pacifists may have to wrestle with the fact that sometimes a thing is so unjust that ending it immediately is the best outcome, even if violence is the tool used to arrive at that outcome.

Then again, without violence, perhaps something even better would have occurred. It just doesn't seem likely.

To answer your other question: Yes. I'm still answering political questions.


As always, your questions answered here.

3 comments:

The Neophyte said...

I am not Southern, though I have lived here a lot longer than I did up North, but you're right that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War, per se. Abolition was the cause the Federal Gov't used to get people to enlist and raise money for the war.

What the South objected to was what they felt was the high handed way the Federal Government was telling them what to do. The Constitution was supposed to limit the power of the Federal Government and in their eyes they felt the government was superceding it's authority. Abolishing slavery was just another way they felt the government was going to overstep its bounds. And the Confederate government used that to enlist support for the war on their end.

Abraham Lincoln had no desire to end slavery then. He could see the writing was on the wall for slavery already, it was a dying institution. It may have taken another 50 years or more before it was gone but Lincoln feared the result that did happen in the end. Thousands of uneducated former slaves suddenly freed without the necessary support in many cases to transition to being free.

I can't say it would have been a good thing for the South to have been allowed to secede. For one there was very little industrial strength in the South which means just about any textiles or manufactured goods had to be imported. The South would have gotten poorer until it became more industrialized to meet it's own needs. The North probably would have been better off as they would have become the South's biggest trading partner. It may have hurried the end of slavery along if the South became free and started their own manufacturing. Slavery would only have worked in an agrarian society.

I do not believe pacifism works in most cases. A group who wants to eliminate another group will not be deterred by pacifism. Just ask the Khmer Rouge who killed 25% of the population of Cambodia or the Hutus who killed 800,000 Tutsis in the space of 100 days in Rwanda. Neither was stopped by pacifists. That's not to say pacifism cannot work, but it needs some outside force to remind the non-pacifist that what they are doing is wrong. Sure Gandhi's method of pacifism and civil disobedience worked in India but the English wanted to rule India, not exterminate the Indians. And the English people were not interested in a war in India after the end of WWII.

Julius_Goat said...

Thanks, Neophyte. An interesting point you made was that "abolition was just another way [the South] felt the government was going to overstep its bounds."

What were some others? Would it be correct to say that abolition was the biggest of these? For my part, I think it is a stretch to say that abolishing the practice of owning humans would be unconstitutional, even if it involves imposition of federal will upon the states. Of course, 150 years in the future is a pretty lofty perch from which to make pronouncements. Are there those in the South who still feel that such a move would be unconstitutional? If so, is there any federal law that could be constitutionally mandated to the states within that rubric?

As for pacifism, I guess my point is that it only always 'works' if you have a very far-reaching view of how 'working' is defined. To be dedicated to pacifism requires one to be willing to be very patient and endure a lot of painful consequence for the peaceful and reign and rule by the tyrannical, often for many lifetimes. That's probably why there are so few dedicated pacifists, and so many who are either comfortable with a certain level of violence, or at least pragmatically accept it.

On the other hand, it strikes me that change -- even positive change -- brought on by violence usually leaves rough scars (as evidenced by the fact that a decade and a half later there is still acrimony surrounding the Civil War), while change brought on by peaceful means, while slow and grueling, may be more real and lasting.

The Neophyte said...

I think its definitely correct to say that limiting/abolishing slavery was the biggest fear of the southern states. And based on the population trends etc it was a valid fear for them. Prior to the war, the North was expanding in population at a much greater rate than the South and already controlled about 60% of the House of Representatives. They knew their chances of electing a President from the south were slimmer with each election. And with the Missouri Compromise stopping slavery from expanding north of 36'30, the admission of California as a free state, and the blocking of Kansas admission as a slave state (Stephen Douglas was instrumental in this)they were going to lose the Senate as well.

One proof to them of the Federal Government being against the southern states was in the tariff protections enacted to protect northern manufacturers at the expense of southern food exporters. Another was the Wilmot Proviso which banned slavery in territories won in the Mexican-American War. The Proviso did not pass the Senate but did pass the House first. To most southerners it was only a matter of time until the Feds banned slavery in the states too. One further area was the creation of a National Bank. The bank became very powerful and ws felt to support rich northeastern interests at the expense of poorer southern and western states. Though Andrew Jackson destroyed the Bank of the US in the 1830s, Lincoln ended up bringing national banks back into being.

You would think the abolition of slavery wouldn't be declared unconstitutional but based on the Dred Scot Decision, it really would have been. In the Decision the Supreme Court affirmed the rights of slaveholders as property owners declaring slaves had no rights. To slaveholders, it wasn't ownership of humans but ownership of property and by the 5th amendment, the government could not deprive people of their property without due process. Fortunately the definition of humans and property has changed since then.

My hat is off to someone who can remain a pacifist no matter the situation. Personally I cannot. I can see situations where it works but I can also see situations where it doesn't. Or maybe it's a short term vs long term viewpoint. Pacifism seems to work for the Amish still after all these years.