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Is the Civil War Narrative Changing?

Here in my town last week we held an annual event commemorating Corbit’s Charge.  Never heard of it? I wouldn’t think so, unless you are either local or deeply immersed in Civil War history. This was a skirmish incidental to the Gettysburg Campaign. While Lee led the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia through Harper’s Ferry and into central Pennsylvania, J.E.B. Stuart took the cavalry division cavorting though central Maryland to no particular purpose. Eventually the time came for him to rejoin the main army, and he headed up what is now State Route 97.

This took him through my town of Westminster. Westminster was on the Western Maryland railroad, and so rated a small Union garrison, with a bit of infantry and a bit of cavalry. They got wind that some Confederate cavalry was at the south end of town, so the Union cavalry jumped on their horses and charged down Main Street under Captain Charles Corbit. It did not go well. He had counted on the presence of some Confederate cavalry, but not of all of it. The charge reversed direction, resulting in a running skirmish back up Main Street. About half the Union cavalry, including Captain Corbit, was captured.

Frankly, this ain’t much, but it’s all we got. Some people try to make this skirmish to be Very Important by claiming that it delayed Stuart long enough to prevent him from doing anything useful at Gettysburg, thereby turning the tide of the entire war. Deep skepticism of every element of this claim would be appropriate. But the real pisser is that the Battle of Gettysburg was supposed to be here in Carroll County. George Meade had taken command of the Army of the Potomac just the day before, with orders to protect Washington and Baltimore. He quickly devised a plan to position the army along Pipe Creek here in Carroll County. This would have presented Lee with three bad options: make a frontal assault against a prepared position; wander around central Pennsylvania for a while then go home; or skip the wandering around part and just go home right away. Just think of the epic Battle of Pipe Creek! Just think of all those sweet, sweet tourism dollars! Sadly, it was not to be. As Meade was putting his units into position he received word that a fight had started about fifteen miles to the northwest, in Gettysburg. The local forces had retreated through the town and occupied the nearby high ground. Meade had to decide whether to have those forces fall back into their positions along Pipe Creek, or throw everything he had into the fight he had. He went with the second choice, and it worked out pretty well for him, so who am I to second guess? But we lost our battle! We were promised a history-changing battle and all we got was a puny cavalry skirmish.  (I should sell T-shirts.)

So that is the background to the annual Corbit’s Charge commemoration. It’s a lemon, but the best we have got, so the town does its best to make lemonade. This involves reenactors getting together every year and looking solemn. I wandered through the encampment a few years ago. It gave me the creeps. The Confederate reenactors–and there was a lot of gray in evidence–had a strong Lost Cause air to them. They gave a distinct impression that they thought the wrong side had won.

One part of the annual event is the graveside service at the Episcopal church. The Union cavalry had managed to kill two Confederate officers, who were buried in the Episcopal churchyard. The family of one of them retrieved the body after the war, but Lieutenant John William Murray is still there. This is an opportunity not to be missed. They get to stand around the grave with their most solemn expressions and declaim on the noble sacrifice of Lt. Murray: a complete wankfest.

This is where things get interesting. It turns out that there is another Civil War soldier in that churchyard: Corporal Samuel Butler, a colored soldier. This had gone unnoticed for years, until someone noticed a faded “USCT” on the headstone and the pin dropped. There is a script for what comes next. Money is raised for a new marker and everyone has a new opportunity for their most solemn countenances while talking about his sacrifice, etc. etc.

This is where things went wacky. A speaker was brought in from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He didn’t follow the approved script:

“He was well aware that the war was prompted by the issue of slavery,” McCoy said, according to a prepared text of his remarks. “And, as an African-American, he surely knew that the war’s outcome would determine whether an immoral institution that enslaved people like him would continue to exist in the United States.”

What? The war was prompted by the issue of slavery? Unacceptable! Faced with this grossly offensive statement, the color guard sergeant from the Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans ordered the color guard to turn about face in protest. Good times.

Why does a statement so manifestly true as to be banal provoke such a response? It would be tempting to treat this as yet another sign of our sadly decayed public discourse in these latter days, but this pattern has been around since the war itself. It started in the North. While the institution of slavery didn’t win any popularity prizes in the North back in the day, few considered it something to fight a war over. “We’re fighting to free the slaves” didn’t wow many focus groups, so they went with an abstraction: “We’re fighting to preserve the Union.” This glosses over the question of why this fight was necessary, the answer being “slavery.”

The South had no such qualms, with several states explicitly citing slavery as a cause for secession. This changed after the war, and particularly after the end of Reconstruction. At that point the North threw in the towel on civil rights and the rule of law (in both the North and the South, to our eternal shame). Both sides now had an interest in smoothing things over, since they had to live together like it or not. The solution was another turn to the abstract: the South fought not to preserve slavery (even disguised under the euphemism of its “peculiar institution”). It fought for “States’ Rights.” The war was reduced to dueling abstractions: the Preservation of the Union versus States’ Rights, the conflict apparently just springing up spontaneously. The Southerners were at worst misguided, but noble.

The process was a little like the denazification of Germany following the Second World War. The western Allies found that they needed German cooperation, both for civil administration and to face the Red Army. The problem was that Nazis had been thoroughly vilified. This would be awkward, even had the vilification not been warranted. The solution was to identify and punish top offenders. Everyone else was declared to be the good Germans, who had fought out of noble, albeit misguided, patriotism. The difference with the Civil War was that no top offenders were identified. Everyone from top to bottom got to be a noble, if misguided, idealist.

The idea became entrenched in later decades as the war moved from current events through recent memory into the realm of academic history. Academic historians reflexively dismiss simple explanations for big events. You can’t put the causes of the Napoleon Wars or the First World War in a single tweet. The idea is ridiculous. Hence the impulse is to favor multifaceted causes behind the Civil War as well, resulting in complicated analyses of the chain of events, while glossing over the reality that there was one and only one reason the South decided it could no longer live with the North. Much chin-stroking is mandatory.

What it came down to was that the South got one of those rare exceptions to the principle that the winners write the history books. Even Northern histories adopted the abstract rationalization for why the war happened. This is how we get the weird circumstance that Southern generals could be lionized regardless of how much revisionism this takes, and even outright terrorists got schools named after them. In the meantime, Northern generals could be freely criticized or even demonized. Only Lincoln is off limits, and not even him if you don’t name him explicitly.  Everyone else is fair game.  The peculiar result is that the self-styled “party of Lincoln” can be the staunch defenders of all things Confederate, under the guise of “heritage,” don’t you know…

This finally brings us to the part that really interests me about the Corbit’s Charge story. It isn’t the neo-Confederate reaction to what they consider (but would never name) politically incorrect speech. It is to the newspaper reporter’s reaction of incredulity:

Even the argument that the war was really over states’ rights tends to circle back to slavery. In becoming the first state to secede from the Union, South Carolina complained of “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.” Mississippi declared that “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

This is not the reporter seeking out a quote to counter the neo-Confederate statement for a“well, people disagree” balanced story. This is the reporter simply pointing out why the neo-Confederate version is obvious bullshit  This is amazing. I am impressed when a newspaper story about the Flat-Earth Society will go out on a limb and flatly state that the Earth is in fact a sphere.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, we see actual progress: evidence that the narrative has changed and now accepts the obvious truth that the Civil War was ultimately about slavery, whatever else was layered on top of that.  I don’t expect the neo-Confederates to accept this new narrative, but even their defensiveness is a good sign.  The narrative has changed such that they now need to defend the old version. Some days I have hope.

P.S. The newspaper story also references two politicians who were there: Westminster City Council President Robert Wack and Maryland Delegate Haven Shoemaker. Wack’s response to the speaker was that he

“was just restating historical fact,” Wack said. “If they find that disrespectful, that’s their issue.”

Huzzah! I am happy I voted for him. He is a Republican, like nearly all politicians in the county, but local Republicans come in three flavors: Main Street Republicans, who know that potholes need fixing and that someone will have to pay for this; Pro-Growth Republicans, who regard the business of government to be the advancement of the interests of real estate developers; and Barking Mad Republicans, who use the bully pulpit to howl at the moon. Wack is a Main Street Republican. I have no issue with that crowd (with the stipulation that I am a white middle class heterosexual male).

Then there is Haven Shoemaker:

Maryland Del. Haven Shoemaker was also at the event, and spoke briefly. Calls to his office for comment were not returned.

Yup. This is what I would have expected. There is not a chance in the world he would minimize his press exposure if he could figure out a way to make himself look good to everyone. But he is very adept at keeping a low profile when it suits him. He used to be the mayor of the next town over. The town eminent domained some property it wanted in order to (you guessed it) promote growth. This is a Republican county. Eminent domain is right up there with drowning kittens in local public opinion. The story was in the paper for weeks. I was vastly impressed at how in all those stories you would never guess that Haven Shoemaker was the mayor of the town doing this. What a weasel. No, I didn’t vote for him.

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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180 thoughts on “Is the Civil War Narrative Changing?

  1. I suspect it might be increased political and geographical polarization that are causing people to speak against the romanticization of the Confederacy.

    The center-left has basically had it with any idealization of the Slaver’s rebellion and is calling bullshit. I suspect that there will always be racists and shitposters or what memers call themselves but the last remnants and supporters of the pre-Civil Rights Era South are dead or dying and there is no reason to humor them anymore. Southern Democrats no longer see a need to try and square the circle between their minority and liberal voters and whatever remnants of the Yellow Dog Democrats remained. Any Southern Democratic Party supporter now is going to stay that way.

    Also the DLC era is over. Democratic Party members are moving to the left.

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    • I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that there is a shift not only in the center-left calling bullshit of romanticizing the Confederacy, but on the whole “Well, it’s complicated…” bit that enabled the romanticized Confederacy. My historiography of the Civil War is not what it should be, so perhaps I have missed something, but my sense is that “Well, it’s complicated…” was the mainstream academic history position until quite recently.

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      • Eric Foner’s Reconstruction was a conscious effort to alter the historiography of Reconstruction, which is critical to the Lost Cause. It was published in 2001.

        I ran across it because of Ta-Nehisi Coates who started discussing it on his blog in about 2010.

        I think the internet has been a powerful force here, since transcripts of so many of the original documents are simply available online. You can drop a link and tell people to read the South Carolina Articles of Secession themselves.

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      • While this comment is in response to yours, it’s not directed at you, but at a certain approach to those who would debunk pro-CSA apologetics. In a nutshell: My CW historiography is also pretty weak, but “it’s complicated” is almost always the right answer when discussing major events like the CW.

        I also get kind of prickly when people insist that “slavery” “caused” the CW. It didn’t. It was a war over slavery. It was caused by people who wanted to keep slavery alive and entrenched and in a certain sense, it was also caused by people who wanted to limit and stifle slavery (and by some who wanted to abolish it altogether). Slavery was intricately implicated in the CW. But to say that it “caused” the conflict is to oversimplify.

        I realize that you’re referring to something different when it comes to “it’s complicated.” You’re referring to a more equivocal stance that some adopt when it comes to the reasons the southern states seceded. I also realize I’m being a bit pedantic. I further realize there is a sense in which one can say a labor system or political system or slavery could “cause” something.

        But it’s long drawn out argument and forces us to make assumptions about causation and justify those assumptions–and when we think real hard about those assumptions, they’re not as easy to justify. When dealing with pro-CSA apologists and the “it’s complicated” crowd, I think we’re more likely to be successful by just referring to known facts, such as the SC articles of secession Dr. Jay mentions in his comment.

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        • The statement that resulted in the delicate flowers of the color guards taking the vapors was that “the war was prompted by the issue of slavery”. A link to the SC articles of secession won’t persuade these people, and burying the clear implication of the material in that link doesn’t make for a stronger argument for those in the middle.

          As for “It’s complicated,” it really isn’t, on the underlying causes level. At any point in the decades before the war, if you can magically remove slavery as an issue, then there is no impetus for secession or war. Suppose the plantation economy had not transitioned from tobacco to cotton, and slavery had gradually died out in the South as it had in the North. There simply would be no reason for secession.

          Of course it is complicated how this plays out. Exploring these complications is what historians to, and perfectly appropriate under normal circumstances. But “It’s complicated” can, even if offered innocently, but put to use as a smoke screen hiding the ugly simplicity behind it. The present reaction against this is appropriate and healthy.

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          • Suppose the plantation economy had not transitioned from tobacco to cotton, and slavery had gradually died out in the South…

            Suppose that the transition happened and as slavery died out it was replaced with tenant farming with indenture, and assorted schemes to keep the workers in debt to the wealthy land owners. That still leaves the South with a poor agricultural economy, so that things like the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 are still seen as attempts by the industrial North to extract wealth from the South. The Compromise Tariff of 1833 was a carrot, but backed up by a stick with the passage of the Force Bill authorizing the use of the military in states that didn’t comply. Hypothetically, you could still end up with the powerful people in the South taking the view that their end of the deal had become short enough that it’s worth going their separate way.

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            • Hume’s Law: reason is a slave of the passions. And the South, or least powerful people within the south, were passionate about preserving slavery as an institution. Why? Well, answering that question is why the US civil war is one of the most written-about events in all of history.

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              • The Southern planter class liked to envision themselves as more than mere business people even though they were basically business people and often very good at it. They saw themselves as gentry and feudal lords dominating the politics, economy, and society of the South. Having a big manor house with a demise, a planation with fields, and serfs/slaves to operate the fields and house fed into that image of themselves. Its why one of the most radical Southerners advocated enslaving poor whites. Even though most planters did not go that far, they found that race based slavery was a good way to stop non-planter whites from asking difficult questions.

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          • a link to the SC Articles of Secession won’t convince these people

            Is that because they are simply too caught up in their own mythology to bother to read anything? Or do they make the argument that the South simply wanted out of a “gentleman’s agreement” that no longer suited it?

            For the former, I have no answer but a thump on the head. Not that I recommend that.

            For the latter, the response is that there is a law of reciprocity that is engraved on the hearts of all human beings, and that when those humans who have lost elections for a couple of decades finally win one because of the political incompetence of their opponents (The ran 3 candidates against Lincoln!), they expect the results of that election to be honored in the manner that they have honored past elections. Anything else is bad faith. Secession as a response to an election is the apex of bad faith. It makes a mockery of the idea of a republican government. Which is why I did not advocate for it in response to any election, no matter how terrible I thought the candidate was.

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            • One of the more amusing arguments I’ve seen recently is a person screaming that the Union had no Constitutional right to prevent the South from seceding. I replied that it was irrelevant, because once the South seceded it was a foreign country, and the United States quite clearly had the Constitutional right to declare war on the Confederacy, just as it has the right to declare war on any foreign country.

              Similarly, under the Posse Comitatus Act, Trump can’t use the military to make California obey federal law, but if they secede he can bomb them into the stone age, invade, conquer, occupy them, and name the new US territory “Trumplandia”.

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          • Not really.
            The Civil War was caused more by secession than slavery. Not that slavery wasn’t front-and-center, but there was a lot more to it than that. Additionally, So. Carolina had the precedent of the withdrawal of Arlington from the District of Columbia.
            Lincoln was quite content with containment, and believed that slavery was unnatural, and would die out on its own. Bringing Texas into the Union shifted the balance of power, and it could well be said the entry of Texas into the Union caused the Civil War.
            My understanding (which may be a little off) is that the first actual shots were fired over a naval blockade in the Carolinas. That is, the South was acting like they were really a nation, with sovereignty, that sort of thing.

            The problems start with viewing the Civil War as an event in itself, when really, it only makes sense within context.
            To say simply “Slavery” fails to indicate why the plan to purchase the freedom of slaves was unsuccessful (I remember reading of two slaves, man & wife, who worked for wages in order to purchase their freedom, at $300 apiece).
            There was a lot of political jockeying that was going on that kept directing things to a head.

            As for the Revisionists, the Reconstruction was poorly handled, and some memories run long. I can’t say that they’re wrong for this.

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            • The Civil War was caused more by secession than slavery.

              This is like saying that a man pushed off the roof wasn’t killed by being pushed off the roof. Indeed, he wasn’t killed by the fall at all. The landing, however, was another matter: very unfortunate, that.

              This is precisely the sort of chin-stroking that obfuscates rather than enlightens.

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              • The root cause of the Civil War is that the North didn’t have enough slaves, or the South had too many. You see, it all comes down to inequality, the inequality of slave distribution. It could have happened over almost any kind of property.

                Northerner 1: “Hey, how come the South has all the Sony PS4s?”
                Northerner 2: “Because us Northerners banned them due to a copyright case in the 2nd District.”
                Northerner 1: “But then it ain’t right for the South to have them too. Northerner 2: “South, you must give up your Sony Playstations.”

                South: “FU Yankees! We’re seceding!”

                Northerner 1: “War!!!”

                So they fight a war and everyone has to give up their Sony Playstations. Then the country gets flooded with cheap Nintendos from Mexico until people get fed up and demand a wall.

                And that’s pretty much where we are now.

                Or for something a bit deeper, try The Cousins Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America

                The question at the heart of The Cousins’ Wars is this: How did Anglo-America evolve over a mere three hundred years from a small Tudor kingdom into a global community with such a hegemonic grip on the world today, while no other European power—Spain, France, Germany, or Russia—did? The answer to this, according to Phillips, lies in a close examination of three internecine English-speaking civil wars—the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War. These wars between cousins functioned as crucial anvils on which various religious, ethnic, and political alliances were hammered out between the English-speaking cousin-nations, setting them on a unique two-track path toward world leadership—one aristocratic and aloof to dominate the imperial nineteenth century and the other more egalitarian and democratic to take over in the twentieth century. They also functioned as unfortunate and deadly cultural crucibles for African Americans, Native Americans, and the Irish.Phillips’s analysis shows exactly how these conflicts are inextricably linked and how they seeded each other. He offers often surprising interpretations that cut across the political spectrum—for instance, that the Constitution of the United States, while brilliant in many respects, was also a fatally flawed political compromise that contributed mightily in setting the stage for the final—and the bloodiest—cousins’ war: the American Civil War.With the new millennium upon us and triggering widespread assessment of our nation’s place in world history, The Cousins’ Wars provides just the kind of magisterial sweep and revisionist spark to ignite widespread interest and debate. This grand religious, military, and political epic is the multi-dimensional story of the triumph of Anglo-America.

                It was a slight reshuffling of Cavaliers vs Round Heads all three times. The outcome was always the same.

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          • As for “It’s complicated,” it really isn’t, on the underlying causes level. At any point in the decades before the war, if you can magically remove slavery as an issue

            “Slavery as an issue” causing the CW is different from “slavery” causing the war. “Slavery as an issue” is the attempts by slave owners to expand the institution and by free soilers to try to cordon it off. Again, I realize I’m being pedantic. Perhaps I should just say statements like “slavery caused the CW” is more of a pet peeve for me and I’m making it bigger than that.

            A link to the SC articles of secession won’t persuade these people, and burying the clear implication of the material in that link doesn’t make for a stronger argument for those in the middle.

            I’m not suggesting we “bury the implication” of anything. We say, “the secessionists cited slavery as the key reason they were seceding,” link to the articles of secession, and quote the relevant portion of those articles. That may persuade some people. If people aren’t persuaded by that, then simply saying “slavery caused the CW” won’t do it, either.

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            • My, aren’t you naive. Of course the South claimed that slavery was the cause of the war, because they were trying to distract most people from the real reasons, and because they couldn’t acknowledge those reasons in private or in public because they couldn’t face the truth of them.

              The real reason for the Civil War was Russian meddling in the 1860 election.

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      • It (it’s complicated ) largely still is the position of the specialists, and will continue to be.

        The simplest explanation is that the players at the time totally failed to come up with a political and legal compromise to allow the two systems to coexist. Whiggish moderation just failed. The rising belligerence of the slaveholding class, founded in the aristocratic ideology that “outside of intervention from $DEITY, how else could this have some to pass?” just wasn’t tenable. The South was cornered and knew it.

        The thing that’s a bit infuriating is when people judge people of the time by present mores – presentism. If all you can do is be outraged by all that racism, then it’s going to be hard to catch any of the subtle color to the issues.

        I find it quite annoying also that people now throw Shelby Foote under the “lost causer” bus. I don’t think that’s remotely accurate. There’s all that Southrun Dualism in him, as there was in Faulkner. That’s not the same thing.

        I really prefer to think of it exactly as Orwell did in “Burmese Days”, that slavery and subjugation verging on slavery was everywhere an artifact of Mercantilism . Once established, it’s bloody work getting rid of it.

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        • I agree. The Civil War was both simple and complicated. Simple in that slavery was the main cause, complex because there were other smaller factors. The problem with some of the current views on the war is that it covers up the racism that took place in the North and continued for decades afterwards.

          As Malcom X said, the Mason-Dixon line is the Canadian border.

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          • True. Part of the problem is that while the Civil War is usually taught in school Reconstruction isn’t. Or at least it is waved away. Understanding Reconstruction and how it was ended clarifies many things about the failures of the North and the intent of the South.

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          • Agreed… much more work is needed on Reconstruction; that’s the blind spot of Civil War history. Unfortunately, “It’s complicated” only gets worse, and doesn’t redound to the glory of the Northern states either.

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  2. Even devil’s deserve advocates, so here goes. The trouble with “It was all about slavery — full stop” is not that it demonizes the south. Yes, the purpose of the confederacy really was the protection of slavery. The trouble is that it sanctifies the north. Abolition really wasn’t on the union agenda. Lincoln ran on a platform of containment in 1860, not abolition. Is there any reason to think that slavery would not have survived the Lincoln administration had the south not seceded and then fired on Fort Sumter?

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    • There is truth in that. However the conflict over slavery had been on the verge of bubbling over since the Compromise of 1850. If the CW hadn’t happened in the 60’s it would have been in the 70′ or 80’s. There was an inherent conflict with no way to solve it.

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    • Sure, fighting to free the slaves is a fiction that makes the Union seen noble and selfless, but I don’t get why “preserve the union” is viewed as some sort of exercise in greed an immorality by some. It seems like preserving the territorial integrity of the country against a rebellion is a perfectly legitimate reason to go to war, so making the fact that the Union did exactly that some sort of dirty little secret never made a lot of sense to me.

      On one hand, you have the Union going to war to hold the US together against a rebellion.

      On the other hand, you have a rebellion designed to break the US apart explicitly to maintain slavery.

      So the first guys didn’t do it to end slavery. Given the truth about what each side was doing, what are we supposed to conclude about each side’s moral standing, and how is it supposed to make the Confederacy look better?

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      • The pro-Confederacy people do have a couple of good arguments they could make, but they are ones I’ve never heard them use. Without Southern slavery the modern US would have virtually no black population at all. Nobody was ever going to send ships to the African coast to pick up penniless African immigrants and haul them across the ocean, and then give them free land.

        Without the Civil War and the inevitable Civil Rights struggles that followed, most of the West’s colonial era thoughts about blacks would probably never have changed, or not changed nearly as much. 1800’s era views on race would probably still be mainstream throughout the New World, Europe, and Asia.

        The rotting corpse of the Confederacy did all that, and those are accomplishments to be proud of.

        Sometimes your purpose in life is to serve as a big flashing warning to others. :-)

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        • Edmund Morgan’s book American Slavery makes this precise point. There might not be any such thing as the America we know if not for the institution of slavery.

          https://www.amazon.com/American-Slavery-Freedom-Edmund-Morgan/dp/039332494X/ref=zg_bs_16244141_5?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=26PV1ABBXYHFXAFGT58C

          On a smaller scale, California, where I live, is part of the US because of Polk’s multi-dimensional deceptions and bullying of Mexico. His behavior is not anything I would endorse in any president, and it would earn my everlasting enmity. Yet here I am, listening to the birds sing in some quiet Californian hills.

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        • Without the Civil War and the inevitable Civil Rights struggles that followed, most of the West’s colonial era thoughts about blacks would probably never have changed

          I don’t think this is true. The US was one of the last western nations to renounce slavery as a domestic practice. Almost everyone else was way ahead of the US on this issue, yes?

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          • I think the idea is to draw a distinction between slavery in particular and white supremacism in general. To use a parallel, it’s been argued that the Holocaust had some impact in weakening the rhetorical force of American racism, even though there wasn’t a precisely equivalent genocide happening here at the time.

            One could argue something similar about the war, though a lot of caveats are needed. (For one thing, the Nazi Party actually used American race laws as a guiding example for implementing their own equivalents.) Overall, I’d say that the existence of slavery itself did more to discredit racism than did the secession which slavery spurred.

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        • “The pro-Confederacy people do have a couple of good arguments they could make, but they are ones I’ve never heard them use.”

          That’s because whenever they try, the response is “oh, there were reasons other than PRESERVING SLAVERY? Yeah, let’s HEAR ’em, you FUCKING RACIST SHITHEAD. Oh, you’re gonna run away now, precious babby snowflake got all twiggered? Need a safe space to suck on your thumb a little? Yeah, that’s what I THOUGHT, you fucking RACIST.”

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          • Even if the war could in some way have been prevented, that doesn’t change the actual, written intentions of secession’s architects. Maybe bin Laden could have been talked out of 9/11 but that doesn’t mean his motivations were totally different than we assume.

            You can shout “RACE CARD” all day long. How does your attitude apply to, say, the Third Reich? You can’t possibly call it “racist” or “anti-semitic” in nature, because you’ve already established that’s a slippery slope to SIMPLISTIC and ALL-CAPS thinking.

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            • “Even if the war could in some way have been prevented, that doesn’t change the actual, written intentions of secession’s architects.”

              Haw. “oh, there were reasons other than PRESERVING SLAVERY? Yeah, let’s HEAR ’em, you FUCKING RACIST.”

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        • George,
          Of course nobody was going to send ships to the African coast to pick up penniless thugs.

          Ever wonder why the free market (aka middle class Africans) has better outcomes than the slaver’s market? Patterns keep going until this day.

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      • TF: I didn’t say that the truth makes the Confederacy look better. It doesn’t. I also never said that the moral standing of the two sides was the same. They weren’t. The existence of a devil doesn’t logically imply the existence of angels. In fact, your formulation of the issue is rather a good one: The cause of the Civil War was a rebellion to maintain slavery.

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        • “The cause of the Civil War was a rebellion to maintain slavery.”

          But once you’ve said that, what’s the use of ever discussing anything else?

          You’re forgetting that this is the Internet, where ignoring nuance and complexity is seen as virtuous. There were other ways things could have happened? Whatever, RACIST, you’re DEFENDING RACISM. There might have been a non-military solution? Whatever, RACIST, you’re DEFENDING RACISM.

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          • What’s your basis for disagreeing?

            1. The Civil War was undoubtedly caused by a rebellion, the south launched an unprovoked attack on a US military base, ultimately capturing it.

            2. The seceding states themselves explained their efforts (in documents they intended to serve analogous roles to the declaration of independence, both by providing moral justification and securing foreign aid) as designed to protect their right to keep slaves.

            I see you whining about these points, but not actually discussing them.

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    • The spread of slavery was a centerpiece issue for the Free Labor movement, which Lincoln was at the center of. Their platform did not contemplate either equality for the Negro, or the abolition of slavery, but it did advocate the containment of slave labor, to provide more employment opportunities for free whites.

      But the Slave Power was facing a fiscal crisis. Much of the value of the more eastern slave holdings depended on getting top dollar for their slaves, who were shipped off to the frontier. The Slave Power needed to expand or die.

      So Lincoln’s program, had it been enacted, would have meant a slow death and the destruction of billions of dollars of capital investment (in todays terms). It’s a bit odd to think that could have happened without a fight breaking out somehow. Especially since the culture of the Slave Power rested it’s sense of value on its ability to do violence – that’s how an honor culture works.

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      • But the Slave Power was facing a fiscal crisis. Much of the value of the more eastern slave holdings depended on getting top dollar for their slaves, who were shipped off to the frontier. The Slave Power needed to expand or die.

        There’s a contradiction in there, however. Some slave owners and would-be slave owners would have had a strong interest in paying less than top dollar for the slaves that the eastern holders wanted to sell. In other words, i don’t believe that the conflict was as inevitable as some suggest. (That doesn’t really refute your point, though. Current slave owners wanted to expand their investments and that often meant acquiring more land or being permitted to take their slaves into putatively ‘free” territory, the latter a “right” that the Dred Scott decision seemed (to some) to open the door for.)

        I realize I’m doing counterfactuals here, but I do believe that slavery would have survived several decades had the South not seceded. Maybe I’m wrong on the duration. But I can say with more confidence that the end of slavery in such a circumstance would likely not have been freedom, but a system of not-slave-but-still-unfree labor more trenchant, longer lasting, and constitutionally on firmer ground than the quasi-legal Jim Crow system that did develop in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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        • I’ve long thought the same thing.
          Some system of peonage would have developed.
          When you get right down to it, the perceived loss of political clout in bringing that system about what what led directly to the war.

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        • The political will to compromise enough to even address the issues of “half-slave, half-free” had long been exhausted. I mean really – look to the Dred Scott decision some time.

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            • You indeed did mention it – my apologies.

              I wrote poorly – I mean read what Taney actually said some time. It’s not even subtle. It’s pretty clear that he would not, or could not even brush in the direction of even handed treatment. It hoists in out of whole cloth an entire white supremacist narrative, the sort there’s kind of no going back from. It denies the remotest possibility of people of color being fit for citizenship.

              I do not know how risible it would have been at the time to people not specialized in a better understanding, but it’s a statement that challenges my ability to maintain credulity.

              That it also swept away the Missouri Compromise of 1820 is rather a torch thrown on a pile of oily rags.

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    • Yes and no… arguably the Union was by definition exactly as motivated to fight slavery as the Confederacy was to defend it, because otherwise no war would have happened.

      The Crittenden Compromise and Corwin Amendment were key attempts to make precisely the slavery-for-union exchange, and the government ultimately rejected doing so, paving the path to war that was (albeit in a limited sense) “against” slavery.

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      • One of the primary mistakes was that there was the option to simply buy out the Southern slave holders. The calculation was that it would be far less expensive to resort to war. That calculation was grievously mistaken, because they looked at the cost of the country’s previous wars.

        American Revolution, 4,400 battle deaths fighting against a world superpower
        War of 1812, 2,200 battle deaths fighting against a world superpower
        Mexican War, 1,700 battle deaths fighting against a world superpower (if backed by Spain)

        “We’re fighting against a bunch of pre-industrial cotton farmers. Hold my beer. I got this.”

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      • Yes and no… arguably the Union was by definition exactly as motivated to fight slavery as the Confederacy was to defend it, because otherwise no war would have happened.

        Umm…. no. The story of pre-CW politics is a story about non-slave states doing everything in their power to achieve two goals: limiting the spread of slavery and preserving the balance between slave and non-slave political power to avoid war. There is no reason to believe Lincoln would have abandoned those goals absent the attack on Sumter (and that’s after he had to dodge assassins to even get to DC).

        One side wanted war, so they picked it, they got it, and they lost.

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        • nevermoor,
          This is like World War I. Most of the South didn’t want war. A few hotheads in South Carolina took advantage of a momentary popularity swing towards war, and that was that.

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            • Nevermoor,
              So, it takes over a month for even the proximate states to secede. And Virginia takes nearly half a year. Three more slavestates (Borderlander varietal) secede after that.

              I’ll remind you that Our American Rebellion was supported by only a third of the Colonists. So, yes, the hotheads did something foolish.

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              • A month, my god! I would have expected states to tweet out their secession notices within HOURS.

                (imagine how fast a month still is for any state legislature to move on major legislation, then subtract modern technology and transportation).

                If it was just a lunatic fringe those states could, of course, not have seceded and turned over the attackers to their own country for trial. Somehow that’s not what I remember happening.

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            • Even today, the rules for state legislatures are such that they favor older, wealthier candidates. Most importantly, the rules typically favor people who can easily move into and out of their regular employment situation for a few months every year: wealthy, or members of partnerships, or owners of businesses where hired help can be left in charge. I’m sure this was even more true in the 1850s, when transportation and communication were slower. It seems unsurprising that the “cavalier” class of wealthy land owners would capture Southern statehouses.

              Supporting anecdata… If you know where to look in the Colorado Statehouse and Legislative Service Building, you can find a number of photographs taken between about 1895 and 1905 in Denver generally and in the Capital building in particular. One thing I noticed on a day when I was on the legislative staff and having to wait in several out-of-the-way places to try to snag particular members for approval of stuff was weight. The general population of Denver in the pictures was slender, to the point where their heads looked almost too big compared to today. OTOH, most of the members of the legislature were overweight. On average, I would judge, heavier than the members of the legislature today.

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      • The Union was fighting *for Union* – not against slavery. Lincoln surmised – correctly, I believe – that secession would spell the end of the United States.

        The amazing thing is that the British didn’t support the South – by doing so, they probably could have gotten the entire continent.

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  3. I keep reading that we are fighting the Third Reconstruction. I am old, and tired, and have enough battles to fight specific to my own region of the country. As bad as I know it sounds, I simply lack the energy to get worked up about it.

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    • Same here.

      I see the movement to remove the Confederate flag as horribly misguided.
      It is effectively a substitute for any form of substantive action on issues which actually affect peoples’ lives.
      Not a good trade.

      It is so very similar to the matter of the term “journeyperson” in place of “journeyman,” the road crew with women writing a W-O in front of “Men at Work,” etc.
      This is the sort of thing that appeals to the grunts, and not even the grunts a bit high up on the grunt ladder.*
      And such considerations are given in place of substantive action.
      Not a good trade.
      ______________________
      * The upper classes and professional class seem to have a differing understanding of language.
      My university does not award “Mistresses Degrees,” nor is it headed by a “Chancelloress.”
      In fact, denoting gender would be quite gauche in such circumstances.

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      • Easy for us to say, though. It started as a symbol of rebellion and was revived as a symbol of white opposition to the civil rights movement. I suspect people other than me take state sanction of the image as a more direct affront than I do. The countervailing interest is, of course, entirely absent. Making removal an easy call imo (though, as you say, not a complete solution).

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      • Right, if we just let the Confederate flag stay up, those Southern whites would turn around and start passing helpful things for the African American population.

        But hey, I’ll let my African American friends know that I’ve been told they should stop caring about this, since it doesn’t really matter.

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        • Jesse,
          20 years from now, when you’re in a forced labor camp, you remember you said this.
          You remember next year when you walk by a private prison’s work gang, that you could have tried to stop it.

          Distractions are all around us.

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          • (including the one represented by your comment: the idea that we can only care about and work on the single most important thing)

            Or, put another way, “sure you worked on stopping private prison work gangs, but while you were doing it, X children starved to death IN AMERICA ::sadly shakes head::”

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        • I never said that.
          All I said was that the effort was being expended on matters largely inconsequential.
          Who knows what opportunities were lost in the meantime?

          And, FTR, I was raised in a state with the 2nd largest proportion of American Indians (9%), and 43 % Hispanic.
          Currently residing in the Midwest, where it repeatedly infuriates me that race is seen, practically exclusively, as entirely binary– black or white.

          Did I mention I loathe Midwesterners?
          I believe this point is important enough it should not be glossed over.
          A people so wholly enamored of larceny the mannerisms of the thief have become commonplace among them.
          Black and white.

          How the Hispanic community views the matter is far more important to me than how blacks may view the former Confederacy.
          Hispanics matter.
          Additionally, they aren’t typically A-holes, which is two strong points for, with a major strike for the other side.

          I remember seeing B&W photographs of a lynching which occurred in Illinois in the 1930’s.
          All of the moral superiority of the Northern states was captured in those photographs.

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          • I’m trying–but probably failing–to parse the race-wide comments you’re making. Are you saying black people are assholes? That they don’t actually care about the confederate flag? Both? (I have no idea what hispanic-only issue it is you say you care most about)

            Separately, the north is certainly not empty of racists, but the test isn’t whether states had zero lynchings or >0 lynchings. Guess which states had the most?

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  4. The North had no interest in completely eliminating slavery or we wouldn’t see US colleges and universities forcing black athletes to work like dogs all day long, with no pay except free lodging and food, while reaping millions off their labors. If they get seriously injured, we just kick them off the team and replace them with some other unpaid worker, because the cash must flow.

    And who runs these modern institutions of athletic slavery? Democrats, of course, all Democrats.

    In contrast, Republicans stick to owning pro teams, pay their athletes millions of dollars, and give them almost unlimited health care and huge pensions.

    At some point Republicans are going to have to take over American Universities, perhaps by force, and free the athletes.

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    • GT: Nonsense. 1. As Republicans never tire of pointing out, a large majority of governors and state legislatures are now controlled by Republicans. They control the budgets and set the rules by which their state colleges operate. There is nothing preventing these states from freeing the athletes enslaved by their state colleges. They haven’t. 2. Have you really checked the political affiliations of pro team owners? If so, let’s see the statistics. They behave like the Republican caricature of Democrats — demanding government money to build monuments to themselves in the form of stadiums built by taxpayer dollars.

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      • There is nothing preventing these states from freeing the athletes enslaved by their state colleges.

        Aside from wanting their state colleges to be allowed to continue competing within the NCAA and the assorted conferences. I would expect that a state government that required paying college athletes would likely find itself on the hook for some tens of millions of dollars worth of contract violations.

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        • Indeed. The NCAA would totally destroy the first college or state to make a move. There are too many powerful people who are dependent on maintaining the status quo, even though we know it’s wrong to profit from unpaid labor. But the profits are sooo huge! And we all like watching the unpaid labor smash into each other time and time again until one side emerges victorious.

          It’s going to take a rebellion, but the first to rebel will find their athletic programs killed off by the powers that be. John Brown can’t win this one. So the athletes will have to rebel all at once, and the NCAA will have to be assaulted and defeated (possibly with air strikes, which is probably why no college has an aerial combat team even though they’d be fun as heck). To get that to happen will require the nurturing of an athletic abolition movement. UK coach Calipari is already on board, even though his salary is $8 million a year. That looks a bit much when his players are paid $0 a year. They are even prohibited from profiting from their play in any way, even taking a side job at Foot Locker.

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          • Not too long from now, the Democrats will attempt to mandate the NCAA give out trophies for “participation,” on the grounds that those teams which totally suck may have some sort of negative experience is they are permitted to believe that “totally sucking” is a *BAD* thing.
            Therefore, everyone must win, so that there be no losers.

            Then, the Republicans can make their move, and free the athletes.

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            • Well, we’re in the position of the abolitionists in the decades prior to the Civil War. If this happens, and if that happens, and if we can do this and that, and those people don’t do that other thing, then maybe there’s a path to free the slaves. They dithered and wrote and preached till they were blue in the face. But then the pro-slavery (NCAA) forces freaked out over an election, and as it turned out all it took to free the slaves was lots of bullets placed on target.

              Look at the security and police presence on the average college campus, especially at the ball games, and the security at the NCAA headquarters. Now I’m thinking most of these places can be taken with a couple of well coordinated battalions, sweeping in from frat row and then engulfing the student center annex, with artillery support from somewhere behind married student’s housing, and cavalry or mounted infantry sweeping the stadium parking lots. Then some light infantry sweeps into the athletic training room or the locker room, and we just free the athletes, and we say “You’re free!!!! Here’s $250,000!”

              And they be like “$250,000?!” And we stand by the Constitution and its promise to all Americans, our founding principles and the 14th and 15th Amendments, and say “Yes. Up to know you’ve been dodging defensive linemen for nothing, risking injury every day. But as a proud white quarterback for our team, we think you should get $250,000. You can share some of it with your offensive line and wide receivers, but not too much or they’ll get the big head and think they’re NFL material or something. Frankly, I’d just take them out for pizza once in a while.”

              George Turner.

              Proud abolitionist circa 1855.

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          • To elaborate…

            What if a state passed a law that said all student athletes within the state — or, if easier, all student athletes at state owned/operated universities — were consider employees and offered all the same rights as other employees, including minimum wage.

            Those schools would be forced by the law to break their contract with the NCAA or push the NCAA to change the terms. Could the NCAA enforce violation terms at that point?

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            • And if you think this is implausible, keep in mind that the Volstead Act destroyed the value of all recreational alcohol in the USA the instant it was passed, and with no thought of compensation. (Indeed, the loss of wealth was seen as a goal, punitive punishment for moral failure and exploitation.)

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              • I’m not one either, but the NCAA is a voluntary association of schools. Should a state mandate rules incompatible with the NCAA rules in state-supported schools, this would simply mean that these schools would withdraw from the NCAA. Private schools might be a bit trickier, but I’m not sure of that. Suppose the NCAA mandated school athletic employees be paid below the state’s minimum wage. We wouldn’t suggest that the NCAA has that authority. A state law designating “student athletes” as employees seems similar, though there are infinite nuances to labor law that I know nothing of, so what do I know?

                The broader point is that the NCAA only holds authority through a regimen of fear. Suppose the schools of a major conference simply decided to withdraw from the NCAA. There would be no legal basis to stop them. So why do they put up with the NCAA’s BS? Because they believe it in their economic interests to do this. Should this assessment change, off they go. I would expect that should such a break occur, there would be a rapid domino effect.

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                • IAAL, and the sad answer is that hugely popular sports make bad law, so one can pontificate on how such things should go, but it would be a big ask to suggest that a judge put his name on the side of a law forbidding his state’s schools from competing in any NCAA championship events ever again.

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    • Let us not confuse “slavery” with “racism.”

      Slavery is the chattel ownership of a human being.

      Racism is the disparate treatment of human beings based on their ethnicity.

      Both are morally bad. Historically, they have been often juxtaposed.

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    • George,
      Oh, are we going there, now?
      Do we REALLY want to talk about the college sports teams where people like bloodsports?
      Or would you just rather talk about the multiple redstate teams where pedophilia is an acceptable part of training??

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  5. My take is that the Civil War narrative for most of the 20th century was set up by Woodrow Wilson being a hero of the Progressive Era. Now the shine is off Wilson, and the political coalition that put public school teachers and Southern Democrats in the same smoke filled rooms no longer exists.

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  6. three bad options

    4. Flank Meade’s position.
    5. Do enough damage to railroads and other infrastructure to induce Meade to fight him.
    6. Turn south towards Baltimore and Washington City, forcing Meade to pursue him.

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    • 4. It was a good position, probably not readily flankable. See the link.
      5. This is the “wander around” option. There was nothing in central Pennsylvania of critical strategic importance to the Union. Sabotaging the Pennsylvania Railroad would have been an inconvenience, especially to the Pennsylvania Railroad, but it was hardly the only link between the eastern seaboard and the (mid)West.
      6. The Pipe Creek Line was between Lee and Baltimore/Washington. Meade wouldn’t have to pursue him. This would be the first option, of an assault against a prepared position.

      I’m absolutely not suggesting that Meade made the wrong decision to fight at Gettysburg. Obviously that worked out well for him. Rather, I am arguing that his original plan was also solid. He had two good options, and simply needed to not screw things up. The takeaway is just how poor Lee’ strategic position was, even as he was rampaging through central Pennsylvania.

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      • I’m not sure that #3 would have been that bad. Despite the battle outcome, Lee’s army managed to make off with a very considerable amount of supplies. If they could have managed that without taking the casualties, it might change things somewhat. To me, #2 had the serious problem that the longer Lee spent wandering about Central Pennsylvania, the greater the chances that the Union Army convinces Lincoln to let them make a serious push at Richmond. What’s the impact of Richmond falling in 1863 while Lee muddles about stealing grain and cloth?

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        • It depends on what we take the point of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania to be. If it was merely to eat off the fat of the land for a few months then carry off what he could, then sure: That’s a win. But it is a very small-scale win, doing little to stave off the inevitable effects of the weight of northern population, industrial capacity, and wealth. The South could only win by persuading the North that the candle wasn’t worth the prize. I take the point of the invasion to be to persuade the North of this by bringing the war to it. The problem was that central Pennsylvania wasn’t that critical, strategically or politically. This was especially the case once it became clear that Lee wasn’t going to take Harrisburg. If this understanding of the invasion was widespread at the time (and I honestly don’t know one way or the other) then wandering around taking stuff then going home would be a humiliating defeat. In combination with the fall of Vicksburg, the North comes out of it stronger than ever. Lee needed a decisive victory. His plan, inasmuch as he had one, was to concentrate his forces as the Army of the Potomac raced up US Route 15, rolling down it destroying it piecemeal. This wasn’t a great plan, as it required a lot of cooperation on the part of his opponents.

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          • Richard,
            The point of the attack was to be on the attack. Lee was fighting a Public Relations campaign instead of a war — because only by winning the Public Relations campaign did the confederacy stand a flying chance of staying together.

            You can read about the grain silos and the South’s hoarding just as much as my friend the researcher can. If Lee couldn’t even keep the South on his side, he was as good as done.

            The South was not mentally equipped to fight a defensive war, so Lee had to go on the offensive. It was a losing play, and he’s too good a general not to know it.

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          • To drag a different war into it, the “wander around” option would have been a Doolittle Raid. Lee didn’t need to demonstrate a potential threat, he needed to bring home a kinetic threat. He needed a Pearl Harbor (and came very close to suffering a Midway).

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              • Mmm. The way I was looking at it, Midway not only turned the IJN back, they suffered a disproportionate loss in their ability to project force into the theater again in the near future. If Meade had been able to pursue, he might have been able to accomplish that. Civil War casualty ratios were just so close that even a strategically decisive victory really couldn’t break the back of the loser. And hell, in Grant’s latwr campaigns it’s hard to tell who won any particular battle because the meat grinder chewed everybody up.

                So I agree that it was the same sharp stroke as far as the immediate campaign was concerned – but Lee recovered far better than the IJN ever could have.

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        • Sorry Gents I think your counter-factuals are starting to lose sight of the factuals.

          #2 *was* the plan, and if Lee could have “wandered” all summer and fall, it would have been a solid strategic victory; just feeding the AVN off of Northern supplies with the added benefit of giving Virginia a full season free from operations to plant/harvest would have been a major win. Plus the Political pressure exerted by Lee’s army north of the Potomac might have had serious repercussions in the North and abroad. From the CSA’s point of view, Win/Win/Win. And that’s without a major CSA victory.

          We are are also overlooking that Meade inherits Hooker’s army immediately after Fredericksburg (Dec1862) and Chancellorsville (May1863). There is no prospect of a “serious push to Richmond” in 1863. That *was* the serious push to Richmond; the Army of the Potomac was not in top form and wasn’t going to race Lee to Richmond or dare him to trade capitals.

          Finally, Meade would never have been allowed to entrench at Pipe Creek for any length of time with Lee “wandering about” as you say. Political pressure to fight would have been immense. Even if Meade could somehow maintain his command while entrenched, Lee could have maneuvered Mead off the creek with relative ease. Let’s also recall that we’re still a season away from effective Union Cavalry, and a patient Lee controls the operational initiative.

          Instead, assuming Vicksburg still falls on July 4 (and why wouldn’t it?), I could envision an entrenched Meade speeding the promotion of Grant to the East in Fall ’63 instead of Spring ’64. After that? Who knows. Perhaps there’s no miraculous victory at Chattanooga (and subsequent march to Atlanta), and Grant enters the eastern theater to a demoralized army (no Gettysburg) and Lee resupplied, fed and operating with near impunity in Western PA/MD.

          Though a near thing, Gettysburg was probably the best possible outcome for the Union… credit to Meade for executing his counter in the timely fashion that he did.

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          • March,
            You’re missing the entire point of Lee heading North. Lee was doing that to instill a sense of hope in the South (who was entirely, mentally, ill equipped to fight a defensive war). Because if your people don’t support you, what the hell do you have left?

            This is what comes of actually asking an economist to analyze the situation. Reading about grain silos and hoarding rather than just about the military stuff.

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            • Not the *entire* point… I’m sure I miss a point here or there, but usually not the point entirely :-)

              Your reduction is extreme and unnecessary. We can add, if we wish, that moving the fight North of the Potomac would also have a salutary effect on the southern morale just as we note it would have a negative effect on northern morale. It’s covered already in the third point, but this makes it more explicit.

              The economics of the situation are already accounted for… there was internal debate whether a defensive posture would make the war unbearable for the Union or whether an aggressive posture would hasten a willingness to end hostilities.

              Moving North was a maneuver that could satisfy both requirements in theory; in practice it failed both; Lee crossed the Potomac on June15 and returned one month later around July20 saddled with a major defeat. We’ll never know how the 2nd Northern Incursion would have worked because it failed strategically in a shockingly short period of time.

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              • We can add, if we wish, that moving the fight North of the Potomac would also have a salutary effect on the southern morale

                Counterfactually the limits of what constitutes “salutary effects on Southern morale” are potentially infinite. Makes me think this game doesn’t have any rules.

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                • Heh, the counterfactual game has only minimal rules! Play as you wish.

                  That they thought crossing the Potomac would be good for morale isn’t really disputed. Whether it actually raised southern Morale? I’m not sure, and…If it did, it didn’t do so for long.

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                  • Heh, the counterfactual game has only minimal rules!

                    And even those are more like guidelines than rules. :)

                    Problem with counterfactuals is what you hold constant. If everything is revisable then anything goes. Informative utility goes to negative.

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  7. There’s a tangentially related topic in the New York Times about different thoughts about the Holocaust. They’re debating a recently deceased writer whose book is causing shock and outrage, yet is flying off the shelves in bookstores.

    ****** Excerpt from the Times article *******

    In “Finis Germania,” Mr. Sieferle rues that his own country is “tragic,” tangled up in history. He doesn’t just rue it, he resents it. “There are un-tragic peoples,” he writes, “whom history pearls off of like water from a well-polished boot.” He means the English and Americans, who have always tried to pass off their oligarchies as cradles of democracy.

    After World War II, the Allied occupiers, as Mr. Sieferle sees it, saddled Germans with a false idea of their own history — the idea that there was something premodern about Germany, a fundamental difference between it and the West. That may describe Russia, but not Germany, and Germany’s modernity is painful for Westerners to face. “If Germany belonged to the most progressive, civilized, cultivated countries,” he writes, “then ‘Auschwitz’ means that, at any moment, the human ‘progress’ of modernity can go into reverse.”

    Mr. Sieferle neither denies nor minimizes the Holocaust. He describes it as a “Verbrechen,” or “crime.” Nor does he traffic in any obvious kind of anti-Semitism. In a letter he wrote three weeks before his death to the blogger-novelist Michael Klonovsky, who is close to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, he warned the party to keep its distance from the anti-Semites (“a delusional, irrational and ignorant ideology”) who would inevitably gravitate to it.

    But Mr. Sieferle is critical of Germany’s postwar culture of Holocaust memory, which he argues has taken on the traits of a religion. The country’s sins are held to be unique and absolute, beyond either redemption or comparison. “The First Commandment,” he writes, “is ‘Thou shalt have no Holocausts before me.’ ” Hitler, in retrospect, turns out to have done a paradoxical thing: He bound Germans and Jews together in a narrative for all time. In an otherwise relativistic and disenchanted world, Mr. Sieferle writes, Germans appear in this narrative as the absolute enemies of our common humanity, as a scapegoat people. The role is hereditary. There are Germans whose grandparents were not born when the war ended, yet they, too, must take on the role.

    In this, Mr. Sieferle sees an “affinity” between Germans now and “the Jew as he was understood in the Christian past.” Specifically, Jews were cast as either indifferent to or responsible for the crucifixion. In the eyes of today’s world, German identity symbolizes a similar rejection of some kind of revelation. “In every city Christianity had built cathedrals to its murdered God,” Mr. Sieferle writes. “Today, the Jews, to whom God himself had promised eternity, build memorials throughout the world to their murdered coreligionists. Not only are the victims ascribed a moral superiority, the wrongdoers and their symbols are ascribed an eternal depravity.”

    Mr. Sieferle’s is a complex argument. It is linked to his concern, in “Das Migrationsproblem,” with the challenges of mass migration. He believed that Germany’s self-demonization had left it unable to say anything but yes to a million or so migrants seeking entry to Europe in 2015 and that such a welcome was unsustainable. Whether he was right or wrong, this was a concern shared by many Germans, and not necessarily an idle expression of animus.

    ******

    Perhaps we’re lucky to only have to wrestle with the Civil War.

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    • George,
      Of course genocide exists. Of course First World countries have plans on the books for it.

      The end of Civilization draws near.

      And people want to freaking talk about a wall with Mexico???

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  8. Richard,
    An analysis of the Lost Cause, of the South’s refusal to acknowledge that they were in the wrong, and that the war was about slavery, is necessarily incomplete without a forensic analysis of the money that fuels such Public Relations efforts.

    Specifically, in the years following the Civil War, great houses of the south left substantial sums of money to be used for the express purpose of deliberate misinformation. The money will run out in about 30 years (it was supposed to be used for 200 years, so that’s how it’s been rationed).

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  9. I disagree with this: What it came down to was that the South got one of those rare exceptions to the principle that the winners write the history books.

    In the aftermath of the civil war, a policy of reconciliation was fitfully adapted. This was somewhat furthered by the assassination of Lincoln, the martyr of “charity for all.” Its missionaries were the soldiers themselves, whom after a space of time to quietly reflect on their experiences, participated in blue-grey reunions with the people who understood what it means to see the elephant. And they wrote about it, and in the process the war was somewhat decontextualized from grander scheme. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. explained the soldier’s lot transcends cause:

    But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.

    Neither cause, nor blame, is placed at the feet of the common soldier, so long as they fought honorably, he should be honored. History books were not changed. There would be romances written and not necessarily by Americans. But soldier’s monuments would become vehicles to respond to the history books that seemed to condemn the South for its backwardness and brutality. The spirit of reconciliation required everybody to forebear from condemning the solider, so the monuments were sometimes a vehicle, though not always, to place larger views in the mouths of the dead. Its this latter aspect that departs from the spirit of reconciliation, but it was reactive to accepted views not expressive. And there were always plenty of examples of monuments like the Tennessee Memorial at Gettysburg that exercised forbearance: “They fought and died for their convictions, performing their duty as they understood it.”

    I think what is changing is that the spirit of reconciliation is no longer a norm being preserved. Meanwhile, the State Department pays to bring leaders from countries torn by civil strife (like the Ukraine) to the Lincoln sites in the U.S. to study the process of reconciliation.

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    • This is a good observation; I’m tempted to quote Chamberlain from The Passing of the Armies, but this is a proxy fight and not really about reconciliation or the monuments.

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  10. Since there has been some mention of the secession documents, I think it is important to note that Virginia only mentions slave in its document all of one time. Texas has a brief paragraph about it.

    What I read more often than not, is about federal activity, involvement or power. Not to say this is outside the topic of slavery, but it appears to indicate that slavery is but one problem most states have with the federal union.

    The general sense of rebellion of the southern states provides no guarantee that even if the confederacy would have won their secession, there would be more skirmishes against formation of a southern federal government.

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    • Texas’ Declaration of Causes:

      Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility [sic] and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

      The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States.

      In just the top third: Two paragraphs, and they are the meat of the entire letter. Also the third, because the complaints about “trampling on federal laws” and “war on the lives and property of Southern citizens” is about abolitionists and things like “not wanting to return slaves who made it to free states”.

      The other complaint is, to wit, complaining the Federal Government hasn’t stopped all those Indian and Mexican attacks and then churlishly refused to pay for Texas doing it.

      After that comes several paragraphs of bitching about abolitionists, the deep unfairness of slave-holding states not controlling Congress, more about abolitionists and their awful abolitionist ways and how awful it is that they exist and think abolitionist thoughts and have abolitionist politics, and how they’ve even gotten people in the slave-states to think about abolition. So more slavery.

      Then the bottom third:

      We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

      That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.

      So, um, more slavery.

      So to sum up, Texas’ stated reason for leaving the Union was: Slavery, the existence of people who wanted to end slavery, and the fact that the US government didn’t pay for Texas’ border defense. (The latter occupies perhaps three sentences in the document). Followed by a summation which boils up to “Slavery then, slavery now, slavery forever more”.

      Were you thinking of a different letter from Texas?

      As for Virginia: Theirs was brief and listed nothing at all, stating only the misuse of power to oppress the “slave owning states’ as the sole reason to leave. Given they don’t state the actual misuse of powers, it’s pretty much “slavery”. That’s the only thing “slave owning states” have in common, and it’s the only reference to a reason at all.

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      • That’s probably a fair assessment.

        I was reading it more as the slave part:
        “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

        Pretty much everything else:
        “US federal government has been behaving badly, secede!”

        (Allowances given to cry racism until the voice goes out here.)

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        • Yeah, but everything the US government was behaving badly about was “abolitionism”. In fact, what they’re complaining about is basically the very existence of abolitionist politicians and politics at all.

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          • Well there were a number of economic things that occurred leading up to it, tariffs being one, but I guess it can be said that politics led to a civil war, citing government behavior was just a marker along the way.

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            • Politics:
              “For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.

              By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.

              They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a “higher law” than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.

              They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.

              They have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens, and through the press their leading men and a fanatical pulpit have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes, while the governors of several of their States have refused to deliver parties implicated and indicted for participation in such offences, upon the legal demands of the States aggrieved.

              They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides.

              They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.

              They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

              They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.”

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                • Man if you want to start dropping bondage of people, I’m your huckleberry. I kinda figure when the people serious about freedom have their revolution, we will see a long list of causes about bad government behavior leading right up till the day the shooting starts.

                  And just to be clear, I mean that one kind of freedom and not that other one.

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              • In short: “Abolitionists exist and aren’t immediately jailed. Some are even elected to office! FOR SHAME”.

                Seriously, for all the high-flying rhetoric the slave state’s hadn’t actually suffered. SCOTUS was what — 8-1? 7-2? Something like that in their favor (Dred Scott wasn’t even particularly close) — moreover, they’d actually gotten SCOTUS to happily state that free state or not, a slave was still property there and you had to send him or her back to their owners.

                As for Congress — it wasn’t actually attacking slavery — IIRC, one of the South’s irritations was that many new states weren’t slave-holding (it not making a lot of economic sense in the area) and Congress wasn’t doing enough to maintain parity.

                In short, Congress was refusing to force new states to be slave-owning to keep a balance between free and slave states.

                The root of all that whining was two-fold: One, abolitionists existed and refused to go away and two — and more critically — slavery as an institution made little economic sense outside the already existing slave states. Thus, new states were far more likely to be free than slave, and the South wasn’t happy about THAT at all.

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  11. Me, a dumb racist: “It’s possible to discuss the issues that led to the Civil War, and the larger implications of having used armed conflict to resolve them, without defending racism or suggesting that preserving slavery was not the goal of the Confederate states’ secession”

    You, an enlightened intellectual: “No it’s not, because slavery is bad, you dumb racist”

    Me, a dumb racist: “Nuance exists. There’s nothing so bad that it excuses the means used to oppose it.”

    You, an enlightened intellectual: “Stop trying to complicate the issue! You’re trying to obscure the REAL problem here, which is SLAVERY, and we STOPPED IT HAPPENING.”

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    • You, principled classical liberal: Lincoln’s increase of federal power over the states turned us all into slaves. But sure, ending chattel slavery was probably OK..

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    • Yes, there is some nuance.

      Some Southerners simply wanted to continue to subjugate other human beings only within their own borders. Some Southerners wanted to force the anti-slavery states to send back other human beings back to subjugation. Some Southerners wanted to spread the subjugation of human beings throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

      However, the core is, the vast vast vast vast majority of white Southerners either didn’t care or wanted to continue to subjugate other human beings.

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      • Jesse,
        Not the vast vast vast vast majority. Only the Cavalier states, really. The Borderlander folks just wanted everyone to leave them the hell alone (oh, and most of them aren’t really lily white), and have everyone be “white” (leavin’ aside the physical impracticalities of this opinion, it was practiced with a decent amount of consistency).

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          • Have a nuanced conversation. You seem like you want one; you’re certainly yelling at me for not suggesting one.

            I can certainly understand how you’d rather just scan for keywords and do a triggered response, though. It’s a hell of a lot easier than acting like there’s a real person posting this.

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            • What’s the nuance you claim no one is willing to discuss?

              I’m saying it’s extremely weak tea to make 25 comments whining about how no one will entertain any nuance because we all just yell RACIST and 0 comments offering any nuance to be entertained (along, of course, with 0 comments responding to nuance by yelling RACIST).

              But hey, you do you and keep pretending I’m the one being triggered.

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              • Well, I did suggest that it’s possible to discuss the issues that led to the Civil War, and the larger implications of having used armed conflict to resolve them, without defending racism or suggesting that preserving slavery was not the goal of the Confederate states’ secession.

                But I guess that was too subtle for you to detect as an opening for conversation, because you’d rather congratulate yourself on having spotted another Damn Dirty Racist On The Internet.

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    • To reiterate the grossly offensive statement that provoked this whole affair:

      the war was prompted by the issue of slavery

      This is so over-the-top unnuanced, it seems, that further rational discussion is impossible.

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  12. If slavery was so wrong, why did we pass legislation allowing the government to fine people, merely because they exist, if they don’t enter into a private contract with a third party at whatever terms that party offers? Sure, Chief Justice Roberts ruled that the fine was a tax, but we all know it’s a fine, a penalty.

    Given that precedent, we should be able to force black people to enter into long-term cotton picking contracts with white Southern farmers, in return for free room and board, on penalty of jail. It’s not a state of servitude, it’s a contractual obligation required by the federal government under its power to regulate interstate commerce, much of which is cotton shirts and blue jeans.

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    • One concept does not logically follow the other. The difference between a “fine” and a “tax” does in fact matter. A requirement to pay a tax if you don’t have health insurance because someone else is going to pay for your medical care when you go to the E.R. is simply not the same thing as being bought and sold like chattel. As I recall, conservatives are perfectly A-OK with that sort of thing as long as it’s done at the state but not the federal level. If this is really the equivalent of slavery, why does the validity of the enslavement depend on whether the slavery pays due respect to the concept of federalism?

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      • Indeed. If slavery is wrong, why are we fining people for not entering, unwillingly, into a private contract that empties their bank account? And who is the burden hitting the hardest? The working poor. By what right can the government force you into any contract, whether for insurance or for picking cotton, simply because they previously made you get a Social Security number?

        And if they can force you into private contracts, are there any inherent limitations on just what kind of contract they can mandate? After all, an argument above was that it was done for the good of the state, as people using the ER cost the rest of us money. You know what would be really good for the state? Cheaper cotton and cheaper vegetables. We wouldn’t be up to our eyeballs in illegal aliens if we’d just force people to volunteer for private farm work.

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        • Indeed. If slavery is wrong, why are we fining people for not entering, unwillingly, into a private contract that empties their bank account?

          That’s not the objective of liberals so much as conservatives. So, what are you saying? That conservatives are reluctant to renege in the racist white-nationalist promise of America?

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          • Look on the bright side. G could be slinging defenses of Trump’s super duper Cyber Defense team up with the Russians. That wouldn’t just be absurd, like this bit, but epic clueless.

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            • We’re in Trump-Hiesenberg territory here. Problem is that H’s uncertainty was based on reliable evidence whereas T’s is based on malicious self-interest. Dumb people don’t know the difference.

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        • Slaves were killed for breaking their “contract”.

          People who opt out of insurance and assessed a fee to cover the likely costs of their medical needs.

          Calling those two things “government force” of equal magnitude is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.

          But you do you, brah.

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          • Slaves weren’t killed, they were whipped – because they had cash value. But people who opt out of insurance will die as surely as if they were killed by a slaver (just ask Bernie Sanders), and we get to bill their family for it.

            The question is that since Obamacare has established that it’s Constitutional to force people into third party contracts against their will, not contingent on their exercise of some privilege, but just because they exist, then are their any limits on what kind of contracts the government can force people to make, and what limits on the amount of penalties they can impose.

            They can’t force you to quarter troops, but could they force you, on penalty of jail, to let Blackwater Security contractors live with you in return for some small amount of rent? Could they force poor people to sign agricultural contracts to help keep food prices low? Welfare to work and all that, but now with teeth.

            Could they require you to get a subscription to the New York Times so as to be a well informed citizen (fed fake news), otherwise forcing you to pay 10 times the normal subscription price to subsidize people who can’t afford the New York Times? Could they require you to sign up with a cable subscriber, again to maintain a well-informed populace, with fines equal to or exceeding the inflated price of cable?

            Is there anything at all they couldn’t do?

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            • The question is that since Obamacare has established that it’s Constitutional to force people into third party contracts against their will, not contingent on their exercise of some privilege, but just because they exist, then are their any limits on what kind of contracts the government can force people to make, and what limits on the amount of penalties they can impose.

              Yes, that’s the problem with the mandate. But as stated, it’s no different than a mandate that no one can purchase another to further their own self-interest.

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            • “…Obamacare has established that it’s Constitutional to force people into third party contracts…”

              Only it didn’t. You’re twisting logic, perverting history, and (oh yea) being an offensive asshole unable or uninterested in demonstrating the least bit of empathy in order to make a point… which seems to be that you are an offensive asshole unable or uninterested in demonstrating the least bit of empathy.

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      • the morality of slavery is still an open question for some white people

        . . . and it’s this sort of thing that indicates how offensive linking race to slavery really is, even in retrospect.

        First of all, slavery still exists.
        Secondly, it is mainly females who are enslaved these days.
        Thirdly, the morality of the institution appears, for all practical purposes’ sake, largely irrelevant.
        Fourthly, items nos. 1, 2 & 3 stated above are largely irrelevant, and in large part because race is simply not at issue.
        Fifthly, item no. 4 stated above is an operative substitute for morality. See item no. 3.

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        • . . . and it’s this sort of thing that indicates how offensive linking race to slavery really is, even in retrospect.

          This comment is mindboggling to me, Will. In America, slavery is very tightly linked to race. That’s not an opinion, but a fact.

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          • Yes. White, Hispanic, and Asian slaves sell far better. Fact.

            As of the early 2000’s, most of the slave traffic comes from south of the border, Eastern Europe, South East Asia, and the former Soviet Union.

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          • If you want to limit consideration to the U.S., then yes, Slavery As She Is Practiced is very much linked to race.
            The profile for slavery in the U.S. these days is a female less than 45 years of age of Hispanic, Asian, or Eastern European heritage, and they tend to enter through the nation’s major cities: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

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              • That sort of depends by what is meant by “the other.”
                The question is too ambiguous to answer properly.
                I have a few guesses, but addressing them all would be overlong, and perhaps off-target.

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              • Not at all.
                In fact, there are several other nations known for their modern-day slavery, and the U.S. is right at the top.
                A quick Google shows anywhere from 30 to 45 million worldwide still in slavery.

                It is entirely inaccurate to state that the Civil War ended slavery.
                It ended slavery as institutionalized in the Southern states, and opened the door for the underground trade.

                EDIT:
                About 60,000 in the U.S. according to the Wash. Post.

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                • Will,
                  https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/asia/384000-people-burma-modern-day-slaves-report.html
                  https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/country/ukraine/

                  Provincial.

                  We’ll just go ahead and note that a lot of countries, sex slavery starts before the age of 14, and the whores don’t always survive to the age of 20.

                  We’ll also note that murdering slaves for profit is a going concern.

                  Americans do enough “sex tourism” in southeast asia that it’s not really accurate to think of “what America has” in terms of slaves. Instead, it’s a better thing to think of “what america pays for.”

                  When the powers that be opened Burma for international trade, it was very specifically with the goal of more sex tourism in mind.

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                • There were also 15,000 murders in 2015. Both that and human trafficking are serious crimes we devote significant resources to fighting.

                  That strikes me as different from a legal regime of slavery enforced by law, custom, and the police power of the southern states. YMMV.

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                  • Nevermoor,
                    The Marianas should ring a bell. Recent American Slavery, enshrined by law custom and police power.

                    Police are very adept at classifying things as “not murder,” so I’m not sure how much resources we devote to fighting them. Pittsburgh has a 60% closure rate on murders, even once you get past the “I Can Make It An Accident” assassins for hire.

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                  • When the discussion turns to what manner of trappings slavery need necessarily sport prior to categorical declaration of it as “morally evil,” then slavery is no longer morally evil categorically.

                    I should note I shy away from such language due to a distaste for passing judgment on the ages (we could well substitute the Pharaohs for Southern plantation estates, and discuss that horrific evil which was ancient Egypt), but I have no such reservations looking forward.

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