11A098 Preventing Secession by Jim Davies, 4/9/2011    

Surprisingly, there are some earnest libertarians around today who favor some form of nullification by State governments, to slash the power of the Feds. It's an attractive idea, to use one level of government against another, but I see a couple of problems: (a) it won't work, or not often, and (b) it will still leave government in charge. The right fix is to eliminate all government at every level. That will happen only when all its employees, being properly re-educated, walk out. Not sooner.

The reason it will work seldom if ever is that 150 years ago, the Feds gave an unmistakably clear demonstration of what they are willing to do to prevent any serious diminution of their power. Over 600,000 died in the process, and the man who did most to kill them has the biggest memorial in D.C.

This week I've been watching portions of Ken Burns' remarkable documentary about that terrible carnage. Unlike the prevalent myth, he did identify its cause more or less correctly: it was to preserve the Union, period. The place that ending slavery occupied in Northern thinking, usually but falsely given as its casus belli, was to me its most interesting part.

Frederick Douglass and others repeatedly urged Lincoln to turn the war into an emancipation crusade, but for nearly two years he refused, fearing that any such proclamation would cause tenuous allies to change sides and join the South. (Douglass remarked "He can fight for the Union, but we'll fight for freedom" - though at the time, few if any Blacks were able to fight.) All doubt about his war aims should be removed by Lincoln's 1862 letter in the New York Tribune:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

Then on January 1st 1863 Lincoln made his famous Emancipation Proclamation and although Burns passed over its deception too lightly, that showed me the real nature of this "Great Empancipator" - for it freed slaves only in the "rebel States" shown here in red. Slaveowners among his supporters were not affected; he freed no slave where he could, and "freed" all slaves where he could not. The hypocrisy is disgusting.

It also showed me his cunning. As well as avoiding the downside he feared, this fraudulent piece of paper accomplished:

  • removal of the threat of British intervention in the South's behalf. British mills depended heavily on Southern cotton, but voters there would not support a slave state against one that now appeared to favor ending slavery
  • incitement of Southern slaves to increase resistance, so hurting the Southern economy
  • motivating Northern soldiers to fight for a noble ideal, not just for a political arrangement (though this did backfire a bit; some Unionists were racist)
  • paving of the way for Blacks to enlist in the Northern army when their plantations were over-run, thus enhancing it with hundred of thousands

Not bad, for one stroke of the pen. What it also did, after the War was over, was to embitter the entire South so deeply as to last for over 100 years. Had slavery been left to run its course without government support, owners would rather soon have ended it without a war, because (a) it was already being perceived as uneconomic, as it had been already in the rest of the civilized world and (b) absent that support, slaves could leave the plantation without fear of recapture. But force, which is all that governments ever use, pre-empted that natural change.

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