Friday, October 27, 2017

Robert's Rules of Secession and the US Civil War

At the post, For Those of You That Think Revolution is Always a Good Thing....Veterans for Peace Indianapolis writes:
This just made me think further on Robert's Rules of secession. Knowing the Union didn't fight to end slavery but in the end that was the practical effect, the US crushing the Confederacy through force did move millions of slaves toward actual freedom and liberty. Robert, please analyze Confederate secession based on this.

Personally, I believe slavery would have ended peacefully even in a CSA, as evidenced by it ending peacefully nearly everywhere else. But it certainly ended much sooner than otherwise.
 NY Cynic adds:
I'd like to echo Veterans for Peace's request for an analysis for the CSA. I personally think that if the CSA was allowed to exist economics would've forced them to end slavery, alternatively abolitionists in both the CSA and US would start buying slaves in order to free them.
 The NAPster adds:
VPI, isn't that just some sort of amoral numbers game you're playing? X number of slaves freed vs. Y number of soldiers and civilians killed/maimed = secession justified or not. I don't see how starting a war that led to all of that death and injury can ever be justified for "the greater good." From the libertarian perspective of self-ownership and the NAP, the war was wrong and slavery was wrong. The act of peaceful secession was not, and can never be, wrong (although of course the rule of those in the Union and CSA without their individual consent always remains a wrong).

And finally from  Veterans for Peace Indianapolis, again:
The NAPster, I agree with you. I'd like to see Robert's take.
 RW response:

First, I want to make clear that in all cases of revolution, secession etc., it is very possible that things will move for some in the direction of liberty, while for others, things move in the direction of a loss of liberty. That was certainly the case in the U.S. civil war.

I believe it is fair to say that the civil war did bring freedom to slaves sooner than it would have occurred otherwise, regardless of what Abraham Lincoln's political motives were for freeing the slaves---which do not appear to have been because he viewed blacks as equal to whites and deserving of freedom.

We know from the work of Thomas Dilorenzo that Lincoln had declared martial law, suspended habeas corpus, imprisoned thousands of Northern citizens who objected to the war, laid the groundwork for the establishment of conscription and income taxation. In short, he was a tyrant and we still suffer today from some of his actions.

Thus, I would not have supported his actions during the civil war, if I had lived in the North at that time.

However, I would not have supported the Confederate government either. There may have been some confederates that freed the slaves they controlled but for the most part the Confederate government was doing nothing to free the slaves. I am not talking here about the eventual economics of the slave trade if the South had won the war, but the facts as they were during the battle.

The attempt at secession by some Southerners does not impress me because they certainly weren't fighting to allow the slaves to "secede" from their white owners (other than legislation late in the war which allowed blacks to fight and gain their freedom--but this was done in desperation when the south was losing. Less than 50 slaves took the Confederates up on the offer).

It was a strategic error for the South to attempt to secede, when looking back at the outcome from a realpolitik perspective.

In retrospect, the Confederates gained nothing. They severely miscalculated. The few measures they attempted to introduce in the south that did increase some liberty for Southern whites was squashed by the North's victory. And that doesn't even consider the some 620,000 Confederate soldiers who lost their lives. For what?

In the end, it was a dumb secession attempted by the Confederates, from their own perspective. It was a plus for slaves who were freed but outside of freed slaves, it was immediate losses of lives and property, and a move in the direction of a more totalitarian federal government that continues to this day.

In terms of advancing liberty, neither government scores particularly high grades here.

 During the battle, I would have not supported the Union nor the Confederates. I would have supported slaves in their effort to get free---and for that war was not needed, nor secession.


  1. I would recommend to anyone the book "The State of Jones." (Yes, they made a mediocre movie off of it). That particular County in Mississippi (Jackson County? I can't remember) was very poor (as was the state) and of course only the rich and therefore connected slave-holders were in rabid support of secession; The delegates to the secession convention, bowing to pressure and caught-up in the passion of the moment, voted for secession, which was contrary to their constituents' desires. I believe this happened elsewhere in Mississippi and even throughout the South (the rich, powerful, politically-connected aristocracy were pulling the political levers), but as I said, the majority of the poor citizens of this particular county that is the subject of the book was particularly betrayed. The rest of the book describes how the poor draftee-soldiers became disillusioned very quickly with the war, and themselves seceded from the Confederacy, and fought fought as insurgents in the swamps and back-country against any and all Confederate soldiers that came to hunt them down.

    1. Very true. In the state of Georgia, the majority of eligible voters voted against secession. The crony brokers in the state called a state convention and they voted for secession to override the majority vote.

      David Williams' book - "Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War" is an excellent place to start to show how the South, contrary to the mainstream view or the Lost Cause position, was very divided on the issue of the war. The Confederacy was not popular in the South from the get go.

    2. Just added this book to my already backlogged reading list

  2. Thank you.

    Let's turn this the other direction. If the USA wanted to "kick out" the southern states against their will (but peacefully) because they did not value freedom of slaves and knowing the tariff was taking from south and giving to north, is that acceptable for reducing the geographic scope of government?

    In contemporary terms, what if US wanted to force CalExit because (1) it knows it takes more in taxes from the citizens of Cal than it returns back in graft and (2) it wanted to eliminate the "drag" on freedom that liberal Cal politicians help force on rump 'merica?

    The same would apply to Madrid forcing Catalonia away.

    Eric Morris

    1. These uSA sort of kicked out the Southern States, in another violation of the Constitution (Article 5), to "amend" the Constitution for the 14th time.

  3. Nice post Bob. I assume you have read Jeffrey Hummel's "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men" which shows that no libertarian can give hostage to fortune in support of the Confederacy. They were far worse than the North in terms of war socialism(most of the economy was nationalized) and crack downs on civil liberties(they went in some ways a step further than the North like an internal passport system)

    Why some libertarians like DiLorenzo want to focus all their energy on showing how bad Lincoln was in terms of civil liberties(something we all learned in elementary school) without giving equal time to how bad the South was just feeds the fire by our opposition that libertarians are some sort of Neo-Confederates.

    Your final comment is the principled libertarian position

    "During the battle, I would have not supported the Union nor the Confederates. I would have supported slaves in their effort to get free---and for that war was not needed, nor secession."

    1. Tom has done much-needed work on Lincoln. There are plenty of people bashing the South.

    2. People bash the South for the slavery issue, Bob. You don't see very much of a libertarian critique of the CSA in terms of its management of the economy or finances. That is where I was going on that. I would love to see DiLorenzo write about the war socialism of the Confederacy.

    3. Freeing the slaves and turning all slaves to the Federal Government.

    4. If the South had won the war (as we know history is written by the victors) DiLorenzo would be countering the history of Jefferson Davis rather than dis-honest Abe.

    5. "Your final comment is the principled libertarian position

      "During the battle, I would have not supported the Union nor the Confederates. I would have supported slaves in their effort to get free---and for that war was not needed, nor secession.""

      This all depends on where you were living. If you were a Virginian, and Union troops are marching through your neighborhood, you probably take up arms to defend your home, and by default become Confederate.

      As Shelby Foote noted in Ken Burns Civil War:

      "You have to understand that the raggedy Confederate soldier who owned no slaves and probably couldn't even read the Constitution, let alone understand it, when he was captured by Union soldiers and asked, What are you fighting for? replied, I'm fighting because you're down here."

  4. My sense is that Dilorenzo was giving the other side to the Lincoln legacy rather than a fully balanced view. The balance comes from melding Dilorenzo with the otherwise near-universal Lincoln hagiography.

    I read Hummel when it first came out many years ago. My recollection of its main point was that the security costs of slavery were socialized (e.g., the Fugitive Slave Act) and that it could not persist without this subsidy. A peaceful secession of the south would end the implicit subsidy and accelerate the demise of slavery. This makes sense to me, especially within the context of a western world where slavery was ending everywhere else.

  5. Lincoln worked behind the scenes and, vocally, in his 1st Inaugural, supported the Corwin Amendment.

  6. From a libertarian perspective -- but assuming the presence of states, which of course is a whole other issue -- there is a world of difference between peacefully seceding and then the former ruling power initiating an invasion. War was Lincoln's decision. He could have chosen a more peaceful reaction to a peaceful secession. Similarly, those in the South who didn't want to be part of the secession could have tried to peacefully secede from the CSA (it would have been interesting to see how the CSA could object).

    Ex ante, secession was neutral for the slaves: it neither sought to improve nor make worse their situation. However, the CSA Constitution did include some provisions which were intended to be pro-liberty (for free men) in the sense of trying to maintain more decentralization, such as: the preamble, in which the sovereignty of the individual states was affirmed (vs. the "We the People" preamble in the Union Constitution); limitations on central government taxing and spending (prohibition on using taxes for "internal improvements" or supporting industry, and removal of the "general welfare" language and use of a narrower substitute); and a presidential line item veto.

    Thus from an ex ante, as opposed to an ex post, perspective -- which I think is the proper way to judge how one might have viewed things at the time -- one could make a pro-secession argument from a limited government philosophy perspective.