21 February 2011

Jefferson Davis On The Cause of The Civil War

Jefferson Davis unequivocally stated in 1861 that the cause of his state’s secession was that “she had heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.” Other Confederate leaders also emphasized that slavery was the reason for secession.

From here, with links to multiple sources.

Jefferson Davis's inauguration as President of the Confederate State of America was re-enacted on its 150th anniversary on February 19th in Alabama in an event organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group of men, mostly in the American South, who have wide political support, who are proud that their ancestors were traitors who fought to defend slavery.

Ironically, most of them now favor the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln.


Michael Malak said...

Nothing political happens without a coalition, and the Confederates were a coalition of those who wanted to defend slavery and those seeking independence from Washington. Within the latter, there were those with grievances against the North's economic policies, namely import tariffs and bailouts of Northern banks. These economic problems were intertwined with slavery because slavery was the only way the South could cope with the economic policies imposed by the North.

A leader better than Lincoln would have come up with a peaceful, economic scheme to end slavery in the South.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I very much doubt that a leader better than Licnoln could have come up with a peaceful economic scheme to end slavery in the South. Compromise had failed for seventy years at that point. The notion that tariffs and bailouots of Northern banks were important causes of the Civil War also doesn't pass the straight face test. It may have won over a handful of people, but it wasn't an important cause and the leaders of the Confederacy were quite clear on that point.

The notion that the South needed slavery to resist Northern economic oppression would be laughable if it weren't so pathetic and morally abtruse.

Lincoln could have allowed the South to secede with a minimum of violence and continued slavery as a separate nation. Slavery probably wouldn't have continued until today, even if that had happened. Slavery would almost certainly have continued longer than it did in fact if that had happened.

How much longer would slavery have lasted? This morally important question is a matter for alternative history writers. My personal guess is about a century, tailing off in the 20th century gradually, under persistent international pressure that would have caused economic devistation in the South for decades. It certainly wouldn't have happened in a decade. But, we can't really know.

Michael Malak said...

Just right off the bat, the market price to free the slaves would have been $500 * 100 (CPI) * 4,000,000 slaves = $200 billion in today's dollars. Assimilation cost wouldn't have been more than it was in the aftermath of the Civil War -- mostly the slaves just took up jobs with their former slave owners. (Though more should have been spent at the time on literacy and job skills training.)

That Lincoln didn't allow the South to secede is not due to his concern for the slaves, but rather to his stated goal in the Gettysburg Address of "preserving the Union".



The outside end estimate of U.S. abolition is 1930, the end of the Progressive Era. 1900 is a better guess -- between France and China.

But that's with a "do nothing" approach. The North could have bought the slaves out if that were really its priority.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Neither France nor China had the kind of deep economic attachment to slavery that the American South did, and imagining that plantation holders would actually accept $200 billion even if it could pass Congress with the South still in it, is dubious.

Suppose that the year is 1930. Would the lives saved from not fighting the civil war have been worth 65 more years of slavery? Not an obvious point.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

A lot more detail including a historian's explanation of the reality that a buy out was tried and failed in the four border states, is set out in an interview on Fresh Air.