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September 17, 2007


Dan Patterson

Well here I am, a sapling among Redwoods. This is an interesting discussion and it almost makes me wish I had attended college.

I was wrong about the willingness of soldiers to face death. The army does become the embodyment of the cause, and men of both sides of the Civil War embraced their cause and the men around them with a protective violence. Brief discussions with Marines returning from Afghanistan and Iraq reveal the same bond, and it is that that causes the wonderment, leading to my "big picture" issue.

If Saint Thomas Aquinas' statement about law is correct then it is church and not social law and is best applied to behavior within a church community and not outside it's walled fortress; outside of those confines the purpose of common law is to provide for agreed upon behavior and consequence--to provide for order. That social order must be educated by some moral authority other than a human dictator and that is what the founders called upon for guidance. Declarations without agreement among the parties is the stuff revolutions are made of and the Northern interests did just that to the South in the decades preceeding the Civil War with punishing tarrifs, increased federal involvement and taxes, and increasing pressure to abolish slavery just as the production and export of cotton in the south was increasing.

The Southern cause of state's rights is closely tied to the Constituition and it's throwing off a meddling central power. The comment about who's ox being gored was meant to illustrate that point. It is a theme that resonates with us today and brings divisions in theory and practice, and in that sense the Southern cause was a superior moral point to the industrial and tax-hungry demands of the North. But for the human bondage question, and that is the overriding and ultimately damning one, and that is where the moral guidance of religon is so important to common law and the causes pursued by either side during the civil war. Without that guidance we fools are free to practice human sacrifice and retreat to tribal bonds and stone-age culture. With it there is a chance, though no bond, that some rules will be made to order our behavior toward St. Thomas Aquinas' standard.

Both the South and the North were steeped in democratic tradition, but they followed two separate paths and sought separate goals. The South held that individual and states' rights were superior to those of the Federal; they saw slavery as an economic necessity and fought to protect that asset. The Northern view was that a Federal sheild exsisted that demanded socialistic participation for the common good, like it or not. The protective power of the federation is what connected the North to their European ancestry, seeking the power of a lord over the marauding neighor-peasants. Immigrants settling in the rural south had little direct contact with slavery but ample reason to be wary of centralized government power. If the arguments during the 1850's had been only about taxes and the unfairness of federal meddling, then the South would have had ample support for it's position, the war would have been bloodless and fought in town halls and voting booths. But that was not so. Human slavery and the treatment of humans as property, a quality imported by "high-handed aristocracy", was central to the argument and that doomed the cessessionists cause from the outset as it should have. Northern high-handedness came in the form of treating the South as a feudal property and it's inhabitants as subjects--a point of view shared by both parties to the American Revolution. Perhaps that throwing off of a central and insulated power is what flavors the Southern cause with the romantic quality that rightly runs deep in Southern culture.

That the Constituition was freely signed does not mean that those signatories were free to abandon their obligations. Just as in a marriage and divorce, a voluntary contract has been created but there are serious consequences for breaching. The Union created by the constituition was not destroyed by the Federal forces after Ft. Sumter but by the actions of the rebels after quite a long period of unrest, misapplied political force, and debate.

Enough of this intrusion. I was mistaken in my understanding of the motivations of men on either side to face death will a willingness unknown but to those who have served. The big picture question has been addressed nicely and I thank you for it.

Dan Patterson
Arrogant Infidel

Andrew Cusack

"That the Constitution was freely signed does not mean that those signatories were free to abandon their obligations. Just as in a marriage and divorce, a voluntary contract has been created but there are serious consequences for breaching."

With an ordinary contract, I would agree. But in this case the contract explicitly states that the powers not delegated by the contract to the sum of all the parties (i.e. the United States) nor prohibited by the contract to the particular parties (the individual states) are reserved to the states. Therefore, the states have the power to withdraw from the union of states.

Also, there seems to me to be a logical principle that when a party engages in a voluntary association in which there is no explicit statement that withdrawing is prohibited, then withdrawal is permitted.

Furthermore, at least one state (Texas) was admitted to the Union by a treaty which explicitly (rather then, as per the constitution, implicitly) stated the right to secede, and yet was nonetheless treated as a rebellious member state, rather than an enemy foreign power.

Old Dominion Tory

Mr. Peperium makes an excellent point about how an army can become an embodiment of a cause, especially when he brings in information about the soldiers' vote in the 1864 election. The extent to which the Union Army came to embrace the cause that Lincoln espoused is superbly illustrated in such works as Bruce Catton's This Hallowed Ground and William C. Davis' Lincoln's Men.
As to the big picture, the Civil War came about because the notion of an extensive system of slavery coexisting with a basically democratic, largely egalitarian republic became an increasingly untenable one for many people in the North (and the South). Basically, slavery and liberty were incompatible in any situation, but even more so under the American flag, a banner that represented liberty.
Could the crisis of 1860-61 been solved peacefully? One must think it could have been, seeing the nation's previous talent for compromise on this very issue. Alas, by that time, Southern Democrats and, thus, Southern politics were dominated by the fire eaters and there was little room in their hearts and minds for compromise, especially with the hated Yankee. They dragged the South to the edge of the cliff and then, at Fort Sumter and elsewhere, pushed it into the abyss. They did so because they erroneously believed that the Union could not or would not stand against them, but would accept secession as a fait accompli.
For the Unionists, I think they had come to the end of their patience with the intransigence of "Slave Power"--who had long exercised a power in national affairs that was disproportionate to their numbers and did so largely to perpetuate (and expand) the "peculiar institution."
In such conditions, "compromise" would have meant surrender and eventual destruction to either side. Thus, it was nigh inevitable that war came.



Actually, Aquinas speaks the same way in reference to human positive law. See Summa Theologica Q.95.Article 1: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2095.htm
The state exists for the sake of order, but to what end does it order? That of human flourishing - what Aristotle calls the good life. Even the pagan Aristotle realized that the good life entails more than a sufficiency of material goods and freedom from strife. The most essential element of true human flourishing is virtue. Naturally, the Catholic understanding of human flourishing is even more spiritually rich.

Now then. Two words in defense of the South. In the first place, it was somewhat hypocritical of the North to violently condemn slavery in the South, when its own industry - a huge factor in the final Northern victory - relied heavily upon another injustice to humanity, i.e. sweatshop labor. Furthermore, the North demanded an instantaneous upheaval of the Southern economic system (at one point, the Southern states suggested a plan to phase out slavery gradually), which destroyed the Southern way of life and actually injured the slave class too, making their integration as free men a cause of great social bitterness fraught with (perhaps) unnecessary hardship.

Dan Patterson

Excellent points all around, and Lorraine makes efficient work of my babbling about the Southern economy and the difficulties of ending it abruptly, and of the hypocrisy of Northern voices and their damnable socialism. The logic of a painless withdrawal from an agreement must stem from a more aristocratic understanding of law than I have experienced.

Life's purpose must surely be about more than escaping an early death, and about more than aquiring property. The freedom to understand those choices, and to have the available means to guide and enlighten is a rare commodity in a world of tyrants. My continued thanks to those who defend and preserve those freedoms.

Dan Patterson
Arrogant Infidel

Andrew Cusack

"Alas, by that time, Southern Democrats and, thus, Southern politics were dominated by the fire eaters and there was little room in their hearts and minds for compromise, especially with the hated Yankee."

I'm afraid, as regards compromise, this flies in the face of reality. The Southern states sent delegations to "the hated Yankee" seeking peaceful resolution of the issue before the attack on Fort Sumter. The federal government refused to negotiate a peaceful solution with the C.S.A.

The compromise is obvious: withdraw Union troops to the Union and there would be no problem. This would have allowed the North to remain the North and the South to remain the South. But for the messianic Yankee, there was little room in their hearts and minds for compromise, especially with the hated Southerner. The avarice of conquest and supremacy prevailed, with the price being 600,000 dead Americans.

Old Dominion Tory

As I alluded to in my post, in regards compromise, Andrew, many in the North probably were spoiling for a fight, too, having come to the end of their patience with men they considered morally bankrupt.
I'll accept that the men in whatever delegations (I recall only one) sent to Washington sincerely wanted to avoid war--as did the men with whom they met. However, as soon as Edmund Ruffin fired the first gun in the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the time for talking was over.
Perhaps, the South Carolinians and other fire eaters who cheered the action against the fort thought that Lincoln and others would see that the South was sincere in its rhetoric about using armed force, and thus be cowed into allowing secession. Maybe they thought that the North did not have the stomach for a fight and would agree to Southern conditions for maintaining the Union.
Whatever they believed, the bombardment prompted an outpouring of nationalist sentiment in the North and, consequently, widespread support for Lincoln's actions against the rebellious states. However one characterizes the Unionists--avaricious, messianic, damnably socialistic--the fact remains that, by firing on Sumter, the South sowed the wind.
One more thing: your post touches upon one little discussed group of people in the North--the Disunionists. These people (I believe Robert Gould Shaw's family was among them) held that the inclusion of the slave-holding South in the Union poisoned the entire republic. If slavery could not be abolished, they reasoned, the best course of action was to let the South go its own way. Some even talked of turfing out slave-holding states involuntarily!

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