Add this Page to Facebook!   Submit to Twitter   Submit to Reddit   Submit to Stumble Upon   Pin It!   Fark It!   Tell A Friend  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite Save As Favorite View Article Stats
49 comments, In Series: The Spirit that Drove Us to Civil War is Back

OpEdNews Op Eds

Was Lincoln Wrong to Fight to Preserve the Union?

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Interesting 1   Valuable 1  
View Ratings | Rate It

Headlined to H3 9/11/13
Become a Fan
  (27 fans)

opednews.com

[Also titled, "The Spirit that Drove Us to Civil War is Back:  Who Chose War IV-- Was Lincoln Wrong to Fight?"]

Some Southerners still call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression."  I've already shown that -- it being an act of outlawry to secede the way the South did it -- it was no such thing. But was Lincoln, even though he was entitled to use force, nonetheless wrong in his judgment that it was worth a war to hold the Union together?

Abraham Lincoln is generally rated by historians as the nation's greatest president ever.  He was certainly an extraordinary man with a great spirit.  His level of compassion, his inclination to forgive those who wronged him, his craving for peace--in all these ways, he seems to us now, and seemed to a great many of his contemporaries, an exceptionally humane man.  Also, his navigating of the most complex of waters, during our nation's greatest crisis, suggests a man of astonishingly acute and subtle judgment.

But for at least a decade I have been wondering about the wisdom and rightness of the main decision of his presidency, the judgment on which almost everything else about his presidency rested: to go to war against the secessionist South in order to preserve the Union. 


From http://www.flickr.com/photos/85376668@N03/9674893234/: Mr. Lincoln
Mr. Lincoln by CallMeWhatEver


Lincoln decided to use force to hold the Union together for two main reasons.  One is that he believed the secession unconstitutional, and thus that his oath of office, to defend the Constitution, required that he enforce the irrevocability of the states' membership in the Union.  That position was at least arguable, so I don't think Lincoln needed to feel absolutely honor-bound to resort to war.


His other reason was that he believed profoundly in the American experiment in democracy -- a government of the people, for the people, and by the people -- and he believed further that the nation's breaking apart into two nations would grievously discredit the American experiment and therefore the very idea of democracy.  He believed that keeping alive this "last, best hope on earth" required keeping the Union together, by force if necessary.

I've not come across serious Civil War scholars who question that judgment.  But I am unconvinced of its validity.

It is not clear to me that the example of the American democracy would have been discredited if the two regions --- which had become in many ways like two different cultures, aside from the deep polarization that had antagonized the two against each other --- had negotiated a separation.  When Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, that peaceful division seemed an accomplishment to their credit.

If I could place myself back in early 1861, and were in a position to advise the newly-elected President, this is what I would have counseled: 

"Offer to sit down with the Confederates and negotiate over the question of their independence.  Keep the military option open, use it subtly as an inducement to come to terms favorable to the Union of which you would still be president.  Your unwillingness to allow slavery to spread further into the American territories can guide the terms you would accept.  See if this can be accomplished peacefully."

Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight:  I know that the war would be more terrible than either side expected at the outset.  (Nonetheless, during the 1850s, as the specter of secession loomed, many did anticipate that the outcome might be a nightmarish war.) 

Still, as with all counter-factual history, my hindsight doesn't enable me to see whether my proposed alternative would have worked out better.

In The Federalist Papers, one of the arguments presented for the former colonies to form "a more perfect Union" is that if the colonies break into more than one nation, history suggests the great danger that these sovereign entities would in time find themselves at war with each other.  My proposal to Lincoln, the logic of The Federalist would suggest, might only postpone the war.

Indeed, I expect that danger is even greater than the general history of intersocietal relations would suggest.  For I do believe that the spirit animating the South was one that was itching for a fight, and I am quite uncertain whether peace would have been possible. Here are three reasons I might be wrong about the chances for a peaceful resolution.

First, I wonder if the Confederate States of America would have been willing to cede to the Union, as part of the price of secession with peace, ownership of the territories of the West that were not yet admitted as states.  If I'm right about the spirit animating the South, it might well have been impossible for Lincoln to have achieved acceptable terms.

Next Page  1  |  2

 

Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)
 
Add this Page to Facebook!   Submit to Twitter   Submit to Reddit   Submit to Stumble Upon   Pin It!   Fark It!   Tell A Friend
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Follow Me on Twitter

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Why Do Conservatives Like Colbert? Article Plus Critique

Mel Gibson's Rant as Profound Clue

To Anti-Obamite Lefties: It Doesn't Matter If You're Right

How Important is the Loss of Friendship?

The Mystery of Obama's Relationship with Power

Power and Corruption: Just What Is Their Relationship?

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
8 people are discussing this page, with 49 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

One answer- yes, yes he was wrong.Why? Because thi... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 12:34:13 PM
I find it puzzling that you would criticize Lincol... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 12:59:42 PM
click hereI explained my  look at this in the... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 1:22:39 PM
I remember one of my battle cries in Massachusetts... by Michael Dewey on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 2:55:00 PM
I differ very much.First, I believe that South did... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 3:13:31 PM
History disagrees with you.  1) "Secession" o... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 3:28:40 PM
As far as I know and I also mentioned that in ... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 3:34:34 PM
With all due respect Lincoln's actions were NEVER ... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 4:09:55 PM
but more in retrospect than at the time, for Linco... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 4:14:24 PM
You folks  mix  what Russians say the Go... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 4:37:47 PM
Lincoln cannot "himself become a chosen man," as i... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 5:14:18 PM
Any sovereign states with the power and authority ... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 4:02:11 PM
No, wrong, as neither option is hardly the "choice... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 5:03:55 PM
I disagree. A little-known fact of the Consti... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 5:23:52 PM
Yes, I know about the background but what never go... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 6:21:41 PM
How can you say "Civil War established"?Did Iraq w... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 10:26:55 PM
I have asked some experts on these matters the que... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 6:43:22 PM
An amendment respectful of the declared procedure ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 6:50:32 PM
delete repeat... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 6:51:14 PM
Your analysis is music to the ears of the Executiv... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 10:23:33 PM
Bosnians say:A blind person does not understand th... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 10:08:26 PM
 I would  like to  mention  so... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 5:57:41 PM
Divine purpose needs a divinity (or two) we can ag... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 6:37:15 PM
That is OK, I guess.   The difference ma... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 7:04:19 PM
Sex isn't morality for me, but let that bide, and ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 7:28:48 PM
Domination is not the same  as  driving ... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 7:41:47 PM
Linc was wrong for a number of reasons. The Consti... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 8:23:24 PM
I highly recommend reading Lysander Spooner's work... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 8:31:12 PM
The Constitution has already been overthrown. In 1... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 9:48:57 PM
You live in an alternate universe, Mr. Johnson, fr... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 10:20:58 PM
When Bush broke US and International law by side s... by Michael Dewey on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 10:50:23 PM
One of FDR's first acts of office was overseeing t... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 11:21:45 PM
No problem with most of what you say, but how coul... by Michael Dewey on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 11:37:14 PM
Check the history books Michael:The basis of the U... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 at 11:58:55 PM
Oh there are lots of reasons to dislike the U.N. &... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 4:54:33 AM
Aren't you the one that thinks that we need the re... by Darren Wolfe on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 7:10:07 AM
No, I was the one who said a few weak backs or so ... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 8:54:34 AM
There is evidence that FDR wanted & allowed th... by Darren Wolfe on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 4:02:01 AM
Well, I probably shouldn't inject myself into what... by Scott Baker on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:07:23 AM
Yes, thanks, good points. What Lincoln inconvertib... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:25:05 AM
Unless America turns around its Imperialistic Fore... by Michael Dewey on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 12:37:02 PM
However, under the present collectivist scenario t... by Darren Wolfe on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 12:52:57 PM
This thread bothers me   very  much... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 8:18:57 AM
Thank you for the thoughtless post, Mark. Retreat ... by Darren Wolfe on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 8:28:58 AM
I was only stating the obvious- that's how it was.... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 8:38:53 AM
Don't let the wingnuts geared to provoke strong re... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 10:23:57 AM
Blah, blah, blah, Mark, Robert, I've cited the min... by Darren Wolfe on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:24:21 AM
Funny thing that supreme court...If you google sea... by Bill Johnson on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:51:03 AM
I'm not sure I am getting your point, Mr. Johnson,... by Andrew Schmookler on Thursday, Sep 12, 2013 at 1:00:18 PM