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Happy Time Warp, tyrnn and ceruleanst!

Okay, for some reason LiveJournal thought the day was yesterday, but also thinks it's today. Makes no nevermind to me, have your Forgotten English (© Jeffrey Kacirk) anyway!

dephlegmedness
A state of being freed from water.
--Rev. John Boag's Imperial Lexicon, c. 1850


Juneteenth Observed
On this date in 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, became the last to learn of their newfound freedom; Union soldiers reached the city and read Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, by then two and a half years old. Though Lincoln has received much of the credit for the liberation of American slaves, he could hardly have been characterized as being zealously against this evil, at least before becoming president. In the first of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on August 21, 1858, he remarked, "I have no purpose, either directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so." And even as president four years later, just before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, he wrote to Horace Greeley, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; 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."

That's something that drives me absolutely nuts about the Civil War as it's popularly taught and understood. Ask a dozen people on the street and they'll tell you it was to free the slaves -- but it wasn't about slavery and never was. It was about Federal power vs. State power -- from the government P.O.V. slavery was just a propaganda tool that the average Joe in the northern states would get behind. Sorta like WMDs in Iraq. If you are scared that the country is slouching towards totalitarianism [1], thank Abraham Lincoln, he's the one who laid the groundwork for it.

Of course, the reason slavery worked as a hot-button issue is because it was such an evil (duh), which is why the Civil War is still such a problem. Who do you root for, the Overreaching Government, or the Slavers? I'd say a fair assessment is that we all lost on that one. (Except for the slaves -- at least they got something good out of it! Eventually.)

-The Gneech

[1] Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, and for that matter the Clinton administration before them, I don't believe we're slouching towards totalitarianism. The U.S. has long had a tendency to swing like a pendulum, going from libertine to puritan and back again, and averaging somewhere in the middle. The key is to try to avoid the evils of either extreme.

Comments

level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:03 am (UTC)
I always wondered, though, what legal grounds the Union thought they had to wage war on the Confederates when they had seceded from the Union.

A small point: The South attacked the North first, firing on the Union's Ft. Sumter. There have been some who've said "The South warned them to leave, so their refusal to leave provoked the war." I do not find that very compelling.

But as to legality ... The argument is partly around Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 of the Constitution:
No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
There is no procedure laid out in the Constitution that allows for secession, and as that was a two way agreement originally (and on admission of later states[1] and territories) it seems that a unilateral departure is an actionable breach.

Whether the Union had legal grounds or not, they did, and I was always glad they won just because it meant the end of slavery that much sooner. But the academic point was always something I wondered about.

It's been quite a contentious point. And the Civil War wasn't the only time states tried to leave the Union. We tend to forget what Aaron Burr and the North Eastern States were doing.

But at the time of writing the Constitution, it was not contentious. Alexander Hamilton discusses these clauses in Federalist Paper #44, describing them as basically so obvious they aren't worth much discussion. And the predecessor agreement, back when the future United States was called the Confederation, was actually strengthened when rewritten for the Constitution.

They did not want states to leave, or to gang up on the rest of the Union.

The best answer I can come up with (and it's not really an answer) is that the U.S. would have been better off if slavery had never been permitted here in the first place!

I agree in principle, but note that the US would not have been formed at all. This was a very hot point, with the brilliant compromise ultimately engineered by Benjamin Franklin to have slaves counted as three fifths of a person.

The North wanted them not to count at all; the South wanted them to count as full persons for the census. (Many people have a reversed understanding of this.)

You have to wonder what the free blacks in New York who themselves owned black slaves thought of the concept. Some of them were quite cruel. I wonder if they considered the slaves their "moral and ... intellectual equals".

===|==============/ Level Head


[1] Texas is an exception[2]; the agreement by which it joined the Union provides for secession if they choose to do so -- but only Texas had been a separate country before entering the Union.

[2] Texas hated Lincoln; for decades after the Civil War, it was all-but-illegal to erect a statue or hang a picture of Lincoln in the state. That didn't change until the 20th century. Texas, for example, refused to tell its local blacks about the end of the Civil War. That was the origin of Juneteenth -- when a group of Texas slaves were told by Union officers that they'd already been freed.
laurie_robey
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
Yes, I realize that if they had said "no slavery," there never would have been a union in the first place because the southern agricultural industry was already dependent upon slave labor. I'm just saying from a purely moral standpoint, it never should have been started. But that's one of those "if only" arguments that doesn't really go anywhere. It's just that if they had dealt with the issue sooner, maybe it would not have almost destroyed the country and led to so many deaths. But then again, maybe it would.
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
Only about five percent of the slaves went to the US. One subtlety that set us apart from others is that we were geographically large enough and diverse enough to have a major section that depended upon slavery, and another that did not.

It was a much smaller issue, for example, when England ended slavery a couple of decades before; black slaves there were generally the occasional personal servants rather than droves of agricultural workers.

Sadly, there are places that still use the practice, often state-sanctioned as it is in China and North Korea. Allegedly, the current price for a male worker is US$40 in Mali.

===|==============/ Level Head
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)
I treated "Texas" above as a monolithic entity. It was not, really, and I've been looking for a reasonable explanation of that. Here's some background -- parts of Texas were certainly pro-Union.

===|==============/ Level Head
wbwolf
Jun. 20th, 2007 04:13 am (UTC)
Small point of clarification, though I'm sure that you are talking about those states that were admitted before the Civil War, but Hawai'i was also an independent country before it was forcibly made a territory and then a state. Granted, I think I find Hawai'i's claim for nationhood stronger than Texas, since it was created by a white Southern attempt to rest the land away from Mexico and make it hospitable to slavery.
level_head
Jun. 20th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
Small point of clarification, though I'm sure that you are talking about those states that were admitted before the Civil War, but Hawai'i was also an independent country before it was forcibly made a territory and then a state.

*chuckle*

I almost did. I had a paragraph on Hawai'i in the original writings, and decided at the last minute that the post was large enough without the additional distraction. Hawai'i had kings -- and a queen -- and some odd situations that would tend to argue the other way. But I'd grant them nationhood before they became a protectorate/territory/state -- a long process.

But I would, also, to Texas. Its independence was short, but every bit as valid.

Granted, I think I find Hawai'i's claim for nationhood stronger than Texas, since it was created by a white Southern attempt to rest the land away from Mexico and make it hospitable to slavery.

Are nations created by white people -- or white Southerners -- not valid? I'd note that a great many inhabitants of Texas had arrived directly, or nearly so, from Europe. The German and Irish contingents were strong. And there were many "Mexican" natives of Texas who were on the side of independence. A lot of Mexicans were unhappy about the Siete Leyes changes to the Mexican government.

But I'd also note that Mexico itself had just acquired territory from Spain by treaty at the end of a decade of war. If such arrangements aren't valid, then the land of Texas belonged to Spain, not Mexico. (A trivia point: Someone 30 years old born in California or Texas at the time of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (the end of the Mexican-American War) was actually born in Spanish territory, not Mexican.)

Slavery was certainly a big issue -- but so was religion. In order to obtain land in colonial Texas, new arrivals had to convert to Mexico's official religion.

And corruption and dictatorships and megalomania hardly serve to make the Mexican government at the time more "noble" than that of the newly independent Texas.

The new Texas government, led by Sam Houston, wasn't primarily driven to independence by the slavery issue. In fact, Houston resigned at the beginning of the Civil War rather than fight against the Union.

Slavery was big in Texas, as it was in the Southeast. But Texas was so ambivalent about it that their agreement with the US, which allowed them to become up to five states, was argued about at length: there was no division they could come up with that would still allow a majority of slave-supporters.

The result was violent suppression of dissension at the start of the Civil War, to their eternal shame.

It was a grim time -- and one that I'm glad to see us past.

===|==============/ Level Head

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