In “celebration” of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday yesterday, I re-posted one of the first articles I wrote for this site a year ago, titled When Will Public Schools Start Teaching The Truth About Abraham Lincoln? The piece received fair criticism, both positive and negative, and came under a more careful scrutiny from a friend. Since it has been a year since I wrote my article about Lincoln and the Civil War, let me now dive into greater detail about why I believe we as libertarians should defend the Confederacy.
1. Self-rule and self-determination
The political sphere in the United States of America has not differed much over the centuries. Right from the onset of our nation’s founding, big government voices have always weaseled their ways into positions of power. One decade after declaring independence from Great Britain, Alexander Hamilton and his federalist allies were wholly unhappy with the size and scope of government and wished to grow it tenfold. The Articles of Confederation gave us a truly limited federal government, and one which operated on a voluntary basis. The United States quickly did away with the Articles of Confederation and supplanted this with the much more daunting US Constitution.
Hamilton got his wish, leaving Patrick Henry and the anti-federalists in squalor. The 10th Amendment was ratified as a compromise between the two factions, however history has shown us that from the moment of the Constitution’s ratification on, small government-minded brethren would now be forced to succumb to the wishes of an all-powerful federal government.
The Constitution has all but killed State sovereignty, which was seemingly Hamilton’s intention. But as we see to this very day, much of the South still lives with the spirit of 76 deep inside of them. From gun rights, to free trade, to lower taxes, not much has changed in Old Dixie. It has always been the land of self-rule and self-determination, and they just want to be left alone.
Never, since the passage of the Constitution, has the federal government let this happen, however. The government hates those who wish to shrink their power, which is why the South has never had good relations with the federal government.
In the early half of American history, much of the South belonged to the Democratic Party, which was the party of Thomas Jefferson. They battled against the Whig Party, which was the party of notorious crony-capitalist Henry Clay. Henry Clay is described by the Mises Institute as one of the world’s first National Socialists.
“Clay was a corrupt statist who spent his political career promoting mercantilism, protectionism, inflationary finance through central banking, and military adventurism in the quest for empire. Upon entering Congress in 1811 he helped persuade the government to attempt to conquer Canada, which it tried to do three times. He waged a thirty-year battle with James Madison, John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, and other defenders of the Constitution over federally funded corporate welfare.”
The Whigs disbanded in the later half of the 19th Century, but their legacy lived on and was revived in the brand new Republican Party. Thomas J. DiLorenzo writes in his book The Real Lincoln,
“By the 1830s the Hamiltonian/mercantilist mantle had been adopted by the men who formed the Whig Party. They would battle mightily, but with only modest success, until the demise of the Whig Party in 1856. At that point, the agenda was adopted by the Republican Party, and in 1860 Abraham Lincoln became its standard bearer,” (p. 78).
The small government South was repeatedly used and abused by the mercantilists over the years. Through high tariffs, the Whigs would rob the South of their money to pay for jobs in the North. Worsening the wound, the tariffs then forced Southerners to purchase these Northern-made goods, since otherwise cheap foreign goods were now made more expensive.
Dave Benner of the Abbeville Institute writes in his article Was the Civil War About Slavery,
“In 1828, the Whigs employed the Tariff of Abominations, which destroyed the agrarian economy of the south. This was such a controversial issue that Andrew Jackson encouraged the passage of the Force Bill, which would allow him to invade South Carolina to enforce the tariff. When it came to the 1860s, the issue reared its ugly head again in the form of the Morrill Tariff, which raised the rates to a huge extent and caused additional controversy in an already fractured time. For many in the south, enough was enough. British sentiment at the time corroborated this, as the policy served to punish free trade with European powers as well.”
The South was visibly fed up with the federal government’s egregious usurpations of power and sought to reclaim their State sovereignty. While the author in contention of my previous article is accurate to note that, “[The Morrill Tariff] was passed in March 1861, after many Southern states had declared secession,” the bill was pending years prior to this. In fact prior to the secession of the South, Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party ran their 1860 elections on the platform of enacting the Morrill Tariff and instituting a new central bank. The South was terrified by this prospect and seceded immediately following the election.
It is said that the very first state to secede, South Carolina, seceded only because it wished to protect the institution of slavery. They evidence South Carolina’s Declaration of Causes, citing their mention of slavery as irrefutable proof that their primary reason for secession was in fact slavery. However what the critics fail to mention is that the majority of the document instead talks about self-rule, self-determination, and States rights.
The critic will answer this by saying, “yeah, they’re talking about states rights to slavery!” The critic then fails to mention that Lincoln and the US federal government were more than willing to accept their “states rights to slavery,” so this couldn’t have been the case. In fact, representatives from New York and Ohio introduced a Constitutional amendment, known as the Corwin Amendment, which would have made the institution of slavery permanent and untouchable by government.
Lincoln gave support for the amendment by saying,
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and 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. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
It is therefore illogical and naïve to say that South Carolina seceded to protect the institution of slavery. No one was threatening to take away their slaves, and we can see that the federal government was more than willing to continue to give unconditional support for the institution of slavery. If slavery was of utmost concern to them, then South Carolina had no reason whatsoever to leave the Union. We can instead empirically discern that self-rule was of primary to concern to them. Libertarians keen on using political action and secession as a means of shrinking the state ought to revere their decision.
It is additionally worth noting that six of the eleven states that joined the Confederacy made no mention of slavery at all in their Declaration of Causes. That is not a minority of states, but rather the majority. Couple this with the fact that the states that did mention slavery made greater mention of States rights, and you see a very different picture begin to form. The South did not so vehemently seek to protect an institution that the United States federal government was more than willing to protect for them. Rather, the South wished to no longer live under the chokeholds of a tyrannical federal government.
Furthermore, if it were not for Lincoln’s illegal imprisonment of Confederate sympathizers, even more states would have joined the Confederacy. A few central states were close to secession, as was New York City. It seems that not just the South, but even many Northerners, were vehemently opposed to this tyranny and sought self-rule and self-determination.
2. The war
As Smedley Butler once aptly put it, war is a racket. The US Civil War was of no exception. It is estimated that more than 620,000 soldiers died during the conflict, making it the deadliest war in US history. This war was not only pointless, but it was in fact illegal. In direct violation of his Constitutional authorities, Lincoln provoked a conflict with the South and led an illegal invasion into territories he no longer had jurisdiction over. Thomas J. DiLorenzo writes in a piece for Lew Rockwell.com,
“’Lincoln used war to destroy the U.S. Constitution in order to establish a powerful central government,’ says Roberts. This is certainly a strong statement, but in fact Lincoln illegally suspended the writ of habeas corpus; launched a military invasion without consent of Congress; blockaded Southern ports without declaring war; imprisoned without warrant or trial some 13,000 Northern citizens who opposed his policies; arrested dozens of newspaper editors and owners and, in some cases, had federal soldiers destroy their printing presses; censored all telegraph communication; nationalized the railroads; created three new states (Kansas, Nevada, and West Virginia) without the formal consent of the citizens of those states, an act that Lincoln’s own attorney general thought was unconstitutional; ordered Federal troops to interfere with Northern elections; deported a member of Congress from Ohio after he criticized Lincoln’s unconstitutional behavior; confiscated private property; confiscated firearms in violation of the Second Amendment; and eviscerated the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.”
With this said, we can discern that the South acted in self-defense against the invading aggressors of the North. There is a reason Lincoln attacked the South. The central planners in the North needed to maintain their tariffs on the South in order to achieve their ultimate economic goals.
Throughout this illegal war, thousands of Southerners were displaced, entire towns were burnt down, women were raped, and families were starved. Notwithstanding, General William Sherman, one of Lincoln’s most trusted generals, wrote to his wife in 1862 that, “the war will soon assume a turn to extermination not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people… There is a class of people, men women, and children, who must be killed or banished.” The Confederates were the victims here, and libertarians ought to support their right to self-defense.
3. Slavery would have soon been dead
Slavery would have soon been dead for the same reason it died in the North; the advent of the industrial revolution made it uneconomical. Just about every other advanced nation had already abolished slavery, and as Ludwig von Mises tells us, “Servile labor disappeared because it could not stand the competition of free labor; its profitability sealed its doom in the market economy.”
An article on Listverse.com also informs us that,
“according to an 1860 census, only 31% of families owned slaves. 75% of families that owned slaves owned less than 10 and often worked beside them in the fields. The Confederate Constitution banned the overseas slave trade, and permitted Confederate states to abolish slavery within their borders if they wanted to do so.”
In addition to this, there were already more free blacks living in the South than in the North in 1860. Henry Louis Gates Jr. tells us that economic opportunities thrived for freed blacks in the South. In a 2013 piece for theroot.com, he writes that, “While most free blacks in the South remained tied to the land, a number, especially in cities, acquired skills that allowed them to earn and own property as artisans and craftsmen.”
It is also worth mentioning that during the course of the war, President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress “were also willing to give those slaves who served in the army their freedom at the end of the war as a reward for their service,” writes Leonard M. Scruggs in his book The Un-Civil War (p. 250). This further enumerates that the South valued their independence more than the institution of slavery and were just as susceptible to the laws of economics as the rest of us. If the South were willing to grant freedom to their slaves in return for their assistance in the war, then we can see why slavery would have fallen. More value can be attained through the free exchange of goods and labor than through coercion.
It is embodied within just about every libertarian to have some level of veneration for America’s founding fathers. And those who do not hold the founding fathers in such high esteem at least have great respect for the Revolutionary War efforts. If we are to honor America’s founding fathers for making greater strides towards liberty, then we must revere the Confederacy for the same reason. The Confederate States of America may have been flawed, and the institution of slavery should be rightly condemned, however America’s founding fathers were just as fallible.
George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. James Madison owned slaves. Patrick Henry owned slaves. George Washington spent 80% of his federal budget to conquer the Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to subjugate Native Americans to reservations. And the Articles of Confederation and United States Constitution codified the institution of slavery.
We can eat the meat and spit the bones. However, no libertarian who is opposed to the Confederate States of America should dare hold any of America’s founding fathers in high regard. The only consistent libertarian positions on the matter would be the following:
- Taking the good with the bad and supporting both the founding fathers and the Southern secessionists for the strides they took towards liberty
- Vehemently opposing both the founders of the United States and the Southern secessionists
For a libertarian to take any other stance would be highly illogical and inconsistent with our principles. We must either side with our brothers when they get something right, or entirely oppose them when they are wrong. No other concessions can be made.
I believe it benefits us more as a movement to side with our brothers when they are right rather than nitpick and oppose them for their every flaw. This is why we as libertarians will side with conservatives when they are correct about gun rights, and why we will side with liberals when they are correct about your right to peacefully ingest drugs. To do otherwise would be to alienate ourselves from the rest of the world and ensure that our movement never grows.
Since it seems that the general consensus among the libertarian community is for us to have open arms to our brothers rather than closed fists, then the most consistent position for us to take is to support the Confederacy. They may not have been perfect, but their secession was a huge decentralization of power and a step in the right direction towards a more perfect union. As the leviathan of a state continues to grow, we as libertarians should revere the Confederacy and consider secession as a viable option towards greater freedom.