Saturday, September 14, 2013

We Can't Do Anything Right: The GOP and the Civil War

Mackubin Thomas Owens reviews a new book with the thesis that "The South Was Right and Historians Are Wrong" vis a vis what motivated the Southern States to secede from the Union and initiate the Civil War/War Between the States (trying to be ecumenical here). As we all learned in 4th Grade - and was understood back in 1860 - the Confederate States believed the election of Abraham Lincoln represented the end of the line for their efforts to preserve and extend the "peculiar institution." 

Post-war historians and commentators, however, while allowing that slavery was a factor in secession, have filled libraries with alternative explanations for the Civil War's origins. It has even become a leftist trope to denigrate Lincoln himself as a moral monster who had no interest in ending slavery, or protecting the rights of American blacks, except to the extent needed to further his own career. This, of course, is nonsense, but nonsense is never in short supply in America's public debate, especially when it's time to denigrate or diminish the achievements of the Republican Party. 
In his remarkable new book, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, James Oakes argues that the historians who deny the antislavery origins of the war are mistaken. He contends that from the outset, Republicans had slavery in their sights. Southerners understood that the antislavery threat to the South was real. Accordingly, secession was not an hysterical overreaction to Lincoln’s election but an understandable response to the fact that an antislavery majority in the North had elected an antislavery president. And indeed, Oakes contends, from the very beginning of the conflict, the Republicans worked assiduously to destroy slavery. The problem with the dominant narrative, he argues, is that too many historians have refused to take the Republicans at their word. 
Oakes expands the work of Allen Guelzo, who in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, argued that from the first day of his presidency, Lincoln had his eye firmly set on ending slavery. Oakes takes nothing away from Lincoln, but demonstrates that Lincoln’s approach was reflective of the Republican Party as a whole. While there were many differences between Lincoln and the Radicals within the Republican Party, they were of far less import than those between the Democrats and the Republicans. As Lincoln himself once remarked, the difference between Charles Sumner, the Radical Republican senator from Massachusetts, and himself was six weeks.
Yeah, God forbid anyone read the 1856 Republican Party platform:
Resolved: That, with our Republican fathers, we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior design of our Federal Government were to secure these rights to all persons under its exclusive jurisdiction; that, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished Slavery in all our National Territory, ordained that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing Slavery in the Territories of the United States by positive legislation, prohibiting its existence or extension therein. That we deny the authority of Congress, of a Territorial Legislation, of any individual, or association of individuals, to give legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States, while the present Constitution shall be maintained. 
Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery.
Everyone in American political life can plausibly link themselves to the Founders, but only the GOP can claim credit for the hard-won achievements of the second founding, no doubt an intolerable truth for the left to abide. 

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