Blogs > Liberty and Power > Blog War on the Civil War

Jul 21, 2004 6:11 pm

Blog War on the Civil War

Although I defend the right of secession, criticize Lincoln's tyranny, and have successfully fought against the University of Alabama's effort to ban the display of Confederate flags in dorm windows, I must am now branded as a champion of"Anti-South Bigotry!" The charge comes in Tom DiLorenzo's response to my article (co-authored by Charles W. Nuckolls), "Wrong Song of the South: The Dangerous Fallacies of Confederate Multiculturalism."

At LRC blog, Thomas DiLorenzo writes "Beito and Nuckolls do not understand what states' rights is. States' rights never meant opposition to all federal legislation, as they assert. Consequently, they unfairly and inaccurately smear the Confederate secessionists. The clearest statement of the states' rights philosophy is Jefferson's 1798 Kentucky Resolve, where he wrote,"Resolved, that the several States composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government . . ." He goes on to say that each state reserves for itself the equal right to judge for itself matters of consitutionality with regard to federal legislation. It's not that all federal legislation is illegitimate; only that the federal government itself is not the sole arbiter of constitutionality. The citizens of the states have just as valid a voice, and the Southern secessionists expressed that voice."

Beito: We never claimed that states rights"meant opposition to all federal legislation." I am not sure what point DiLorenzo is trying to make here. Perhaps he could be more explicit. Is he alluding to any particular example of federal legislation?

DiLorenzo: [Agreeing with Jefferson]"each state reserves for itself the equal right to judge for itself matters of constitutionality with regard to federal legislation."

Beito: When did we say otherwise in our article? In fact, we criticized the pro-slave states for their reliance on federal coercion to undermine state personal liberty laws during the 1850s. If we had the space, we could have also faulted them for their efforts to ram through the admission of Kansas as a slave state against the clear wishes of the inhabitants.

DiLorenzo:"Second, they are wrong on slavery and the war despite all their politically correct bloviating about it. There would never have been a war if Lincoln had not invaded the South after manipulating the Confederates into firing on Fort Sumter (where no one was even hurt, let alone killed). The notion that they invaded to liberate the slaves is nonsense and every historian should know this. (The reason Lincoln gave for his naval blockade was tariff collection)."

Beito: Of course! When did we say otherwise? Again, Lincoln was a tyrant, an imperialist and a racist. He did not invade the South to liberate the slaves. Instead, his goal was to encircle and contain the slave states with a ring of free states and free territory. For this reason, the deal breaker for the Deep South was Lincoln's refusal to allow the extension of slavery into the territories. The upper South was willing to stay in even under these circumstances (at least prior to Lincoln's invasion after Fort Sumter).

Had I been president in March 1861, I would have let the South (actually the Gulf States and South Carolina) leave peacefully."Politically correct bloviating." Good line, Tom! I'll have to tell my leftist colleagues about that.

DiLorenzo:"Third, the authors' smear of the Confederate government for inflation, conscription, etc. is a red herring argument. None of this would have happened had Lincoln not invaded with the largest and best equipped army in the history of the world up to that point.

Beito: A valid point.....though I must say that Confederate War Socialism proved to be a poor way to fight a successful defensive war. They might have won had they used the same defensive/guerrilla methods as the rebels of '76.

DiLorenzo:"Fourth, they cannot invoke Lysander Spooner in defense of their smear of the South. In his essay,"No Treason," published in 1870, Spooner wrote that"all these cries" of having abolished slavery, saved the country, preserved the union, and establishing a government of consent with the war are"gross, shameless, transparent cheats" that"ought to deceive no one."

Beito: I agree with Spooner’s statement. I'm glad to hear that DiLorenzo is a fellow fan. Does this also mean that he agrees with s Spooner's plan to kidnap the governor of Virginia and hold him for ransom until John Brown was released?

DiLorenzo:"How ironic that Reason magazine libertarians who quote Spooner are Exhibit A of people who have in fact been deceived by all the"shameless, transparent cheats" of revisionist, politically-correct history."

Beito: Ouch! Tom: You really know how to hurt a guy.

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

The bottom line is that Beauregard fired first and started the war, and did so against a fort that he had no right to occupy--indeed, no right to make any demands against whatsoever. And his doing so was either an act of foreign aggression or treason, depending on how you look at it.

To surrender Sumter forever (not temporarily, as Lincoln did) is to concede that when attacked, the US simply surrenders to its enemies or tolerates treason. There have been lots of times and places where the position of the US military was temporarily indefensible, and where it evacuated with the hopes of fighting another day. But if every evacuation had entailed surrender, the United States of America would never have gotten onto the map. (Remember Washington's retreat across New Jersey? Fort Lee was indefensible, too.)

Lincoln's response was exactly right: he held onto the fort for as long as was feasible in the hopes that the other side would see the error in their demands; he evacuated it temporarily when the costs of holding it were intolerable--but he treated the aggressors for what they were. Eventually, he got the fort back, & we got our country back. A steep price, but a worthy cause.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

You say that if you'd been president in 1861, you'd have let the South leave "peacefully." Would you have let them "peacefully" fire on and seize federal property, too--Fort Sumter, etc.? With all due respect for our erring brethren, I don't see why Beauregard's firing on Fort Sumter was an "act of peace."

In fact, if we take the Confederates at their word, and grant their so-called "right" of secession, their firing on Fort Sumter amounted to an unprovoked attack on the US by a foreign power. And if we don't grant that "right" (following Harry Jaffa, I don't), the attack on Fort Sumter was just plain old treason. But there is no conceivable interpretation on which Southern secession was "peaceful."

It is annoying, incidentally, that at this late date, the National Parks Service offers this mealy-mouthed and deterministic account of the most extraordinary act of treason in American history:

Reading that, you'd almost never realize that a guy named Beauregard took it upon himself to issue various ultimatums he had no right to utter; and not receiving satisfaction, decided to point his cannons, fire them, and start a civil war.

If Major Anderson had had the weaponry and supplies, "Tyrant" Lincoln would have been more than justified in giving him the order to point his guns right back at Beauregard and use them. Ah, the satisfactions of counterfactual history...

p w - 7/26/2004

Mr. Beito - It is not my intention to enter into the battle that has erupted over your recent article in Reason but for one matter: Lysander Spooner.

While I applaud you for the attention you give to this historically important yet often overlooked libertarian philosopher, I do have to agree with Mr. DiLorenzo insofar as your portrayal of Spooner only vaguely identified his opposition to the war while referencing him simultaneous to a sentence in which you requested that certain modern day confederates "stop waving the Stars and Bars, abandon the cause of a nation state that championed an unforgivable violation of inalienable rights, and embrace the rich American heritage of individualism."

As anyone with even the slightest familiarity with political philosophy and historical participation in the events of the 1860's will observe, your characterization of Spooner and neglect to elaborate upon his anti-war position strains any claim to credibility that your article might otherwise assert. Spooner was indeed one of the north's most outspoken critics of the Lincoln administration and with good reason for a libertarian. But that is only part of the picture. His opposition to Lincoln's war was premised entirely upon the fact that it was waged in opposition to an exercise of free choice and in violation of the doctrine of consent upon which the U.S. government was supposedly premised. So strong was Spooner's conviction on this doctrine of consent that he openly affirmed the confederacy, despite its flaw of slavery against which he had campaigned for so much of his life, to have been wholly in the right and Lincoln in the wrong. DiLorenzo correctly notes this theme to have occupied much of Spooner's famous "No Treason" series. While you or any other reader may find no deficit of its articulation in those easily found pamphlets, I have always believed that Spooner's greatest and most succinct articulation of his position is to be found in a relatively obscure letter he published to the northern radical senator Charles Sumner in 1864. Criticizing Sumner and his allies for waging a war that was intentionally void of the moral claims in an anti-slavery position, Spooner wrote:

"Upon yourself, and others like you, professed friends of freedom, who, instead of promulgating what you believed to be the truth, have, for selfish purposes, denied it, and thus conceded to the slaveholders the benefit of an argument to which they had no claim, - upon your heads, more even, if possible, than upon the slaveholders themselves, (who have acted only in accordance with their asso­ciations, interests, and avowed principles as slaveholders.) rests the blood of this horrible, unnecessary, and therefore guilty, war.
Your concessions, as to the pro-slavery character of the constitution, have been such as, if true, would prove the constitution unworthy of having one drop of blood shed in its support. They have been such as to withhold from the North all the benefit of the argument, that a war for the constitution was’ a war for liberty. You have thus, to the extent of your ability, placed the North wholly in the wrong, and the South wholly in the right. And the effect of these false positions in which the North and the South have respectively been placed, not only with your consent, but, in part, by your exertions, has been to fill the land with blood."

Whether you agree with these sentiments of Spooner I do not know. I do, however, believe that they indicate a substantially more complex and meaningful basis for his take on the civil war than your article in Reason either suggested or permitted. That being the case, you owe it to the readers of that publication to clarify your use of his name as a part of your argument if for no other reason than to accurately portray what Spooner himself openly stated and believed.

David T. Beito - 7/22/2004

It wasn't an act of peace though Lincoln was clearly trying to create a pretext. Presidents have been doing that throughout history. Remember the Maddox?

All other federal installations in the South had been abandoned by this time. The only one Lincoln held onto was Fort Sumter. In other answer your question, I would have evacuated this indefensible fortification (Fort Sumnter) rather than re-supply it.

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