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The American Civil War

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Out of curiosity, where can I read about Ayn Rand's interpretation of the history of the Civil War? Also, would anyone be interested in giving me a brief summary of her thoughts?

(Feel free to spin this out into a new thread if it's too off-topic).

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The best way to do a search for any particular element of Ayn Rand's views, philosophical or not, as shown by her published writings, is to use "The Objectivism Research CD-ROM, The Philosophy of Ayn Rand." It is available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore, I recall. The creator and owner of the CD (Phil Oliver, aka Unconquered in this forum) has this website: www.Objectivism.net

Edited by BurgessLau

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Although I don't have any articles or anything by Rand herself, I'm sure she'd be for the North side. Remember; she believed that it was perfectly moral to invade a looter's country. Although slavery extended into several of the Northern states, it was waaay more significant in the south. As a result, despite her opinion in states' rights, she'd consider it perfectly within moral bounds to attack the Confederacy. In the Union, which was approaching full democracy (obviously, there were still slaves in some states, women couldn't vote in all states, etc), so the Northern states had right on their side.

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However...The South was at least a semi-free nation, like the North and because it permitted slavery right up until the war -- and during the first years of the war did not fight to end it -- they never had the moral high ground to justify their invasion. At best, they had a flimsy legal argument to support them.

Just some food for thought.

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For the record, there's no such thing as an "Objectivist stance on the Civil War". That subject pertains to the specific field of history, whereas Objectivism is a philosophy and has no opinion on concrete historical questions. I mean look at current events, two leading Objectivists have recommended opposing choices for voting in the last presidential election.

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However...The South was at least a semi-free nation ...

"The South" wasn't a nation. They were part of the United States of America. And it *wasn't* semi-free, unless you consider the existence of chattel slavery of hundreds of thousands of human beings to be subsumed under any concept pertaining to "free". That's exactly why the Civil War was fought, in essence - secession vs. maintainance of the Union, under an essentially individual-rights respecting government. A historian/novelist friend characterizes the Civil War as the Second American Revolution, and I tend to agree. It completed the first.

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Does anyone honestly believe that the several states, being sovereign and independent, would have voluntarily agreed to ratify the Constitution if they were told that no signatory state could ever secede from the Union for any reason whatsoever, and that any attempt at secession would be met with violent suppression by means of military force?

Lincoln sought to evade this very important question by falsely asserting that the several states did not precede the Union. Instead, Lincoln claimed that the Union preceded the states. Thus, to Lincoln, state sovereignty was a fiction since membership in the Union was never free and voluntary but automatic and mandatory from the very start. In Lincoln's mind, a forced and involuntary Union was as much of an impossibility as a free and voluntary Union because the Union came first -- and since the states had not freely chosen to join the Union, the states had no right to secede from the Union. Lincoln's thinking was clearly contorted.

For more on this subject, see The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo (Foreward by Walter E. Williams) and A Constitutional History of Secession by John Graham (Foreward by Donald Livingston).

"The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; in uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disapprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or right."

~ Alexis de Tocqueville

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I'm not sure what Rand's views on the subject were, but I think States' Rights vs. Federal Rights is an utterly false dichotomy. Under a proper government whose only purpose was to prevent and punish the initiation of force, it would be irrelevant from a moral standpoint whether the governing body held jurisdiction over a single city or the entire world. If the government grew sufficiently large, it would likely be more efficient to split it up into several subordinate pieces, but those pieces (States, Territories, Provinces, or whatever) would have no more rights or authority than would the central government.

As to the Civil War, to my knowledge the South broke away primarily for economic reasons, not because they were being oppressed in any way by the Federal government. In such a case the government (if it is a rights respecting one, which the Union was, for the most part) has every right to assert its authority and stop the secession.

Edited by entripon

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Does anyone honestly believe that the several states, being sovereign and independent, would have voluntarily agreed to ratify the Constitution if they were told that no signatory state could ever secede from the Union for any reason whatsoever, and that any attempt at secession would be met with violent suppression by means of military force?

Sovereign and independent of England?? And how was independence ultimately achieved? Because of the brave troops from Georgia fighting the British in Massachusetts and New York?

In any case, *no* government has any right to exist if it does not respect rights, and a government that sanctions slavery has no legitimate claim to existence. Rationalizations aside, there was one primary differentiation of the Confederacy from the U.S.: the Confederacy wanted to preserve their "right to enslave." But there is no "right to enslave." Anyone claiming so, is logically led to the idea that such a "right" would exist because the blacks were not really human beings and therefore did not possess rights - a view that was promulgated among Southern apologists who looked for philosophic justification.

If the U.S. had not eliminated slavery, it would have self-destructed from the contradiction at some point anyway.

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In any case, *no* government has any right to exist if it does not respect rights, and a government that sanctions slavery has no legitimate claim to existence. Rationalizations aside, there was one primary differentiation of the Confederacy from the U.S.: the Confederacy wanted to preserve their "right to enslave." But there is no "right to enslave."

How do you think that the Union fought the War? They conscripted (enslaved) enormous numbers of men. And the War itself was an exercise in mass murder. Lincoln unconstitutionally suspended the writ of habeas corpus without the approval of Congress and had many people arrested and held without trial. Despite Lincoln's beautiful words, the Union was quite tyrannical under his presidency.

By destroying the right of the States to secede from the Union, Lincoln destroyed the most fundamental check and balance in our system. Thus the national government has grown ever more oppressive since then.

The confederate States did not secede merely to preserve slavery. Their most immediate goal was to escape from the oppressive tariffs imposed on the industrial goods they imported from Europe.

And you should understand that the case against slavery was not as obvious then as it seems today. The people who were purchased as slaves in Africa and transported to America were people who were captives taken in wars and would otherwise have been killed by their captors.

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For the record, there's no such thing as an "Objectivist stance on the Civil War". That subject pertains to the specific field of history, whereas Objectivism is a philosophy and has no opinion on concrete historical questions. I mean look at current events, two leading Objectivists have recommended opposing choices for voting in the last presidential election.

I just want to note I did not create the headline for this thread, it was split off from another post.

jrs -

I would also like to reinforce what I said above, that the North did not fight the war primarily over slavery (at least at first). In fact, the North was prepared to permenantly allow slavery, and was content to exist as a nation full of slaves, so to say that they had right because they were fighting for liberation of slaves isn't true -- they had no moral superiority.

The only significant group which sought to use the war as a means to end slavery were the religious zealots, who thought war, death and killing was a very practical way to get their policy initiatives passed.

I'm not saying I want the United States to be two different countries, but I hate painting the civil war in one broad stroke as we're taught it in school "The free Union defeated the evil slave-holding Confederacy." It was a lot more subtle than that.

Edited by Captain Nate

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I'm not saying I want the United States to be two different countries, but I hate painting the civil war in one broad stroke as we're taught it in school "The free Union defeated the evil slave-holding Confederacy." It was a lot more subtle than that.

If you're really interested in the actual history, these are available, which I created and publish.

Somebody asked whether Ayn Rand said anything about the Civil War. She did. From Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (12. Theory and Practice):

Prior to the American Revolution, through centuries of feudalism and monarchy, the interests of the rich lay in the expropriation, enslavement, and misery of the rest of the people. A society, therefore, where the interests of the rich require general freedom, unrestricted productiveness, and the protection of individual rights, should have been hailed as an ideal system by anyone whose goal is man's well-being.

But that is not the collectivists' goal.

A similar criticism is voiced by collectivist ideologists about the American Civil War. The North, they claim disparagingly, was motivated, not by self-sacrificial concern for the plight of the slaves, but by the "selfish" economic interests of capitalism—which requires a free labor market.

This last clause is true. Capitalism cannot work with slave labor. It was the agrarian, feudal South that maintained slavery. It was the industrial, capitalistic North that wiped it out—as capitalism wiped out slavery and serfdom in the whole civilized world of the nineteenth century.

Edited by Unconquered

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I did a search across the Official Records (the actual preserved portion of Union and Confederate correspondence that was later published in 128 volumes for the Army, and additional ones for the Navy, Medical/Surgical, and maps) on the term "slavery". There are far too many references to post, but offhand I find these interesting in the context of this thread:

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 7 [s# 7] - CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, TENNESSEE, NORTHERN ALABAMA, AND SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA FROM NOVEMBER 19, 1861, TO MARCH 4, 1862. - CONFEDERATE CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. --2

BRIGADE HEADQUARTERS,

Beech Grove, Ky., December 16, 1861.

[...]

How long will Kentuckians close their eyes to the contemplated ruin of their present structure of society? How long will they continue to raise their arms against brothers of the South struggling for those rights and for that independence common to us all, and which was guaranteed to all by the Constitution of 1787? For many long years we remonstrated against the encroachments on the rights and the insecurity to that property thus guaranteed, which these Northern hordes so remorselessly in inflicted upon us. They became deaf to our remonstrances, because they believed they had the power and felt in every fiber the to "whip us in." We have disappointed them. We have broken their columns in almost every conflict. We have early acquired a prestige of success which has stricken terror into the Northern heart. Their grand armies have been held in check by comparatively few but stern-hearted men, and now they would invoke Kentucky valor to aid them in besting down the true sons of the South who have stood the shock, and in bringing common ruin upon Kentucky and her kindred people. Will you play this unnatural part, Kentuckians? Heaven forbid! The memories of the past forbid! The honor of your wives and daughters, your past renown, and the fair name of your posterity forbid that you should strike for Lincoln and the abolition of slavery against those struggling for the rights and independence of your kindred race. Strike with us for independence and the preservation of your property, and those Northern invaders of your soil will soon be driven across the Ohio.

F. K. ZOLLICOFFER, Brigadier-General.

-----------------

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XI/1 [s# 12]

JUNE 15, 1862.--Parley between Brig. Gen. Howell Cobb, C. S. Army, and Col. Thomas M. Key, U. S. Army.

No. 1. -- Report of Col. Thomas M. Key, U.S. Army, with reply of the Secretary of War.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,

Camp Lincoln, before Richmond, Va., June 16, 1862.

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:

SIR: I am instructed by Major-General McClellan to report to you the substance of an interview held on yesterday by me with the Hon. Howell Cobb, now acting as a brigadier-general in the rebel army at Richmond.

[...]

Here we ceased conversation on general matters and returned to the particular subject of our meeting, the result of which I have already given. I subsequently said to him, "Every day's experience must show to your intelligent men that your people are fighting their friends; that neither the President, the Army, nor the people of the loyal States have any wish to subjugate the Southern States or to diminish their constitutional rights. Our soldiers exhibit but little animosity against yours; the prevailing sentiment among them is a conviction of duty. I cannot understand the grounds upon which your leaders continue this contest." He said, "The election of a sectional President, whose views on slavery were known to be objectionable to the whole South, evinced a purpose on the part of the Northern people to deprive the people of the South of an equal enjoyment of political rights. We cannot now return without degradation or with security. The blood which has been shed has washed out all feelings of brotherhood. We must become independent or conquered." I replied, "Mutual bravery shown in battle never yet of itself permanently alienated the combatants; it produces mutual respect. A return to the Union even upon the ground of unequal forces would not involve degradation. The security of the South would be greater than before. The slavery question has been settled. It is abolished in the District and excluded from the Territories. As an element of dissension slavery cannot again enter into our national politics. The President has never gone beyond this in any expression of his views; he has always recognized the obligation of the constitutional provision as to fugitive slaves, and that slavery within and between the slave States is beyond Congressional intervention. Such is the political creed of the great body of the Republican party. No political organization at the North would be respectable in numbers which proposed Federal legislation or action in violation of the Constitution or in excess of its powers." I told him that, speaking for myself alone, I would express the opinion that this wretched strife should be at once ended by submission on the one side and amnesty on the other; and that proclamations to that effect by Mr. Davis and Mr. Lincoln would be sustained by the great mass of the whole nation. He replied that no Confederate leader could openly advocate such a proposition and continue to live; that, uttered among soldiers or citizens, he would at once be slain. He said that the South might suffer much, but would ultimately succeed; that the struggle had but began.

------------------------

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 14 [s# 14]

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO THE PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN, VIRGINIA, FROM MARCH 17 TO SEPTEMBER 2, 1862.

CONFEDERATE CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.--#10

HEADQUARTERS RIGHT WING,

Army before Richmond, June 17, 1862.

SOLDIERS: You have marched out to fight the battles of your country, and by those battles you must be rescued from the shame of slavery. Your foes have declared their purpose of bringing you to beggary; and avarice, their natural characteristic, incites them to redoubled efforts for the conquest of the South, in order that they may seize her sunny fields and happy homes. Already has the hatred of one of their great leaders attempted to make the negro your equal by declaring his freedom. They care not for the blood of babes nor carnage of innocent women which servile insurrection thus stirred up may bring upon their heads. Worse than this, the North has sent forth another infamous chief, encouraging the lust of his hirelings to the dishonor and violation of those Southern women who have so untiringly labored to clothe our soldiers in the field and nurse our sick and wounded. If ever men were called upon to defend the beloved daughters of their country, that now is our duty. Let such thoughts nerve you up to the most dreadful shock of battle; for were it certain death, death would be better than the fate that defeat would entail upon us all. But remember, though the fiery noise of battle is indeed most terrifying, and seems to threaten universal ruin it is not so destructive as it seems, and few soldiers after all are slain. This the commanding general desires particularly to impress upon the fresh and inexperienced troops who now constitute a part of this command. Let officers and men, even under the most formidable fire, preserve a quiet demeanor and self-possessed, temper. Keep cool, obey orders, and aim low. Remember while you are doing this, and driving the enemy before you, your comrades may be relied on to support you on either side, and are in turn relying upon you.

Stand well to your duty, and when these clouds break away, as they surely will, the bright sunlight of peace falling upon our free, virtuous, and happy land will be a sufficient reward for the sacrifices which we are now called upon to make.

JAMES LONGSTREET,

Major-General, Commanding.

---------------------

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XIV [s# 20]

CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING SPECIALLY TO THE OPERATIONS ON THE COASTS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND MIDDLE AND EAST FLORIDA FROM APRIL 12, 1862, TO JUNE 11, 1863.

UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.--#5

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH,

Hilton Head, S.C., April 23, 1863.

JEFFERSON DAVIS, Richmond, Va. :

The United States flag must protect all its defenders, white, black, or yellow. Several negroes in the employ of the Government in the Western Department have been cruelly murdered by your authorities and others sold into slavery. Every outrage of this kind against the laws of war and humanity which may take place in this department shall be followed by the immediate execution of the rebel of highest rank in my possession. Man for man, these executions will certainly take place for every one sold into a slavery worse than death. On your authorities will rest the responsibility of having inaugurated this barbarous policy, and you will be held responsible in this world and in the world to come for all the blood thus shed.

In the month of August last you declared all those engaged in arming the negroes to fight for their country to be felons, and directed the immediate execution of all such as should be captured. I have given you long enough to reflect on your folly. I now give you notice that unless this order is immediately revoked I will at once cause the execution of every rebel officer and every rebel slaveholder in my possession. This sad state of things may be kindly ordered by an all-wise Providence to induce the good people of the North to act earnestly and to realize that they are at war. Thousands of lives may thus be saved.

The poor negro is fighting for liberty in its truest sense, and Mr. Jefferson has beautifully said, "In such a war there is no attribute of the Almighty which will induce him to fight on the side of the oppressor."

You say you are fighting for liberty. Yes, you are fighting for liberty--liberty to keep 4,000,000 of your fellow-beings in ignorance and degradation; liberty to separate parents and children, husband and wife, brother and sister; liberty to steal the products of their labor, exacted with many a cruel lash and bitter tear; liberty to seduce their wives and daughters, and to sell your own children into bondage; liberty to kill these children with impunity, when the murder cannot be proven by one of pure white blood. This is the kind of liberty--the liberty to do wrong--which Satan, chief of the fallen angels, was contending for when he was cast into hell.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

D. HUNTER,

Major-General, Commanding.

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I think it was a battle between bad and worse. Clearly the South was an evil country with no right to exist due to slavery, and yet at the same time Lincoln was a tyrant in the truest sense of the word. He really set the stage for the loss of freedom that the country has seen ever since then.

He arrested editors that criticised him, he waged war for months without congressional approval, he ordered the arrest of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he had a draft system, suspended Habeus Corpus, he didn't free slaves that were owned in the North, and the list goes on and on.

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I think it was a battle between bad and worse. Clearly the South was an evil country with no right to exist due to slavery, and yet at the same time Lincoln was a tyrant in the truest sense of the word. He really set the stage for the loss of freedom that the country has seen ever since then.

He arrested editors that criticised him, he waged war for months without congressional approval, he ordered the arrest of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he had a draft system, suspended Habeus Corpus, he didn't free slaves that were owned in the North, and the list goes on and on.

I tend to agree with this view. I think it's something of a disgrace that Lincoln is so glorified in this country as our savior.

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Some (most?) of the southern states left the union without a popular mandate from it's population.

For example, Virginia's state convention voted 88 to 55 april 17 1961 to put the question to the citizens, however the governor put the state under federate command without waiting for a vote.

In 1860, before Lincoln was even in office, South Carolina declared indepndence. They surrounded federal troops that December, and on April 12, 1861 fired on fort Sumter(?) after Lincoln informed south Carolina he was sending food, but no ammunition, by sea to the fort.

Would it be alright in 2000 for California to declare indpendence without popular vote before Bush went into office, because they felt, I don't know, maybe he was going to go to war with Iraq? And then surround federal troops before the new president was in office?

Even if the south left and formed it's own nation, how would that make the situation any different? If it's in your best interests to overthrow a slave nation, then go ahead.

This romantic notion that the south was fighting the good fight is nonsense, the same nonsense we hear over and over again. Germany was just fighting against western oppression, communist troops in vietnam are fighting for the people, suicide bombers are fighting injustice, blah blah blah.

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A free nation has the right, but not the obligation to liberate a tyranny.

Even if the Union’s sole motivation was to free the slaves, and the South’s to preserve it, the North had no right to enslave and ultimately kill hundreds of thousands of free men in the North to achieve that goal. The only moral justification for the Union to have waged war against the South was if the Confederacy posed a military threat to the North – and that was clearly not the case.

Furthermore, I think the main reason the Union fought was to preserve a tax base. Slavery was primarily a politically popular pretense for the war.

Finally, I think that had the Civil War not happened, we might not be living in a social democracy today. But then the rise of democracy was what made war possible in the first place.

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In the sense that Lincoln was a terrible leader, no.

In the sense that the North was worse than than the South, definately.

I think we agree on both counts. I think the North was a more moral country, but horribly immoral all the same.

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Furthermore, I think the main reason the Union fought was to preserve a tax base. Slavery was primarily a politically popular pretense for the war.

You're correct on the first point. Lincoln, and the Republican Party along with much of the North, was pro-tariff. At the time, England made better, cheaper manufactured goods than the industrial North. This was protectionism, pure and simple. At the same time the South relied on its cotten trade with Europe, and was strongly anti-tariff, pro-free trade.

Slavery was not a "popular" pretense for war, except among the abolitionist movement and among the radicals of Lincoln's own party. Until the Emancipation Proclamation, and even after, Lincoln did everything he could to deny that the war was about slavery. The pretense for the war was simply "Union." (An even worse justification than ending slavery, in my mind.) The EP was intended to placate the radical Republicans and keep Europe from entering the war for the South and was defend as purely a "war measure."

Finally, I think that had the Civil War not happened, we might not be living in a social democracy today. But then the rise of democracy was what made war possible in the first place.

It's interesting to speculate what might have been different if the war hadn't happened, but difficult to say. What if Lincoln had simply let the South go its merry way? I think if Lincoln had been the sort of president who would do that, the South never would have left. Certainly the Civil War was the single event which did the greatest damage to the principles of federalism and republic that the government was stuctrured on.

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It is hard to see how any objectivist could agree with Lincoln's objectives in the Civil War. Then again, the objectives of the CSA were hardly any better.

The question of a "popular mandate" I think is the most interesting one, since the American Colonies certainly didn't have a popular mandate when declaring independance and fighting the Revolutionary War.

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I think that as a general principle, any distinct geographic and social group ought to be free to establish their own government, regardless of their motivation for doing so. (Assuming the new state is not a threat or burden to its neighbors, and former residents are allowed to leave.) It simply goes against the purpose of a government to impose a particular social system on one part at the expense of the rest, regardless of the morality of that system.

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Greedy Cap: are you saying that the South had the right to continue to enslave blacks because they had a majority? And weren't they doing this within the confines of the federal juristiction of the Union? And if so, doesn't the North, or at least the head of the Union have the obligation to protect the rights of its citizens, citizens that included the blacks of the south wo were being enslaved?

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