History's End

History will end only when Man does

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  • Sunday, May 30, 2004

    The Second American Civil War

    Note: It was a long and weird train of thought that took me here, and it is not entirely relevant to the issue at hand, so I won't bore you with that. I will merely address the issue of a possible second Civil War. However, it did come about from my reading of Thomas Barnett's weblog, which is something I recommend that you read daily. He is the person who wrote the famous analysis of the "Core" and the "Gap."

    The (first) American Civil War was the bloodiest in American history, with over half a million dead. The population at the time was only 26.5 million, so roughly 1 in every 50 Americans died in the war. The war was herald of things to come, as the tactics of Napoleon were applied to a battlefield that included weapons far more advanced than those used in the wars of Europe beforehand. Breech loading rifles and gatling guns were introduced in the Civil War, weapons that, in their final form, would turn the trenches and no man's land of Europe into a killing field a half a century later. The world should have looked hard at the Civil War, and seen what war had become, but it did not. And millions suffered and died because of that fact.

    There are many different opinions as to what the cause or causes of the Civil War were, with two schools of thought generally accepted. The more traditional one is that the war was over slavery and state's rights, while the second (neo-Marxist in origin) holds that purer Economic reasons were at play, the biggest of which is that a separate Confederacy would have its own tariffs, and because they would be lower than tariffs existing in the United States foreign factories would do better in selling to Southern Markets than Northern factories would. Tariffs back then were used to both raise money and protect industry, and thus the cost of cheaper, foreign goods ended up[ being higher than goods produced in the US. This, needless to say, didn't please Southerners very much, and when they attempted to leave the Union rich Factory owners persuaded the Federal Government to intervene. I don't really buy this though, because both parties had "rich factory owners" in them. I think that the reasons are much more complex.

    I happen to believe that two issues lead to the Civil War, although those two issues are really one. And that one issue in fact relates to something even higher up in importance, and is the ultimate reason why the Civil War occurred. The two issues mentioned above were institutionalized slavery and State's Rights. The right in specific being slavery. Now the Federal Government had gained a great deal of power since the Constitution was adopted, and the State's were less powerful because of it. That had caused problems before, and the issue of tariffs and nullification had almost lead to Civil War beforehand. However, slavery was something different. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he received a plurality of the votes cast. He didn't even receive 40%, and was still President. When this happened, the Southern Aristocrats, rich plantation owners, who owned lots of slaves and lots of land, realized they were in trouble. You see, before hand the South was needed for someone to win the Presidency. But now, thanks to demographic trends inside the US, specifically the massive population explosion inside the North, the South was no longer necessary to receive an electoral majority in the Electoral College. The Republican Party, as a whole, was opposed to the expansion of slavery in the territories, and thus the Southern Aristocrats realized that slavery was not likely to expand much more, if at all. The Republicans already had a Speaker, and it was possible that the South could do nothing to stop them. With slavery outlawed in the territories, new states would almost certainly be free states. Soon the South would even lose its power in the Senate, where it had traditionally been able to restrict the wealthier and more populous North. Southern leaders looked deep into the future, and realized that they would soon be minority players in politics. Eventually the North and West would have the votes they needed to outlaw slavery by amending the Constitution. Realizing that the game was up, they advocated secession, and convinced the poorer Southerners to go along with it.

    Slavery was critical to the Southern economy, to be sure. Much of the money that came to the region was from slave produced "cash crops" . However, simple economic reasons alone were not the primary force driving the average Southerner to support secession. Rather, we had a clash of cultures at work. The majority of southerners didn't own slaves, and most of those who did owned very few. So why did they support going to war for an economic benefit they didn't enjoy? It wasn't the economy, rather, it was what it meant to be American. Before the Civil War, the saying went: "The United States are." After the Civil War, it was "The United States is." People were loyal to their state before being loyal to the Union. Before the Civil War there was no single idea of America, no single belief on what the American dream was about. In the North it was to be rich, to own a fair amount of land, and perhaps some stocks and maybe a factory or two. But in the South you were considered a success if you owned a lot of land and a lot of slaves. To white Southerners, becoming a rich plantation owner was the American Dream. It was their ultimate goal, their ultimate hope. And here those damned Yankees had to come in and ruin their dreams. First off they wanted to prevent slavery from spreading further, which meant that no new land was available for up and comers so that they too could become part of the Southern Aristocracy. And then they likely wanted to outlaw slavery in totality. Oh sure, they said they didn't want to do it, but we know where their hearts truly lie... To paraphrase John Edwards, before the Civil War there were "Two Americas", one agrarian and one industrial, one rural and one urban, one based on slaves and the other on free-workers. Only one vision of America could be allowed to live in the United States of America, and thus the South set out to create their own Confederate States of America, where they could live their own "American Dream."

    To the South, the consequences of war could not possibly be worse than the consequences of peace, either way they faced the destruction of their way of live. Only by war could they save themselves from Northern dominance. Here we see the crux of the matter: War will occur when the price of war is possibly less than the price of peace. This was the case in the South during the Civil War, just as it was the case for the Soviets in Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising.

    To be continued...

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