What Do You Think?

I have a dear, dear friend in England who is going through a very rough time right now. Add that to the ‘lockdown’ in England and it’s almost too much to bear. To ease her mind and distract her aching heart, she is watching the Ken Burns documentary Civil War. She shared this video with me this morning https://youtu.be/ZeYjtfsK338. I explained to her how sad it was, brother against brother and father against son but that without that war, we wouldn’t be the country we are now.

But I wonder; am I right? So I’ve come here to ask you that question. Would we be the America we are if the Civil War had never been fought? Thanks for your help – I’m looking forward to your replies.

29 Responses to What Do You Think?

  1. A very interesting question, Audre! It’s also one open to many interpretations.

    I think the biggest legacy of the American Civil War was that it marked the victory of a certain Yankee political philosophy and political economy over the rest of the country. The North and the South took fundamentally different views of the world. Slavery was certainly a big part of that, but it was one piece of the broader Southern worldview.

    Richard Weaver addressed this worldview well in one of his Southern Essays. His contention is that the American South was the proper inheritor—despite its Protestantism—of the medieval Catholic European worldview, one in which everything exists in relation to God. Weaver was a literary critic and English professor, so part of what he was addressing in that essay was the profundity of poets and writers in the South. His basic argument was that Southerners, seeing the world as an interconnected, being part of God’s Creation, were more apt to draw “mythopoetic” relationships (metaphors, essentially) between things in that Creation. But the larger point was that the South existed in a far more traditional version of the world than the Yankee.

    The Yankee, instead, came from a Puritanical/Calvinist perspective. Weaver argued that the Southern recognized and named evil, but rather than try to stamp it out—thereby breeding a multitude of smaller, more insidious evils—he sought to fence it off, to mark it. The Northern Puritan sought to eradicate evil–thus the radical abolitionist impulse (in the context of the Civil War), on down to the modern-day “Puritanism” of the SJWs, for whom nothing is ever good enough.

    Immediately after the Civil War, the South, being out of national politics in the Reconstruction Era, could not stop the political-economic alliance of the North and West, which put into place high protective tariffs and expanded federal authority (in the latter case, sometimes legitimately, in order to protect the rights of black Americans in the South). There was also the somewhat colonialist “New South” movement in the early twentieth century, itself a latter-day incarnation of the Radical Republicans’ desire to completely transform Southern society during Reconstruction—to remake the South’s agrarian traditionalism into Northern progressive industrialism.

    The other big legacy is the expansion of federal power. I do not think that nullification was a valid constitutional doctrine—why would the Framers create a mechanism for destroying the document they were writing, especially given the number of opportunities offered to amend it—but the question “Having opted into the Constitution, can States later opt out” was an open constitutional question until the Civil War resolved it by force of arms. Whether nullification and its logical successor, secession, were valid, the Civil War answered with a resounding “NO.”

    For good or for ill, the effect of that is that it removed a powerful potential check on the federal government. Virginia, for example, could no longer plausibly exert the same influence on national politics as it had in the antebellum period (it is worth noting that nullification and secession were, originally, New England Yankee ideas—see also the Essex Junto and the Hartford Convention, the latter of which sought to secede from the Union over objections to the War of 1812, which was deeply unpopular among the pro-British New Englanders).

    Of course, that’s a Southerner’s perspective. I am NOT a neo-confederate, or one of these latter-day revisionists. I think it’s good that the Union was preserved, but I also think there’s a lot more nuance to this debate. Slavery was certainly one of, if not THE, major causes of the war, but slavery itself was but one aspect—and, again, to be clear, a significant one—of the Southern worldview and way of life. Preserving the Union was a positive outcome, but it carried with it many deleterious effects, both material and spiritual—a century of economic devastation in the South, and the ultimate victory of an ever-progressing, ever-changing Yankee progressivism and reformism that never sleeps, and is never content.

    Just look at the frustration the rest of the country has with the South, because we stubbornly cling to our traditions, our faith, and our constitutional rights. We’re the warrior-poets of the nation, yet our Brahmin elites mock and ridicule us, and perpetually scold us for making two evil mistakes (upholding slavery, and endorsing segregation).

    But the South today has managed to modernize materially while still holding onto its spiritual core, although I fear that is changing rapidly. We are, I would argue, the most tolerant part of the country. We still have our problems, of course, but we take much more of a “live-and-let-live” approach. It does bug us when Northerners ruin their States with their bad policies, then move down here and lecture us about how things are “supposed to be done.”

    That said, I would encourage all of y’all to come here. South Carolina has beaches, mountains, and everything in between. We also have the prettiest girls in the world—not to mention the friendliest people (well, East Tennessee might have us beat there)—and the best food. Taxes and real estate are cheap, and there’s plenty of countryside to enjoy.

    God Bless the United States of America, and God Bless Dixie!

    Liked by 2 people

    • audremyers says:

      Wow, Port!!! Great big wow! That, my friend is an article in itself. Beautifully written and soundly thought out. So impressed. You’ve knocked my socks off!

      Now I’m excited to see what Neo will comment to your comment. Gunna get some chips and soda! This could be a very good day indeed!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, Audre! As I was writing it, it occurred to me that I might just recycle it for my post this Friday, haha!

        I’m very interested to read NEO’s response. I’m also anticipating Gordon Scheaffer’s response, which will boil down to “the Civil War was ONLY about slavery because Alexander Stephen’s gave ‘The Cornerstone’ Speech.” ; D <–With all due respect, Sheaff; I’m sure you have other evidence, but I know that’s the one you’ve posted about lately.

        That said, I also think the claim that it was JUST and/or ONLY about slavery is reductivist, and ignores a ton of other evidence. But it’s also fallacious to claim slavery was a background issue. Lincoln’s “A House Divided Speech” reads like a conspiracy theory, but he demonstrated in that speech how the “Slave Power” had quietly and systematically constructed laws and SCOTUS rulings to make slavery as an institution constitutionally unassailable—and even was forcing it on the free States.

        But my point is there is WAY more nuance, and while preserving the Union (and, after 1 January 1863, ending slavery) was a noble and worthy cause, victory cost a great deal. We can and should acknowledge that without worrying about being considered neo-Confederates or the like.

        Liked by 1 person

        • audremyers says:

          Really enjoying your insight, Port. Lots and lots of ideas to think about.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Just a heads-up: I am using my initial comment on your post for my blog post on Friday, with a link to this post. So after it pops at 6:30 AM EST on Friday, y’all come on and over and we’ll have even more of this amazing conversation there!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          OK, I’m not going to say too much here, But I agree with much of what you say, and this is a spot where Schaeffer and I disagree also. Was the war about slavery? Sure. But it was a lot more than that, tariffs, industrial development where the south was being left behind (not least because of slavery). And something PP touches on, the mean money-grubbing ethos that much of the north had developed opposed to a not really kinder, but perhaps more gentlemanly, gallant society that the south had developed.

          That’s one place where I disagree with PP though, because that is something the west inherited from the south, without the antebellum south there is no old west, if you read our literature, even Willa Cather, the romance and the love of the land is there plain-spoken as if it were South Calinky, not Nebraska.

          And Carolina girls, well the Beach Boys were wrong. I all but fell in love with one on Christmas vacation when I was a senior in high school, gorgeous, kind, and that accent. What that? She was the guide in the plantation mansion just outside Charleston, where they filmed the staircase scenes in “Gone with the Wind’, although they cheated. they used mirrors to make it twice as wide.

          One other thing, it did great damage to Federalism, not for nothing do we say that is when ‘these United States’ became ‘the United States’.

          Interesting too is that while secession was arguably unconstitutional, arguably so also was unconstitutional the forced reunification. It was really a case where every man had to decide what was right in his mind.

          Liked by 2 people

        • “That’s one place where I disagree with PP though, because that is something the west inherited from the south, without the antebellum south there is no old west, if you read our literature, even Willa Cather, the romance and the love of the land is there plain-spoken as if it were South Calinky, not Nebraska.”

          I’ll give you that, NEO. I don’t know as much about you Westerners, but what I see, I like. The antebellum alliance of the North and West refers to the Old Northwest—Indiana, Illinois, etc.—what we might now call the Upper Midwest. Henry Clay of Kentucky (which used to be considered “The West”) was largely responsible for that Union, as his “American System” pushed for high protective tariffs, federal funding for internal improvements (roads and bridges and the like), and a national bank.

          That said, I’m glad to consider THE West—Nebraska, et. al.—as fellow soldiers-in-arms in the fight for liberty.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          It’s interesting that I think Henry Clay’s 1850 compromise saved the Union. If the south had walked in 1850, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and arguably Iowa and Minnesota would have too. Why? The Old Northwest’s only market (util the trunk line railroads reached Chicago in the 1950’s was the old Southwest. What little went overseas went mostly through New Orleans, because from harvest till spring there was no other port available. The railroads changed the old Northwest from looking south to looking east for their market, because only the railroad could transport bulk commodities at a price that gave them and the farmer a profit. Not very romantic, but people have to eat, and they want more than salt pork and corn for their diet.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Agreed. And don’t get me wrong—I really respect and admire Henry Clay. He saved the nation from disunion twice—1820 and 1850. I also think, at the time, that tariffs and roads were a great idea. Secession in 1850 also would have meant the British and French would have been far more reliant on Southern cotton, as the Indian and Egyptian varieties weren’t producing nearly as much at that point.

          To Audre’s question, I’ve often pondered what would have happened in the First World War had the South won the Civil War. I doubt that the Confederacy would have gotten involved at all. What then would have happened? A large Imperial Germany stretching from eastern France through Eastern Europe?

          In retrospect, would that have been so bad, at least compared to what came next (Hitler)? I’m not fan of the Second Reich (and definitely not of the Third), but a big Germany in the middle of Europe wouldn’t have been such a terrible outcome in 1918. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Yep, I’ve often said that the Allies screwed the pooch at Versailles in many ways. One of them is that the Kaiser had to go, no question about that, but could the Crown prince have really been worse than Weimar and Hitler, with a constitution written by the Anglo-Americans and perhaps even enforced by the,. as we did in 45 to both Germany and Japan. Ever since unification (including now) Germany has been a wilfull child screwing up almost everything, maybe we could have fixed it then. Who knows?Likely nobody does.

          There was a pretty good (formal) debate in London a few years ago, if I recall Max Hastings v John Charmley, about whether Britain should have entered the Great War. Now that’s a heap big contrafactual to get your head around.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. If it wasnt a “civil war”, it would have been a war with some other country in regards to economics/trade. The anti slave elements of the world would have pushed us to get rid of it for good or we would have fought them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. the unit says:

    Er. What’s different? And not of and since the Civil War. Flags, T-shirts, low-rider pants, caps,…masks? 🙂 (Flags ,i.e. picture, been in the forefront since the Silk Road…https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/2JX1OPUifNEFXIzH3YXEuzvkcc-cQWKMnP8RO_l5i0wbA6XhfO_9AsdiAgKLCfuioDd5xQhHHcxhdMfga5f4GW71W3I8RPywwws77dSqHUNgSSLFnPVt2vKjux4wKfAsJP461_c5s9oY9A
    Wish I had my textbook from 7th grade, ‘Mississippi History’. You didn’t have to buy the book in those days. It was used over and over (and was likely second hand then)…likely revised since them days.
    “What difference, at this point, does it make”. More it changes, the more it stays the same. 🙂
    Disclaimer: Been around a bit since 7th grade, Navy and all.
    P.S. Done my own haircut since ’83,… and not shaving my head.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. the unit says:

    To all my friends here: 🙂
    Just woke up from my 2pm nap (Churchill style). Woke up trying to remember the serial # of the lawnmower blades I have to pick up when lockdown is over. ‘Til I do I’ll keep looking for the wrench I put up so I could find it again to do the job.

    I may have to take one/or more off to find the serial # 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • audremyers says:

      Wow. Neat project.
      My Mom used to hide money around the house and could never remember where she put it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        And what a joyous feeling when it’s discovered when not expecting to find it. Tools too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • audremyers says:

          When Mom passed, we sort of laughed and cried as we got her things together to give away.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Oh yeah, so did my wife and her siblings in ’16 for their mom in Ormond Beach. She was 93.
          There was even a “classic” car (did get given away). Still lots of other stuff came home to northwest Florida (LA-lower Alabama). 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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