Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Point by Point Rebuttal of Donald Douglas on "Why the Civil War Was Not About Slavery"

Donald Douglas at American Power has read the essay by Professor Donald Livingston on ""Why the Civil War Was Not About Slavery" and has attempted to rebut it.  I now consider his points and offer a counter-rebuttal.  Since his screed is quite long, I will ignore his ad hominem attacks on Dr. Livingston and other forays into irrelevance, and concentrate on his salient points.

My responses to each of his points are in blue text.


There's a couple of ways to respond to Livingston's essay. The first way, and more professional, is to pick apart the essay's historical and logical arguments, highlighting especially Livingston's egregious logical fallacies, historical inaccuracies, and frankly, outright lies.

Good luck with that.  He has no logical fallacies, inaccuracies or lies.  Your venture into ad hominem attacks merely showcases the weaknesses of your arguments.

The second way, more partisan and bloggy, is to attack Livingston as a rank ideological hack, driven by fringe ideological tendencies with about as much mainstream acceptance as Holocaust denial. Purportedly a reputable historian, Professor Livingston's professional biography includes links to some rather steamy Southern revisionist outfits --- the kind of organizations with which I'd never associate and of which I lend very little professional credence. Seriously, the guy comes off as rather a crank.

More ad hominem attacks.  Not only is this unethical, but rather juvenile to boot.  I am not surprised that you would never associate with any organizations that do not support your preconceived notions and prejudices.  Most people with a closed mind feel the same way.

But more about that later. Let's look at a number of problems with his essay from a straightforward historical and political analysis.

First, Livingston argues that to correctly understand the debate on Southern slavery is to expand the playing field to include the entire United States, and to go back to the Founding of 1787 to grasp the universal acceptance of slavery --- with the concomitant national ideology of white supremacy --- in the Northern states, in New England America especially, shortly after the overthrow of British colonialism. By doing this, one can see that slavery as an ideological system of political, social, and economic racial domination wasn't unique to the American South, but rather was a nationwide phenomenon with uniquely Northern characteristics.

The problem with this argument is that it's an extremely simplistic straw man. I mean, I don't claim to have anything nearing a scholarly familiarity with the historical scholarship on antebellum America, North and South. But just frankly from my wide reading of history and my professional teaching of the Founding, the Constitutional Convention, and the growth of slavery throughout the 19th century, to say that slavery was a "national enormity, an American sin for which every section of the Union bore some responsibility," and to use this as an argument against those who attack the South, is simply irrelevant. Of course slavery was a national institution. Slavery was a thoroughgoing institution in all the 13 colonies by the end of the 17th century. Who argues otherwise? Slavery developed in the colonies and after the Constitution of 1787 for almost 150 years. It did break down into regional varieties, as part of the economic regionalism that took hold in the country. For example, by the early- to mid-1800s, rural agrarianism came to be predominantly associated with the South, and with the invention of the cotton gin, the Southern economy become increasingly the locus of cotton production in the U.S., on the backs of slave laborers. 

So the North's huge culpability in the institution of slavery is a "straw man?"  Nonsense.  Livingston pointing this out accomplishes two things:  (1) It demolishes the myth that the South was alone guilty of slavery, and (2) substantiates his argument that ending slavery was the obligation of the entire country, not merely the South alone.   He is right in this.

The debate we're having today is the persistence of racial supremacy symbolism in the present day South, like the Confederate Flag, hardly a sign of Northern white supremacy. But the "national enormity" argument is a logical diversion, a fallacy that's easily exposed.

I have already disproved your statement above.  The fact of Northern guilt and profit in slaves is not a logical diversion or fallacy, and you have exposed nothing.  If the Confederate flag is to be forever associated with slavery, then so should the American flag, which flew over Northern slave ships, and represents the USA, which grew rich off of slave produced staples and taxes generated by them.  It is you who are attempting a diversion, and it isn't working.

Second, Livingston argues that in antebellum American "no nation" had developed, in the sense of the national unification seen contemporaneously among the European continental states as Britain and France. Further, he claims that the national government couldn't interfere with slavery in the states, that "Congress simply had no constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the States." This is just a bunch of ideological hooey. It is true that the U.S. remained a largely agrarian, decentralized nation-state in the early 19th century, but the argument ignores monumental developments in constitutional law that created the foundations for what legal and political analysts identify as national supremacy within the system of political federalism. Crucially, majestic Supreme Court cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland expounded nationalist doctrines that placed federal authority as supreme to conflicting state power. Of course the debate on federalism wasn't (practically) resolved until decades later, perhaps not even until the 20th century. But it's absurd to claim that there was no national ideology or national consensus on federal power in the years before the Civil War. Indeed, why would the Southern states bother developing doctrines of nullification and so forth if no national culture and constitutional power had developed?

You really are confused.  Livingston is correct in stating that in 1860, the United States was a collection of sovereign states over which Congress had limited power; each resident of individual states saw his state as his country.  Livingston is explaining why Congress did nothing about ending slavery before the war, and is merely giving background material that is not controversial.  So why do you even bring it up?

Prior to the Civil War, people said "the United States are" and after the war, "the United States is," which illustrates the consolidation of these states into one nation.  You use a lot of words to prove nothing.  Livingston is right, you are wrong and way out in left field. 

Livingston goes on, "Since Congress had no power over slavery, and did not want such power, the only way to abolish slavery would be through individual state action or by an amendment to the Constitution." This makes no sense. While any individual state could abolish slavery within its boundaries, all the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been passed by Congress and ratified by the states, including the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Further, major congressional action on slavery took place in 1808 with abolition of the international slave trade, in 1820 with the Missouri Compromise,  and in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Frankly, Congress was at the center of regulatory activity involving slavery right up to the Civil War. Maybe from the perspective of radical states rights' theory Congress "had no power over slavery," but in reality Congress did have such power and passed consequential legislation that shaped national events over decades of time.

Not only does it make sense, it is historically accurate and makes plenty of sense.  Livingston is explaining why Congress did nothing about ending slavery prior to the Civil War.  He explains that Congress had limited power over slavery in the states, and did not even want the power.  He cites the Corwin Amendment as proof.  Congress passed it on March 2, 1862, making it illegal for Congress to ever interfere in the domestic institutions (i.e. slavery) of the states.  They hoped this would stop slave states from seceding, but it didn't.  That's because preserving slavery was not the major reason for secession.  The Corwin Amendment was never ratified.  Your long discussion goes into Congressional power and amendments made after the Civil War, and are irrelevant to the discussion.

Third, Livingston makes a number of bizarre arguments regarding President Abraham Lincoln's positions on slavery, and some of these appear to be bald-faced lies. He argues, for example, that "Lin­coln did not object to slavery as long as it was confined to the South." This is again a red herring, for it's widely recognized that Lincoln was no abolitionist and that even at the time of secession in 1861, Lincoln's fundamental war aims were the preservation of union. 

How is this a red herring?  Livingston's essay is meant for general audiences, and cannot assume that they know as much as you do about it.  His comment is meant to illuminate the fact that Lincoln was not an abolitionist, and therefore the South had no reason to believe he was going to somehow emancipate their slaves without their consent.  It undermines the Northern myth that the South seceded to protect slavery, when no threat to slavery existed.

Livingston goes on with a number of selective quotations in an attempt to paint Lincoln as pro-slavery as any Southern rebel. 

Now who's lying?  Livingston does nothing of the sort.  I have read and reread this essay several times, and I never saw any evidence of this.  You're wrong.

The reality is way more complicated, as any historical review of Lincoln political career would recognize. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, for example, Lincoln made a clear distinction between his acquiescence to slavery in the North and his clearly foundational belief that the Declaration of Independence made all men equal in the eyes of God, and that in the long run the U.S. could not survive with slavery as an institution. When he said a "house divided upon itself cannot stand" it wasn't a political program of abolition as much as a recognition that at some point one side would prevail over the other, either the pro-slavery forces would prevail and slavery would win out over the land or the abolitionists would prevail and slavery would die out altogether. 

Lincoln did believe that the rights described in the Declaration of Independence applied to all men, including Negroes.  However, he was quite clear that Negroes could not enjoy those rights in America, but only "on their own soil."  He proposed to send them back to Africa.

Livingston in fact lies about the meaning of Lincoln's statement that the United States as "the last best hope of earth." He claims that Lincoln supported colonization of American blacks back to Africa, and that "The 'last best hope of earth' referred to a purely white European polity free of racial strife, and not to a land of freedom for all as it is absurdly interpreted today." Actually, voluntary colonization of slaves and compensated emancipation were just policy alternatives that Lincoln included in his message to Congress in December 1862. A simple reading of the conclusion of his address reveals Lincoln's exceptionalism and his faith in Jefferson's ideals in the Declaration:
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.
I don't know why Livingston would so blatantly distort what Lincoln actually said, other than to chalk it up to dishonesty. Lincoln's views were complicated and developed along with the political necessities of his day.

Livingston did not distort anything.  Lincoln clearly saw slavery as immoral and contrary to natural law, as almost everyone, North or South, did.  Livingston believes that Lincoln's "Best Hope" comment did not insinuate that Lincoln wanted to integrate the freed slaves into American society.  Lincoln made it clear many times previous, in speeches and correspondence, that he did not want this at all.  He wanted blacks out of America. If you like, I can shower you with quotations to that effect. 

And it important to remember that we can't read present-day moral sentiments into history. That is, we cannot apply 21st century normative commitments to the political mores of the mid-19th century. Livingston in fact attacks his critics as adopting a presentist ideological agenda, but much of his essay employs the exact type of presentist commitments that he so decries.

I don't recall Livingston mentioning "presentist ideological agendas" anywhere.  I think you are mistaken.  In any case, how is that relevant to whether or not the Civil War was about slavery?

Finally, Livingston breaks down "the main anti-slavery episodes in the antebellum period," from the Constitutional Convention to the Kansas-Ne­braska Act of 1854. Again, there's a lot of arguments against straw men and even more tendentious connections to the historical record. I'm going to eschew a longer analysis simply to avoid repetition. Suffice it to say that Livingston provides completely decontextualized and selective interpretations of historical events, spurts of analysis that really add up to more of an ideological screed than a dispassionate historical critique.

And yet you cannot present a single example of this "ideological screed," because it isn't at all true.  Further, there are no "straw men" in his arguments, no "decontextualized and selective interpretations," and you have not described any.  Your comments are those of someone losing an argument, and knows it.

And that brings me to my second, more partisan and bloggy criticism of Professor Livingston. He is indeed a genuine scholar and is Professor Emeritus at Emory University and an expert on the writings of Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume.

At this point, Donald launches into personal attacks on Livingston and attempts to discredit the man by calling him a radical with radical associations, etc etc.  I won't bother to refute these, as they are irrelevant to whether Livingston's essay is accurate and factual -- which it is.  Read it for yourself.

Conclusions:  Donald's attempted rebuttal of Livingston's argument fails and fails badly.  If he has made any salient points disproving Livingston, it isn't obvious to me.


Adrienne said...

Before commenting I took the time to read Professor Livingston's essay. I then read everything Mr. Douglas said on his blog. A blog, I might add, I quit reading many years ago because of his constant rather juvenile talk about "big boobs" and focus on scantly clad women, and such. Nice to see that he's toned that down quite a bit.

I also read the Wiki entry for Professor Livingston. I am not a Civil War expert. However, I do have more than a passing interest in the subject and have learned from people who are Civil War experts.

Everything Professor Livingston and Stogie have said is consistent with what I have learned about the Civil War. I see no evidence of Livingston being a "radical" or associating with other "radicals."

All wars are fought over economics - no more, no less. While there may be other issues piggy-backing on the reasons for the war, ultimately it's all about money. The Civil War was not much different.

DonaldDouglas said...

I still post "big boobs," which is part of the Rule 5 genre invented by Robert Stacy McCain.

And by the way, is your blog Adrienne's Catholic Corner, or was it? I stopped reading it for some reason, I think because is spread some of the same kind of racist libertarianism of the Murray Rothbard crowd. I could be mistaken, though. Maybe your blog is just lame.

Adrienne said...

Why, yes - yes I did read it. Some of us have better digestive systems than others.

I revel in being lame. And I know exactly where Rule 5 originated. Have you ever noticed that Stacy doesn't partake?

I find it interesting that you saw fit to personally attack me when all I did was voice my opinion. Are opposing opinions verboten? You tend to do that quite a bit. I never attacked you or called you names, or said your blog was "lame." It is my practice to not visit blogs that post indecent pictures of women, or men, for that matter.

I have never posted anything about or by Murray Rothbard.

Sorry for wasting your time. Don't you have papers to grade, or something?

P.S. I seldom respond to direct attacks and will not engage in further "discussion." One person attacking and insulting another person does not constitute a discussion. Have a nice life.

DonaldDouglas said...

You attacked me, Adrienne. I'm responding in kind.

Mike said...

Biff! Bam! Pow!

Get him, Stogie!

DonaldDouglas said...

At this point, I don't think Stogie could get a raccoon. He's slinking back, not responding to further rebuttals. I've got some new posts in the pipeline and of course the news is dominated with conservative after conservative renouncing the Confederate Flag. Stogie's hunkering down!

Stogie Chomper said...

Donald, let's be honest: I kicked your ass in this debate.

DonaldDouglas said...

1. I have described a "straw man" argument several times, specifically Livingston's argument that the North was racist just like the South. Again, I ask, who denies this? Tell me, who denies that Northerners were racist? The fact is Northerners did not own slaves in the 1850s and Southerners did. All this stuff about Northern racism, to say nothing of the lack of Northern efforts at emancipation, is a smokescreens. I've already addressed these points. You talk past my main points and focus on side issues that I have not addressed.

2. The Corwin Amemdment? Are you kidding me? I've repeatedly said that Lincoln was not out to free the slaves at the outset of the Civil War. And in fact, Lincoln's position was the same as the Republican Party platform. Lincoln was still at the point of trying to reconcile North and South to prevent secession. Again, he sough to prevent the spread of slavery to the territories and not out to abolish it in the Southern states. Abolition didn't become a war aim until 1863. None of that takes away from what Lincoln said repeatedly, especially during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, that he thought slavery violated inalienable rights as laid out in the Declaration. Comments that Lincoln made conceding Douglas' points, including so-called racist statements toward blacks, were political statements made in the heat of a campaign and designed to mollify critics. His larger philosophical positions were that slavery was an abomination and that blacks should be free people just like whites. Whether they lived together and intermingled is another story. These are all fact, Stogie, not opinion. The revisionism is found among the libertarian radicals who blame the start of the war on the North. Fact is, as I showed with the Huston article, protection of property rights meant the protection of the right to own slaves, and this meant also that government coercion would be used to enforce the slave regime.

3. I don't think you understand what I wrote about presentism. We are not in disagreement about what presentism is, and that today people bring their current morals to bear on the mores of the mid-1800s. My point is that Livingston himself used presentist arguments that violated his own criticism of modern observers. He did this throughout the essay. You do the same thing when you say the Republicans were racist, when you argue that they were more racist than Southerners. Racism was everywhere at that time and it just wasn't questioned because that's the way it is today. That's in fact the same decontextualizing I've been talking about throughout this discussion. Further, you've used Northern racism as a prevarication tactic to avoid the main points I've raised. Again, Northerners did not own slaves in the 1850s and Southerners did. That's the key difference and that difference is the foundation of the sectional split.

4. Who's more ideological than the other? Are you saying radical libertarian ideas are not ideological? Are you claiming that Livingston wasn't ideological? And I don't know what an ideology of "Northern tyranny" is. I've only heard the term bandied about among some of the more paleocons like Mike Tuggle. Moreover, you keep claiming that you've "won" the argument, but as noted claiming victory isn't a argument. Facts about Congress' powers and actions, the system of federalism and Supreme Court decisions, and the centrality of property and white supremacy in the SOUTH you've ignored altogether. You're projecting, frankly. Your last paragraph about the "ax to grind" is self description. Simple as that.

5. Now, I'll ask again: Do you have anything besides Livingston to support your theories, because I've shredded that dude and you need to bring in additional firepower to bolster your side.

Non Descript said...

Donald, don't worry about killing all the roaches. Give up on this one. Ad hominem follows....A dynamic view of history isn't "the Chomper"'s goal. Position changes, compromise, bluff and internal politic are picked without proper context/reference and are used as a vessel for an extra shovelful of revisionist manure for you to wade through. It is hard for me to believe he can devote so much time and energy to defending the New Southern Myth without being compensated. This man isn't playing with a full dick (sorry deck--damned spell check).