Wars Rarely Advance Freedom

Roundup
tags: Civil War, Baltimore Riot



Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. 

The tragic irony of the recent rioting in Baltimore after alleged police brutality on an African American man is that the violence is a legacy of the American Civil War, which had its first violent deaths in the same location 154 years before. Some of the rioting occurred near Camden Yards, which now is a sports complex, but which in 1861 housed one of Baltimore's train stations. Troops from the northeastern states were racing to get to Washington, D.C. to defend the North's capital, which was surrounded by many Southern sympathizing regions, including the city of Baltimore. The troops had to disembark from trains and march across the city to the Camden Yard station to transfer to trains taking them south to Washington. In Baltimore, they met angry southern resistance, which resulted in the first combat deaths of the Civil War.

The Civil War--still the most deadly war in American history with 850,000 deaths, including civilians, seared already deep regional and racial cleavages in America into the permanent political landscape. Abraham Lincoln, the man who our high school history books tell us held the Union together and freed the slaves, receives adulation from historians and a stone temple today on the National Mall in the capital of the reunited nation. Nowadays, criticizing Lincoln, who has become almost the secular equivalent of Jesus, can raise suspicions that you are a closet racist who likes to manifest it publicly by supporting "Confederate heritage" or waving the Confederate battle flag.

Yet coming from a family that was part Quaker with roots in a Northern state, my criticism of Lincoln and the Civil War (in my recently revised book, Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty) comes from the other--abolitionist--direction. I make no apologies for a slave-holding, aristocratic antebellum South, which had oppressive one-party rule and many industries that were socialized. Yet real question is this: Would the country, and especially African Americans, have been better off if the Civil War had never occurred. I say yes.

Say what? Our high school history books seem to tell us the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, but that's about as correct as saying the United States fought World War II to free Jews from Nazi concentration camps. Not very. Like most of his era, Lincoln was a racist who believed that African Americans were inferior to whites. He did not like slavery, but he was so afraid of freed slaves that he advocated deporting them back to Africa, as did Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses S. Grant (another Union hero). The Republican Party was formed to oppose slavery in the western territories. The states of the South realized that adding more free states in the West might eventually allow free states to outvote them in Congress, thus ending slavery by allowing the U.S. Constitution to be amended. ...




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