In Debating DiLorenzo, let’s first look at what he says about peaceable abolition and the Union as a voluntary association.
DILORENZO: And, I guess, one of the things that really bothered me when I started looking into this was when I found out that all of the other countries of the world that ended slavery in the 19th century did it peacefully, and that included New England and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indiana, the northern United States. And as an economist, I started thinking, well why was this not an alternative for America? Why was it only in America where there was a war attached to the ending of slavery? And that’s why the subtitle of my first book, ”The Real Lincoln” is – includes the words ”An Unnecessary War.” I think it could have been possible for us to do what England and Spain and France and Denmark and other countries did, end slavery peacefully.
So what was the purpose? And I’ve concluded that the purpose of the invasion of the southern states was what Lincoln said it was, was to destroy the secession movement and he called it, ”saving the Union.” But all of the death that was attached to that is the thing that sort of haunts me that, you know, was it really necessary for some 650 million – 650,000 Americans to have died. And, you know, if you standardize that to today’s population, which is 10 times higher than it was in 1860 you’re talking the equivalent of five or six million people dying, you know, standardizing a much larger society than we have today, and so that is what really hit me hard of why that – all of that death was necessary just to save the union. And on top of that, I argue that the union wasn’t saved because the union was voluntary. The union of the founders was voluntary, and it was no longer voluntary after 1865.
Crossroads Comments: Lincoln’s efforts to secure the peaceful abolition of slavery through a gradual, compensated emancipation with the option for freed blacks to relocate outside the United States were rebuffed by Confederates and most southern white unionists. Thus, the offer was made, and it was rejected. If Lincoln was the tyrant DiLorenzo makes him out to be, why did not the sixteenth president simply impose his solution on the nation?
If one is to ask whether it was necessary for so many Americans to have died to end slavery, one might with at least equal justice ask a similar question of Confederate leadership, who contributed to that death toll in order to preserve the enslavement of fellow human beings. Moreover, to attribute the costs of a war that no one could have foreseen in 1861 to the actions of a single individual while ignoring the presence of other actors seems to me to be problematic. One could with more than equal justice claim that Jefferson Davis was willing to sacrifice hundred of thousands of lives to preserve slavery. Yet, as we shall see, DiLorenzo denies white southerners agency and refuses to hold them responsible for their own behavior, in effect reducing them to helpless children. Nor does he appear to care about the continued suffering of slaves or their prolonged enslavement had the Confederacy survived.
If the Civil War was an unnecessary war, and abolition could have come peacefully, DiLorenzo would have to explain why white southerners rejected abolition and fought to protect slavery. He offers no evidence that white southerners would have accepted a peaceful end to slavery. In his efforts to focus on Lincoln, in fact, DiLorenzo denies any agency to white southerners, and refuses to hold them responsible for their own actions, two steps which demean white southerners. Nor does he outline a possible approach that would have led to the peaceful end of slavery in the United States.
While the states may have voluntarily entered the Union, it was a matter for debate as to whether they could voluntarily leave it. While even Lincoln recognized a right of rebellion, Americans divided over a right of secession. The difference between the two concepts is important. Secession claims that leaving the Union is well within the rules, and those accepting the rules accept the legitimacy of secession. The right of revolution rejects the rules, and leaves resistance/coercion as a viable response. All we learn from the last sentence is that DiLorenzo and Lincoln disagree over the right of secession. Moreover, allowing secession would not have led to the destruction of slavery: it would have perpetuated it. Thus DiLorenzo’s expressions concerning abolition ring hollow. He offers no explanation as to how secession would have led to abolition.
Stay tuned for more as you start thinking about lunch …