Question of the Week: April 18-24, 2016

Question-Header

For this week’s Question of the Week, Phill Greenwalt asks: Do you think the Civil War was an “Irrepressible Conflict” or the product of “a Blundering Generation”?

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9 Responses to Question of the Week: April 18-24, 2016

  1. Sharon says:

    Not trying to cop out here but I would say it was both. It was an irrepressible conflict because it was written into the Constitution, which means to undo takes a fair amount of dialogue, effort, understanding, compromise and negotiation. All of which was gone by the start of the war. The root cause of the ever-increasing heated rhetoric was slavery. The north resented the power it gave the South (written into the Constitution both the 3/5 rule and the major role of states’ role in “domestic issues” versus the nation) and some saw it as a moral issue, the south had its economy (and a significant part of the nation’s economy) tied up in perpetuating it with all of the nasty consequences that flowed from that. If you want to irritate someone, mess with their finances (property) without useful alternatives. Both sides made lots of mistakes as they stumbled into more anger and righteous indignation where leadership and thoughtful effort should have prevailed.

    How we got to 1860 with no where else to go is a lesson this country has still not learned. It is so much easier to look for scapegoats, call your opponents names, demagogue an issue, and stir the pot with folks who may not understand the complexity of the issue completely but certainly can be motivated with emotion and imagine the dire outcome being painted. Unfortunately, it can be exceedingly difficult to manage a representative democracy with this type of communication running rampant. So, I see it as irrepressible – lots of blundering and lack of leadership – irrepressible.

  2. joe truglio says:

    Could not say it better. Am in agreement whole heartedly

  3. Reblogged this on Polishing Your Prose and commented:
    Civil War: an “Irrepressible Conflict” or product of “Blundering Generation”?

  4. Bob Ruth says:

    I agree with Joe, Sharon makes excellent points.

    However, I lean a bit more toward the Irrepressible Conflict side. Here’s why:

    Lincoln’s election was anathema to the leaders of the South, especially the Lower South, for several reasons. It proved a Northerner hostile toward slavery could win the presidency with support only from the North and Midwest. (Lincoln didn’t carry a single southern state.) This meant the South’s influence in the federal government was waning. And this erosion of influence would eventually lead to the end of slavery, Lower South leaders believed.

    Lincoln shortly before and after his inauguration assured Southerners and the border states he only opposed the extension of slavery in territories and not where it already existed. But Lower South leaders didn’t believe him. They feared Lincoln and his hated Republicans would bring an abrupt end to slavery everywhere.

    Compromise proved an impossibility, although several plans were proposed by congressmen between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration. Southern leaders wanted any compromise to include a guarantee that slavery could be expanded into the territories. Lincoln rejected this notion. After all, banning slavery in the territories was a tenant of the new Republican Party, Lincoln said. For a modern-day analogy, it’s like asking the NAACP to abandon its commitment to civil rights.

    Also, I don’t subscribe to the idea that slavery would have soon died a natural death, even without the Civil War. As the excellent book, The Half Has Never Been Told, notes, slavery by 1860 was an extremely profitable enterprise. Almost two-thirds of America’s exports came from slave-harvested cotton, the book notes.

    And as Gary Gallagher, one of today’s premier Civil War historians, said in a recent seminar: Slavery was proving very adaptable around 1860. Southern entrepreneurs were finding new ways to use slaves, such as in mines and factories. Gallagher said. Without a Union victory, slavery would have thrived in the South for many, may years, Gallagher said.

    In conclusion: Sure there blunders on the part of politicians at the time. But the presence of a booming slave economy in the South made the tragedy of the Civil War almost inevitable.

  5. Ron Vaughan says:

    My friend Dr. David Davenport, opined at a CWRT session, that in 1860-16, Lincoln had won only because there were 4 parties dividing the vote, he had no powers to abolish slavery, he did not have the votes to do it (if the South stayed with the Union), and the Feds were still enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. However, the Southern hotheads thought slavery was doomed, and stampeded into secession, the act that eventually did result in the end of slavery!
    If cooler heads had prevailed, it is hard to predict what might have happened. Other countries have had slavery, and ended it with out a sectional war, such as Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Mexico (unless you count the latter’s many political upheavals).

    • Bob Ruth says:

      Ron:
      I agree with all your points, but one.

      You’re correct that Lincoln did not win a majority of the popular vote because of the multiple candidates. (He won only 40 percent.) However, Lincoln won a comfortable majority (180 out of 303 – almost 60 percent) of the electoral-college vote. Even if all the non-Lincoln voters had coalesced behind one opposition candidate, Lincoln still would have won 169 electoral-college votes, more than enough to become president, analyses of the election have found.

      And how about this for an interesting fact: The voter turnout in 1860 was more than 81 percent, quite a bit higher than recent presidential elections. Of course, the issues back then were a bit weightier.

  6. SLAVERY, SLAVERY, SLAVERY LIKE WE ARE ON A ONE TRACK RAIL ROAD. .HOW ABOUT THE CONCLUSION OF MR RUTHS RE WORDED [ IF I MAY ] TO READ SURE THERE WERE BLUNDERS ON THE PART OF POLITICIANS AT THE TIME .{NO BUT} THE PRESENCE OF A BOOMING INDUSTRIAL ECONOMY IN THE NORTH WHO SET THE AMOUNT IT WOULD PAY THE SOUTHERN FARMERS FOR THEIR GOODS MADE THE TRAGEDY OF THE CIVIL WAR INEVITABLE.AND THE SUDDEN FREEING OF MILLIONS OF SLAVES A FINANCIAL DISASTER. DOES IT NOT APPEAR THE NORTH WAS CAUGHT IN ITS OWN DEVICE SO TO SAY..

  7. I suppose all readers are aware of the exhibit at the William & Mary Library dealing with this topic. If not, I suggest a visit if you are near-by or a virtual visit if you cannot visit the library.

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