Memorial Day

May 28, 2007 | 52 comments

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Past Memorial Day posts:
How perfect a union?, by Ben Huff.
Remembering what Grandpa Greenwood remembered, by Adam Greenwood

52 Responses to Memorial Day

  1. tyler on May 28, 2007 at 9:43 am

    The shrine dedicated to Lincoln’s immortal words is an hour or so from my Philly apartment. I visited a couple of months ago and, as the spring wind blew over the rows of stone tombstones, read what he said and stood in awe at the beauty and power of words. Though, as Lincoln would be the first to say, his words are only powerful because they are given substance by the sacrifice of the fallen.

    Thank you, fallen soldiers.

  2. Geoff B on May 28, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Adam, thanks for this and the links in “Notes from All Over.” We Americans spend much too much time finding fault and much too little time honoring our country and the people who have fought for it and continue to fight for it.

  3. Silus Grok on May 28, 2007 at 12:17 pm


  4. Peter LLC on May 28, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Adam, thanks for this. We Americans spend too much time shopping, barbecuing and watching fast cars turn left and much too little time honoring our country and people who have fought for it (those who continue to fight for it are just going to have to wait until they are actually veterans).

    As for me and my house, we stand with those who call for an end to the cynical manipulation of the heroic sacrifices of our veterans to create a three-day weekend and for the return of Memorial Day to May 30.

  5. Hans Hansen on May 28, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    And for our soldiers and veterans today, some more words from President Lincoln:

    “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

    - Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

  6. Lupita on May 28, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Anyone else hear Garrison Keillor recite this on ‘Prarie Home Companion’? Impressive. I remember memorizing it in fourth grade but apparently, did so incorrectly. I’ve always thought it was ‘forefathers’ in the first line. Oops.

    Thanks to all the soldiers, past and present, who make almost incomprehensible sacrifices on our behalf.

  7. greenfrog on May 28, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks, Adam.

    My favorite non-religious shrine is the Lincoln Memorial, where I read these words reverently.

    Whatever our individual thoughts about war in general or specific, we are privileged to be served by the men and women of our military forces, and we should never, ever, forget that they serve and live and die for us.

  8. Scott Fife on May 29, 2007 at 2:26 am

    I don\’t understand how we can call our nation the \”United\” States, when 11 states were forced at gunpoint to remain in the union. This government that Lincoln speaks about: \”…of the people, by the people, for the people,\” certainly did not include those people in those Southern states that wanted to secede from the union, and form a separate independent nation–the Confederate States of America.

    The American Civil War was a great tragedy, that never should have been fought. Both sides share blame, however, Lincoln was the only man who had the power to prevent it, but he was unwilling to compromise with the South on the spread of slavery to the territories. Lincoln had a civil war during his watch. A war that caused over 600,000 American soldier deaths on American soil, and caused great divisions in our union that remain to this present day.

  9. Hans Hansen on May 29, 2007 at 2:48 am

    “Both sides share blame, however, Lincoln was the only man who had the power to prevent it, but he was unwilling to compromise with the South on the spread of slavery to the territories. Lincoln had a civil war during his watch.”

    Since Lincoln wasn’t president until March 4, 1861, shouldn’t the responsibility fall on President James Buchanan, who was president until March 3, 1861? Let’s not forget that the war started before Lincoln took office!

    December 24, 1860: South Carolina seceded from the Union.
    January 9, 1861: Mississippi seceded fron the Union.
    January 10, 1861: Florida seceded from the Union.
    January 11, 1861: Alabama seceded from the Union.
    January 19, 1861: Georgia seceded from the Union.
    January 26, 1861: Louisiana seceded from the Union.
    February 1, 1861: Texas seceded from the Union.
    February 9, 1861: Confederate States of America formed. CSA takes control of federal forts and other federal properties with no opposition from US President Janes Buchanan.

    March 4, 1861: Lincoln inaugurated as US President.
    April 10, 1861: CSA Brigadier General Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded the surrender of the Union garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.
    April 12, 1861: Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter, the opening engagement of the American Civil War.

  10. Adam Greenwood on May 29, 2007 at 11:43 am

    On Memorial Day proper I deleted posts attacking Lincoln. Today I’ll let them stay. Anyone foolish enough to set themselves against Lincoln and on the side of extending slavery to the territories is free to do so. Lincoln’s in heaven now, and the slaves are free now, so the only injury such people can do is to themselves.

  11. Scott Fife on May 29, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I apologize if I caused offense by making negative comments about Lincoln, so close to the Memorial Day holiday. I do love this country, and am a Marine Vietnam veteran. My main point is that the Civil War should have been prevented at all costs, making the Gettysburg Address and 600,000 American battle deaths unnecessary. The election of Lincoln was the event that caused the secession of the first seven Southern states. As the President elect and later President, he alone had the power to prevent this great American tragedy. Of course, I am not in favor of slavery, but I would have been in favor of extending slavery to the territories in order to prevent a civil war. Lincoln himself said years before, that slavery was on the path to extinction. A civil war did not have to be fought to free the slaves. The Southern states certainly would have eventually freed the slaves, probably by 1900 at the latest, and this would have been a much better solution to the slavery dilema than fighting an unnecessary, tragic war.

  12. Hans Hansen on May 29, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Hmmm…I recall reading somewhere….where was it now…oh, yes…

    12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.
    13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832.

    (Joseph Smith: Doctrine and Covenants | Section 130:12 – 13)

    Still think that the Civil War could have been prevented?

  13. Hans Hansen on May 29, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    “Of course, I am not in favor of slavery, but I would have been in favor of extending slavery to the territories in order to prevent a civil war.”

    Reminds one of the Munich Agreement in 1938 when the British and French gave in to Hitler by sacrificing Czechoslovakia in order to prevent war in Europe. We all know how long that prevented World War II.

    Munich Agreement signed September 29, 1938.
    Germany invades Poland starting WWII September 1, 1939.

  14. George Santayana on May 29, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    – George Santayana (1863-1952), from Life of Reason, “Reason in Common Sense,” ch. 12 (1905-6).

  15. warno on May 29, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    How about Munich?

    The Civil War was prevented at all costs for at least 40 years through various compromises that put off and in many ways exacerbated the situation. Slavery was not on the decline in real numbers, although it was as a percentage of the population. More importantly, it seems that there was a hardening of positions on both sides as the abolitionish movement gained strength. It’s easy to speculate that slavery was on the path to extinction but that was probably wishful thinking in any reasonably foreseeable future.

  16. DKL on May 30, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Adam Greenwood: Anyone foolish enough to set themselves against Lincoln and on the side of extending slavery to the territories is free to do so. Lincoln’s in heaven now, and the slaves are free now, so the only injury such people can do is to themselves.

    Lincoln killed 600,000 Americans without freeing a single slave in a territory that recognized his authority. A just God puts him in perdition, and only His enemies would suppose otherwise.

    George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    Yes, and stupid people who try to make aphorisms are condemned to make cliches.

  17. Kaimi Wenger on May 30, 2007 at 12:37 am

    I’m sure that the slaves would be glad to hear that some would prefer to condemn them to continued bondage. That path is by no means costless either, though. There’s a continued cost in lives for each year of slavery, and there’s really no guarantee that the institution ends in any less a violent way at a later date.


    “Lincoln killed 600,000 Americans without freeing a single slave in a territory that recognized his authority.”

    You’re wrong on the facts. Trust me on this one. (In fact, a recent post here at T&S discusses some of the details of one obvious example of why you’re wrong. . .)

  18. Adam Greenwood on May 30, 2007 at 6:31 am

    Lincoln killed 600,000 Americans.

    Wow. His arms must have got tired after awhile.

    A just God puts him in perdition, and only His enemies would suppose otherwise.

    Surely there’s nothing unreasonable about hating Lincoln so much that President Woodruff is made into a liar and Lincoln admirers into enemies of God.

  19. Geoff B on May 30, 2007 at 8:37 am

    It’s astonishing to me how much ignorance there is about American history. Lincoln was one of the true greats. It’s also fascinating to me that people could use a simple post about Memorial Day to bring in so much contention.

  20. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 10:05 am

    I suppose otherwise, too.

  21. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 10:09 am

    They hate us for our freedoms.

    Who are “they” ?

  22. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Do “they” have names like DKL and Fife?

    I’m confused.

    Then again, what’s a little confusion to someone like me who’s also apparently stupid and and an enemy of G-d?

  23. Russell Arben Fox on May 30, 2007 at 10:27 am

    The case against Lincoln and the Civil War is neither ignorant nor silly. (Or rather, I should say that there is a case against Lincoln and the Civil War which is neither ignorant nor silly; obviously there are many attacks on both which are.) I think to claim that Lincoln waged a costly, unnecessary, aggressive war for false or irrelevant causes is wrong, both morally and politically, but it is not a nonsensical claim. It really comes down to how you view the nature of America’s constitutional order. If you are a serious 18th-century republican, the sort that believes that local representation and self-government is all, and that Lincoln’s claim that the U.S. itself, as a single united nation, is somehow formally committed to the “proposition” (as he put it in the Gettysburg Address) that equality must be extended across all state boundaries is crazy, well then of course you’d think the Civil War was imperial madness and Lincoln a tyrant. To conservatives of this stripe, to support Lincoln and his war is to support the crushing of Mormon polygamy, the New Deal, the Patriot Act, and every other federal power grab in our history.

    As someone who doubts that federal power grabs are necessarily in principle problematic (it just depends on what’s being grabbed and how), I find this argument unpersuasive. But I also find it intriguing, if only because it seems a good way to appreciate at least in part the enormous resentments and complications which have flowed from the Civil War. I honor Lincoln as a great and good man and president, and believe the Civil War was rightly fought, but neither of those beliefs mean I should pretend that there were not great and unresolvable costs (both constitutional and spiritual) which came from his often autocratic, often ferocious policies, or that he–or the North–were innocent in executing them. Lincoln himself, for one, knew and stated plainly in his Second Inaugural that when it came to the war and slavery, there was plenty of blood on everyone’s hands.

  24. Geoff B on May 30, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Russell, have you read “Lincoln, a Life of Purpose and Power?” by Richard Carwardine? Carwardine is a professor at Oxford. He addresses most of the controversies involving Lincoln. Lincoln was in reality the great compromiser, running a balancing act between radicals in the North and South. Given what he had to face, his power grabs were relatively mild. I count him as one of the great, great men in U.S. history, up there with Washington, Jefferson, FDR and Reagan. On a side note, Carwardine has some interesting insights on Lincoln’s religiosity and basically believes, based on the evidence, that Lincoln became much more religious during his presidency. There are lots and lots of documents to support that view.

  25. Russell Arben Fox on May 30, 2007 at 10:52 am

    I’m not familiar with Carwardine’s book, Geoff; I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation. My thinking about Lincoln has been guided by a couple of older biographies, the Civil War writings of James McPherson, and–most especially–various essays and books by Garry Wills, in particular Lincoln at Gettysburg, which confronts the paleoconservative attacks on Lincoln head-on. A fantastic book.

  26. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 11:00 am

    No need to suggest ignorance or lack of seriousness before telling someone they’re wrong. Plenty of smart and serious folks get it wrong all the time.

    Was Washington a serious 18th-century republican? Now I’m starting to wonder about all this “father of the country” talk. He seemed to be making some big deal about the “Union” before he left office, but now I’m not so sure he was sufficiently fatherly, or republican, or whatever.

    We all have blood on our hands. The question for “serious people” is “whose blood” and “how’d it get there” …

    For other folks, the question here would seem to be … how can I spot enough blood on your hands to wash mine clean?

  27. [eChino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 11:20 am

    For some reason, DKL’s comments reminded me of Archie Bunker and “All In The Family” and this quote from Norman Lear:

    I think the greater responsibility, in terms of morality, is where leadership begins.

    In my simple universe, Lincoln = Leadership

    [The remainder was excised by the editors].

  28. Adam Greenwood on May 30, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Lay off the DKL bashing, yo. No need to hurl brands at someone who’s self-immolating.

  29. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 11:27 am

    In the years before Lincoln took office, the South had ruled the federal government, and many perceived the southern states’ move to secede as nothing more than sour grapes following a contentious election.

  30. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Yo, I take my meds and am not about to start sympathizing with those who won’t.

    Re #10, here’s to making every day a Memorial Day.

  31. Geoff B on May 30, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Russell, #25, yup, I read Wills’ book on Lincoln. Good stuff.

  32. Scott Fife on May 30, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Lincoln had a devastating civil war on his watch, a cw he could have prevented. Sorry, but I do not think this makes him great. Just the opposite.

    Why was the Civil War fought? If it was for the purpose of perserving the union, as Lincoln stated many times, then do you really want to belong to a union that forces members to stay? If a state wants to withdraw from the union, we should try to talk them out of it, and work with them, but don’t force them at gunpoint to stay! What kind of “union” is that? Certainly not a “United” States. Let them go in peace.

    If the CW was fought to free the slaves, then 600,000 died needlessly, because the Southern states on their own, would have eventually done away with slavery. Slavery was a very complicated issue, and was common through out the world at the time. The vast majority of nations ended slavery before 1900, and they did it without fighting a cw. It was normally done through “grandfathering”, over about a 20 year period of time, which gave both the slaves and the owners proper time to prepare. Incidently, it is very easy to be an abolitionist in Vermont, when all the slaves are far away in the South. Also, many years prior to the CW, when the colonies and later states in the North, had little need for slavery any longer, due to the changing economic climate there, how did those good Northern slave owners end the practice? Did they free their slaves on the spot, and allow them to live in their communities? Of course not. The good slave owners of the North sold their slaves to people in the Southern states. Very convenient solution, wouldn’t you agree?

  33. Chino Blanco on May 30, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    I vote more self-immolation, less self-justification.

    Speaking of votes, who voted that Lincoln fellow into office anyway?

  34. Adam Greenwood on May 30, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Since Woodruff himself admitted to lying on many occasions (e.g., lying for the Lord), I’ll lay that one aside. But regarding enemies of God, I was actually just referring to you, Adam.

    I’m faintly praised with a great damning.

  35. Kaimi Wenger on May 30, 2007 at 5:09 pm


    You act as though keeping slavery around is costless. Of course, it was not.

    Perhaps you think that the calculus is obvious. You’ve suggested that slavery would have ended within forty years anyway.

    It would not have been costless to have had to endure an additional 40 years of slavery — an additional 40 years of beating, branding, mutilating, castrating, breaking up families, sancitioning rape, denying education, linking the law to racism. It would have meant additional decades of suffering and death for literally millions of people.

    That would have been a huge cost, and it would have been borne by the most vulnerable portion of society. Ending slavery in 1865 — rather than in 1900 or any other later date — avoided that continued suffering by slaves.

    Ending slavery in 1865 had its own costs, as you have noted. But then, retaining slavery would have also had costs. Calling the end of slavery in 1865 “needless” ignores those.

  36. DKL on May 30, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    [Ed. - spiteful nonsense and superficial argumentation deleted]

  37. Scott Fife on May 31, 2007 at 2:07 am


    I agree that when we face choices in life, there are always trade offs with each possible course of action.

    You obviously consider the slave owners of the South to be a ic bunch: beating, branding, mutilating, castrating, etc. Wow. What kind of animals are these Southern people? Sure these things did occur, but they were the exception. Some parents also beat their children, even killing them. I submit that the vast majority of the people of the South, including slave owners, were good and decent people, who happened to find themselves born into this situation. Most slave owners treated their slaves well, because the owners were good people, as the majority of the people of the South are today. Many if not most slaves were treated as though they were part of the owner’s family. Their was a natural paternalistic feeling toward the slaves by the owners. Three slaves owned by the Mississippi saints were among the first group of pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Brigham Young was not upset about this, because he knew the Southern saints were good people, and that they would eventually free their slaves, which they did within a few years. Studies of interviews and letters written by former slaves after the CW, indicate clearly that most were happy with their owners.

    The Emancipation Proclamation was a disaster for the newly freed blacks. Most slave owners were bankrupt and unable to provide support, so the former slaves were forced into an unknown situation, where they had to suddenly provide food, clothing and shelter for themselves and families. There was no preparation or planning for the freedom of the slaves. Tens of thousands of freed slaves died during the first three years after the CW. It is difficult to calculate how many died. Some historians estimate more freed slaves died immediately following the CW than the the number of Confederate troops killed during the CW, which would be over 200,000.

    The KKK and the bitter racial feelings didn’t form until after the CW, as a reaction to what the South considered mistreatment and loss of political power during Reconstruction.

    In my opinion, if America had abolished slavery using the gradual method, as used by most other nations, and let the good people of the Southern states solve the problem, the results would have been far superior for both master and especially the slaves themselves, than fighting a devastating cw.

  38. Jonathan Green on May 31, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Scott, paeans to how happy and content most slaves were are today referred to in polite society as “flat-out racism too vile and disgusting to contemplate.” Take it elsewhere, and bury it so it won’t stink so badly.

  39. Nate Oman on May 31, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Even slaves who had “kind” owners spent their entire lives in unrequited toil while another enjoyed essentially all of the surplus value created by their labor. This is quite evil enough to brand slavery as a monstrous crime even if every slave owner wasn’t a wanton sadist.

  40. madera verde on May 31, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Three points.

    First, a democracy in which participants can secede is not a viable system. It will fragment and further fragment. Small free nations seldom remain so. Consider the history of the small german states and you might understand why they were generally in favor of unification. If the precedent and principle of secession had been established a democratic union would have been ended in America. If I can only pursue political objectives that nobody will oppose by force of arms that simply means that I cannot pursue political objectives.

    Second, The south started the CW. Saying that Lincoln started it by opposing slavery and going through the legal political process is tantamount to a murderer saying that he is not to blame because the other was winning a dispute they had by means of the court. The south, signatories to the constitution, broke their word and their legal ties by secceding and assaulting federal troops. The assertions that Lincoln is responsible is ridiculous. The blood of the CW is on the hands of the southerners who chose to start it, may God have mercy on them.

    Third, I don’t think that the end of slavery was inevitable. Consider the virtual slavery instituted by the nazis. Industrialization isn’t inherently incompatible slavery. Even if it were agriculture would be – and still is – a lot more profitable with cheap labor.
    I would even go so far as to assert that if the South and North had gone their separate ways there would still be slavery or the de facto equivalent. Consider the economic sanctions and political pressure that helped end apartheid in S.Africa. If S.Africa hadn’t been alone and had oil rich and idealogically committed allies what would have been the result?

  41. Chino Blanco on May 31, 2007 at 10:50 am

    [re 39, sounds of clapping and 'hear, hear' excised by the editors]

  42. Nate Oman on May 31, 2007 at 10:52 am

    “Lincoln killed 600,000 Americans without freeing a single slave in a territory that recognized his authority.”

    This is historically inaccurate. Congress abolished slavery in the territories (with Lincoln’s support and signature) in 1864. In addition, the Lincoln administration supported the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, which I believe happened in 1863. Furthermore during the war and prior to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, West Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Nevada had all — with the active support of the Lincoln administration — adopted constitutions banning slavery. In addition, Tennessee abolished slavery in 1865, although I believe that by the time the constitution was adopted Lincoln was dead. Finally, as Union troops marched south in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation hundreds of thousands of slaves were freed by virtue of Lincoln’s presidential fiat. Hence, while it is true that at the moment when the Proclamation was issued by its own terms it did not in practice free a single slave, it is absurd to suggest that Lincoln did not free an enormous number of slaves both through the combination of the Proclamation and the advance of Union armies, but also by political support for abolition in territories not under Confederate control.

  43. Adam Greenwood on May 31, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    The argument that slavery would have soon vanished anyway is flawed for three reasons:

    1) In part its a hindsight argument. We know now that Brazil was going to voluntarily abolish slavery in the 1890s, so we assume that slavery’s near-term extinction was inevitable, but Lincoln and his contemporaries did not know that. When we judge Lincoln and his contemporaries, we have to judge them by their motives and the information they had. When we do we find (a) that there was no universal consensus that slavery was economically unviable–many Northeners thought it was but many Southerners thought differently and even those Northerners who thought slavery probably held back the economic progress of the South as a whole were inclined to believe that the plantation owners–the ruling elite–benefited from it economically; (b) that Lincoln and many others were quite willing to leave slavery alone as long as they were convinced it was firmly on the course of ultimate extinction–but they believed that if the slave-power succeeded in expanding to Central America and the West Indies, succeeded in making slavery universally legal in all federal territories, succeeded, as hinted in the Dred Scott decision, at making free states constitutionally unable to prevent the importation of slavery into their soil, then slavery was not on the course of ultimate extinction. In the 1850s, slavery did not seem to be declining. Cotton enjoyed an enormous boon, slaves had become valuable enough that some illicit slave-trading had revived, Southerners had widely switched from seeing slavery as a necessary evil to seeing it as a positive good, Southerners had started to actively agitate for the expansion of slavery, including by conquest of Cuba and Central America, and the slave-power had won numerous political victories, including Dred Scott, the overthrow of the Compromise of 1850, and a strengthened fugitive slave act.

    2) Even if you ignore the fact that our perspective is a hindsight perspective, you have to acknowledge that our perspective is of a world in which the Civil War occurred. The world in which Cuba and Brazil abolished slavery was a world in which opinion had been shaped by the Union’s bloody and resolute victory over the South. Would black slavery have appeared so obviously an anachronism and an evil if Sherman’s legions hadn’t marched through Georgia, burning and liberating, singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic while ex-slaves danced and their former masters cowered? It appeared to the minds of men that God had judged the slavers and had decreed his decree in awful blood and gunfire–mene, mene, tekel, upharsim.

    3) The argument that slavery was economically inferior to free labor does not mean that slavery’s extinction was inevitable. Economic institutions, once set in place, can be extremely difficult to change, even if, in theory, a different set of institutions would be preferable. Its the economic equivalent of the Founder effect. This is even more so when powerful interests do benefit economically from these institutions (think the planter class); when there are strong emotional, cultural, and ideological supports for the institutions (as was the case in the South); and when there are non-material benefits that the institution offers (mastery and dominion are attractive in themselves and not just for their opportunities for financial rewards).

    4) The argument that slavery was notably economically inferior to free labor may not be true, at least through the industrialized age. There is a large literature arguing both sides of the question.

    P.S. For a look at what a vibrant slave economy might look like, take a look at this dystopia:

  44. Adam Greenwood on May 31, 2007 at 11:34 am

    The argument that Blacks were better-treated under slavery is wrong for three reasons:

    1) First, I’m not sure that its historically accurate. Not all slave-owners were brutes, but slavery was an intrinsically brutalizing institution.

    2) Second, it blames Lincoln and the abolitionists for the terrorism practiced by the KKK. In fact, the KKK was largely to blame for this.

    3) Third, and most importantly, the argument completely ignores that freedom is a great good and not just a means to escape poverty. It would be better to be poor and free then a pampered slave.

    “Men of Lacedaemon, why will ye not consent to be friends with the king? Ye have but to look at me and my fortune to see that the king knows well how to honour merit. In like manner ye yourselves, were ye to make your submission to him, would receive at his hands, seeing that he deems you men of merit, some government in Greece.”
    “Hydarnes,” they answered, “thou art a one-sided counsellor. Thou hast experience of half the matter; but the other half is beyond thy knowledge. A slave’s life thou understandest; but, never having tasted liberty, thou canst not tell whether it be sweet or no. Ah! hadst thou known what freedom is, thou wouldst have bidden us fight for it, not with spears only, but with axes.”
    So they answered Hydarnes.

  45. Kaimi Wenger on May 31, 2007 at 3:15 pm


    A nitpick — I’m pretty sure Congress ended slavery in the territories in 1862, not 1864. This affected the popular sovereignty territories that had remained with the Union.

  46. Nate Oman on May 31, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Kaimi: I defer to you on the date. Also, I believe that prior to 1865 Missouri abolished slavery, although not be constitutional amendment. The point is that it is incorrect to claim that Lincoln and his party did nothing to free slaves in areas outside of Confederate control.

  47. Russell Arben Fox on June 1, 2007 at 8:45 am

    “I believe that prior to 1865 Missouri abolished slavery….The point is that it is incorrect to claim that Lincoln and his party did nothing to free slaves in areas outside of Confederate control.”

    Just a nit to pick: I think it rather strains things to claim that Missouri was an area “outside of Confederate control.” Control of the state’s territory shifted back and forth throughout the war, and guerrilla conflicts were common. Missouri may not have ever formally declared with the Confederacy, but it provided plenty of troops for the South, and essentially had to be conquered and held militarily, certainly at least through 1864 when Sterling Price’s effort to “libertate” the state finally failed. (Also, I believe the state government did end slavery in 1865, at the war’s end when the victors wrote a new state constitution, and not before.)

  48. Nate Oman on June 1, 2007 at 10:17 am

    RAF: You are right about military control of Missouri or at least large parts of the state. I believe that you are wrong about the timing of abolition in the state, but I could be wrong. I believe that there was also some sort of Virginia government (independent of both West Virginia and the Confederate government) that claimed to have abolished slavery in that state in 1864, but as I recall even the Republicans in congress were dubious about the legitimacy of this government in exile. I have actually spent much of the two weeks going through the legislative history of the Thirteenth Amendment on an unrelated project. I haven’t paid close attention to the issue as it is not related to my research, but I was surprised at the large number of local Republican sponsored abolition laws prior to the Thirteenth Amendment.

  49. Nate Oman on June 1, 2007 at 10:26 am

    BTW, I would have to run down the reference, but I vaguely remember reading that Missouri abolished slavery by state statute. The current Missouri State Constitution does not contain a prohibition on slavery, and it never has, at least according to a memo on state consitutions and slavery prepared by my research assistant last March.

  50. Russell Arben Fox on June 1, 2007 at 10:30 am

    “I was surprised at the large number of local Republican sponsored abolition laws prior to the Thirteenth Amendment.”

    Oh, I don’t disagree with this; many state Republican parties were radicalized by the Civil War, and were keen to put abolitionist sentiments into action. (Kansas called for a referendum on voting rights for blacks in 1867, three years before the 15th Amendment was ratified.) I’m just questioning the connection between that movement and Lincoln’s explicit policies while the war was still ongoing. I don’t have my books with me here at home, but I seem to remember reading that the Missouri constitution which outlawed slavery wasn’t official until after the war.

  51. Russell Arben Fox on June 1, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Okay, I just read your latest comment. I could be in the wrong here about Missouri; I’ll doublecheck.

  52. Adam Greenwood on February 13, 2008 at 10:30 am

    The same debate got started again here:


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