Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Legacy of the Civil War - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

When Abraham Lincoln was elected as the first Republican President in 1860 as a result of three candidates on the ballot. Lincoln won by carrying the Northern States; but he was not representative of the whole country.  As a result, the Southern states, one by one, immediately seceded from the union.  Initially, the Civil War was not about ending slavery where it already existed; but rather stopping slavery from expanding to the new states entering the union.  Lincoln was perfectly content to allow slavery to exist in the Southern states under the assumption that eventfully it would die out.  However, the Southern states feared that a nation of free states would over power them in Congress making their interests impossible to preserve.  In that sense, they were correct.  It also would have meant that no Southerner could ever be elected as President again given the greater population in the North and West and the Electoral College system. 

One can only imagine what would have happened if the Southern states had been allowed to secede.  In the simplest terms, 620,000 deaths from the war would have been averted; but slavery would have continued for some period of time; perhaps another 20 or more years.  The reason slavery would have most likely ended is pure and simple economics.  Slaves as property cost about $1,000 or more each, which was a huge some of money in the 1800's.  Plantation owners often borrowed the money to buy slaves just like other property using the earnings from their labor to pay off the debt over time.  But is important to realize that slave labor was not free.  It came at the cost of feeding and housing slaves no matter how substandard.  At some point, the demise of slavery would have come because mechanization would have been a cheaper and more effective replacement for the labor they provided. 

In 1863 Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which in fact freed the slaves at least on paper.  It took the conclusion of the Civil War and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to Constitution to make freeing the slaves with rights afforded them official.  In another what if scenario, we must wonder what would have occurred had Lincoln not been assassinated.  Lincoln supported reconciliation with the Southern states not punishment.  When Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Tennessee assumed the Presidency, he too favored reconciliation.  However, the radical Republicans in Congress were determined to punish the South both for the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination.  As a result, they demanded that as part of Reconstruction, union armies be sent into the South as an occupying force to both punish White Southerners and to guarantee the rights of Blacks.  This all turned ugly when the hated Northern Carpet Baggers went South, called such for the hand bags they carried made from embroidered fabrics,  to take economic advantage of the devastated Southern States.  

The end result was the Ku Klux Klan and terrible persecution and murder of Blacks throughout the South by disaffected Whites.  The Civil War did not end in 1865.  It actually ended as a result of the contested election of 1876.  Voter fraud was alleged.  The election ended up in the House of Representatives and as part of a deal to elect Republican Rutherford B. Hayes instead of Democrat Samuel Tilden, an ugly bargain occurred.  The price to end the stalemate was ending Reconstruction  and pulling the union armies out of the South.  This gave White Democrats complete control of the South until Richard Nixon was elected President in 1968.  Before those years, Democrats in the South enacted Black Codes later referred to as Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise Blacks imposing terrible discrimination and legalized racial segregation on them. Though the Civil War had ended slavery. a series of very bad and self serving political decisions in the decades after the Civil War left Blacks in equally terrible circumstances for a hundred years.  

We are still paying the price now for the mistakes made by politicians of both parties during the years after the Civil War.  We see the end result on our street today with Communist Antifa and BLM rioting, looting and burning down our cities.  While that is not the answer to solving the problems of racial discrimination and income inequality, we at least need to understand the history that got us to where we are today.  

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