The Civil War, Part 2: The REAL Consequences

 As you may recall, (and if you don’t, just check out my recent posts) I was discussing the events of the Civil War. I broke this topic into two parts because a single entry would just have been too long, with too much history to go over, and too many issues to discuss. Part 1 summarized the history, and now we’re on to Part 2, where I’ll discuss the consequences and precedents set by the actions of the States and the Federal Government during this turning point in our history.

Before I go on to discuss the repercussions of the Civil War, let me be perfectly clear: the act of enslaving another human being for any reason is abhorrent and immoral, and today that’s a no-brainer. In the middle of the 19th century this was not the case. Western civilization, the United States included, was headed toward greater enlightenment, but it was a process that took time.

Because of this, we must look at the facts from the point of view of the American citizens alive at that time, and think about how Constitutional Law applied to that situation. This is important because when people analyze emotionally or socially sensitive issues, they tend to forget that their personal feelings, morality, or opinions on the subject are irrelevant. It’s either Unconstitutional or it isn’t. Period.

I know what you’re thinking. Wait, so if I think something is immoral or wrong, then tough luck? I can’t change it? Of course you can! It’s how you go about it that counts, and that’s why we’re here today: to discuss how the Civil War changed things, and why it was less than ideal.

 Contrary to popular belief, the South didn’t go to war and risk losing the precious lives of their sons just so they could keep their slaves. There was a much bigger issue at hand: the rights of the Southern States, their sovereignty, and the rights of their citizens were being trampled by the Northern States and the Federal Government. I’ve already talked about what led to the initial Secession: the North was using their majority in Congress to dictate trade rules and tariffs that were crippling the Southern economies. To do this they were hiding behind the Interstate Commerce Clause (where the Federal Government is tasked with facilitating interstate commerce) as justification for the unfair laws. This continues to happen today. Second, the property rights of Southern citizens, protected under several Amendments in the Bill of Rights, were violated repeatedly when slaves were allowed, and even encouraged, to go free, and in some cases even killed their masters to do so. The Federal Government looked the other way; Northern courts refused to prosecute the escaped slaves or return them, and in fact aided and abetted their escape, all in blatant violation of the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

Now, before you call me racist and tell me all this was justified because of the immorality of slavery, let me remind my readers once more: morality is secondary to the rule of law. I’ll give you a modern example. In our country, abortion is legal, yet it is considered by many, if not most, American citizens to be a heinous immoral crime. What would happen if people who considered abortion immoral burned down an abortion clinic or murdered a doctor who performed them, or worse, a woman who had had one, or prevented her from getting an abortion? Outrage!! The rights, protected by law, of American citizens, will have been violated!  See? The same applied to slavery and the rights of Southern American citizens in the 19th century.  

But it gets even better. You know, I’m not sure why we’re always debating so much about how much power the Federal Government is supposed to have. Maybe it’s my simplistic nature, but I think the 10th Amendment to the Constitution makes it pretty clear: basically, if it’s not in here, Feds, you can’t do it, only the States can. But Abraham Lincoln had other ideas. Who knows? He WAS in a desperate position. You see, the North really was getting its butt kicked. Morale was low, and the South was winning battle after battle.  Lincoln and his administration were being lambasted on a daily basis in the press and members of his own cabinet were turning against him.  The Union was starved for a moral purpose to the war.  The Confederate government in Richmond was even floating the idea of allowing slaves to join the army in exchange for their freedom and citizenship.

It was obvious that the nation needed some fundamental changes, the type that could only be done through a Constitutional Convention.  But since the Southern States would not be willing or able to participate, that idea was moot. So, Lincoln breathed new life and meaning into what we call the Executive Order. Heard of those? Yeah, they suck. It means the President can just order something, and it goes, without having to be approved by Congress. No checks and balances. Kind of dictatorial. It’s supposed to be used only as a last resort, but it isn’t. Not anymore. And Lincoln brandished that power like a 1930s era gangster with a Louisville Slugger in his hands. Thanks, dude, we’ve had a long line of Presidents trying to “one up” you since then.

Anyway, he declared Martial Law. It invalidated all Constitutional Rights, and basically gave unlimited power to the Federal Government and the military so they could do whatever they wanted (like force themselves into people’s homes.) Very bad. Unconstitutional.  He also suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which allowed him to put people in jail under nebulous charges, and keep them there for as long as he wanted to, basically making them “disappear.” Sound familiar? *Cough* Patriot Act *Cough* Then he made the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all the slaves were free (this came in two parts, but the gist of it was that he freed the slaves in the rebel states.) This gave the Union the moral high ground and increased morale, because now they felt they were actually fighting for something worthwhile. It also gave the Union international support, particularly from Britain. What was interesting is that Lincoln didn’t actually give African Americans citizenship, just freedom. So they were…residents? Amendments had to come after his murder to clear all that up. So…thanks for the mess you left, too, with your brilliant Executive Orders.

The rest is history. The North rallied, the South made their fatal mistake at Gettysburg, and General Lee surrendered. The 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery. Then the 14th Amendment was passed, which gave the new freemen official citizenship, but also said that anyone who had participated in a rebellion could not vote or hold office. That pretty much meant every single Confederate soldier, and it meant the Southern States, again, would have little representation in the Federal Government and would be dictated to by the North. Wasn’t that what they were JUST fighting about?

Needless to say, freeing the slaves was only the very beginning and certainly did not solve the nation’s problems regarding race and discrimination. Despite the Northern States’ claims to moral high ground, the freed African Americans were soon to find out that in many cases, the North did not practice what it preached.  When they migrated north, thinking they were going to more enlightened parts of the nation, they got beat up, shot, and killed on the streets of New York and other Northern cities.

But STILL, you may be saying, without the Civil War, African Americans might still be slaves picking cotton! Really? You think so? You know, I can’t pretend to know for sure what would have happened if things had gone differently, but I can speculate that slavery was on its way out the door anyway, without the need for the Northern States and the Federal Government to get involved in the way they did.  (The free capitalistic marketplace took care of that by mechanizing agriculture.) That’s why I keep on harping on the importance of allowing each State to resolve its own issues, as is mandated in the Constitution. The Southern slave owners were in the minority, and they were already facing social disapproval in their own communities. The United Kingdom had abolished slavery, so the British slave traders that supplied them were gone or going, and worldwide the practice grew more distasteful as people became more aware of its immorality. More likely than not, the laws of supply and demand would have kicked in sooner or later, with goods produced by slave owners being boycotted, and at some point the Southern States would have felt the pressure and abolished slavery on their own, without the need for a bloody war in between. We would still have achieved the same result: enlightenment about civil rights, growth as a nation, and most importantly, the freedom and citizenship of African Americans, without setting the precedents that trample our Constitutional Rights to this day.

It’s a lot to chew on, I know. But I think that now we’ve covered enough history to move on to today’s issues with some intelligent perspective under our belt. If you want to know more about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, I’ve recommended some great material at my main site, in the “Required Reading” box. I update it regularly, so keep an eye on that.

Until next time…

About Rosa Barron

I’m a first generation American whose parents came to the USA from Nicaragua. Educated partially in the USA and partially in Nicaragua, I’ve lived all over the USA and traveled all over Latin America for work. My formal training is in Environmental and Biological Engineering from Cornell University, and I also have an MBA from the University of Florida. When I married my wonderful Idahoan husband, the need for me to work disappeared and I moved permanently to the USA, where we live now, currently in California. I raise our kids, manage our investments, and learn more every day about this wonderful country in which I had the good fortune to be born.
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