Speaking Of Slavery

While volunteer soldiers are not slaves, I agree with LRC blogger Chris Dominguez that conscription is slavery. But I’m a little puzzled when he writes:

What man wouldn’t take up arms or otherwise sacrifice his goods in a situation of true self-defense of his country? Since 1812 this criteria has only be met once in this land: by the citizens of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. In the marketplace of ideas, a military draft–by its very existence–indicates an unjust cause.

imageLRC house historian Thomas J. DiLorenzo likes to credit Lincoln with introducing federal conscription to America. But actually the first federal conscription in America was implemented by Jefferson Davis and the Confederate States of America. What puzzles me about Dominguez’s comment is that I don’t get the sense he is condemning the Confederacy as an unjust cause on the basis of conscription. Perhaps he doesn’t know; perhaps he is relying on sources like DiLorenzo for history. You can find plenty of criticism of Lincoln on LRC for introducing conscription, but nary a peep about the fact that the Confederacy beat him to that punch. And the Confederacy’s Conscription Act had another name, many southerners called it the Twenty-Nigger Law because those who owned twenty slaves were themselves exempt from the slavery of conscription. Let me know when someone rips the Confederacy for that on LRC.

When I first started reading LRC I was pleased to see the vigorous criticism of Lincoln. Lincoln is widely perceived as perhaps the greatest president, virtually a saint, when in fact he probably did more harm to America than anyone in history. Most of the criticism of Lincoln you’ll see on LRC is entirely justified. But Rockwellians consistently poison the well when they blend this criticism with a fetish for the Confederacy.

17 thoughts on “Speaking Of Slavery”

  1. Just to be clear, that business about defending Robert E. Lee isn’t popular at LRC, right?

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/kirkwood/kirkwood10.html

    Among the principal reasons Kirkwood has for lavishing praise on Lee:

    Lee lived by the code of honor and chivalry. He embodied dignity, manly bearing, and valor. A pious Christian, his principal object was doing God’s will.

    As president of Washington College, he shaped the lives of many young men. “You cannot be a true man,” he told his students, “unless you learn to obey.”

    In particular, the injunction that learning “to obey” is an essential characteristic of being a good person (“true man”?) seems rather foreign to the LRC philosophy. On the other hand, I can’t think of a good reason why LRC writers would heap praise on the Confederacy at all; does one criminal defending itself against another make that criminal somehow admirable?

  2. Gregory: “Of course, Lysander Spooner, whose pamphlet was the inspiration of this weblog’s name, knew this quite well. He was a libertarian anarchist and radical abolitionist…”

    He was, true enough. Though the LRC bibliography somehow fails to mention that:

    Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) was a lawyer, writer, entrepreneur, and libertarian activist.

    Anyways, Anthony, do you agree with Chris Dominguez’ assessment that the Confederacy was an unjust cause, since it conscripted soldiers? How many LRC contributors do you think would agree with that sentiment?

  3. “Anyways, Anthony, do you agree with Chris Dominguez’ assessment that the Confederacy was an unjust cause, since it conscripted soldiers? How many LRC contributors do you think would agree with that sentiment?”

    And this is the point: Both causes were unjust. The South seceded to preserve slavery, an abomination. The North made agressive war on the South to preserve the Union, another abomination.

    For pitys sake, you can’t come around whining about your right to secede when you’re seceding to preserve slavery – both sides ceded any and all moral high ground available to them.

    Spooner was completely in favor of making war on slaveholders, he was an admirer and backer of John Brown.

    He of course was not in favor of any war to preserve any goddamned union.

  4. How on earth could the CSA implement the first “federal” conscription?

    “FEDERAL”, geddit?

    And here’s the clue again: FEDERAL.

    You complete tool!

  5. I don’t think you have to mention every single sin of every enemy of the US central state to criticize that state in its most horrific crimes. That said, it is simply untrue that “[y]ou can find plenty of criticism of Lincoln on LRC for introducing conscription, but nary a peep about the fact that the Confederacy beat him to that punch.”

    As I said in my very first article for LRC:

    “More violations of the Constitution probably occurred during Abraham Lincoln’s four years as president than during any other cohesively defined era in American history. Many have pointed out that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus to jail war protesters, shut down hundreds of newspapers that disagreed with his war, established a draft for the first time in American history (except in the seceded South, which had a draft a year earlier), instituted restrictions on firearms, and sent troops to violently suppress the New York draft riot.” (Emphasis added.)

    Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to point out what I did. Tom DiLorenzo was accurate in describing Lincoln’s implementation of the first “federal” draft. Conscription is always evil, and I doubt that, although Tom DiLorenzo and I would say the Southerners were right to defend themselves, you can find an LRC writer who will say the Confederate government was “right” to institute conscription (or to enforce slavery, for that matter).

    You don’t have to mention the Confederate’s flaws to criticize Lincoln. And even considering those flaws, it still stands that Lincoln was a tyrant who waged an aggressive war of mass murder to impose mercantilist policies, and that any claims he did this out of concern for the slaves are absurd on their face.

    Of course, Lysander Spooner, whose pamphlet was the inspiration of this weblog’s name, knew this quite well. He was a libertarian anarchist and radical abolitionist who saw through Lincoln’s lies and unstood the evil of Lincoln’s war. Any true libertarian exposed to the history would come to the same conclusions that Spooner and DiLorenzo have.

  6. Perhaps I should have said “U.S. history.”

    At any rate, the fact that the Confederacy was “was a federal government.” Is not the same as “the federal government.” Few people would assume that when someone discusses the history of “the federal government,” that person is discussing every federal government in the world.

    I doubt DiLorenzo would say that the Confederate government was blameless for conscription, but it is certainly true that it was a consequence of Lincoln’s aggression. You can e-mail him yourself, and ask him, if you want.

  7. … although Tom DiLorenzo and I would say the Southerners were right to defend themselves …

    Throughout the Civil War, the Confederates were actually fighting a two-front war: about 1/3 of all Confederate military forces were continually held behind the lines in order to capture fugitive slaves and suppress slave revolts (which had been escalating for decades, and erupted across the South during the war).

    I agree that Southerners had a right to defend themselves against aggression. Including the Black ones. Describing the Confederate war effort (1/3 of which was directed against Black Southerners seceding from their slave pens) as self-defense seems dubious at best.

  8. Okay Anthony, your parenthetical acknowledgement qualifies as a peep. I looked and missed it. It actually wasn’t the first draft in American history though, states drafted soldiers as far back as the Revolutionary War.

    ” Tom DiLorenzo was accurate in describing Lincoln’s implementation of the first “federal” draft.”

    How does the Confederacy’s Conscription Act escape that distinction? The CSA was a federal government.

    ” Any true libertarian exposed to the history would come to the same conclusions that Spooner and DiLorenzo have. “

    I’m confident Spooner would not excuse conscription in the Confederacy, as DiLorenzo has:

    Third, the authors’ smear of the Confederate government for inflation, conscription, etc. is a red herring argument. None of this would have happened had Lincoln not invaded with the largest and best equipped army in the history of the world up to that point.

    Spooner would recognize that the Confederacy was responsible for conscription in the Confederacy, not Lincoln.

  9. Everything that the Confederacy did that violated libertarian principles was unjust. The American colonists who revolted against Britain also did many unjust things to loyalists and others. But I think it is fair to say that the American cause in the Revolution was just, as was the Southern cause in Lincoln’s war. I don’t know if I would say the “Confederate” cause, because, as a libertarian, I don’t believe governments are ever just. Most Southerners, even ones who felt nationalistic toward the Confederacy, were not slaveowners. By the end of the war, many Southerners were willing to get rid of slavery if it meant helping their cause for independence. And some Unionists were willing, up until the end, to allow the South to have slavery if it meant preserving the Union. In this sense, the war wasn’t about slavery, even as far as the South was concerned. Otherwise, they would have welcomed Union, which protected the horrible institution, instead of fighting for secession, which would have made it harder to maintain.

    I think all governments are bad, and in a war between governments, I wouldn’t take the side of one of the governments. I might take the side of one of the groups of people, in spite of its being ruled by a government, so long as that group of people is largely being defensive. And certainly, some governments are more aggressive in war than others. In the case of the War Between the States, the Union government was worse.

  10. Robert E. Lee, if I remember my history, vocally opposed slavery and freed his slaves before the war. He was fighting against Union imperialism, not to defend slavery.

    Lincoln, by the way, didn’t oppose slavery and defended a slaveowner in a court case regarding an escaped slave (thankfully Lincoln lost and the slave went free).

    It is true that fireeaters dominated much of the secessonist movement, but many secessionists were much more concerned about the right of secession and economic trade oppression. The middle states largely seceded over secession. Most folks probably realized that the Hamiltonian Abraham Lincoln, who advocated making slavery permanent, was more a threat to liberty than to slavery.

  11. “Most Southerners, even ones who felt nationalistic toward the Confederacy, were not slaveowners.”

    Of course they weren’t. In some parts of the Deep South, “most Southerners” were Black slaves.

    But this misses the point. The question is about who the driving forces behind “the Southern cause” were, what they took the nature of their cause to be, and the reasons they gave for fighting for it.

    And when you set out to answer *that* question, even a cursory glance at the public statements of men such as Jefferson Davis, Alexander “Cornerstone” Stephens, Robert E. Lee, and other members of the slaver aristocracy (who overwhelmingly dominated the secessionist conventions, the state governments, and the Confederate government)–not to mention at the Confederate constitution and other key sources–reveals that the prime motive of the people who were driving the process was the preservation of white supremacy and race slavery.

    Certainly some whites who neither owned slaves nor were family members of anyone who did, still went out to fight for the Confederacy. But it’s essential to keep in perspective just how little sway they had in the reasoning or the decision-making that led into the hostilities that they later joined. And also that a lot of non-slaveholders weren’t interested in fighting for the Confederacy at all–which is why they were targeted by the “Twenty-Nigger” draft law, and why they led anti-Confederate uprisings across the large swaths of Virginia, Tennessee, etc. where the slaver population was very low.

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