The Anti-Lincoln Brigade

Written by David Frum on Friday December 16, 2011

You know what's really discouraging?

This is discouraging, this apologetic by Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, on behalf of Ron Paul.

Welch takes exception to my restatement of the I thought notorious fact about Ron Paul's preference for the Confederate over the Union cause in the Civil War. Welch:

There is no hyperlink on that "openly prefers the slaveholding cause in the US Civil War." A Google search leads me to this Paul interview with Bill Maher, in which the lifelong anti-war advocate asserts that "the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery," and avers that there were better options for ending the peculiar institution, formulations that he also gave in 2007 on em>Meet the Press<. Here's the relevant part of the Maher interview:

I disagree with Paul's assertion that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery (read Charles Oliver's classic 2001 em>Reason piece< arguing the contrary), and I think his revisionist counter-proposal to have the North buy up the South's slaves sounds more than a bit naive, but none of that sounds to me like an open preference for "the slaveholding cause." Being against wars does not mean being in favor of the other side. It would be a queer thing indeed to favor the cause of slaveholding in one breath, while denouncing slavery-era Supreme Court justifications for slavery in the next.

Here is Ron Paul engaged in pure Confederate apologetic, and yet Matt Welch sees only a set of low-salience open questions.

The role of slavery in the Civil War may remain a controverted issue in the pages of Reason magazine. But contemporaries had no such uncertainty. Here's the resolution of the state of South Carolina, the first state to exit the Union, justifying secession. Could it be clearer? And note the very last paragraph, where South Carolina denounces as grounds for secession the decision of some northern states to allow blacks to vote and exercise other rights of citizenship. Slavery was not safe in the South unless blacks were subjugated everywhere.

an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

As to Ron Paul's brainwave that perhaps the North could have bought the slaves at lower cost than fighting a civil war? The same idea occurred to the man whom Ron Paul condemns as a bloodthirsty despot, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did not make that point in a few obscure places, overlooked by history. He made it - among other places - in the document that concludes with one of the most famous phrases he ever wrote:

"We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth."

That's the State of the Union address of December 1, 1862. Fully half that document was taken up with the elaborate details of Lincoln's proposal for compensated emancipation.

The proposed emancipation would shorten the war, perpetuate peace, insure this increase of population, and proportionately the wealth of the country. ...

[A] dollar will be much harder to pay for the war than will be a dollar for emancipation on the proposed plan. And then the latter will cost no blood, no precious life. It will be a saving of both.

How can you not know this stuff? Even the government schools teach it!

It's truly bizarre that certain kinds of ultra-libertarians insist on endlessly contorting the historical record to provide excuses for the Confederate cause. I should have thought this style of libertarianism was different from the version on offer at Reason--but no.

So let's put it more sharply still. Ron Paul wants credit for the consistency of his commitment to human liberty. Yet when it comes to the greatest struggle for liberty in American history, Ron Paul is not even lukewarm. He loves liberty so much that he wants to protect the right of motorcyclists to bash out their unhelmeted brains on the curb--while making retrospective excuses for those who claimed their liberty included the right to enslave, flog, rape, and murder other human beings.