Friday, August 11, 2006

I've been writing an essay

I promised that I'd do more blogging... then I did not! This is because I've been busy writing an essay.

If you've visited my web site ( you might have noticed my writing section. I have written a number of essays, including several with respect to the American Civil War.

Years ago I decided I needed battle descriptions to go along with my battlefield photographs. When I started researching them I discovered that there were few sources for the level of detail I wanted. There are plenty of books with lots of detail, and plenty of overviews with little detail, but almost nothing at the brigade level. I set out to correct this. Unfortunately, it means that it takes a stink of a lot of time to write my essays.

By popular demand I'd been working on a Gettysburg essay. However, earlier this year I got side tracked. It occurred to me that I really didn't fully understand what actually caused the American Civil War. I'd read a lot of the standard stuff, but I'd never put it all together in a logical fashion. So, I began what I thought would be a fairly straightforward, single web page essay. I figured I could throw it together in a week or two and go back to Gettysburg.

I was wrong, of course. Part of it is my obsession with giving enough detail to be worthwhile. Part of it is because the subject just isn't that simple. This latter comment may surprise those who were taught that the war was "about slavery". This, as it turns out, is both true and overly simplified. It's like the police finding a drowning victim and declaring the reason he died was because he couldn't breathe water. Sure, that's what caused his death, but why was he in the water in the first place? Slavery was the root cause of the American Civil War, but why did it suddenly result in armed conflict?

I won't go into that now. If you're really interested, you can read the essay when I finish it. Most of it is done. I'm up to March, 1861, and the essay ends in April, 1861. I will say that I did discover a couple of surprises. I hadn't expected the argument that the South fought for "states rights" to be so easily shown as not true. I also didn't expect the level of racism in the North. Oh, I knew the North was just as racist as the South in the 19th century. I knew that the main reason the Republicans didn't want slavery in the newly formed states was because they didn't want slave owners competing against white farmers and craftsmen in the market place. I did know that the Northern states didn't want free blacks competing against whites any more than they wanted slave owners competing with whites. I did not know that Lincoln and many other prominent Republicans were prepared to add a permanent amendment to the Constitution preventing slavery from being abolished, so long as it kept it in the South and the South remained in the Union.

So, that's my excuse for not writing blog entries recently. I don't know if I'll have the essay done this weekend or not. I have Delta Green write-ups to finish, too, so I may have to shelve the essay temporarily in order to do the write-ups.

I will post here when the essay is complete.


Michael Skeet said...

For obvious reasons, I'm really looking forward to reading this essay. I note that you tell us the shut-off year and month for the time covered by your essay, but not the starting point. How far back are you going?

Given that there were a number of sectional crises in the U.S. before 1860, I wonder if the tipping point wasn't reached when (somehow) the economic argument against slavery turned more forcefully into a moral argument. I'll wait and see what you think. (Don't make me wait too long...)

Allan Goodall said...

The first part lays out the social changes that occurred in the U.S. because of the Industrial Revolution. The first date I give is 1793, but it's mostly just general information with no dates in part 1.

Part 2 starts with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. The first real date I mention is July 14, 1798, when the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed. This, along with the Hartford Convention and the Nullification Crisis, shows how states thought they could secede with no one in the federal government thinking that it would be a good idea to answer the question once and for all.

The tipping point (and I actually have a section titled "Approaching the Tipping Point") was the Dred Scott case. It threw out the Missouri Compromise and promised to find all state laws hampering slavery to be unconstitutional.

You could argue the Compromise of 1850 was the tipping point, since it put in place the Fugitive Slaves Act, as that seemed to be the catalyst for the Republican Party's formation. The felling I got was that there was an equilibrium in place up until Dred Scott. There was a fight over expansion of slavery into the territories, but some sort of "half slave/half free" compromise could still stabilize the situation. With Dred Scott a "half slave/half free" status quo was completely thrown out. Nothing short of a constitutional amendment would have changed the Supreme Court's ruling. A North-South showdown was, thus, inevitable.

It probably comes out in the essay, but the argument against slavery was never forcefully a moral argument. It was always an economic argument. I'm of the opinion that it only became a moral argument with the Emancipation Proclamation. It's pretty clear that the free soil movement had racist motives. Slave owners were at an economic advantage versus middle class farmers and craftsmen. So were free blacks, who would settle for less money for the same work. The free-soilers wanted slaves and blacks out of the territories.

It was all about money and political power, but since the political power was to stop an anti-slave amendment to the Constitution, it too was about money. Ironically, if the secessionists had stepped back in early 1861 and taken up one of the compromise deals then being offered, they would have preserved slavery for, oh, probably at least 50 years. (My guess is that the post-Great War social upheaval would have started the errosion of slavery, if it hadn't collapsed for economic reasons before that.) Instead — to use Texas Holdem poker parlance — they went all-in, got a good "flop" but were really sunk at the "turn" card.

Okay, that last analogy was kind of silly, but I had fun writing it. *L*

Allan Goodall said...

(Should have proof read that reply better. Among other issues — "felling"? — I meant "they went all in with a "Confederacy" hand, got a good "flop"... etc.)