George, I don't agree with this interpretation (and yes, I've read what Lincoln said about willing to keep slavery if it meant saving the union). Wars are not fought merely by one person. (Imagine me telling you that. Well I just did, so there. ) There were plenty of people fighting that war for many reasons, including to end slavery. They were very clear about that. You know... underground railroad and so on... Another point--the fact that preserving the union was an intended consequence of the war in no way prohibits slavery from likewise being an intended consequence. Do you hold that there is only room for one intended consequence in a war and everything else is unintended? I'm always uncomfortable when I hear the argument belittling the end of slavery in the Civil War. It always comes off to me like the person trying to push an agenda. I'm not trying to be snarky, but the argument just doesn't make any sense to me otherwise. (snip)
Third, the "correction" of slavery that you speak of was an unintended consequence of the Civil War.
There are lots of reasons why people go to war. Some Union soldiers enlisted in the hope of finding adventure, and some for the enlistment bounties. May we therefore say that adventure and bounties were among the reasons why the Civil War was fought?
Lincoln was very clear on the purpose of the war; he waged it in order to "preserve the Union," not to free the slaves. As some pro-Lincoln historians have noted, Lincoln did not believe that the federal government had the authority to abolish slavery in the states. As a Free Soil man, however, Lincoln did oppose extension of slavery into the territories, and he believed the federal government did have the power to prohibit this.
Moreover, given the rampant racism in the North, Lincoln knew that most men would never volunteer to risk their lives in order to end slavery. Many would fight for patriotic reasons, however.
Southern states had various motives for secession. The mistaken belief that Lincoln would attempt to end slavery was the overwhelming motive of South Carolina and other states in the deep South. It was a dumb move.
The second wave of secession came after Fort Sumter. Virginia and three other states in the Upper South said that they would not secede so long as Lincoln did not use force to prevent other states from seceding. These states seceded after it became clear that Lincoln planned to use force.
Some abolitionists believed that the war would end slavery, even though this was not Lincoln's intention. Garrison, Phillips and some other abolitionists did not trust Lincoln. In his autobiography, the remarkable Moncure D. Conway -- a southerner who had inherited slaves but freed them and took up the antislavery cause -- told of a meeting he had with Lincoln on this issue early in the war. Conway attempted to convince Lincoln that emancipation would facilitate a Union victory, because the Confederates would need to keep many more men on plantations in order to prevent slaves from escaping and revolting. Most slaves would not be willing to take these risks without the hope of freedom.
According to Conway's account, Lincoln didn't say much about this idea, but it was the strategy he adopted later in the war. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation stipulated a certain period of time for Southern states to rejoin the Union, after which they could keep their slaves. (The North had four slave states of its own.) The final document frankly called itself a "war measure." It declared emancipation only in those states and parts of states that were under Confederate control. The basic hope here was that slaves in rebel areas would be motivated to escape or rebel, and that this threat would require the South to commit much more manpower to plantations, thereby drawing them away from combat roles.
Here is an excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation:
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
All this is a matter of the historical record. The facts are not in dispute, and I don't know why they should make you uncomfortable in the least. Perhaps you think that anti-Lincoln types are somehow pro-Confederate. This certainly isn't the case with the libertarian historian Jeffrey Hummel, an old friend of mine who wrote a superb book on this subject (Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War),
nor is it true in my case.
Was secession justified -- or, to be more precise, was it constitutional? The libertarian and abolitionist Lysander Spooner believed that the southern states had the right to secede from the Union, just as the American colonies had the right to secede from the British Empire, and that the North was motivated primarily by economic reasons.
For years the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison had called for free states to secede from slaves states -- the motto" No Union with Slaveholders" appeared on the masthead of The Liberator
, the leading abolitionist periodical -- so he clearly believed in the right of secession. But Garrison later opposed southern secession on the grounds that only a just cause can justify this measure, and the defense of slavery was obviously not a just cause.
My opinion is that there were reasonable constitutional arguments on both sides, but that the South probably had the stronger case overall. As for the Civil War itself, I believe that secession was a bad move, but that Lincoln's use of force to prevent secession was inexcusable. In short, I have very little sympathy for either side, but I despise Lincoln for bringing about the mass butchery of a savage conflict that could have been avoided.
Leaders on both sides believed that their side would win a quick victory, so the war would not last very long. More of the usual stupidity about war.
H.L. Mencken once speculated on the reason why people never seem to learn any of the obvious lessons about war. Not long after one war has exhausted a people, they can easily be whipped into a frenzy and support yet another war enthusiastically. Mencken suggested that many people are bored with their humdrum lives, and that war makes them feel that they are participating in a great and noble cause. War gives "meaning" to their otherwise pointless lives.
I fear Mencken's cynical explanation may have hit the nail on the head. In the immortal words of the comedian Ron White: You can't fix stupid. Stupid is forever.