In a time of such divisiveness in American society after the bizarre election of 2016, we may be tempted to draw similarities to the dysfunction of the United States after the election 1860 when half of the country left the Union as a result of the election of President Abraham Lincoln. In both cases, we can derive a lesson in the problems with centralized government. A leader was elected that half or more of the electorate heavily disapproved of which puts into question the practicality of having one executive in charge of the country and indeed one group of people that make up the federal government dictating the lives of others from miles and miles away. The anti-war voices in We Who Dared to Say No To War shed a light on the common held narrative of the American Civil War.
Of course, the issue that permeates the American Civil War is slavery. A horrific institution that violates natural rights and self-ownership. However, we must ask ourselves if launching a conscription-fueled country-wide war was, one, moral in the sense of pressing hundreds of thousands of free people into military action, and two, effective in ending the institution of slavery in the best possible way. Those who spoke out against the war in We Who Dared to Say No To War suggest that it was wrong to enslave one group of people (drafted soldiers) to fight in a war with dubious motives that we have been told was the dismantling of southern slavery. Though it certainly resulted in the abolition of slavery, author Thomas Woods Jr. suggests that it may have been even a problematic solution to the problem altogether.
The third part of Thomas Woods Jr.’s We Who Dared to Say No To War features voices against the war between the American Union and the Confederate States of America. In the introduction, Woods presents little known facts that flip the noble, high-school lesson of the Civil War on its head by suggesting that Lincoln was not the ally of the slaves that the traditional narrative would lead us to believe.
Although the general public is liable to believe that Abraham Lincoln waged war on the seceding southern states in order to end the horror of slavery, professional historians know full well that the abolition of slavery was not a war aim until well into the conflict. In fact, Lincoln supported a constitutional amendment that would have prevented the federal government from ever abolishing slavery, if that was what it would take to persuade the southern states to remain in the Union, and perhaps for the already seceded ones to return. (Woods, 55)
Woods cites Jeffrey Hummel, who argues that slavery was a dying institution and that the war may have been entirely unnecessary in its fall from economic norms.
Slavery was doomed politically even if Lincoln had permitted the small Gulf Coast Confederacy to depart in peace. The Republican controlled Congress would have been able to work toward emancipation within the border states, where slavery was already declining. In due course the Radicals could have repealed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. With chattels fleeing across the border and raising slavery’s enforcement costs, the peculiar institution’s destruction within an independent cotton South was inevitable. (56)
I know the grand purpose that inspires freemen in this tremendous conflict,–that this red evening cloud may announce a fair dawn to America; that, through the wall of sorrow and desolation, we may hear the music of breaking choirs, the joy of a race restored from slaves to men! But I would not do evil that good may come; I scout the horrid doctrine, that the end justifies the means; therefore, I do not believe in this war. (60)
Alfred H. Love
The moment we recognize the evils, we presuppose the right; therefore of two evils choose neither–choose the right, for it admits of no comparative degree–no alternative. The positive admission of its being an evil, should, therefore, deter thee from taking any part, or encouraging others to do so. (78)
Becoming absorbed in the enthusiasm of the hour, we float along on the swelling tide, forgetful that popular movements always should be carefully watched, often even doubted. (79)
Patriotism used to mean love of country, and was then a virtue; but now it seems to be a love to have our own way, in our country, and is now ambition. (79)
There was no difference of principle–but only of degree–between the slavery they boast they have abolished, and the slavery they were fighting to preserve; for all restraints upon men’s natural liberty, not necessary for the simple maintenance of justice, are of the nature of slavery, and differ from each other only in degree. (85)
As long as mankind continue to pay “National Debts,” so-called–that is, so long as they are such dupes and cowards as to pay for being cheated, plundered, enslaved, and murdered–so long there will be enough to lend the money for those purposes; and with that money a plenty of tools, called soldiers, can be hired to keep them in subjection. But when they refuse any longer to pay for being thus cheated, plundered, enslaved, and murdered, they will cease to have cheats, and usurpers, and robbers, and murderers and blood-money loan-mongers for masters. (86)
Find We Who Dared to Say No to War at Thomas Woods Jr.’s website.
Click here for his podcast The Tom Woods Show.