On Friday, several news outlets reported on Ron Paul's suggestion in 2007 that the Civil War could have been avoided if Abraham Lincoln had chosen to buy the slaves and release them. I wrote an article calling this idea unrealistic and challenging readers to come up with alternatives to the Civil War. I responded to some of their suggestions this morning, and below is a sampling of the other e-mails and comments I received, from a variety of perspectives.
Two of the e-mailers are quoted anonymously at their request. The commenters are identified by whatever name or pseudonym they used in the comments section.
Terry Conklin: The answer is simple. The South left the Union and formed their own nation, and the U.S. attacked them. It should have left them alone. We now cannot be proud of our nation being one of forceful inclusion as it flies in the face of our founding principal, which is government with the consent of the governed. ... I believe the Confederate States of America would have eventually abolished slavery on their own and race relations today may have been far better for it. It may have taken five or 10 years, maybe more, but it would have happened. To believe otherwise is to say southerners are monsters, which is foolish and unfair.
Terry Rustin: What if, as president-elect, Lincoln had met with Sam Houston (who opposed secession) and other Texan leaders, and offered to pay Texas to stay out of it? Texas seceded before Lincoln took office -- what if it had not? That would have left the Confederacy with just six states and might have persuaded Virginia and Arkansas to stay put. The six states would have struggled for a while on their own but would certainly not have been a viable independent nation, with no manufacturing and no foreign policy status. Lincoln could have led a legislative effort to free the slaves in the Union states, and before long the six separatist states would have had to rejoin the Union.
Anonymous: One of the methods that comes to mind for abolishing slavery is by moving abolitionists to Southern communities, to dilute the slave-holders' votes. The southern states could do nothing about cross-state migrations and effectively hijacking. The problem ends up being that the requirement to propose amendments is 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress and 3/4 ratification by the states. I don't know if there were enough abolitionists to accomplish that in a quick time-frame. Further, many would be tempted to vote twice in adjacent states, and that can be a form of voter fraud.
Anonymous: Modern-day defenders of the Confederacy like to paint their cause in such a way that would lead people to think of Robert E. Lee, namely that of a distinguished gentleman of honor and virtue, as an example of what the South stood for. Unfortunately for them, the antebellum South and the Confederacy are better understood if people look to Edmund Ruffin, because it is he more than any other that, in my mind, represents what the South stood for at the time. Events such as Bleeding Kansas made the Civil War inevitable. Men such as John Brown made sure of that.
Steven Brooks: Slavery was disappearing everywhere without civil war. The Civil War was about the power of the federal government to interfere in the operations of the states where it was not given constitutional power to do so. The states had the right to secede from the Union. They were denied that right by force of arms. This is one reason the Civil War should not have been prosecuted. It was illegal. The issue of slavery was being addressed in the states. There were many abolitionists in the Southern states. It was a matter of time. It was also an institution whose time had passed economically. If I were Ron Paul, I would have argued that the price we paid was too high for the result.
Dana: It's amazing how revisionist history feeds on itself. Slavery wasn't dying out because the wealth and political influence of the South was at its zenith. These states weren't about to let slavery die out; it was central to their economy. Remember war was declared by the southern states and not by the North. Lincoln didn't have to make any reference to slavery as the cause for fighting the war, as all of the Southern states had already done so in their declarations of succession.
LTCKOHL: Most at the time didn't realize the potential of the 'machine age' and how it would transform everything. The transition from slave labor to machine labor would have taken many years, and even at that, it wouldn't have changed the racist attitudes that had become so ingrained in the South. In reality, the war was a political struggle between the North and South. The South simply would not accept 'majority rule' as envisioned in the Constitution, even as much was done to try to maintain a balance between slave and non-slave states. The North saw itself as morally and economically superior to the South. Abraham Lincoln might have stalled the war a few months, but the political die was cast years before he took office.
Edward Lee Macfall: Industrialization ended slavery in all other Western nations without war. The only thing preventing the American South from industrializing were the pro-Northern tariffs and banking privileges -- which were the core reasons for the South seceding in the first place.
Ron Shirtz: Let slavery run its course and become obsolete and cost-ineffective with 10-20 years. The Southern economy would fall apart, and a more peaceful means could be pursued to free and give full citizenship to black slaves. Yes, it would seem cruel to have the slaves wait longer, but then, was it worth the casualties, destruction, animosity and eventually a political abandonment of the blacks by the north until 1965 by pursuing a terrible civil war?