Ron Paul Claims Civil War Was Unnecessary: But How?

OPINION

 @ibtimes
on December 23 2011 3:45 PM
Ron Paul
Ron Paul was accused by Rick Santorum in Saturday night's GOP debate of being "caught not telling the truth." Reuters

UPDATE: I received a number of comments and e-mails about this article, and I've responded to five of the most common arguments here.

Before I say anything else, let me be clear: I am not saying that Ron Paul supports slavery, and I'm not calling him racist, either.

But I find it very disconcerting when he says the Civil War should never have been fought.

He shouldn't have gone to war, Paul said of President Abraham Lincoln in a 2007 interview with Meet the Press. His alternative, based on what the British Empire did with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833: You buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years?

OK, look: we all know that the Civil War was about states' rights as much as it was about slavery. Seeing as Ron Paul is a staunch supporter of states' rights, I can understand why he would oppose the war on principle. Nobody wanted the Civil War to happen.

But let's be realistic here, shall we? Does Paul really think the war could have been avoided by the government buying the slaves -- all four million of them -- and setting them free in the North?

It should be obvious that the antebellum South was not like the slave-owning territories of the British Empire. The culture was different, the economy was different, and most importantly, the political situation was different.

Faulty Assumptions

The most obvious problem with Paul's suggestion is its assumption that the South would have been willing to sell all of its slaves to the North and abandon the institution of slavery. This is patently absurd based on even a cursory look at antebellum history. For one, Lincoln actually proposed just such an agreement, and the Confederate states rejected it.

Southern leaders did not oppose emancipation because they wanted money. They opposed emancipation because slavery was deeply ingrained in both the culture and the economy of the region.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world, Mississippi wrote in its declaration of secession. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

And, as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said, the South believed in the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.

Even generous compensation for each emancipated slave would not have made the South accept the economic and cultural effects of abolition. What makes Paul think the South would have willingly agreed to sell its slaves? If its leaders had been willing to do that, the Civil War wouldn't have been fought.

But Confederate leaders weren't willing to do that. They believed firmly in their right to own slaves as part of their culture, they considered slavery an economic necessity, and they were not about to give that up for any amount of money. So what, exactly, does Paul think Lincoln should have done?

Many Failed Compromises

It is also worth noting that it was not Lincoln or the North who fired the first shots of the Civil War. It was the South that did that, at Fort Sumter.

More importantly, by the time the Civil War began, a long succession of congresses and presidential administrations had already tried to resolve the conflicts between the North and South through peaceful means. From the so-called three-fifths rule, to the Missouri Compromise, to the notion of popular sovereignty, a slew of attempts had been made to no avail.

This is not to say that Lincoln couldn't have tried more. I am sure he could have.

But given that seven states had already seceded by the time Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861; given that the Peace Conference of 1861 -- the final congressional effort to resolve the crisis -- had failed; and given that the South was utterly unwilling to consider any compromise that did not protect the institution of slavery in some form, I'm hard-pressed to see how the Civil War could have been avoided, short of Lincoln just throwing up his hands and letting the South secede.

And if he had done that, Paul might very well be living in the Confederate States of America today.

Let's Be Real

My problem is not that Paul disagrees with Lincoln's decision to fight the Civil War, per se. Like I said, nobody wanted the Civil War to happen. My problem is with the fact that the only alternative he has given (to my knowledge) would have been completely unworkable.

If Paul thinks the Civil War should not have been fought, I want to hear how he actually thinks slavery should have been abolished. After all, isn't that what voters are looking for in this election: realistic solutions?

I'm about as anti-war as they come -- but I don't see how Lincoln could have freed the slaves without fighting the Civil War. If any Paul supporters have suggestions, I'd love to hear them, so please, post a comment or e-mail me: m.astor [at] ibtimes [dot] com. If someone sends me a logical alternative, I'll be more than happy to write about it.

Until then, I'm calling nonsense on Paul's 2007 claim.

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