Was The American Civil War Avoidable?

Rather than asking whether it was "worth it," the important historical question regarding the Civil War is whether it could have been avoided.


On Thursday, James Joyner wrote about a Tony Horowitz piece at The Atlantic questioning whether the American Civil War was “worth it.” Given that we’re talking about a war that resulted in the deaths of some 700,000 men and the infliction of gruesome, life-altering, injuries on many, many others, it is, I suppose, a legitimate question to ask. However, as I noted in a comment to James’s post, I’m not sure it’s the right question to ask:

I’m not sure that the question “Was the American Civil War Worth It?” is really the right question for historians to ask.

The correct question should be “Was the American Civil War Preventable?” Well, without delving into some long alternate history speculation about what might have been the one conclusion that one reaches after reading the history of the United States from the Founding to the eve of war itself is that the answer to that question is “probably not.”

As a preliminary matter, I would suggest that asking whether a war, any war was “worth it” has never been the right question. Wars, for whatever reason they’ve been fought throughout human history, can rarely be characterized as being “worth it.” At best, one could possibly say that some wars, though by no means all or even most of them, were necessary for one reason or another. In our own history, the Revolutionary War, World War II, the Korean War at least until MacArthur crossed the 38th Parallel, for international strategic reasons the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan up to a point somewhere around 2006 or so, and yes the Civil War, all arguably fall into that category. That leaves plenty of wars — the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War One, Vietnam, and Iraq to name a few — that I would arguably classify as unnecessary, or having been fought because of diplomatic failures, mistaken information, or in two cases (World War One and Vietnam) something close to utter deception by the political leadership at the time. That, on some level is why it’s proper to recognize and honor the veterans who fought, and those who died, in the wars that our nation has fought. Not because such recognition is meant to legitimize the war itself, but because they weren’t the ones who made the choice to go there.

The Civil War, though, is a unique event in American history, and it will remain as such for as long as there is a United States of America. As many historians have stated, it was ultimately the final resolution of contradictions in the vision of what the United States was supposed to be that had been present when the ink from John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration Of Independence was still drying. The inherent contradiction between the Declaration’s exhortation that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” and the institution which existed in America’s south was apparent even to observers then. When the time came to draft the Constitution 11 years later, there were several provisions written into the document that helped to preserve slavery in the states in which it existed. In both cases, the issue was swept under the rug in the name of national unity.

That practice of sweeping the issue of slavery, and the sectional divide it created in the country, under the rug was one that continued in the decades between the ratification of the Constitution and the start of the secession crisis that led to the Civil War. The most prominent of these, of course, were 1820’s Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, both of which attempted to deal with the issue of the expansion of slavery into the western territories that, with the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War, had made the United States a Continental nation. Neither “compromise” actually accomplished anything, of course, it merely served to push the issue aside so that the nation could get on with the important business of expanding. Meanwhile, slavery and the other sectional differences that had been developing between North and South continued to boil under the surface just waiting for the right moment to erupt.

It’s true that there was more to the secession crisis that followed President Lincoln’s election in 1860, and the war that followed that, than just the issue of slavery or its expansion into the west. Economic differences between the increasingly industrialized North and the largely agrarian South had become quite extreme and there difference over trade policy and the appropriate level of tariffs. More than a half million Americans didn’t die in four year long war over tariff policy, though, they died in a war that was at its base tied securely to the issue of human slavery. In that regard, it’s worth remembering that while slavery was often condemned even in the South during the Founder’s era, by sometime in the 1820’s or so southerns have come to view it as not only morally acceptable, but perfectly natural. That attitude continue to embed itself in the region’s zeitgeist until it reached its full form in the form of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech”:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

There really is no compromising with that kind of attitude, which is likely one of the reasons why those last efforts to avoid secession and war in the months between November 1860 and April 1861 failed so completely. Given that, it’s hard to see how the war itself could have been avoided.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Truthfully, it was IMO unavoidable. We scope lock, and to an extent rightfully so, on the slavery basis for the war, but in an essential sense the Civil War was the final expression (and the final result) of the founders inability to settle the Federalist / Anti-Federalist stand-off.

    The war was, at its most basic, about the question of what sort of entity – either a relatively loose collection of fiefdoms or one nation – that we were going to end up being. That dilemma had to be resolved, and in the wake of the shaky compromises which the founders were forced to implement in order to get the Constitution ratified at all, could pretty much only have led to where it did lead. To war. It was also pretty clear that civil war was coming long, long before it actually came.

    I’ve heard it said (albeit anecdotally) that John Quincy Adams referred to the looming threat of civil war as the last battle of the American Revolution. I agree with him. If it could have been avoided at all, it would have to have been at the outset, with the founders themselves. If they, incredibly brilliant men that they were, couldn’t resolve the problem, it was probably unresolvable through any other means save war.

  2. Stonetools says:

    The issues the Civil War was fought over weren’t settled by the Civil War either. They remained in dispute until the 1960s and are being contested till this day. It is no coincidence that the geographic and spiritual heart of the resistance to the legislative program of an African American President is within the Confederacy.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    A few observations if I may.

    Yesterday I saw reference to Stevens’ activities after the war, flogging the romantic lost cause as not having been about slavery. He sure said it was about slavery when he was trying to gin up support for it.

    When it comes to ranking W as a president, many of us rank him down with James Buchanan who we consider scum for his failure to do anything to prevent secession. But many of us, in this discussion are saying there’s nothing he could have done.

    It takes two to tango. We need to look at the motivations and inevitability of each side separately. Whatever the apologists say, the South went to war to defend slavery. The North went to war to preserve the Union. Doug lists WWII and Korea as necessary. But they were only necessary after the Axis powers and N. Korea initiated them. None of their acts of aggression were necessary in the real world, only in the delusions of those who committed them. One can argue about the wisdom and necessity of the North going to war to preserve the union, but given that Lincoln was elected on a platform of preserving the Union, once the South seceded it was inevitable.

    You’re right, Doug, that given the attitude of Stevens and his peers (his peers being the planter aristocracy), secession was inevitable. But was it necessary that they be fanatics? As Lincoln said, had they waited for him to act against slavery before seceding, they would not have seceded.

    I’ve always been astounded that non-slave holding whites went to war so enthusiastically for a system that did not benefit them and average Northerners did the same for an abstract principle like preserving the Union. Tribalism, I guess.

  4. Rafer Janders says:

    Looking at that map, one thing I notice right away is that there’s a pretty good overlap of the then slave states and the states that now vote Republican.

    Probably a coincidence….

  5. aFloridian says:

    Perhaps it is only idealism or naivete on my part, but I do think the war was avoidable. While the radical abolitionists and Southern fire-eaters who controlled the narrative certainly make it seem unavoidable, cooler heads could have prevailed, just as they could in any war. World War II would have been avoidable if not for the overreaches in World War I and the willingness of the German leadership to follow the ideology of Hitler.

    Really, I think this question is as pointless/hard to answer as the one about whether the war was “worth it.” War is such a terrible thing, partly because it is so avoidable – being a choice men make for money, religion, ideology, pride, or whatever. Every war I can think of off the top of my head can both be said to be worth it and also a waste, and similarly every war, if I play “what if” enough, quickly becomes characterized in my mind as something entirely avoidable due to the “better angels of our nature” or something so set-in-stone necessary that the course must have been set from the beginning of time…

    For me the most important ideas that come out of war and history are learning what the causes were, how we can strive to avoid those failures now, and also because war often provides a telling look at what shaped the way people’s attitudes and culture are today. The South is a prime example of a region shaped by its war.

  6. Rafer Janders says:


    While the radical abolitionists

    What’s a “radical” abolitionist as compared to, say, a regular old abolitionist?

  7. Joe Reed says:

    It was absolutely avoidable, if you are willing to accept secession as the cost of avoidance. Similar things could be said of most of the wars you list, with the exceptions being the ones where we were attacked first. The “worth” question is the appropriate one to ask.

  8. Dazedandconfused says:

    I hate to yank stuff out of context, so apology in advance, but this is a very, very common mistake about the US Civil War.

    More than a half million Americans didn’t die in four year long war over tariff policy, though, they died in a war that was at its base tied securely to the issue of human slavery.

    The loss of life is not enlightening on the reasoning of the men who led their sides to war. Wars -or events- develop their own logic. Wars particularly so. For at least one side, “not losing” renders all other motivations and objectives irrelevant in nearly all cases.

    There is no way any one could have gotten a half million southerners to volunteer to do the Nathan Hale for the slave owners. Even the Fire Eaters, had they known what they were getting themselves into, even if they knew they would win, probably couldn’t have managed to get even South Carolina to secede had this “bill” been presented up-front. Virginia? Fuggedaboutit! It was a dying institution there already. Anybody think the North would have engaged knowing what a butcher-shop this would turn out to be? The prevailing sentiment was “it would be over by Christmas”.

  9. @Rafer Janders:

    Probably a coincidence….

    No, it was a political realignment. The south was solid blue until the 1960 election, when MS and AL went for Nixon instead of Kennedy. By the time LBJ’s landslide against Goldwater, the south was all red.

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    If the the Civil War was avoidable, a future war between states was not. The weak federal structure was a much bigger problem than slavery.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    Avoidable? I do not think so. The politics of the run-up to the war were so toxic that deal-making to avoid war was not going to succeed.

    It is Catch-22 like, isn’t it? Actually, what we ended up with following the war – 100 years of apartheid, segregation and Jim Crow laws – is probably what would had to have been agreed to in order to avoid the Civil War.

    I suppose it is possible that Southern States would have accepted a deal that ended slavery and permitted them, under the auspices of “states’ rights,’ to transition to a system of sharecropping, apartheid, segregation and the rest of what came with that – but I think a re-reading of the politics of the day (try David Potter’s “The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861”) would dissuade most people of that possibility.

  12. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    That leaves plenty of wars — the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War One, Vietnam, and Iraq to name a few — that I would arguably classify as unnecessary, or having been fought because of diplomatic failures, mistaken information…

    OK, I’m right there with ya.

    …or in two cases (World War One and Vietnam) something close to utter deception by the political leadership at the time.

    But you lose me here by failing to list Iraq. If “utter deception by the political leadership at the time” doesn’t apply to the how we got into that clesterfeck, then the phrase in meaningless.

    (I supported the invasion at the time it happened but got off that bus early – about the time it was apparent no one in charge had given the slightest thought about “We won; what now?” Never in my life as an American voter have I ever felt as suckered. Just galling.)

  13. aFloridian says:

    What’s a “radical” abolitionist as compared to, say, a regular old abolitionist?

    Uh, there were some radical abolitionists in the north chomping at the bit for war. Radical as compared to a “regular old abolitionist” because they wanted violence as much as the fire-eaters in the South who thought they’d “whip them Yankees” and retire back to their slave plantations. Probably some of the same people who became Radical Republicans after the war and were more concerned with enriching carpetbaggers and punishing the South than they were at creating a lasting peace and taking the long view to ensure that the new-found freedom of Southern blacks would be protected and not allowed to stagnant due to a toxic combination of Northern indifference and the South’s Jim Crow racist policies alongside the rise of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

    Getting back to it, then, a “regular old abolitionist” would not be a violent criminal like John Brown, but rather (and this was common, as many abolitionist groups, e.g. Society of Friends, were pacifistic) one who advocated a peaceful resolution and worked to end slavery. It sounds next to impossible to me, and certainly would have been harder, and slavery almost certainly would have persisted for longer than it did, but yes, the war WAS avoidable.

    Finally, I think that when we start deeming any war “unavoidable” we are absolving one or both parties of their moral culpability. Maybe it is sometimes, but while war is sometimes necessary, I think it is always avoidable. I wrote that last sentence to cover a conflict like WWII where most of us, no doubt, probably see the US/Allies as almost saintly in their virtue, fighting evil incarnate like Adolf Hitler, but it wasn’t Hitler who suffered. I’m not sure why/how I got off into an almost pacifistic aside, but I guess it goes to my point about avoidability.

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Yeah, no, it was sarcasm.

  15. Tyrell says:

    @aFloridian: I had a history teacher that had close to the same thought about radical elements that finally made compromises increasingly difficult. The compromising was centered around keeping a balance of power in Congress between the slave states and free states. He also had these discussions about “what if” and his favorite was that if England had won the Revolutionary War that they would have gradually phased out slavery and there would have been no Civil War. We also had a lively discussion about what if Booth had missed.
    World War I is another one that continually is studied to see how it could have been prevented.
    War is not always inevitable. The Cuban Missile Crises is an example. Nuclear war seemed not only probable but inevitable. Yet Kennedy and Kruschev resisted enormous pressure to launch some kind of attack, yet it did not happen. Leaders of the world’s powers need to learn from these

  16. anjin-san says:

    made compromises increasingly difficult.

    What sort of compromise are you thinking about? Limits on the number of times a slave could be whipped? Captured runaways could be maimed but not tortured to death? Female slaves would have to be over 18 before they could be raped? Only half of a family could be sold off and forever separated from their kin?

    Do tell…

  17. Dazedandconfused says:


    The Fugitive Slave Act, by allowing bands of bounty hunters to seize blacks they deemed to be fugitive slaves with impunity (and of course, this was abused), can be blamed for a great deal of the radicalization. There is no solution to the problem of a free state and a slave state sharing a border, and it might have been better not to try.

    It was a Pyrrhic victory for the South won in the 1850 Compromise. The South probably blew their best shot in 1850, BTW. Had they seceded then, Millard Fillmore would have been very hard pressed to muster the North to war against the South. I’d call it a no way. Ten years of bounty those hunters changed the picture a great deal. It was humiliating for State governments to admit they couldn’t save their own citizens from what were (a best) little better than roving bands of thugs.

  18. Barry says:

    @aFloridian: ” While the radical abolitionists and Southern fire-eaters who controlled the narrative certainly make it seem unavoidable, cooler heads could have prevailed, just as they could in any war. ”

    The abolitionists didn’t control the narrative; they never had the power to even hold a compromise position (the slaver SCOTUS demonstrated that).

  19. anjin-san says:

    cooler heads could have prevailed, just as they could in any war

    I think that’s what Neville Chamberlain thought…

  20. Tyrell says:

    Doug: you brought up the fact of expansion as a major cause of conflicts. This of course went along with and was a natural result of Manifest Destiny, a controversial term today if there ever was one. Today “Manifest Destiny” is regarded by many as a blight on this country’s development, an evil. But think of what this country would be today without it: most likely a confederation of mainly northeastern city-states type arrangement. I would also add that most students, even in high school, have never heard of Manifest Destiny.
    “Manifest Destiny ! Manifest Destiny !”

  21. Tyrell says:

    @anjin-san: Types of compromises: I am referring here to the compromises that came about mainly to bring new states into the union. There were no attempts that I am aware of to regulate slavery in terms of treatment and living conditions. There was a period of time before the Civil War when there were movements among citizens and groups to help improve the plight of the slaves. But this was limited to treatment; few called for anything close to equality. After the disastrous Nat Turner “revolt” moderating views advocating humane treatment were silenced. Extreme radicals that advocated violence took over.

  22. Andre Kenji says:


    There were no attempts that I am aware of to regulate slavery in terms of treatment and living conditions.

    Slaves in the US had relatively good living conditions, because most of them worked in the cotton fields. Slaves that worked in the sugar cane plantations that faced REALLY violent and miserable conditions. A cynical could even argue that Jim Crow Laws were not an improvement over slavery.

    Slavery, not the living conditions, was the problem.

  23. PD Shaw says:

    To avoid the Civil War, one or more of these things would have been necessary:

    1. No Missouri Compromise. The compromise in retrospect cemented the connection between Southern political power and the expansion of slavery. While the early Republic worked to reduce and eliminate slavery through gradual emancipation, this was rejected for Missouri and constituted a sea change where slavery would no longer be a necessary evil and a difficult problem, but a virtue. Also, problematic was the “second” Missouri compromise which encouraged some Northern states to bar black migration.

    2. Internal improvements. No particular point in time, but Madison’s veto of the Bonus Bill of 1817, Jackson’s Maysville Road veto, and the untimely death of William Henry Harrison, helped confine the South to a slave-based economy. Gradual emancipation worked in the North because of a diversified economy. Had Virginia moved towards gradual emancipation, it would have marginalized the other slave states.

    3. Democratic Party not a slave doctrinaire party. Part of the lack of gradualist compromise stems from the Democratic Party being a pro-slavery party, while the Whigs were open to both anti- and pro-slavery views, and compromise politicians could be found there. The Whigs lost their moment with the death of Harrison and were not terribly relevant thereafter. The Democratic Party would have been less doctrinaire without the 2/3rds rule for Presidential candidates (the slave power veto).

    4. No Dredd Scott decision. Justice Taney made all Northerners insecure about slavery coming to their neighborhood soon.

  24. Matt Bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:
    Great synopsis sir.

    I think that anyone who believes the Civil War was avoidable or was due to “radicals” on both sides fails to appreciate how slavery was an issue that, in the end, would allow no compromise. Either it had to be allowed or it had to be ended.

    As long as significant portion of the country was willing to go to war to prevent it from being ended, then there would always be a rebellion.

    And given how fundamentally it was tied both to an economic and social structure, it’s impossible to see a point where the peculiar institution would be allowed to die (or set on a path towards its eventual demise).

  25. Matt Bernius says:


    There were no attempts that I am aware of to regulate slavery in terms of treatment and living conditions.

    This is bizarre and anachronistic thinking. Slaves were considered personal property.

    One need only look to the current difficulties facing animal cruelty laws — or better yet firearm control — to imagine how any attempt at top down treatment and living condition reforms would go.

    As has been pointed out, historically African American slaves were the only people explicitly forbidden from being able to be *taught* literacy (note that it wasn’t just a crime to learn, it was a crime to teach). I can just imagine how well other types of reforms would go. Not to mention that there were not regulatory structures in place for the enforcement of such rules.

    The fact is that this type of “outside the box” thinking is (a) not tethered to reality, and (b) serves to somehow imagine a “better” type of slavery was possible.

    It also has a subtle “blame the abolistionists for starting a war” vibe to it (that I suspect might be tied to your proud southern upbringing).

  26. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    Extreme radicals that advocated violence took over.

    You don’t seem to understand that slavery itself was violence incarnate. The violence started with slaveholders and the society that enabled them. Eventually they were consumed by a fire that they themselves ignited.

    It’s interesting, in a morbid way, watching you try to rationalize your way around this.

  27. sam says:


    I’ve heard it said (albeit anecdotally) that John Quincy Adams referred to the looming threat of civil war as the last battle of the American Revolution.

    Many years ago, I was listening to the late Robert Hughes, the Australian art critic, discussing American cultural history. One thing he said that has stayed with me was that the antebellum Southern culture was created by dispossessed Cavaliers, those on the losing side of the English Civil Wars. And it struck me that Northern culture was created by those who defeated the Cavaliers, the Puritans. So, I thought, in a sense, the American Civil War was really the last act of the English Civil Wars. This idea, Cavalier against Puritan, I discovered later, was given wide currency in the years before the War, the differences cast, by both sides, as biological differences between Northerner and Southerner. See, Puritans vs. Cavaliers.

    Given the depth of animosity on both sides, the completely different worlds that the sides inhabited, worlds that Tocqueville limned in Democracy in America, and the suppurating sore of slavery, I cannot help but think the Civil War was foreordained.

  28. sam says:

    One other thing. I took David Blight’s Yale course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 (highly recommended). For those of an economic bent, Blight pointed out that the most valuable property in the United States, worth more than all the farms, factories, and businesses combined, was property in slaves. It is impossible for me to think that that property would have been given up without a fight.

  29. sam says:


    I’ve always been astounded that non-slave holding whites went to war so enthusiastically for a system that did not benefit them

    Yes. The supreme political achievement of the Southern aristocracy was its success in convincing poor whites that slavery was in their interests.

  30. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Beg to differ. It was dying in the northern parts of the south, indeed it died out most everywhere in the world without somebody stomping the crap out somebody. It was, essentially, a way to deal with labor shortages. Once you can find all the labor you need for just the times when you need it, the condition of living in close proximity with a crowd of people who just might kill you if they get a shot, can be dispensed with. The advent of modern farm machinery would certainly have changed the game.

  31. Mr. X says:


    Last time I checked Utah, Montana, Idaho and northern Colorado that’s trying to secede from gun grabbing ‘Commierado’ in Denver and Boulder isn’t part of the Old Confederacy. It’s no coincidence though that we’re discussing the first Civil War as certain hardcore Obamanistas peddle the Obama as the Second Lincoln who will crush the states themes, and the Department of Defense just issued a directive stating that the military can intervene if state authorities are UNWILLING to enforce certain federal edicts:


    What do you think that means? Un huh, good ole’ Kansas which fought Confederate guerillas for the Union, and even issued Jayhawk irregulars to slaughter civilians who harbored Johnny Rebs, might just get invaded by the 82nd Airborne if Governor Brownback orders the arrest of a BATF agent enforcing an Obama executive order on guns.

  32. Mr. X says:


    This is good stuff. The Puritans though have infiltrated the GOP thoroughly, at least the Puritan sense of being among the elect while others are predestined to damnation. Libertarianism and ‘Paulism’ is more in line with the Anabaptist and Quaker dissenting traditions. The hardcore Democrat Party (not everyone who votes Democrat, mind you, I’m talking about the party elites including Pelosi) is totally Puritan despite the oddness of associating a pro-gay marriage pro-abortion party with that label. But think about it — they believe they’re among the elect and therefore turning loose the IRS on their opponents, harassing them with the FBI, and using the EPA and sending armed agents to raid Gibson Guitar is all justified against the enemies of Progress. Just like the Nazis sincerely believed they were exterpating obstacles to the Master Race.

  33. anjin-san says:

    The supreme political achievement of the Southern aristocracy was its success in convincing poor whites that slavery was in their interests.

    This effect is still in action. How many people in America that are living paycheck to paycheck are convinced that a tax cut for Mitt Romney and Donald Trump is in their best interests…

  34. Mr. X says:


    This is what gives me hope that Civil War 2.0 can be avoided

    Contrary to the assertions on MSNBC that any and all State’s taking the enforcement of the Bill of Rights into their own hands was ‘settlled at Appomattox ‘(as if the Northern Victory somehow invalidated the Kentucky resolutions championed by Thomas Jefferson some sixty years earlier that explicitly avowed the state’s rights to nullify unconstitutional, as opposed to merely stupid laws) I think when the States finally get the cojones to arrest lawless federal officials who violate the 1st, 2nd, and even 4th amendments (Gen. Clapper getting arrested on the green in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, anyone?) of their citizens, Washington will have to back off. Because the alternative will be progressives basically siding with a federal regime that starts blackbagging or droning uppity governors or state legislatures and literally bombing its own people Assad style.

    Since progressivism today unlike in the 1860s cannot be squared with marching into states that are deemed not so progressive (no slaves to liberate), I believe the Leviathian will back down.

    Either that, or it will just go full fascist and toss the remaining liberals wondering why fedgov has to wage war on whole swathes of the population in the same modern day Andersonvilles as the Three Percenters.

    As Edwin de Viera said, sooner or later though an ambitious, uncompromised governor, maybe in Texas (uncompromised excludes Rick Perry), is just going to say, ‘Enough of this crap. The dollar is now toilet paper, and we here in Austin can’t print our own money. But we can damn sure issue state-certified silver coinage. Up yours D.C. and Federal Reserve, we’re going our own way on this one’. You’ll note, for example, that the recent DoD directive authorizing military action in the states when the state authorities are UNWILLING to enforce federal directives (gun confiscation, cough cough) was issued in February, not long after Texas demanded its gold back from the Federal Reserve’s empty vaults in New York City:


    ‘Comprehensive immigration reform’ and inundating Texas is an attempt to head off this scenario at the pass. I don’t think it will succeed because most of the Hispanics who wind up legalized in Texas will either become more conservative themselves or simply remain indifferent.

  35. Mr. X says:


    DAVID: Bottom up?

    EDWIN: The beauty of the constitutional system is, we have these intermediate political bodies called the state governments that have certain reserved constitutional authority. They haven’t been exercising it for a long time, but it’s there, and part of that is monetary, and interestingly enough this has already been decided by the Supreme Court. It’s not as if I’m inventing this idea.

    After the Civil War, we had a similar situation. Before they went back to gold redemption, you had depreciating legal tender Treasury notes circulating, and there was gold and silver circulating as well. That had not been withdrawn from circulation, so in the first case of this kind, the State of Oregon had a law that required that its taxes be paid in gold and silver coin and someone tried to pay in legal-tender Treasury notes on the theory that Congress has made these legal tender for all debts and therefore that overrides the laws of the State of Oregon requiring payment of taxes in gold and silver.

    Well, the case gets all the way to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court says “No, wrong. The states have residual sovereignty.” They are sovereign governments, except to the extent that they’ve surrendered certain powers to the national government, and one of the powers they have not surrendered is the power of taxation – one of the basic governmental powers. I guess you could include borrowing and spending, so forth and so on, but they have the right to perform basic governmental functions, taxation being one of them.

    If a state determines for its own purposes it needs to tax in gold coin and silver coin or bullion, then the state can do it and Congress has nothing to say about it. From which it would follow that step number one would be for a state to start saying, “We’re going to tax or spend or borrow,” or whatever, in gold coin, silver coin, gold bullion, silver bullion.

  36. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Mr. X:

    I think it would be plausible Texas could secede from the Union without another civil war, except for the oil. Tough break there. Oh well.

  37. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Wrong. LBJ carried 6 of the 11 states of the old Confederacy (VA, NC, FL, TN, AR, TX). Not until 1972 did a Republican carry all 11.

  38. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @sam: David Hackett Fischer explores this question (among others) in ALBION’S SEED, a study of different groups that came to the American colonies.

  39. al-Ameda says:


    Wrong. LBJ carried 6 of the 11 states of the old Confederacy (VA, NC, FL, TN, AR, TX). Not until 1972 did a Republican carry all 11.

    Actually, in 1964 Goldwater carried Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – arguably the heart of the Confederacy. Direct fall out from passage of the Civil Rights Act.

  40. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @al-Ameda: True. But 4 of the 5 most populous Southern states went Democratic.

  41. al-Ameda says:

    and of course by 1968, the Democratic Party carried none of the Southern states of the old confederacy. The ‘Southern Strategy’ was on, the electoral migration of Southern White voters to the Republican Party was underway.

  42. alarmas says:

    Was The American Civil War Avoidable? Gracias por compartir con todos nosotros toda esta amena información. Con estos granitos de arena hacemos màs grande la montaña Internet. Enhorabuena por este blog.