A Party Quite Revolutionary
The Republican Party, even after subjugating Americans in the South in 1865 and holding the North under virtual martial law during the war, “maintained its power by force and fraud, known as Reconstruction.”
The author below asserts that it “would have been far better to allow the American Union to dissolve at the will of the people” . . . as there was “nothing whatever in the legacy of the founders or in the theory of self-government to prevent this, or that argues against it.”
A Party Quite Revolutionary
“Though it is not widely known, the Confederacy had commissioners in Washington ready to make honorable arrangements – to pay for the federal property in the South, assume their share of the national debt, and negotiate all other questions. Lincoln would not deal with these delegates directly. Instead, he deceived them into thinking that Fort Sumter would not be reinforced – thus precipitating reaction when reinforcement was attempted. Even so, the bombardment of Fort Sumter was largely symbolic. There were no casualties, and, remember, almost all other forts in the South had already peacefully been handed over.
Sumter itself did not necessarily justify all-out civil war; it was simply the occasion Lincoln was waiting for. Even after the War progressed it would have been possible, with a Northern government on traditional principles, to have made peace short of the destruction that ensued.
Or it would have been possible, as millions of Northerners wanted, to have sustained a war for the Union, a gentlemen’s disagreement over the matter of secession that was far less destructive and revolutionary than the War turned out to be. Many Northerners favored this and supported the War reluctantly and only on such grounds – a suppressed part of American history. A great deal of death and destruction, as well as the maiming of the Constitution, might have been avoided by this approach.
This did not happen. Why?
Because, in fact, for Lincoln and his followers it was the revolution that was the point. Throughout the War and Reconstruction, the Republican Party behaved as a revolutionary party – though sometimes using conservative rhetoric – a Jacobin party, bent on ruling no matter what, on maintaining its power at any cost. At times they even hampered the Northern war effort for party advantage. It is very hard to doubt this for anyone who has closely studied the behavior of the Republicans during this period rather than simply picking out a few of Lincoln’s prettier speeches to quote.
Lord Acton, the great English historian of liberty, wrote: “The calamity . . . was brought on . . . by the rise of the republican party – a party in its aims and principles quite revolutionary.” And when it was all over, Acton remarked that Appomattox had been a greater setback for the cause of constitutional liberty than Waterloo had been a victory. James McPherson, the leading contemporary historian of the Civil War, though he approves rather than deplores the revolution that was carried out, agrees that it was a revolution.”
(Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, excerpts pp. 138-139)