Posts tagged Robert E. Lee

Re: “Not just the signature on a series of essays”


You may or may not be aware of this, but many active slavers, among them John Taylor of Caroline, described slavery as an “evil” while simultaneously opposing, both in their words and their deeds, all immediate efforts to end it. “Evil” is a word which has many shades of meaning, and in the 18th and 19th centuries it was far more commonly used than it is today to refer not only to deliberate acts of wickedness, but also to more generally bad conditions such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or general ignorance and folly. Many anti-abolitionists and slavers viewed slavery as an “evil” in the latter sense (in that they would rather be rid of it, but did not believe that white slavers had any immediate moral obligation to stop enslaving the black people that they held captive). Robert E. Lee, for example, was of this school of thought (the letter in which he famously described slavery as a “moral and political evil” was actually a letter primarily devoted to denouncing abolitionism as a doctrine and Northern abolitionists as a group). So was John Taylor of Caroline. So was Jefferson, at times, although at other times he made hypocritical gestures towards a more anti-slavery position. It is either pure ignorance, pure folly, or pure chicanery to try to represent this position (which recognizes no moral obligation to stop enslaving actually existing slaves, and which explicitly prefers the indefinite continuation of slavery unless and until all black people could be ethnically cleansed from their life-long homes in the American South and forced to foreign colonies in Africa) as an anti-slavery position. Real abolitionists in the 19th century were quite familiar with this position (since it was the official position of the American Colonization Society, an organization of which John Taylor of Caroline was an early supporter and officer), and they denounced it furiously. (See, for example, William Lloyd Garrison’s Thoughts on African Colonization.) As well they should have, since the position is, first, racist rubbish, and, second, quite clearly calculated to ease the consciences of squeamish slavers rather than to free those held in bondage. Those who sentimentally wished for slavery to end, somehow or another, in some far-off day which they perpetually deferred in the name of some other goal that justified their keeping slaves in the meantime — as, for example, with John Taylor of Caroline and his dreams of a Negerrein Virginia — no more count as anti-slavery for those idle remarks than George W. Bush counts as anti-war for having said (in his speech announcing the Iraq war) that war is terrible and he longs to live in peace.

This is the necessary context — that is, the context of John Taylor of Caroline’s actual thoughts about the nature of the “evil” in question and what if anything ought to be done to “alleviate it” (short of “wholly cur[ing]” it), and what all that actually meant in practice for the many black people whose slave-labor he himself was living off of while he wrote those lines — that your isolated use of that single quotation, and your frankly outrageous attempt to paint this active slaver as being anti-slavery, omits.

As for your accusations of plagiarism, I thank you for quoting the passages that you claim to have “caught” me plagiarizing. I’ll be happy to let the reader judge whether what I wrote could fairly be described as “plagiarizing” either of the other passages that you mention here.

Re: Smearbund Funnies

Have I been inducted into the Beltwaytarian Illuminati without having heard about it? If so, I eagerly await my imminent influx of cocktail party invites and Kochtopus cash.


The declarations of states are not reflective of their citizens …

No, but they are reflective of the opinions of the state governments at the time that those state governments determined to secede.

Of course, many if not most people in many southern states at the time felt differently. For starters, many if not most people in many southern states at the time were black slaves.

The white southerners who fought as common soldiers often had very different views of the import and justification for the war than those held by their governments. But of course it was their governments, and not they, who made the political and military decisions that we’re discussing here.

Charles H.,

I agree with you that any honest review of what the secessionists said (especially what they said at the time of the secession debate, rather than when they wrote their memoirs in the 1870s) would very quickly reveal that the perpetuation and expansion of race slavery was absolutely central to the Confederate cause. However, it would be an ignoratio elenchi to follow that evidence with the conclusion that ending or limiting race slavery must have been absolutely essential to the Union cause.

When people claim that the Southern states had the “right” to secede, what they mean is that a minority– adult white male landowners– had the right to decide for everyone else what form of government they would live under, and whether their basic human rights would be recognized.

I’m sure that when many people claim that, that is indeed what they mean, but I don’t think it’s at all fair to impute that meaning to most of the writers at or the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Whatever faults they may have (and some of them have a lot), most of the people in question are anarchists, who believe that no government whatever, state, federal, or other, has any legitimate right to compel anyone’s allegiance. Their point about the right of secession is that adult white male Southern landowners had a right to determine for themselves (and themselves alone) what form of government, if any, they should live under, a right which any principled and honest believer in the principle of government by consent would have to concede they do have. The obvious and hideous atrocity of southern race slavery hardly justifies military invasion and bayonet-point Unionism; what it justifies is the (Garrisonian) strategy of embracing peaceful disunion, and then supporting southern slaves in their efforts to secede from the from the illegitimate government created by their quasi-secessionist slave-drivers.

If you’re not already familiar with it, I’d like to recommend J.R. Hummel’s excellent book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, which ably defends the Garrisonian-disunionist position and presents a much more accurate and sophisticated libertarian analysis of the war than the stuff churned out by, for example, Tom DiLorenzo or Tom Woods.


I think the issues at hand are a bit more complex than cultural affinities. When I see Yankees like Tom DiLorenzo running around affecting a fondness for the ol’ Moonlight-and-Magnolias, I just find it ridiculous. But when I see them actively distorting history for polemical purposes, in order to whitewash rabid slave-driving statists like John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, or Jefferson Davis (cf. for example 1, 2, 2, 3, etc., not to mention DiLorenzo’s periodic attempts to portray Lysander Spooner, the author of the Plan for the Abolition of Slavery and a conspirator in an abortive attempt to rescue John Brown from the gallows, as an advocate for “peaceful” gradualist emancipation, I think there is something deeper and nastier at work that needs to be exposed and confronted.

Of course, those people who, in the name of “moderation” or “compromise” or politesse, attempt to water down or dissemble about libertarian principles on hard cases, or who try to marginalize radical libertarians for simply for making uncomfortably libertarian points — a group that intersects with, but certainly does not exhaust and certainly is not limited to — the staff at Cato and Reason deserves nothing but contempt for that kind of hand-wringing opportunism. But I don’t think it’s true that that’s the only reason that the Paulitarians and the VMI/LRC crew draw the kind of flak that they draw from within libertarian circles, or even from the Cato and Reason crowds specifically.