Tuesday, October 31, 2017


In a word, yes.  There had been compromise after compromise between proponents and opponents of slavery.

Early on there was the 3/5 compromise at the constitutional convention in 1788.  The constitution calls for seats in the House of Representatives to be apportioned according to population.  Slave states wanted seats allocated for their slave populations too.  Free states said, since slaves can't vote, they should not have representation at all.  If you insist they are chattel property like cows or bales of cotton, they should have no more representation than cows or bales of cotton do.  Slave states said, rather contradictorily, slaves were people and should be represented.  A compromise was had between the two positions and slaves, though they still could not vote, counted as 3/5 of a free person for census purposes.

As the country grew and new states were organized and admitted to the union, the custom arose to maintain equal numbers of free and slave states so as to keep the senate evenly divided.  States were admitted in pairs, one slave, one free.  Mississippi and Indiana in 1816, Alabama and Illinois in 1818, Missouri and Maine in 1820, Arkansas and Michigan in 1836, Florida and Iowa in 1845, and Texas and Wisconsin in 1845 and 1848.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 provided that states in the territory of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36 degrees 30' would be free and those south of it slave.  The Compromise of 1850 provided that California could be admitted as a free state with the proviso it was always to have one pro-slavery senator and one anti-slavery senator.

This series of compromises worked.  The union maintained an uneasy equilibrium until 1854 when Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's antagonist in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, pushed the Kansas-Nebraska Act through congress.  That provided that each would-be state would hold a plebiscite to determine whether to apply for admission as a free state or a slave state.

We cannot thank Douglas for this innovation because the plebiscites were the occasion of a lot of violence, murder, mayhem, and skullduggery, culminating in the near-civil-war in Bleeding Kansas, as it was called.  It ended in Kansas' admission as a free state in 1861, by which time the national civil war had begun.

Then came the election of 1860.  The two main parties, the Democrats and the Whigs had both splintered in the controversy over the extension of slavery into the territories.  The Democrats split into the Northern Democrats (Stephen Douglas), the Southern Democrats (John C. Breckinridge).  The Whigs split into the Constitutional Union (John Bell), and the Republicans (Abraham Lincoln).

Of the 8 candidates for the Republican nomination, Lincoln was the most moderate and the party adopted his platform of no interference with slavery in the states while opposing extending it into the territories not yet states.

Let that sink in a moment.  Lincoln and the Republicans did not oppose slavery as it was.  They opposed only its extension into new states.

The Democratic Party convention met in Charleston.  Before they could nominate a candidate the 'Fire-Eater' extreme pro-slavery Alabama delegation walked out, followed by all of the Deep South delegations.  The Democrats adjourned and met again in Baltimore.  This time, 110 Southern delegates (led by “Fire-Eaters”) walked out again when the convention would not adopt a resolution supporting extending slavery even into territories whose voters voted not to have it. 

Let that sink in too.  This is the moment when the Civil War became a runaway train that could not be stopped.  The Fire-Eaters rejected all of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  

They reiterated their rejection of all compromise when they led the Southern states into secession and civil war a few months later, after Lincoln was elected president.  

Looking at the map, one can see that those areas of the territories not yet states that could support a labor-intensive warm weather crop that required a lot of water, like cotton or tobacco, were NONE.  Even today no cotton or tobacco grows in any of the lands that were territories in 1860.  Everyone knew this in 1860 better than we do today.

The Fire-Eaters knew that there would never be slavery in the territories.  What they rejected was the insult of banning slavery in the territories, the implication that slavery was morally suspect and to be banned anywhere.  They objected to the principle of limiting the spread of slavery rather than the possibility that it actually could be spread to Puget Sound or the Dakotas or New Mexico.

The Fire-Eaters disrupted their country and led it into civil war for no real reason, for the principle of the thing, because they were unable or unwilling to compromise.

Lincoln opposed the extension of slavery into the territories.  But so did the facts of geography, agriculture, and economics.  There was not going to be slavery in the territories, Lincoln or no Lincoln.

The mood of the Fire-Eaters and the antebellum South they represented is shown us in the scene in 'Gone with the Wind' when news of the fall of Fort Sumter reaches the dress ball at Tara Plantation.  The practical Rhett Butler tells the jubilant guests that the North has three times their manpower, all the cannon factories, most of the railroads, and most of the industrial capacity.  A happy gentlemen replies with a shout that "One Southerner can lick ten Yankees!".   All repeat and toast that dubious proposition and the ball continues, merrier and more festive than ever.  Rhett Butler shrugs and leaves to go into the war profiteering business.

That idiocy and the Fire-Eaters inability to compromise led directly to the secession, to the clash of armies, and to the ruin of the nation.

Trump's Chief of Staff, General Kelly, recently remarked that failure to compromise caused the Civil War.  He was exactly right.  The gotcha instincts of the press corps that he was suggesting that slavery was OK are just reprehensible.  The press are often just as nasty, ignorant, and dishonestly partisan as the Trumpniks.

The inevitable local angle is that the Bay Area counties were for Lincoln, and the rest of the state was for Breckinridge and Douglas.  The Bay Area counties carried the state for Lincoln because of their greater population and because the vote against Lincoln was split.

No comments:

Post a Comment