The Case Against Lincoln and for John Brown

Published:April 2, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, an engraving that dates to 1863 (National Park Service)

From an essay (h/t) in Reason magazine:

A strong, but highly nuanced and conditional, case can be made that President Abraham Lincoln was wrong to violently prevent secession much as Russia is wrong to do so now against illiberal Chechnya. Historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel persuasively contends that had Lincoln let South Carolina and its allies leave prior to the firing on Fort Sumter, the Upper South would have stayed in the Union. Limited to a weak rump of Gulf coast states and South Carolina, the new nation would have faced a grim future of isolation, slave revolts, runaways, and eventual collapse.

An even more powerful moral case for self-determination can be made, though Confederate multiculturalists will never do it, in defense of the insurgents at Harpers Ferry led by John Brown. If any individual during the civil war period deserves the accolade of hero, it is not Lincoln or Davis but Brown’s ally, Lysander Spooner. Spooner’s antislavery interpretation of the Constitution had inspired Frederick Douglass during the 1850s. Later, Spooner opposed the war but, all the while, he was consistent in his support for the inalienable rights of all individuals.

IMAGE: The Bombardment of Fort Sumter, an engraving that dates to 1863 (National Park Service)


2 Comments on “The Case Against Lincoln and for John Brown”

  1. Lyle Smith

    This section of the Reason article I have a couple of problems with or questions about.

    First, although I agree a Deep South Confederacy would have been weaker without the four other upper South states, I’m not sure the Upper South states would have put up with slave rebellions south of them or helped runaway slaves much. It was Virginians, after all, who ended up convicting John Brown and hanged him.

    Second, although I haven’t read what Rummel has written, I would imagine the Upper South might would have seceded anyway once a Republican government tried to abolish slavery. Maybe they stay in if their slave holders are sufficiently compensated, but I think any real move to abolish slavery probably would have increased their chances of joining with the Deep South.

  2. Duane

    Lincoln is often praised loudly for his stalwart position leading to, and pressing onward, for the civil war. It is interesting to note the slavery ended everywhere else on the Western hemisphere without such bloodshed. Surely there was a way to end it peacefully here too.

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