As mentioned in my last post, Dave Evans of Georgia took issue with my characterization of the Confederate flag as the “slaveowning banner.”
I should point out that Mr. Evans isn’t alone in thinking this. Even comparatively-normal Texas has this completely backwards monument to the Southern Confederacy on the lawn of the Capitol. “Confederate dead,” it says, “Died for state rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The people of the South, animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in 1861. The North resorted to coercion. The South, against overwhelming numbers and resources, fought until exhausted.”
So it is a common belief that the war was about something other than preserving the abomination of slavery. But Mr. Evans presents one of the silliest possible arguments in favor of that proposition. Over to him:
If it really had been “all about” slavery then why did Lincoln endorse and get the Northern dominated Congress to pass the Corwin Amendment which would have enshrined slavery in the US constitution making it irrevocable? Why did the original 7 seceding states not readily agree to re-enter the union with irrevocable slavery protected by the US Constitution?
The Corwin Amendment was a strange constitutional amendment that made it out of Congress in the dying days of the Buchanan Administration. A last ditch effort to prevent secession, it banned any future constitutional amendments to alter slavery: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any state, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said state.”
It was strongly backed by William Seward and President-elect Lincoln endorsed it in a letter. Why would they do that if they hated slavery?
Simple: they knew the Corwin Amendment would be toothless. In 1861 there were 15 slave states. That was enough to do a pretty good job of preventing any anti-slavery amendments to the Constitution, at least until the number of free states hit 45 ... which was not going to happen anytime soon. (There were 19 free states at the beginning of the war.) Even you think that Delaware and Maryland were going to abolish slavery in the immediate future, then the abomination of slavery would still be safe from constitutional amendments until the number of free states reached 39, even without the Corwin Amendment.
In other words, the Corwin amendment was complete bullshit. It prevented Congress and the states from doing what the current constitutional set-up already prevented them from doing. Devoted abolitionists knew that they were giving away precisely nothing by endorsing it. What it was, was a political Hail Mary pass ... maybe the secessionists would be dumb enough to be conciliated, even though it did nothing to guarantee the expansion of slavery and it did nothing to prevent Congress and the free states from continuing to whittle away at forced labor short of changing the Constitution.
The South did not fall for it.
There was a real “compromise” proposal out there that would have satisfied the South: the Crittenden compromise. It allowed for the expansion of slavery and insured that escaped slaves would not become automatically free in the North. The Republicans were not having any of that. So it foundered.
Note what nobody offered to try to make peace: a deal to reduce tariffs. Not even an agreement to, say, turn over tariff revenues to state governments rather than fund internal improvements. That is because secession had nothing to do with trade policy or infrastructure spending.
I doubt that much of this is new, although most of the easily accessible stuff fails to point out why the Corwin Amendment conceded nothing to the South. So I hope that I have added at least a little value. If not, enjoy the pictures of Austin!
Further thoughts always welcome.