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Announcement | Audio | Transcript Transcript

The Civil War
November 17, 1999
Henry E. Mayer, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

Contents

Introductory Remarks

Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is David Theroux, founder and president of the The Independent Institute, and tonight we will be discussing “The Civil War and American Leviathan,” a rather provocative topic. As many of you know, we hold Independent Policy Forums on a regular basis and this evening’s program is one that we’re quite excited about. For those of you new to the Institute, hopefully, you’ve all gotten a packet of information about our programs. Those of you who are unfamiliar to our programs, The Independent Institute is a non-profit scholarly public policy research institute. We produce many books, a quarterly journal, and we conduct many conferences and media projects based on our studies. In case you haven’t put your eye on the fall issue of The Independent Review, you’ll see that it is particularly nice because it has an article by Jeff Hummel.

Our next event is going to be on January 19th entitled, “Freedom, Terror and Falsehoods: Lessons of the 20th Century.” The speaker will be Robert Conquest, who is an eminent historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He is the author of the new book, Reflections on a Ravaged Century. Some of you may be familiar with his books, most notably, The Great Terror, The Harvest of Sorrow and Stalin: Breaker of Nations. In February, we will be holding a program entitled, “Global Warming: Fact or Fiction?” The speaker will be Dr. S. Fred Singer, who is an author of a book that we published, entitled Hot Talk, Cold Science, and Dr. Singer is the author of many books. He’s also president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. He was the founding director of the US Weather Satellite Service, former director of the Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics, former Chief Scientist for the US Department of Transportation and on and on. So I hope that you’ll all be able to join with us for these and future events.

For this evening, we are indeed delighted to have two of the most exciting authors and scholars on American history. Historians Henry E. Mayer and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel will be examining the Civil War as perhaps the greatest turning point in American history. Some even think it’s a greater turning point than the American Revolution. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s certainly a major turning point since the American Revolution. And those of you who have not seen their books, we hope that you will get a copy. This is Jeff’s book, which is called Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. It’s available, as you can see, in soft cover. Incidentally, you can’t buy this book any other place except here because we’re the only people, apparently, who have copies in the world right now. And the other book, of course, is Henry Mayer’s fantastic book, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery, for which he was a National Book Award finalist. And we hope that you will get copies of each.

In the course of the Civil War, the evil of slavery was abolished, yet the war established federal power over states, expanded federal power over individuals and—paradoxically—may have created precedents that restrict individual freedom today. So that’s part of the ongoing dispute or debate about the Civil War. The ideas and personalities of the Civil War are etched in American history. The Civil War is a topic for which there are probably more books written and published than any other subject in American history. Those of you who are Civil War buffs know the enormous extent of organizations and interest in all aspects of the Civil War. How the abolitionists, the contending political and business interests, the mobilization that led to the war, the conduct of the war and much more, shaped American society at that time and since will be part of our discussion tonight. The plan is that Henry Mayer will be the first speaker, and Jeff Hummel will speak afterward, and then we’ll open it up for Q&A. So our first speaker is Henry Mayer. Henry graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned his MA in history at the University of California Berkeley. As I mentioned, he’s the finalist for the 1998 National Book Award for his book All on Fire. He’s also won the J. Anthony Lucas Book Prize, the Boston Book Review’sa’s Rea Prize for Non-Fiction, the Commonwealth Club of California’s Silver Medal for Non-Fiction and the New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1998 for All on Fire. He’s also the author of the book, A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic, which is in a new edition, right?

Henry E. Mayer

It’s in paperback and there may be another new edition soon.

David J. Theroux

If you haven’t read this book, it’s really fantastic. It’s one of the most exciting books, I think, on the American Revolution. His reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other places. It’s a real pleasure to introduce Henry Mayer.

Henry E. Mayer

Thank you, David. I]m very glad to be here and to share the platform with Jeff Hummel, who has written, indeed, a most stimulating and interesting book, and we will get into some of the issues that he raises later on. The organizer is playing with fate here because he’s asked me to start by giving you a sort of half hour version of a talk I usually take nearly an hour to give, and I usually have slides and all this stuff. So I’m going to rush through some things, and then what I don’t say we’ll leave for questions and the discussion period.

The first thing I need to say is it’s not always been apparent, as I’ve gone around this year to people, that the Garrison story is part of the Civil War story. That’s really point number one. If you watched Ken Burns’s epic at the beginning of this decade, and I guess all of us did, Garrison goes by in a blink. Thirty seconds, no more. I haven’t gone back in timed it, but he’s not a great presence. And I think what we’re talking about with Garrison is a generation’s worth of work before we come to the period that we identify as the Civil War, because Garrison broke the silence on an issue that had been successfully, at the time, compromised at Philadelphia, so successfully compromised that it really didn’t figure very much in the debate over ratification, which is the principle focus of, or the dramatic focus of, my book on Patrick Henry. And it was the unfinished nature of the discussion over slavery and the Constitution that really led me to Garrison in the first place. Because for reasons I’ll explain later, if you ask me, I had a continuing interest in this issue of slavery and civil rights. So I went in search of Garrison, and I went in search first of a person who I understood from the blips in my history books as a crusading editor. And he was the editor who, please keep in mind that it is difficult to proceed without visual aides—these are the glossies from which the pictures in the book were made, that I then converted into slides to trot around to show audiences. So you’re getting, I guess, the grandfather here. And I have an original Liberator to show you in a little while. This is page one of the first Liberator. It came out January 1st, 1831. When I called the Boston Public Library at the outset of this project, because I said, “Well, I’ve seen the liberator on microfilm and pictures but I’d really like to hold some in my hand. Are there any still around? And she said “Oh, well, yeah, we have Garrison’s.” And I had this sort of goosebumps. But Garrison was a printer and printers save their work. And he had a complete file of the Liberator from day one to issue 1803. And he donated them, or his sons donated them, to the Boston Public Library. Now I’ll come back and tell you a little bit more about the Liberator in a minute, but this is who I went to find was this sort of crusading editor. And here is what he says in the first issue:

    “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language, but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, speak or write with moderation. No, no. Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm, tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher, tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it is fallen, but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. And I will be heard.”

This was his journalistic credo. He was the most independent of editors. And I was interested in finding out where the power came from to sustain this kind of work. But in searching for a journalistic crusader, I found a religious visionary. And I want to tell you a little bit about that and then go back and sketch his life.

The Liberator was there at the beginning when I called the library. The very last day, I was working on the photos, the last bit of research for this big, big project. I was in the Massachusetts Historical Society, and I had called up a bunch of things and with photo research, particularly on the last day, going pretty fast. And I had a plane to catch. I was coming back to California and I was tidying up my papers, and the librarian said there was one more item I had called up, and it was an oversize broadside and the card in the catalogue said “Broadside: Worcester, 1854.” And I don’t know why I called it up, and I called everything else that had abolition or anti-slavery on it. So I said “Oh, gee. All right.” Well, I went over and, because it was on a separate table because it was so big, and it was this huge broadside. This is a slight reduction of it. And when I looked at it carefully, I realized that Worcester wasn’t really the place, I mean, Worcester was the place where the printer was, but this occasion is a Fourth of July picnic like no other in American history. And this is the only physical remnant we have of it. It’s from 1854. I dated it because the railroad excursion rates were there and it’s the only year the rates were that way. They went up every year and they were lower the year before.

So what was this picnic? Well, this was a gathering of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. They had the picnics every year. This was right after Anthony Burns had been sent back to slavery from Boston after a week of protest, after President Pierce had sent the marines and a revenue cutter to supplement the soldiers all ready on duty in Boston to take this one guy back into slavery. And it was the turning point in Boston in terms of making abolition and anti-slavery respectable. Now, if you calculate it, it’s 25 years after Garrison started the Liberator. This has been a long journey. So this Fourth of July was conceived as not a celebration but as a period of mourning. Sojourner Truth was there, Abbey Kelly was there, Wendell Phillips was there, all the big abolition names were there. Henry David Thoreau, no relation, I think [to David Theroux, Founder and President of The Independent Institute]? No relation? Came over from Concord. He was not on the speaker’s list, but he had written something out and they let him say it, of course. And Garrison found his talk so spirited that he asked for a copy and he had it in the Liberator as the text within a couple of weeks. Thoreau’s talk was called “Slavery in Massachusetts,” and it was talking about the implication of Massachusetts citizens and the guilt of having returned this fugitive slave. But Thoreau’s talk was overshadowed by what Garrison did next.

Garrison talked, and he usually was very optimistic, very visionary. But that day he was quite mournful about the prospects for liberty. And he spoke at some length, and then he trumped himself by what he did. He held up a batch of papers and he lit them on fire. They were copies of the orders returning Burns to slavery and a copy of the Fugitive Slave Act itself. And he burned it and cried out with his great revivalist injunction, “Let all the people say amen.” And the picnic-goers all called out amen. And then he burned the commissioner’s orders, sending Burns back. And people cried out amen again and then he held up the Constitution of the United States, lit it and watched it burn and cried out, “Let the people say amen,” and everybody cried amen, although there were a few hisses, the reports go. And this was really the pinnacle of Garrison’s career in agitation and—some of you may realize this—I hadn’t realized this, but he was deliberately emulating Martin Luther’s burning of the Papal law that had excommunicated him for heresy. And he was acting out a ritual of iconoclasm that was really unprecedented in American history, and was calling people to a higher standard of citizenship, or sort of moral witness or a citizenship that went beyond the confines of the law. Thoreau’s talk had distilled a dozen years of this kind of Garrisonian agitation into an aphorism. Thoreau was wonderful at that. “The law cannot make men free, men have to make the law free.” And this was pure Garrisonism. And at Framingham in 1854, Garrison engaged in this symbolic expression of it that was really both inspiring and frightening. It got him a lot of attention—pro and con—but it summarized a decade’s worth of his thinking.

Now, let me back up and quickly sketch Garrison’s history and then come to what I think his achievements are. He was born in Newburyport in 1805. His father was a sailor who had been put out of work by the Jefferson embargo, pretty much, had turned to drinking and abandoned the family when he was three or four years old. His mother was a nurse, the kind of nurse that went and lived in other people’s homes to care for a newborn child and the just-delivered mother. And she had to leave her own children with other people while she did that. And she was a Baptist. Now, we all think of New England as all these big white Congregational churches and a certain kind of orthodoxy. New England in the early 19th century was alive with various kinds of dissenting sects and religions, of which the Baptists were a relatively well-established bunch. Garrison’s mother was a Baptist, although her occupation was nursing. Her calling was preaching. And she was a lay preacher who spoke in church, who founded women’s prayer meetings in most of the towns she lived in and Garrison was raised in this collective way by a church community steeped in piety, and that’s where a lot of this energy comes from.

So Garrison was an apprentice to a printer. He has a few years of regular schooling, nothing approaching high school education. He’s self-taught, he reads at night, he reads the great epics—Pilgrim’s Progress, Paradise Lost. He reads Shakespeare, he reads the Columbian Orator for the political side, and he reads the modern Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Shelley and Byron. And somehow he absorbed a lot of Byron’s titanic yearning for a reformed world and a willingness to confront established icons, and that sense of being an outlaw engaged in a righteous cause. He absorbed all that without succumbing to Byron’s impiety, which was what all the elders feared was going to happen for all these young people who were reading Byron. And he forges out of these strands a sort of evangelical piety and a certain political or romantic idealism and identity, as a reformer—what people of his time called a philanthropist (which now we’ve reduced to giving away money). If you look at the roots of the words, we’re talking about love of humanity—philo and anthro.

He was particularly interested in a number of reforms: temperance, Sunday school, that kind of thing, but nothing particularly caught for him, until he met a Quaker itinerant named Benjamin Lundy, who was going around the upper tier of Southern states and into New England, agitating against slavery and urging the formation of anti-slavery societies, particularly within the Quaker meetings, but also more generally. And he didn’t get very far in Boston but he did convert Garrison, and ultimately Garrison went to work for Lundy, running a newspaper in Baltimore, called The Genius of Universal Emancipation. And when they antagonized the Baltimore powers that be, largely Jacksonian Democrats, by aggressive attacks on slave-trading in Baltimore, the paper—Garrison was charged with criminal libel and the paper was shut down.

Criminal libel was seldom used and hadn’t been used in Maryland since the Revolution, really. And it was a real judicial repression and Garrison couldn’t pay the fine—actually didn’t want to pay the fine—went to jail, which of course deepened his convictions, and when he got out of jail, he was propelled into the founding of the Liberator. The Liberator was sustained in the beginning by small communities of free black people in Boston and a few reformers among the religious elite in Boston. But it was definitely an outcast kind of thing. And for perspective, what I want to remind you of is in 1831, when Garrison did this, number one, he was 25 years old. The other people of his age cohort, we won’t hear from for a generation. Lincoln was still splitting rails in Illinois. Davis, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee had just graduated from West Point and were on army duty. Stephen A. Douglas was reading law in New York. Frederick Douglass was learning to read as a slave in urban Baltimore. Harriet Beecher Stowe was teaching composition in her sister’s female seminary. And all their lives and everybody else’s a generation further on were going to be changed by what Garrison had said in motion.

The other thing in perspective to remember is this. When Garrison started the Liberator in 1831, the president of the United States was Andrew Jackson, who was a slave holder. Every president, with the exception of the two Adamses from Massachusetts, had been slaveholders. Every member of the bench, every clergyman, all the prominent political leaders all agreed that slavery was an institution peculiar to the South. We use “peculiar institution” in the sense of sort of disgust about this, as something set to one side or unique. That’s our interpretation of the word. In the 19th century when they said “peculiar,” they meant that local. And the idea was that slavery was an institution peculiar to the jurisdictions that had it and was not on the agenda, was not within the jurisdiction, of the US Constitution or the executive, legislature or judiciary.

Almost every political candidate believed that the only way slaves could be freed would be if they were to be voluntarily repatriated to Africa. From Jefferson on down, Henry Clay, all the major leaders, the clergy—all considered colonization a liberal reform solution to the problem of slavery. There was no possibility in their sort of political cosmos for envisioning black people as citizens. What Garrison says in that first Liberator, and what he continues to say throughout his career, is that abolition has to be accompanied by equal rights. And when Garrison is described as a fanatic and when the severity of his language is disparaged, it’s not the style that others found troublesome. The journalistic style of the period was very, swashbuckling; they called it slang-wanging and it was rough I mean, it was really a lot worse than today. And it wasn’t Garrison’s style that was the problem, it was the substance of the issues he aimed it at. He incurred a tremendous amount of abuse. He was nearly lynched in Boston.

Abolitionists in general encountered mob violence through most of the 1830s and it was largely on the issue—first, of breaking the silence and trying to force slavery onto the agenda. And it really took from 1831 to the mid-1840s, to get slavery onto the agenda. First, nobody wanted to talk about it and from 1846 on, no one could talk about anything else. And it was the kind of racist abuse that went on. I have some cartoons which are in the book. I won’t stop to show you, except for one in a few minutes, but it was really awful and that’s what got Garrison into trouble. It was the fusion of abolition and equality, the complete moral argument.

The second area that got him into trouble, of course, was his attack on the Constitution. And I think the implications of that attack I’ll leave to the discussion, but I want to gloss one cartoon for you because this is the only representation that I’ve ever seen of the Three-Fifths Clause.

Now, you all remember that the Three-Fifths Clause gave extra power to the slave-holding states on the basis of their slave population. It has nothing to do with slaves voting. Sometimes people sort of say it in a way that makes it seems that it has to do with 60 percent more votes in Congress and in the electoral college because you’re counting 60 percent of the black population’s three-fifths, as well as the white population. And when we think of the Civil War, the image that comes to mind, the visual image that comes to mind in, or the controversy, not the war itself, is the map with the Missouri Compromise line and then it extends out to the Pacific, and then you have Kansas and Nebraska and what happened with the Mexican territories, all these kind of territorial solutions. For the abolitionists, the territorial issue was the tip of the iceberg. What they were interested in was the question of uprooting slavery from the states. And constitutionally, their hands were tied, because pretty much the Constitution, the sort of implicit word of the Constitution and the existence of the Three-Fifths Clause, and the existence of the fugitive slave law, committed the Constitution to the protection of slavery and slave-holders’ property rights. This is an abolitionist version of that in which the interesting thing to me, when we had those westward movement pictures, we have Liberty moving westward and Liberty and America are depicted always as one. Here, Liberty and America are separate creatures, and neither one is doing very well. If you can see, this, you see, is America. Her plume is drooping. She’s weak, she’s hiding behind—her power is the slave representation clause—that’s what this is. The only visual representation I’ve ever seen. She has this slave—this person enslaved. Over here is Liberty and she looks even worse than America, she’s really drooping. And in the center is philanthropy. Remember, that’s the reformers’ name for themselves. Philanthropy is appealing to America to release the slave and revive Liberty. Philanthropy is holding the scroll and on it, it says all men are created equal. And essentially what this is doing is, the abolitionists are critiquing the Constitution from the standpoint of the Declaration of Independence. Their argument is the only way to morally, what would you say, purge or fumigate or cleanse, cleanse—that’s a more positive word—cleanse the Constitution is to liberate slaves, get rid of this shield, the phony shield of the Three-Fifths Clause, strengthen America by doing that and revive Liberty. And this is a very different vision of the whole Civil War controversy than you usually hear because it’s the abolitionist extremist vision that has not made its way in full dress into the textbook sort of account of the middle ground.

So Garrison persisted and Garrison always thought that moral suasion, building a public opinion on the basis of people coming to an understanding of the moral issues involved would ultimately lay the groundwork for a political movement. He was not interested in a sort of premature version of electoral politics because he thought with the South’s thumb on the scales, there was no possibility of constitutional amendments. And without constitutional amendments, anyone who came into office, no matter how well-intentioned, would be bound by the constitutional compromises to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. If they didn’t, then maybe there would be trouble and so on. What I want to show you is how he did it in terms of creating a public opinion. Week in and week out, he published this paper. The first Liberator and the one I showed you was about this size, and gradually the pages got bigger until I think this page is even bigger than what our morning paper is today. This came out every week and, as you see, doesn’t really look very much like our modern newspaper no big headlines, no little take out boxes of quotes, nothing. Now, if you think this is a lot to read, let’s open it up. And then there’s still more. So it would certainly take you a week to read it.

And do you know how it was printed? He set the outside pages and then printed them, hung them up to dry so the inside pages actually have the more current news. I’ll leave this out and you all can look at it later, but this is real rag paper, hard metal type, set by hand, often composed without paper, just from memory. And he did this week in and week out. He didn’t do it all by himself; he hired people. When he traveled, he had friends who would sit in the editorial chair for him. Now, he didn’t write it all himself. What this is—there’s one column that is filled with the worst kind of racist oppressive language, just to show people what they were up against. Then there’s a lot of stuff out of the Congressional Record. There are proclamations, there are sort of official things that show implications of the slave system. Then inside, there are editorials, whenever there’s an anti-slavery meeting, he then prints the text of the speeches. When some enlightened politician comes around to half-way support for something or other, he prints some of that. He conducts a lot of quarrels with other editors. He will clip an editorial, reprint it from another paper. And he will stud that editorial with little typographical marks: asterisks, daggers, so on and so on, and all his footnotes will be at the bottom. And then that editor, so critiqued, will reprint Garrison’s critique, answer it, and it’s sort of like Internet cut-and-pasting except it’s done the hard way. Real cut and paste, well, real set type print cut and paste and so on.

Now, I have seen in the library, these fan-like piles—this very neatly clipped stuff from other papers that Garrison, who was home at night or sometimes all day with this stuff, sorting out, finding the best things to select, because each week was a little anthology. There were his editorials, there were the letters, the debates in the Liberator went on and on and on, sometimes internal, intra-movement arguments—one question—and I’ll come back to it later, if you want, when the British people raise money for Frederick Douglass to buy his freedom, was that an ethical thing to do or not? And let’s leave the answer for a little while.

Anyway, if you just think of the tenacity and the persistence, this is not simply a crusading editor, this is somebody with a vision of a different kind of society and this is not only Garrison, this is a lot of folks writing in here—black and white. And what somebody said when the Liberator finally closed—the Liberator closed in December, 1865 and it was able to have in its next-to-last issue, the text of the just-ratified 13th Amendment that officially abolished slavery, purged it from the Constitution. So it was a very poetic ending for the Liberator, and people were kind of awed by it. By that time, of course, a lot had changed. Anyway, somebody said it was not a one-man stand, it was a perpetual Quaker meeting for 1,803 issues. It was really quite astonishing. The only artwork was this little drawing of a slave auction and then he added, in subsequent years, he added a comparative vision of freedom—free labor. And then in the 1850s, he joined those two visions—contrasting panels with a circular medallion that was a figure of Jesus Christ and the Golden Rule. Garrison had two bases for his agitation: the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence. And what happened in a way is they crashed in on each other, the two pillars, because he always envisioned a moral transformation that would ultimately occur through politics. And as you know, and as Jeff is going to probably talk about it in more detail when we get into the question period, the political system broke down over these issues.

Once Garrison got it on the agenda, the political system could not cope with it. And when Garrison talked about a second reformation or a second American Revolution, he meant it, I think, in metaphorical terms, the American culture heard it in physical terms. Our Revolution was a physical revolution, and so Garrison was a pacifist and non-resistant. He really was a practitioner of what Gandhi and King later would understand as “soul force.” That’s really what the Liberator is about—soul force. And essentially he was both heard and mis-heard because people, when finally persuaded of the immorality of slavery and the need to purge it from the Constitution, couldn’t do it through soul force. It only happened through military means and through this dreadful war that caused 600,000 deaths, and severely tested Garrison because he had to surrender his pacifism in order to support, to help get the war to the point where it was not simply a war for union, but was a war for abolition. Abolition was not an original aim of the war. And I know we’re going to talk about this later, so I’ll just get it out on the agenda now.

But look for one minute, this is Garrison—the youthful Garrison—you’ve seen on the cover on my book; this is Garrison in 1865 after the war in which the toll has really taken. He really aged tremendously in those few years. And this is a caricature of Garrison in the same month that Lincoln was getting ready to sign the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This is Vanity Fair, a democratic newspaper that aspired to be like Punch, which had a lot of caricatures in it. This is Garrison smoking some kind of bad, dark tobacco and a fetish pipe that is releasing all these creatures, savage creatures into the air. And this is not really very subtle, but the dreamy idealist that’s going to cause us all a big problem by this stuff he’s letting loose. And this is the climate in which abolition had to make its way. From the same newspaper, just to end on a constitutional note, this is an attempt to argue that slavery had nothing to do—you’ve seen this—slavery has nothing to do with the war. It’s called “Sambo Agonistes” and it’s having the slave pushing on the pillars of the constitutional temple and it says, “but they don’t fall.” Well, they did. And one of our problems—and I’ll end on this—is that we—we have never really understood the Civil War as a tragedy of race. We’ve understood it as a tragedy of flag. And that’s some, to a certain degree, obscured what really caused it, and because we backed into abolition—and Garrison came to recognize this. Because we backed into abolition, in a way, it didn’t last. And that’s both his tragedy and I think it’s ours.

David J. Theroux

Thank you so much, Henry. Our next speaker, Jeff Hummel, is associate professor at Golden Gate University where he teaches both economics and history. In addition to his book Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, Jeff is also the author of the scripts for an audio tape series—actually two series for Knowledge Products. The first being The Constitution that was narrated by Walter Cronkite, and the second was a series of tapes called The American Wars, narrated by the late George C. Scott. Jeff’s articles have appeared in Texas Law Review, International Philosophical Quarterly, The Independent Review and other publications. He’s also contributor to the Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography and he’s also contributor to one of the Independent Institute’s books, edited by Robert Higgs, called Arms, Politics and the Economy. Many of you may also be interested to know that Jeff was a tank platoon leader in the US Army. He received his undergraduate degree from Grove City College, and did his graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m very pleased to introduce Jeff Hummel.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

Thank you, David. That’s a nice introduction, and I want to thank you all for coming. It’s a real honor for me to be up here with Henry Mayer, because as some of you all ready know, I’m a great admirer of his book, and I hope you all take advantage of picking up a copy as soon as you’ve also bought a copy of mine. It is, I think, the definitive biography of William Lloyd Garrison. Let me talk a little bit about my book. Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men is a general history of the Civil War. It covers all aspects of the war: the outbreak, the military, political, economic dimensions, the consequences of the war, and it does so in a way that’s accessible to a general audience and you all know Christmas is coming up. But in the process of offering a narrative history, I have about a dozen and half of provocative theses in which I disagree with prevailing views. And suffering from the occupational hazard of all teachers, which is loving to hear myself talk, I could give you a two hour presentation on each one of those provocative arguments. But I’m going to try to summarize just the two that I consider to be the most salient, and then we’ll leave all the other issues for the question and answer.

One of the most important arguments I make is of course captured in the title Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. And some of you will be surprised to learn that that actually comes from Abraham Lincoln himself. When Lincoln was a very young man in 1838 in Springfield, he was speaking before the Lyceum, and he was giving a talk on the dangers of a future Napoleon who might seize the United States’ government and overthrow the Constitution. And in the course of that warning, Lincoln said, “Towering genius thirsts and burns for distinction and, if possible, will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving free men.”

I’m not the first to point out how chillingly self-referential that quotation is right down to the towering genius part because, of course, Lincoln was both towering and a genius. And one of the themes of my book is the senses in which Lincoln brought about the enslavement of free men. There’s the obvious sense that in the process of emancipating slaves, he crushed the aspirations of white Southerners for self-determination. I’m actually more concerned about the political enslavement of Northerners, at least in a metaphorical sense. And what I have in mind here was most deftly summarized by a twentieth-century American, Randolph Bourne. Some of you have heard his famous maxim, “war is the health of the state,” that he put into an essay that he wrote at the time of World War I as he was looking around at the excesses of the Wilson Administration. And what he meant by that, “war is the health of the state,” is that during wars, during nearly all wars, government increases in power, scope, size and intrusiveness in order to fight the war. So there’s a wartime surge in government power, and also there seems to be this postwar ratchet effect where after the war is over, there’s demobilization, some of the war time taxes may be repealed, conscription may be lifted, civil liberties may not be as severely circumscribed, but government never seems to go back to its pre-war levels. So part of the book is to argue, or is to actually demonstrate both this wartime surge in government power that resulted from the Civil War and the postwar ratchet effect.

Moreover, I argue that these two features—the surge and the postwar ratchet effect—are true of all wars, but I argue that the Civil War was unique, and it had something that made it different from other American wars in that I think it represents the real turning point in American history. Now, by turning point, what I mean to say is turning point with respect to the power of government. I think it’s commonly believed that Americans at one time enjoyed greater freedom from government than any other people on the face of the earth, and whether we think that’s a desirable outcome or not, we have to all admit that a lot has changed in terms of government involvement in our lives. And my overarching view of American history is that prior to the Civil War, American history was dominated by three ideological movements—pardon me, four ideological movements. Each of these ideological movements was unique, each of them had their own idiosyncrasies, but each of the them were manifestations of the worldwide movement towards classical liberalism. Each of them were hostile to coercive power, and they steadily eroded the authority of government in the pre-Civil War period, so that if you look at the long-term trend, despite wars and their ratchets, the long-term trend is for government to get less and less powerful as the Civil War approaches.

And the four movements that I have in mind are first of all the radical Republican movement that spearheaded the American Revolution and the ideology of which is captured in the Declaration of Independence. That was followed by the Jeffersonian movement. I see the Jacksonian movement as also a thrust in that direction. And, ironically, the abolitionist movement that arose about the same time. And the great tragedy of American history, in my opinion, is that at the very moment of the Civil War, when you get the elimination of the last great coercive blight on the American landscape: black chattel slavery (and that’s an accomplishment that, in my opinion, cannot be overestimated in significance), at that very moment, the American polity begins marching in the opposite direction. And so my argument is that the Civil War represents the simultaneous culmination and repudiation of the principles of the American Revolution. Given all of that this is the down side of the Civil War: the cost of the Civil War. Given all of that, and even given that emancipation was only an unintended consequence of the Civil War, in my opinion, slavery was such an evil and vile institution that if that was what was necessary to get rid of slavery, it was worth it. That’s my personal moral opinion. But, of course, the premise there is: was the Civil War necessary? And another part of the book is designed to argue that in fact the war is not necessary to eliminate slavery. It’s not the only way to have brought about abolition.

One of the propositions I’m making is that letting the lower South go in peace was still a viable anti-slavery option when Lincoln took the oath of office in front of the unfinished Capitol dome on that brisk sunny March of 1861. In other words, if Lincoln and the Republican party had been primarily interested in getting rid of slavery, there was an alternative set of policies that they could have implemented, which would have brought down slavery nearly as rapidly and at a much lower cost. And even if the Republican party was not interested primarily in getting rid of slavery, the worldwide momentum behind abolitionism was such that slavery, even in that case, would still have not survived into the 20th century.

And it’s actually William Lloyd Garrison and the other radical abolitionists who clued me into this proposition. Because along with all of their other radical positions about being in favor of immediate emancipation without compensation to slaveholders and full political rights for all blacks, the abolitionists or Garrison and the most radical abolitionists, were all advocates of disunion. The slogan “No union with slaveholders” graced the Liberator’s masthead for years. And this was not unique to Garrison. Almost all of the radical abolitionists embraced this position at one time or another, including the free black leader, Frederick Douglass.

Historians, I think, have not confronted this aspect of Garrison and the other early abolitionists in full force. They have a tendency to chalk it up to kind of a naïve and ineffectual moral perfectionism on the part of Garrison. And I, in contrast, argue in the book that it was a tactic that exhibited considerable sophistication, that it represented a practical way to bring down the peculiar institution. And I won’t give the argument in detail, but basically, it hinges on slavery’s enforcement costs. I am arguing that slavery was profitable to slaveholders—there’s no doubt about that—but that slavery was a system that was economically inefficient.

How can something be both profitable and inefficient? Well, think of piracy, right? Piracy is profitable to pirates, but inefficient for the economy overall, and the elimination of piracy on the high seas was a huge economic boom. Monopoly, to the extent that it results from government barriers to entry, is profitable for the monopolist but generates economic inefficiencies. My argument is that slavery, similarly, generated economic inefficiencies, and that its survival, therefore, depended on a whole range of subsidies from government at all levels, and in particular, the most important subsidy involved subsidizing slavery’s enforcement costs. My study of slavery in the United States and elsewhere has led me to the conclusion that the Achilles’ heel of all slave systems has been the runaway slave. Slaves were very, very valuable assets to slaveholders. Slavery is a form of theft where the slaveholder is stealing the income generated by the slave, and the price of the slave represented, to use economic jargon, the discounted present value of that future stolen income stream. And in that sense, slave-pricing was similar to the pricing of other assets in the economy. How much are you going to be willing to pay for shares of Microsoft stock if a good number of them can get up and walk away? And everywhere that slaves could easily run away, the slave system was compromised. That’s why the Fugitive Slave Clause was in the Constitution.

The Fugitive Slave Clause required the return of runaway slaves; it was right in the Constitution. It’s the reason the underground railroad ended in Canada rather than Pennsylvania. It was one way—not the only way, but perhaps the most crucial way—in which the federal government subsidized the slave system. And part of Garrison’s strategy was to try to have the North break its connection with the South so that it could become a haven for runaway slaves. Nobody felt that that would automatically eliminate slavery in South Carolina, but there was a feeling that it would bring about a domino effect, that it would compromise slavery and the northern tier of slave states, where already the proportion of slaves to the total population was declining, and that would eventually bring about abolition in the deep south.

There are cases where runaway slaves are responsible for bringing down a slave system, the most notorious being Brazil. After the Civil War, there were still two major economies within the new world: one was Cuba and the other was Brazil. Brazil had a slave system very similar to that of the United States, and the abolitionist movement was strong enough that Brazil passed a gradual emancipation law in the 1870s. But it was a law that freed no living slaves. What it said was that any slave born after passage of the law would be free upon reaching his or her 21st birthday. And it was written that way to protect, of course, the assets of slaveholders. But what happened was before that law it could have taken a generation to have been effective and before waiting that long, the northeastern state of Cera in Brazil abolished slavery and became a haven for runaway slaves.

Now, Brazil also had a Fugitive Slave Law, but it was unenforceable and the very domino effect that could have occurred in the United States did occur in Brazil, so that by 1888, the value of slaves in the plantation regions of Brazil had fallen so low that slaveholders themselves went along with immediate uncompensated emancipation, because they were afraid if they held out any longer, they would lose their land. How long is it from 1884 to 1888? Four years. How long is the Civil War? Four years. Now, of course, there are differences. But nonetheless, I think it’s an example that bears close examination. Because of the Fugitive Slave Clause and these other subsidies to slavery, I think that slavery was, in essence, an institution that depended on political protection for survival, and that if you eliminated the political protection, eventually slavery would come down. So, to sort of summarize the position that I place my book in terms of the huge, vast literature that David was mentioning on the Civil War: You have very, very many what I would call nationalistic accounts of the Civil War, accounts that are pro-union, assume that breaking up the union would have been a catastrophe, and then also use the additional justification for suppressing Southern secession, that it was the only way to get rid of slavery.

Now, there is an underground literature that has opposed this nationalistic perspective on the Civil War, and you can call it a neo-confederate literature. Some books have recently come out in that tradition. This is a tradition that is pro-secession, but in the process of being pro-secession, it ends up being blasé and apologetic about not just black slavery, but also a lot of the excesses of the Confederacy. My argument is sort of uniquely positioned. In other words, what I’m saying is that you can be simultaneously consistently pro-secession and rabidly anti-slavery, just as William Lloyd Garrison was at one time. So thank you very much. Now let‘s answer some questions.

Questions from the Floor

Audience Member

I’d like to ask Mayer about the Liberator and who subscribed to it and how it was distributed—by mail, per weekly—in those days?

Henry E. Mayer

The Liberator—yes. It went by mail, even within eastern Massachusetts, I think; but the mail was better then. It was shipped on coastal boats down to New York, Philadelphia and there was a large distribution network. Garrison printed somewhere between, as far as I can figure, two and four thousand copies a week. But I think the number or the circulation is much larger than these numbers because this is the kind of thing that was passed around a great deal. There were reading rooms where it was put. I have some evidence about it being read aloud in barber shops. And barber shops, particularly, were focal points in the free black community, and barbering was a trade that was open to black people, and so a number of white people heard about the Liberator while they were in their black barber shop. And several abolitionists have talked about this.

Particularly in the early days, black political societies and churches were—had what were called agents of the Liberator, and they were listed on the masthead, and they took subscriptions and they made sure that things got delivered. Later on, the circulation became more general, the way a lot of religious papers were circulated. The numbers didn’t change very much. He printed a lot of free copies that he mailed to congressmen, clergyman and so on. I saw the Liberator subscription books at one point and one of the things I do is I trace the gradual progress of the Liberator across the continent. There’s a subscriber in San Francisco in 1849. Think about it going around the Horn. William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, was in Boston and he called on Garrison and they had a grand old talk and I think there’s a certain back channel of communication between some of the Illinois radical—radically disposed Republicans and the Garrisonians. And Herndon took out a subscription to the liberator, so Lincoln is the only presidential candidate we know of that actually had a subscription coming into his office. That doesn’t mean he read it. Somebody gave Lincoln a gift subscription when he was in the White House, and they were so provoked with his dilatoriness on emancipation that they actually canceled the gift subscription in August 1862, just as he actually was moving forward and they gave up a few weeks too soon.

Audience Member

In reading All on Fire, which I think is a wonderful book, questions keep coming to my mind in terms of comparisons of what Garrison was going through and the contemporary libertarian movement. And I was wondering if you had any thoughts in terms of parallels, in terms of obstacles in both cases and also prescriptions for overcoming the obstacles. And I’d be interested in both your comments on that.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

Michael is setting me up with this question because he knows that the November issue of Liberty has a review, that I co-authored with Dyanne Peterson, of All on Fire, in which I tried to draw out some lessons for the libertarian movement. And the most important lesson that I think what Garrison brings home to me relates to this debate between moralism and consequentialism. That’s the way Kravitz has framed the debate. And in one sense, this is the argument: do you use moral arguments or do you use consequential arguments to convince people of your position? And in one sense, I think the argument is a false dichotomy, because you should use both.

However, I think what has happened with the libertarian movement overall is that there was a greater emphasis when we were all young radicals on the moral argument and we became discouraged because they didn’t immediately bring about with political successes that we thought they might; and so there’s been less and less emphasis on that and greater and greater emphasis on pragmatic and practical argument. And I don’t want to denigrate any of the important work on the economic consequences of antitrust laws or all of these pragmatic arguments. But I think that libertarians hadn’t realized the extent to which they’d actually won the moral argument.

In other words, when you compare government taxation to theft, and you make that moral argument—“You don’t morally think theft is justified; well, then, why is taxation justified?”—that’s a powerful argument that I think almost no one fails to understand, and I think that it should continue to be made. In other words, in some respects, we’re in the same position as Garrison, who is appealing to shared moral ideals, but demanding that people achieve a higher standard of consistency in applying those ideas. So I think there are an awful lot of lessons, and I’ll leave it at that. I could go on and on, on this question.

Henry E. Mayer

Why don’t we have another question and I’ll work it in. Well, all right. I would say look at the length of Garrison’s career. We’re all abolitionists now. All movements are destined to be misunderstood and marginalized while they are making cutting arguments, and the other thing is to be prepared for the unexpected. You see what a turn the moral agitation of slavery took. But I’ll say more as we—

Audience Member

I want to continue this same discussion because I think from my perspective, one of the problems we have is we don’t have in libertarianism at this time a fireball like Garrison or Thomas Paine. And the ones that we do have that tend to go that direction also, if you read their writings, they’re kind of lunatics. I mean, there’s one guy over in Las Vegas who really sounds like a fireball libertarian, but when you get down to reading what he says, he thinks AIDS isn’t caused by HIV and everybody ought to be able to own SAM missiles. Now, it gets to the point you’re not going to convince anybody of this kind of nonsense. In a way, it seems like what we need is—

Henry E. Mayer

Do you have a question?

Audience Member

No, it’s a comment. My comment is we need the fireballs, but we need somebody who stays within rationality, and it sounds to me like Garrison did that. Is that true? Or was he indeed also off the deep end in a whole lot of areas?

Henry E. Mayer

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Audience Member

No, it’s—somebody who looks at it in retrospect with some kind of logic.

Henry E. Mayer

Well, but you raise a very important question. I mean, you raised it earlier in your remarks. And that is: how many causes can a movement advocate simultaneously? and the argument between: being practical because you don’t want to alienate people, and being pure so that you express your vision fully. There is political tension and intellectual tension in every kind of movement.

So I wasn’t joking, because, you see, some people admire Garrison for his universality. Other people thought he was a lunatic for raising other crazy issues such as pacifism and women’s rights. These were too forbidden, too provocative. You will scare people away and in fact I didn’t go into this at all because it’s a little like inside the Beltway politics at this point; but he was extremely vilified by clergymen who should have been his allies, because they feared his power as a rival spiritual leader, and because they feared that they would be tagged with what Garrison used to call his budget of heresies, his list of extraneous issues. And the issue of extraneous issues is what split the abolition movement. I mean, explicitly it was women’s rights and the role of women in the movement, but implicitly, it’s one issue versus many. And I think movements are very diverse things and very different things, so it’s hard to control people, and it is one of the problem is you spend a lot of time apologizing for people you don’t agree with. And that’s just part of it.

David J. Theroux

One thing I might mention as an aside is that we publish a book called Freedom, Feminism and the State, which is a book on the subject of the feminism and others who came out of the abolitionist movement, which were essentially the originators of women’s liberation. There’s also a new book that Wendy McElroy is putting together for us now which will extend this for women into the 21st century. Anyway, another question?

Audience Member

Although they were colleagues for many years, you mentioned in the autograph signing that Frederick Douglass and Garrison had a falling out. I wonder how that came about?

Henry Mayer

Well, let me describe a little bit about their relationship in the good days. When Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery and came north, pretty soon, he said that the Liberator was one of his great inspirations. He pretty soon found his way into the anti-slavery conventions, and this underscores what Jeff was saying about the sort of salience of the fugitive slave issue. The fugitive slave—an escaped slave—was a very powerful moral statement and a very powerful stimulus to thought, any time an escaped slave spoke. And Douglass from the beginning spoke with great authority, so Garrison and others in the Massachusetts anti-slavery society hired him as a paid lecturer.

This is an instance of how issues get raised. Integrated travel was very difficult. And so the abolitionists, per force, became desegregationists and became embattled in all sorts of fights on railroad trains and steamboats just going to and fro in their business so long as they traveled in a mixed race situation, which they made a point of doing, because they were trying to expose Northern prejudice as part of the problem. Douglass and Garrison were close through the entire 1840s. Douglass was a Garrisonian. He was a non-resistant, he believed in disunion, and this whole application of soul-force. And then in the 1850s, Douglass had a political shift.

Douglass is a complicated figure. He was torn between his own sense of himself, he was a work in progress at this point as to whether he wanted to be a leader or a black leader. He was, in a certain degree, forced to become a black leader by virtue of what his experience was. He was a powerful intellect, but he didn’t particularly want to be boxed in. He ran a newspaper of his own. There was a certain amount of rivalry with Garrison on this. He was a protégé who outgrew and, to a certain degree, had to disagree with his mentor. It’s tempting, and a lot of people have said that the break with Garrison is a product of racism, and that Garrison was trying to hold Douglass down. I don’t see it that way. I don’t really see much evidence for that. I think that Douglass was trotting an independent position, I think. And I think Garrison ultimately respected that, but it got very ugly and very personal for a while, as most intra-movement fights do.

They did compose their differences by the time of the war, but they were never again as close. But they were very close. They traveled together. They traveled to England together, they traveled, they were victims of stonings together. I don’t think that this was much more of a younger-older protégé issue than it was a racial issue. I think it’s a false way of looking at it.

Audience Member

Well, my question is, Mr. Mayer mentioned or described a story of Garrison’s burning of the Constitution on the grounds of slavery was constitutional, so much the worse for the Constitution. What I’m curious is about is: I know that some of the abolitionists argued that slavery was unconstitutional. I would like to hear the opinion of our two speakers on that subject. Do you think that that’s a good argument -- that slavery was unconstitutional?

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

OK. It depends on what you mean by a good argument. I always have extreme reservations about constitutional arguments in general, because I think that not just libertarians but many others think of constitutional arguments as substitutes for policy arguments. Second Amendment questions are a good example of this.

Convince everybody of the original intent of the Second Amendment—and I buy all of those arguments—then we will win the gun control debate. And I think that if you look at most people in the world today, and if you look at figures historically, the policy arguments are the dog wagging the constitutional tail. It’s very rare to find a person who says “Well, this is a good policy but I’m not going to support it because it’s unconstitutional.” In other words, usually what they do is they decide what they think is a constitutional—policy and then end up coming up with constitutional justifications one way or the other. So I think of it as a kind of meta-argument that brings resources.

The Constitution was initially, deliberately designed to be ambiguous in order to get it passed, and so there are going to be a lot of these open issues. But on the question of whether this Constitution was pro-slavery or anti-slavery, if you’re asking a question of original intent, it’s clearly a pro-slavery document, without any doubt.

It’s a commonplace that special interests have come to dominate government. Well, special interests have always dominated government; it’s just less objectionable when government is small and unobtrusive. And one of the most important special interests in American history from the adoption of the Constitution until the Civil War, was what abolitionists and Republicans called the slave power, even though only a minority within the South itself dominated politics in the South and dominated politics at the national level. And I think the Constitution had many concessions to slave power. Now, I know that [19th century, anti-Constitution legal scholar] Lysander Spooner was using a kind of Richard Epstein, “let’s look at the text, ignore the intent of the founders” kind of argument. The words should speak for themselves. And I think that’s an interesting intellectual exercise; and if it convinces anybody, all the better. And it may lay the groundwork for future political changes when the underlying climate of opinion has changed. But I don’t think that that kind of argument persuaded anyone about slavery.

Henry E. Mayer

Yes, I don’t really have much to add to that. I agree with it. I will go away from Spooner and talk about the Liberty Party people, and that’s kind of where Douglass had gone. I think there’s a lot of wishful thinking in their reading of the Constitution. I think Garrison was much closer to the mark in understanding the pro-slavery intent. And had the Liberty Party people come into office on their platform, their hands would have been tied. There was no way that under the actual practice of the Constitution, they could have taken any more steps than the Republicans or actually would have taken in 1860.

I think one of the paradoxes here is that you have the South in 1860, saying, “We have to leave because all is lost under the Constitution, and because a sectional president has been elected that we don’t own.” And the abolitionists feel so they’re saying, “We’re leaving because Lincoln’s going to do too much.” The abolitionists are sitting there, wringing their hands because they think Lincoln’s going to do nothing. The Republicans have been elected on a platform containing slavery in the existing states and not letting it spread. And they’re even willing at the end of 1860 to endorse another 13th Amendment—not the one we have, but one that died in the war—along with all the people that would have permanently guaranteed slavery in those states and would have been an unamendable amendment. And so the interesting question is, why did the South go at that particular moment?

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

I think that the South seceded over the issue of slavery. I think that’s the underlying reason that they seceded. Now, the paradox that arises is that if my argument is correct, if letting them go in peace was a way of bringing down slavery, then why did they go for this option? I have two parts to the answer. One is that the Southerners who initially support secession feel that it’s a desperate gamble on their part. In other words, you’ve got some Southerners proposing that “Well, we can set up a kind of border patrol or reverse Berlin wall that prevents abolitionists from coming down and slaves escaping.” Because remember now, the slave power has dominated the national government, and all of the sudden in 1860, someone’s elected who not only doesn’t carry a single slave state, but in many of them doesn’t get a single reported vote. So it’s a desperate gamble on their part.

But there are also many Southerners, including Alexander Stephens, who becomes confederate vice-president who opposed secession. And Stephens’s argument was that, despite Lincoln’s election, slavery is still safer in the Union than outside of the Union. And initially, secession only passes by an overwhelming majority in South Carolina. It passes by very small majorities in the other Gulf Coast states. And it fails in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. The further polarization of the issue—and what drives many wavering Southerners into a secessionist revolution—is, of course, the firing on Fort Sumter, followed by Lincoln’s calling out of troops. And once it becomes clear that Lincoln will not accept the notion of a voluntary union, that he’s going to hold together the Union by force, then the secessionist revolution gets a second wave of momentum. So it’s a complex interplay of many different factors, but I think slavery is the underlying explanation.

Audience Member

One topic that hasn’t been raised yet is military conscription—specifically, its history prior to the Civil War, its role in the Civil War and whether the abolitionists, including Garrison, had any public position on it.

Henry E. Mayer

Well, actually, you’re very clear, this is as good a time as any for me to say how much I admire, not only Jeff’s narrative (which compresses an awful lot into short chapters)... But my first history professor said his first law, Taylor’s First Law was: read the footnotes. In this case, the law is amended. The corollary is: read those bibliographic essays. Don’t skip them because there’s so many interesting and provocative ideas for many more books in there that they really are worth your time. It’s very, very exciting, and Jeff’s description of conscription and the draft is one of the better ones. So, ideally, he should give you the general answer, and I should tell you about Garrison. But my answer is short. Garrison was a non-resistant. Garrison never voted because he did not want to support the war-making powers of the Constitution. Garrison had three sons old enough for military service. Two became conscientious objectors. One of the two paid the commutation fine, and he’ll explain what that’s all about. And one served. And the one who served did so after long and sort of prayerful consideration in the family, and he served as an officer in the 55th Massachusetts Voluntary Regiment, which was the second black regiment, formed from the overflow volunteers for Robert Shaw’s regiment. And he survived the war.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

The Civil War brought nationally administered conscription to the United States. Now, I’m not going to go into all the details; you can read the book. But there is a popular misunderstanding. Many people believe that in fact the American Revolution was fought exclusively with volunteers, and that the War of 1812 was fought exclusively with volunteers. Wrong. It turns out that traditionally, the militia system is a decentralized system of universal military training and conscription. So in the Colonial Period and early National Period, whenever you hear the phrase calling out the militia, what’s happening there is that each militia district is getting a quota. If they manage to meet the quotas with volunteers, that’s fine. But if volunteers fail to fulfill the quota, then they conscript from the militia rolls.

Now, it wasn’t as onerous as modern conscription because you could pay a fee, a fine to get out of it, or you could hire a substitute. But nonetheless, there was massive conscription during the American Revolution and massive conscription during the War of 1812.

Most of you know about the Whiskey Rebellion, opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s tax. Well, the army, the derisively named Watermelon Army that suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, was actually partially filled with militia conscripts. What happens is that during the Jacksonian era at the state level, you have a militia reform movement that in most of the northern states, not only voluntarizes the militia, but practically privatizes the militia. And thus the Mexican War becomes the first war in American History to be fought entirely and exclusively with volunteers. This militia reform movement doesn’t get formally as far in the South because the militia is too closely tied with the compulsory slave control system in the slave states, which every slave state had. Nonetheless, even in the South where you still had compulsory militia on the books, there is a movement towards a volunteer militia system, so that at the outset of the Civil War, both sides are filling the armies with volunteers, and it turns out to be one of the most astonishingly rapid military mobilizations in history. We all know that people are enthusiastic about wars when they start. Eventually, the enthusiasm wanes, and so both the Confederacy and the Union ultimately resort to conscription; the Confederacy first, the Union next. And although this is not the first conscription in American history, nor is it even the first conscription at the behest of a national government, it does represent the first system of centrally administered conscription; in other words, where there is a body at the federal level, both in the Confederacy and a bureaucracy in the Confederacy and the Union that administers the system of conscription. It was much more important to the Confederacy than to the Union. The Union only managed to draw in a very small percentage of people through recruits through subscription. And the main reason for the Confederate conscription law was not to bring new people into the army but under Confederate conscription, no one could leave after their voluntary term expired. It was mainly designed to hold people in the military until they were either wounded, killed or the war ended.

Audience Member

Speaking of the conscripts, what actually motivated the Northerners to enlist? I could understand that they were motivated by wanting to free the slaves, but to enlist, to kill your fellow countrymen just to preserve the Union, I’ve never quite understood this nationalist motivation of the North. Can either of you elaborate on that?

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

When you say you don’t understand it, do you mean you don’t agree with it or you do not actually understand it?

Audience Member

I don’t understand what would motivate somebody to do this.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

I mean, haven’t you lived through the Gulf War and the Iranian hostage crisis and observed the visceral response that that...?

Audience Member

I wouldn’t kill my fellow Americans (inaudible)—

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

Well, first of all, very, very few Northerners, although there were some, but very few Northerners initially enlisted to end slavery. The goal was to preserve the Union. And what had happened was that by the time of the Civil War in the North, there had become this mystical identification of Union and Liberty. Southerners saw Union as a means towards an end. Northerners had come to view the Union—in other words, they immediately thought that breaking up the Union would compromise liberty without reflecting on the accuracy of that. And, moreover, when you have the firing on the flag at Fort Sumter, I mean, that’s really what galvanized Northern recruits initially and, while it’s a sentiment that I may not share, I don’t have a lot of difficulty understanding it, since I see it all around me today.

I would say that the main reason that Northerners initially enlisted in the war effort and the main reason that the North initially decided to prevent the South from leaving the Union, was the ideology of nationalism—the identification of the nation—of people with the nation.

Audience Member

My question is specifically for Professor Hummel. Sir, in your book, you documented that the disease and injury of Civil War servicemen inspired the growth of a private, often voluntary, medical care support network. What happened to this spontaneously emerging private and decentralized medical system after the war?

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

Well, one thing it led to was the Red Cross. Clara Barton is a Civil War nurse. So, to a certain extent, it does produce an enduring legacy, but of course, one of the counter-thrusts of the Civil War is that after the war, you begin to see at the state level, a professional-licensing movement. It’s really after the Civil War that you get professional licensing of lawyers and the kind that restricts entry. There had been some state licensed doctors prior to the Civil War, but the really restrictive licensing of doctors occurred after the Civil War. And finally, by the turn of the century, the dominant ideology in the United States had become progressivism, and progressivism varied in different parts of the country and was different in urban areas than in agrarian areas, but the dominant or the underlying motif, the unifying theme of all progressivism is that the government is the solution to the problem.

Audience Member

Thanks. Yes, as a long-time member of the British Anti-slavery Society, I have to ask a question of Mr. Mayer, and that is, what would Garrison say today about 747 airplanes full of American tourists, flying into game-watching safaris in Kenya while 500 miles to the north, rank slavery in Sudan exists? I can go down the list -- the buying and selling of children in Bangladesh and Thailand, massive existence in India and South America of indentured servitude, and the common perception of the American person in the street that slavery went with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. What would he say?

Henry E. Mayer

Well, I can’t answer your question in quite the way you ask it, because I pretty much made it a rule with my subjects that I wouldn’t try to speak for them in the 20th century. But Garrison was a consistent voice from first to last against human slavery throughout the world. The Liberator—what is the subhead—underneath Liberator, the motto: “Our country is the world, our countrymen are mankind.” And so he was not simply against American slavery, he was against slavery throughout the world. His focus was on what he considered the most heinous and in some sense the most morally embarrassing, because it was his own country. He focused on the US, but he participated in international conferences, and were he alive, the Liberator would be full of the stuff that you’re talking about. That, I’m certain.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

I have actually one—a reaction to that, which is that it is true that slavery does persist in many parts of the world illicitly and clandestinely and—since the world has a much larger population now—it can get pretty horrifying in terms of the numbers. Yet nonetheless, we shouldn’t underestimate the abolitionist triumph, because we live in a world today where no dictator, no matter how tyrannical, no matter how vile, would get up and publicly defend chattel slavery. And remember that prior to the 18th century, slavery was a system that had been ubiquitous on every continent. Very few people challenged it. Everybody thought that it was necessary, if not desirable.

Now, I think that that is not only a stunning testament to the power of moral ideals, but also, in my opinion, it represents the most successful and enduring of all the triumphs of classical liberalism. To take a labor system that had been in existence since the dawn of civilization, and almost, not quite, but almost wipe it off the face of the earth.

David J. Theroux

I want to thank our two speakers, Henry Mayer and Jeff Hummel for their great talks and their works.

It really is people like Henry and Jeff who are continuing the grand tradition that Garrison developed. Again, for those of you who have not gotten copies of the books, this is your opportunity. We have copies of both Jeff’s book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, and Henry’s book, All on Fire, and I want to thank you all for joining with us. We hope that you’ll visit with us again at future events. Thank you for coming. Good night.

END OF EVENT



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