Unexamined Premises

Why the South Deserved to Lose the Civil War

For research purposes, I’m reading both Caesar’s and U.S. Grant’s memoirs side-by-side, and I must say the comparison is instructive. Both men write with a clarity much to be admired, as well as a sense of purpose, both military and moral. At a distance of two millennia, we might quarrel with Caesar’s hard-nosed conquest of the Gauls, but of Grant’s mission to put down the rebellion and reunite the country as quickly as possible, there can be no doubt.

I was especially struck by this passage, which comes as Grant, having taken Vicksburg, prepares for the battle of Chattanooga. which clearly shows Grant’s confidence in the rightness of his cause. The defeat of the South, in Grant’s mind, was the best thing that could possibly happen to it:

There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North. The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The war was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all it cost.

Over to you for comments. No doubt I will get an earful about the Tenth Amendment and states’ rights and the entire question of whether secession is or was allowable under the Constitution — but those arguments were all settled by force of arms in 1865, were they not?