A Copperhead Abolitionist

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"…[T]he
New Model Army and the war effort rested on a vast and unprecedented
amount of federal coercion against Northerners as well as the South;
a huge army was conscripted, dissenters and advocates of a negotiated
peace with the South were jailed, and the precious Anglo-Saxon right
of habeas corpus was abolished for the duration."

"…I
am sure that one day, aided and abetted by Northerners like myself
in the glorious u2018copperhead' tradition, the South shall rise again."

~
"America's Two Just Wars: 1775 and 1861," in
The
Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories

"…[T]he
essence of slavery is that human beings, with their inherent freedom
of will, with individual desires and convictions and purposes, are
used as capital, as tools for the benefit of their master.
The slave is therefore habitually forced into types and degrees
of work that he would not have freely undertaken; by necessity,
therefore, the bit and the lash become the motor of the slave system.
The myth of the kindly master camouflages the inherent brutality
and savagery of the slave system."

~
"The Social Structure of Virginia: Bondservants and Slaves,"
in
Conceived
in Liberty
, Volume 1

Readers
familiar with these sources will know they share a common author:
Murray Rothbard. From them, one learns that Rothbard opposed the
Confederacy's conquest and opposed slavery. Are not these
contradictory positions?

In
an era of sclerotic historiography, repudiating both slavery and
Abraham Lincoln's unitary jihad is sure to receive incredulous
reactions. The conventional polarity made between the slavocratic
Confederacy and emancipatory Union cannot comprehend (much less
countenance) an alternative orientation. To propound one is to commit
a secular heresy.

Although
secession is reflexively associated with slavery, it is often forgotten
(or never known) that the abolitionist movement contained a strong
disunionist segment. In the antebellum period, federal marshals
hunted down formerly enslaved individuals in free states pursuant
to the Fugitive Slave Law and its basis in the Constitution. (See
Stanley W. Campbell's The
Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860
.)
This incensed many residents of those states, and William Lloyd
Garrison was far from alone when he asseverated in the wake of the
Dred Scott decision:

Massachusetts
must not tolerate a slave-hunter on her soil – nor a Slave Commissioner – nor
allow a human being to put on trial to decide whether he has
a right to himself, or is the property of another – but she must
transform every slave into a free man as soon as he comes within
her borders.

We
shall be told that this is equivalent to a dissolution of the
Union. Be it so! Give us Disunion with liberty and a good conscience,
rather than Union with slavery and moral degradation.

Viewed
in this context, could have even the most ardent unionists prescribed
conquest had Massachusetts seceded over Lincoln's election on December
20, 1860 instead of South Carolina? (The
answer, terribly, appears to be yes.
)

Rothbard
appreciated America's secessionist tradition, and it manifests in
his contribution to The Costs of War. He writes after a discussion
of colonial and Southern secession:

"The
separate Southern states then exercised their contractual right
as sovereign republics to come together in another confederation,
the Confederate States of America. If the American Revolutionary
War was just, then it follows as the night the day that the
Southern cause, the War for Southern Independence, was just,
and for the same reason: casting off the u2018political bonds' that
connected the two people."

It
cannot be overemphasized that the Union's invasion of the Confederacy
had territorial covetousness at its root, not emancipatory fervor.
Lincoln's very clear position in the First Inaugural would have
required troops to occupy Massachusetts had it withdrawn to nullify
the fugitive slave provisions.

However,
as Rothbard also shows in the aforementioned passage from Conceived
in Liberty, respecting the Confederacy's struggle for autonomy
does not entail respecting slavery. The Union's imperial campaign
of suppression does not exculpate the systematic expropriation part
and parcel of slavery and vice versa. (Lest the expropriation be
thought endemic to the Confederacy, recall the slave-holding border
states that remained in the Union – so much for the Noble North-Serpentine
South dualism.)

If
we seek to practice the ethics of liberty Rothbard delineated so
passionately and prolifically, we would do well to ponder his Copperhead
abolitionism. When we do so, we discover that uncritical loyalties
clash with advancing freedom. We may value Alexander Stephens's
constitutional integrity and Frederick Douglass's abolitionist zeal,
but neither individual demands comprehensive endorsement. Rather,
in the Rothbardian manner, let us forge an eclectic fusion of their
truths.

April
26, 2001

Myles
Kantor [send him mail]
edits FreeEmigration.com
and lives in Boynton Beach, Florida

Myles
Kantor Archives

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