American Federalism and the Civil War by Lord Acton

These are some choice quotes from this essay

The Union which was founded and sustained by the attachment of the people has been restored by force, and the Constitution which was the idol of Americans is obeyed by millions of humbled and indignant men, whose families it has decimated, whose property it has ravaged, and whose prospects it has ruined forever.

Therefore it has been laid down by political writers as a universal rule that a degenerate republicanism terminates in the total loss of freedom. Many have prophesied that this would be the end of the American republic.

If my present theme were the institution of slavery in general, I should endeavor to show that it has been a mighty instrument not for evil only, but for good in the providential order of the world. Almighty God, in his mysterious ways, has poured down blessings even through servitude itself, by awakening the spirit of sacrifice on the one hand, and the spirit of charity on the other.

The Southern slave owner was in contradiction to the two principles which animated the democracy of the Northern states. He denied the absolute essential equality of all men in civil rights; and he denied the justice of the doctrine that the minority possesses nothing which is exempt from the control of the majority, because he knew that it was incompatible with the domestic institution which was as sacred to him as the rights of property. Therefore the very defect of their social system preserved them from those political errors which were transforming the original characters of the Northern republics. The decomposition of democracy was arrested in the South by the indirect influence of slavery.

The Massachusetts’  Lt. Governor  admits they were engaged in Civil War

It became a settled doctrine among them that the North and the South could not continue together, and they made the public familiar with the idea of dissolution. “The Union,” said Mr. Horace Greeley, the editor of The Tribune, “is not worth supporting in connection with the South.” But the stronger part of the Republicans resolved to make themselves masters of the central government, for the purpose of coercing the South to submit to their political opinions. The Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts confessed that “the object to be accomplished was this, for the Free States to take possession of the government.”

Yankees unmasked

A pamphlet, which was widely circulated and was read in Congress, contains the following sentence: “Teach the slaves to burn their masters’ buildings, to kill their cattle and hogs, to conceal and destroy farming utensils, to abandon labor in seed time and harvest, and let the crops perish.” Mr. Chase said, in 1859, “I do not wish to have the slave emancipated because I love him, but because I hate his master.” A Senator from Ohio said very truly, “There is really no union now between the North and the South, no two nations on earth entertain feelings of more bitter rancor towards each other than these two nations of the Republic.”

Reprinted from

April 2, 2010

Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, 1834–1902) was a leading 19th-century historian in the classical-liberal tradition. He watched the growth of the United States with great interest, and lamented the decline of states’ rights and federalism. While he was a prolific writer and speaker, his great work, a history of freedom, was never completed.

via American Federalism and the Civil War by Lord Acton.


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