A libertarian's Case for the Civil War

KJ Herr
Jan 11, 2011 at 10:12 PM

Before I begin I would like to say that I am not making any moral arguments. I’m not really making any arguments at all. I am simply presenting some ideas I’ve had. I know that libertarians argue that government should only be involved if someone’s natural rights are being infringed upon. That is where I got the original idea for this piece. I’m not here to say that I’m right and you are wrong if you disagree with me; this is just a thought.

Can a libertarian make a good argument for supporting the Civil War? Probably not as it was played out in history. But if there were changes in intent and reasoning, could there been some justification with government involvement? With my arguments, I believe so.

I don’t think that Lincoln was all for bringing freedom to the black slaves of the south. He made many speeches while in Illinois stating that he was not for equality between whites and blacks. Slavery really became an issue during the Civil War when Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation. I have had many professors say that the Civil War was not necessary because, with all the compromises that were made, slavery was on its way out anyway. I don’t think that is a solid argument. I think the better argument is government involvement hasn’t stopped slavery; it has only changed the name from slavery to human trafficking. It is true that we no longer have blatant backyard slavery anymore, but slavery is still a huge problem.

If we agree that the natural rights of man are life, liberty, and property, the slaves of the 18th and 19th century did not enjoy those freedoms.

The slaves may have been alive, but they certainly did not enjoy life. There is a strong difference between the two that has to be recognized. When in chains, being whipped, I may still be alive, but I do not have the ability to truly live. To have life means much more than just to have a beating heart.

As a slave you cannot enjoy liberty. I don’t believe I need to say anymore about that. It should be understood.

Finally as property, you cannot have property. A dog cannot own a dog. You cannot pass your possessions onto a lamp. Property cannot own property.
What type of government intervention should have been implemented? I don’t know. I can’t answer that. If we have no government then slavery runs rampant. If we have too much government, then we are all slaves. Man is not perfect and cannot find any plausible working solution to the problem of slavery.

Once again these are only thoughts. I am not saying the government in the 1860s was justified with the Civil war. I am only saying that if we agree that the government should only intervene if man’s natural rights are being infringed upon, then maybe the government should have gotten involved.

A lot of libertarians suggest that instead of fighting an expensive, bloody war the federal government could have just purchased the slaves from landowners at market prices.  Perhaps if some landowners refused to sell the federal government could still pass some law and purchase slaves under eminent domain with just compensation, because after all slaves were considered property.  I think ending slavery this way would have only cost 1/4 the cost of the Civil War, and then you have all the lives saved.

sentinel18's picture

"If we have no government then slavery runs rampant."

I would completely disagree with this statement. Slavery, the kind of chattle labor that existed in the early 19th century, can only exist with state enforcement. Remember it was the state that instituted the fugitive slave clauses, it was the state that set up arbitrary designations seperating slaves from citizens. Without the state propping it up and enforceing it through violence slavery is very few and far between. It then becomes the duty of the slave owner to continuously kidnap and return them to their land instead of relying on the police to do their dirty work for them. It becomes obviously clear that the cost of trying to keep someone as your prisoner and force them to do labor is exponentially more expensive than to pay them a wage. All slavery needed in the 19th century was for governments to stop enforcing it and the market would have ended it without a gunshot.

Today's slavery is built upon drug addiction, kidnapping and even in some cases voluntary "selling" of children into prostitution. Even Illegal immigration has given rise to a sex slave ring as payment for families passage over the border. These are horrible situtations but criminals will always be there. I firmly believe that if there was no state to enforce drug, prosititution, and border laws we could dramatically decrease the existence of these evils in our world.

Shaun Bowen's picture