Donald W. Livingston Civil War Analysis

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Donald W. Livingston writes a fascinating and thought provoking essay to unearth the real reason the Civil War occurred in the United States. Moreover, Livingston goes so far as to state that America has believed a “myth” about the Civil War and this “myth has been taught for generations in public schools and colleges” (Livingston 16). What is this myth that Livingston says America has come to believe? The Civil War was fought over the morality of slavery. He states, “We are led to think Southerners simply think slavery is right and so are evil, while Northerners think it is wrong and are good. But the truth was just the opposite” (Livingston 56). Livingston claims that the North was not a moral giant justified in defeating the immoral South …show more content…
Yet, no such code existed. What did exist was bigotry towards Blacks and a refusal to grant equal rights to freedmen. Livingston states that there existed a, “moral tension between the two propositions…the God-given natural right of freedom and the manmade political right to be a citizen of a certain country” (Livingston 18). This meant that the Northerners believed that Blacks should be free, yet not have access to the political and social freedoms in the United States—that was to be earned and reserved for white people. So, how did the North live with this tension? According to Livingston, “Slavery could be justified only by positive law, or by natural law, if and only if circumstances were such that eliminating it would do more harm than good” (Livingston 54). Therefore, the North concluded that the good of slavery outweighed the negative of slavery. Similarly, Livingston points out that if morality had been the justification for the war; then there would have been more efforts given to emancipate slaves and grant citizenship prior to the Civil War. Livingston clearly shows that no president or congressman proposed emancipation for slaves prior to the war. If slavery were truly wrong in the minds of the Northerners, would someone not have proposed a law to enact freedom and citizenship? According …show more content…
Livingston does a remarkable job in disproving the myth that the Civil War was fought on the basis of the North’s attempt to abolish slavery. He does so by pointing out the North’s dependence on slavery, their deep ceded prejudice towards Blacks and Abraham Lincoln’s lack of leadership to deal with slavery on a moral level. Overall Livingston’s views are well founded and acceptable. However, he may have oversimplified a very complex issue. He is correct to say that the South is not alone in its sin against Blacks. The North was indeed responsible as well. However, as Tindall and Shi point out slavery was the main reason for war. They state, “To argue that the Civil War was primarily a defense of liberty and the right of self-government…ignores the actual reasons that southern leaders used in 1860–1861 to justify secession and war” (Tindall and Shi 497). The leaders of the south wanted to keep slavery and they went to war over it. Also, Livingston may have reversed “myth” to far by saying that the South was less egregious towards Blacks than the North. With men like Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens who said, “slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and moral condition” (72) gives foundation for the great depravity in the slaveholder’s mind. What seems to be clear, is that slavery and prejudice was not a North or South issue; rather it is what it has always been—a humanity issue. Livingston is correct. To try and draw

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