GDG- NPs & Slavery

joadx1 at joadx1 at
Tue Jan 3 16:04:31 CST 2012

I am delighted to see Dr. Epperson back in the discussion.  His webinars for the GDG and his personally maintained web sites are extraordinary resources for understanding the contexts and causes of the Civil War.

I'd like to adduce a word on historical causation.  It is quite common to confuse causation with intention.  Intention tends to be linear in etiological structure, while historical causation is far more complicated than that.  What Borges called "A Garden of Forking Paths," history, in Aristotle's terms, is a dynamic, not static, structure of actualities that at every instant present a multitude of possible future outcomes, but which can only realize a given entelechy, which in turn sets up a whole new field of potential outcomes.  To make this clearer, consider the following paradox:

It can be argued that the state of South Carolina caused the end of slavery, though obviously this was not its intention.  How so?  In the waning days of the Buchanan administration, the U.S. Congress passed to Buchanan a 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which he signed, that explicitly guaranteed the future untouchability of slave holding within the slave states.  That same 13th Amendment became the one that ended slavery once and for all because South Carolina proclaimed its secession from the Union, which in turn led to six other states proclaiming secession, and after that to Sumter, the proclaimed secession of the rest of the states that would call themselves the Confederacy, the Civil War, and the end of slavery.  Had South Carolina been more patient, the 13th Amendment had a very good chance of adoption by 3/4 of the states, and it would have been generations before slavery was abolished.

In the arena of non-hypothetical historiography, it has been very fashionable since the 1960s for academic historians to insist that Abraham Lincoln was not a causative factor in the end of slavery because he was not an Abolitionist and did not call out the militia in the name of abolition (always interesting how the Left and the Right can find themselves as strange bedfellows in historical matters).  As James McPherson has pointed out in response to this academic denigration of Lincoln's role, without Lincoln there would not have been secession; without secession there would not have been a Civil War; and without a Civil War, there would not have been an emancipation war measure, then political policy, nor an end to slavery.  So Lincoln was the sine qua non of the whole matter, whether he intended to be or not.

So history is a very dynamic thing.  Its causes can not be fixed in this or that decision or action.  Every decision, every action, presents a dynamic field of future potential actualities.  Lincoln and the American people may not have gone to war to end slavery, but because they did, slavery came to an end.

With a surprising assist from South Carolina. 


-----Original Message-----
From: James Epperson <jfepperson at>
To: GDG <gettysburg at>
Sent: Tue, Jan 3, 2012 1:26 pm
Subject: Re: GDG- NPs & Slavery

Esteemed GDG Member Contributes:
Once I was in the old VC, looking at all the guns and cannon tubes,
and artifacts, and I heard a young boy ask his father, "Daddy, why did
they fight a battle here?"  The complete answer to that
question---which I think we would all agree involves more than stories
about shoes and troop concentrations---is an appropriate subject for
the park to present.  And that is why the full "back-story" needs to
be told.


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