Brass Tacks

A wall, a barrier, seemingly real, but mystifying nonetheless. Some sort of impermeable membrane, scales on eyes.

All the while, as I read the Meacham book, I was thinking about how differently the sides viewed the slavery issue. On the surface it may have looked similar… they both incorporated the Bible, both invoked God and claimed Divine support for their cause, both claimed the moral high ground.

Yet not unlike our current milieu, in that the sides seemed to be talking past one another, unmoved by any argument, convinced of the heaviness of the moment but for very different reasons.

Lincoln and others argued that the only way one can interpret the Declaration of Independence— and tamp down charges of hypocrisy in the process– was to bestow on all human beings those certain inalienable rights. Enslaving someone denies them these rights. John C. Calhoun and many others believed that God, via Holy Scripture, allows that some people are destined only to be servants. He and others saw slavery as a “positive good.” But could he be at peace with what that actually looked like, the form it readily took? Apparently, yes.

For Lincoln and others, there was an obvious moral dilemma. It was a matter of conscience, an unshakable feeling that enslavement of any human being– regardless of skin color– was plain wrong. The white plantation owners and congressmen and newspaper editors and even clergy came at the issue as those who also had an economic stake in the outcome of arguments and legislation. And isn’t this the elephant in the room all along?

The high-minded, passionate appeals to scriptural interpretation and God’s will and the righteousness of their cause were always in service of employing a smokescreen that, for some reason, they hoped Lincoln and the rest would never see through?

Many a southern livelihood– a whole way of living and operating- were on the line. At its root, the whole issue, for the Confederacy, pivoted on economics and an apparently unshakable, though horribly misguided belief that black people were inherently inferior to white people.

States’ rights? In a way, but not exclusively. The four-year conflagration and bloodshed and national trial by fire was about much more than that.

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