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Waite Rawls: What if Lincoln lost the election?

By Waite Rawls

President and chief executive of the Museum of the Confederacy


The Civil War started because a match lit a fuse on a keg that was filled with powder. Let’s look at each ingredient.

Neither Abraham Lincoln nor the Republican Party built the keg. The wood for the keg was shaped by the inability of the founding fathers to solve the two big problems of state sovereignty and slavery in the shaping of the Constitution. In a complex but steady course, the economics of taxes and the politics of control of the westward expansion were added to those two original issues as the keg was filled with powder.
By the time of the creation of the Republican Party in 1856, the powder keg was almost full and waiting for a fuse. And the election of any candidate from the Republican Party — a purely sectional party — put the fuse in the powder keg, and the Deep South states seceded. But there was still no war. Two simultaneous mistakes in judgment brought the matches out of the pocket — the Deep South mistakenly thought that Lincoln, now elected, would not enforce the Union, and Lincoln mistakenly thought that the general population of the South would not follow the leadership of the Fire Eaters.
Lincoln struck the match when he called the bluff of the South Carolinians and attempted to reinforce Fort Sumter, but that match could have gone out without an explosion. Lincoln struck a second, more fateful match, when he called for troops to put down the “insurrection.” That forced the Upper South and Border States into a conflict that they had vainly attempted to avoid.

In short, the election of Lincoln did not start the Civil War all by itself. But it certainly was a critical ingredient.

By Waite Rawls  | October 31, 2010; 10:31 PM ET
Categories:  150th anniversary, Views  | Tags:  Waite Rawls  
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I have read these articles with great interest, being an Australian novice in the details of American Civil War history and your politics of that time. My perceptions may be a bit skewed, but hopefully that may be forgiven. I too was a product of what I was taught.

Whilst I am not exactly answering the direct 'cause / effect' question that has been asked, I want to share with you all the understanding that BOTH Lincoln AND the soldiers of the Civil Way shaped my own country Australia's destiny most significantly, as well as your own. Many people in America are not so aware of that wider repercussion of your Civil War sacrifice.

I learned that Lincoln was a presidential candidate who had firm views that slavery must be limited, reduced and eventually abolished. He was a champion of mutual opportunity and mutual respect for and between all men. When he was elected as President he brought a chance and a focus for change.

Equally I learned that some American states were so entrenched with slavery that they saw Lincoln as a direct threat to their economic and social order, so they blocked cotton trade to Britain and resisted Lincoln's ability to govern them. They brought a war to fight for their own rights in a sense, as much as others fought them, to stop slavery. The American Civil War brought the whole issue of 'rights' into high relief because Lincoln opened that door initially.

I guess that if Lincoln had not won the Presidency, then there would have been no more visible impetus at that time, to pave the way for a war that would then force the rest of the developed world to ALSO rethink its own position upon human rights and equality amongst men.

I saw Lincoln and the Civil War as two halves of an inseparable whole. One man together with a nation of men, moving forward to seek true fairness, each man prepared to fight to the death to preserve his own and others' rights to equality and freedom.

I saw Lincoln as a world hero...a role model for reform that turned the British attitudes upside down, regarding its own abysmal use of convict labor and cruelty.

As result of Lincoln AND the Civil War, Australians were given new heart to rise up and overthrow oppressive and offensive government policies, to rebel against British dictation. Convict transportation to Australia ceased in 1868 directly because of those American events.

For me, Lincoln AND the Civil War gave a GIFT to the whole world. The beliefs and events of the Civil War freed the world from the chains of class-based non-questioning and blind acceptance. We all owe you so very much for setting that scene. For showing what was possible.

Had Lincoln not been President, had your Civil War not occurred at that time...I wonder how many more oppressed people of the world might also have died or remained fettered? Surely many more than we may readily understand.

I am sure that is why so many international tourists visit the US and Gettysburg, for example. To pay homage. To give thanks!

Posted by: Banpokies01 | November 2, 2010 5:54 AM | Report abuse

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