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Harold Holzer: Could the war have been prevented?

By Harold Holzer

Author or editor of 36 books, many on Lincoln, and chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation


Of course the war could have been avoided -- first and most obviously, had the Southern states neither seceded from the Union nor tried to seize federal property by force (namely Fort Sumter). But essentially Lincoln was absolutely accurate when he said of the cloud of war that lingered over his first inaugural,"All dreaded it -- all sought to avert it." But he was also right when he concluded of the growing tensions between North and South in 1861,"Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came."

As long as the Confederacy was willing to fight to destroy the Union, and as long as the Union was willing to fight to save itself, war was unavoidable. Compromise -- least the kind of deals proposed by Congress and the Washington Peace Convention at the Willard--might have postponed war, but at the expense of extending and perpetuating slavery and choking off future debate about the institution for generation. As Lincoln put it, "the tug has to come, & better now any time hereafter." And the tug came!

By Harold Holzer  | November 8, 2010; 11:34 AM ET
Categories:  Views  | Tags:  Harold Holzer  
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