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The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the…
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The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War (udgave 2015)

af James Oakes (Forfatter)

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733282,996 (4.17)Ingen
Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District of Columbia, the high seas. By constricting slavery they would induce a crisis: slaves would escape in ever-greater numbers, the southern economy would falter, and finally the southern states would abolish the institution themselves. For their part the southern states fully understood this antislavery strategy. They cited it repeatedly as they adopted secession ordinances in response to Lincoln's election.The scorpion's sting is the centerpiece of this fresh, incisive exploration of slavery and the Civil War: Was there a peaceful route to abolition? Was Lincoln late to emancipation? What role did race play in the politics of slavery? With stunning insight James Oakes moves us ever closer to a new understanding of the most momentous events in our history.… (mere)
Medlem:Jonho
Titel:The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War
Forfattere:James Oakes (Forfatter)
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2015), Edition: 1, 208 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
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Nøgleord:Ingen

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The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War af James Oakes

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The South's secession from the union has always puzzled me; how was this drastic action not contrary to the interests of the eleven slaveholding states? The incoming Republican administration had vowed not to allow expansion of slavery in territories and newly forming states, but Lincoln and others explicitly averred that his administration had no intention of interfering with slavery where it existed. Lincoln believed that the Constitution gave no sanction for such action. If southernors wanted slavery's expansion across the country, leaving the union would completely foreclose this. Further, Lincoln went to far as to state that the federal government was obligated to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in the northern states, forcibly returning escaped slaves to bondage. In the longer term, why did the South not see that presidents with particular platforms will eventually be replaced by others who may hold opposite views. Granted, the abolitionists and anti-slavery activists were irksome to the slaveholders, but that was nothing new in 1860-61; the South had tolerated such perceived insults for decades. By far, the most significant downside for the South in seceding from the union was the threat of severing economic ties with the North. The agrarian nature of the South's economy was inextricably intertwined with the North's financial and manufacturing resources.

"The Scorpian's Sting", a collection of essays by James Oakes, clarifies how antislavery sentiments, both practical and philosophical, led to the destruction of slavery. The scorpian's sting referred to a metataphor in wide use that if encircled by a ring of fire, a scorpian will ultimately sting itself to death. Its meaning was not lost on Southern leaders. They well understood that if slavery was cordoned within its existing boundaries it could not survive, and they saw a new national political regime detemined to fence in slavery. Many thought that, even if not in the United States, slavery could expand southward to Cuba, the Caribeean, and Latin America.

Much was made in the South of the inviolability of property rights, widely held a Constitutional guarantee. Slaveholders maintained that slaves were property like any other form of property. Thus, a man could do with his human property what he could do with any fungible property, including removing it to anywhere in the country. Countering this, a powerful strain of thought among anti-slavery thinkers stemmed from a conception of an overarching higher natural law, that the most sacred and fundamental right of property was the property inherent in oneself. Depriving one of the right to his or her inherent property was inimical to this natural law. The Constitution did not specify "property"; it did not explicitly address slavery as a category of guaranteed property. That the South was aware of this potential threat to human property is evidenced by the inclusion of guaranteed slavery in the Confederate's constitution.

Neither side saw civil war as the inevitable result of secession, but thoughtful men must have surmised that a war once unleashed could result in dramatic and sweeping consequences. One such possible consequence was military confiscation of property under the laws of war. Taking property that impinged on the enemy's capacity to conduct war was entirely acceptable as a practical military measure. The application of this principle logically adhered to slaves whose services deprived to their owners certainly hindered the South's war effort. The key question about confiscated property was what was the obligation of the holders of confiscated property to return it after the conflict ceased? Contentious as it may have been, there was precedent from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 that slaves under the control of a combatant need not be returned to their owners. Beyond the realm of international law, it was on moral grounds unquestionably inconceivable to reenslave confiscated persons at the war's conclusion.

There was a distinction, more in mid-19th century minds than in modern thinking, between emancipation and equality. If enslaving humans is immoral does their emancipation convey equality? If so, what sort of equality? The Declaration of Independence stated that all men held natural rights to life, liberty and property. Lincoln and the Republicans felt that slavery deprived blacks of the right to the products of their own labors, but does restoring this right necessarily confer political equality? Do free blacks become citizens? What does freedom mean for social equality? It is clear that Lincoln's views on racial equality were far distant from today's views. Not only did he persist in the prospect of colonization of blacks until quite late, he consistently posited a circumscribed view of the extent of political and civic rights that ensued from emancipation. A more expansive conception of the fruits of equality emerged from the radical Reconstructionist wing of the Republican party, but whether Lincoln would have moved this far cannot be known. ( )
  stevesmits | Sep 30, 2020 |
This book approaches the Civil War with a laser focus -- illuminating only its tight path through the conflict in four narrow realms -- the prevalence among Northern abolitionists of the idea that slavery would end itself if only it could be strictly restrained to existing slave states (like "a scorpion girt by fire" -- it would sting itself to death), the conflicting interpretations of law and the Constitution arising from the starting proposition that slaves were either men OR property, the inextricability of race relations from the issue of slavery, and a history of wartime emancipation in the United States.

I am sure that I would have found this book irritating had I not read it already deep in the context of my Less Stupid Civil War Reading Group. As it was, it brought some interesting context to my developing understanding of the era. But really, otherwise, the intense focus and sometimes jarring shifts in such would be very alienating. Not a good book to start with if you want to understand the Civil War.

But as a supplement -- it was interesting to see the complement of Battle Cry of Freedom's portrayal of pre-war Southerners as near-panicked that slavery be able to extend its reach -- into the territories, into Central America, etc., so that it shouldn't die -- with the portrayal that Northern abolitionists had the same idea, but in reverse. The history of military emancipation was also interesting, as I had basically no idea of it as a factor in wars prior to the Civil War. Also of note was the bit on the use of postmasters to suppress free (abolitionist) speech in slave states.

Interesting, if sometimes disjointed. ( )
1 stem greeniezona | Jan 24, 2019 |
Really interesting book of essays on antebellum anti- and pro-slavery theory. Oakes takes his title from a popular metaphor: free states could surround slave states with a cordon of freedom—by banning slavery in D.C., banning slavery in the territories, protecting freedom of speech so that abolitionist tracts could reach the South, and providing stringent due process protections against abuse of the Fugitive Slave Act—which would ultimately lead the slave states to abolition, deprived of the territorial expansion necessary for slavery’s success. Like a scorpion surrounded by a ring of fire, which stung itself to death to avoid the fire, the slave states would destroy slavery without direct intervention into their governance by the northern states or by the federal government. Thus, when pro-slavery politicians protested these policies, they were fighting for the survival of slavery even though anti-slavery politicians largely disavowed any intention to intervene directly in the internal governance of the slave states. The argument fleshes out the implications of Lincoln's claim that a nation can't survive half slave and half free, which today we don't often think through in combination with the abolitionist claims to leave slavery alone in the slave states; it made me think about current cultural clashes and whether we can survive as a nation half of which guarantees equality to its citizens and half of which doesn't.

Other big themes include the debate over whether the natural right to freedom trumped the natural right to property, which affected questions such as what should happen when an enslaved person travelled to a state with no positive law about slavery, and the Framers’ debates about international law—when the Revolution ended, everyone accepted the idea of emancipation as part of a military strategy and that ex-slaves no longer on the territory in which they were emancipated would stay free, but the British and Americans fought bitterly about the reenslavement of those still in the territory. Also, military emancipation during the Civil War was a legal issue—Oakes contends that, until the Confederacy began claiming otherwise, no one had disputed that it was a perfectly legitimate military tactic for a combatant to emancipate the other side’s slaves on land under the combatant’s control, in order to get more help fighting. During the Civil War, the North did somewhat expand that idea by emancipating all slaves, even those not considered able to fight, but Oakes suggests that pre-war, one of the biggest reasons the slaveholding South could rationally have had not to leave the Union is that they could absolutely expect military emancipation if they were reconquered. ( )
  rivkat | Jan 26, 2017 |
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Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District of Columbia, the high seas. By constricting slavery they would induce a crisis: slaves would escape in ever-greater numbers, the southern economy would falter, and finally the southern states would abolish the institution themselves. For their part the southern states fully understood this antislavery strategy. They cited it repeatedly as they adopted secession ordinances in response to Lincoln's election.The scorpion's sting is the centerpiece of this fresh, incisive exploration of slavery and the Civil War: Was there a peaceful route to abolition? Was Lincoln late to emancipation? What role did race play in the politics of slavery? With stunning insight James Oakes moves us ever closer to a new understanding of the most momentous events in our history.

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