William B. Turner
The election of Abraham Lincoln as president prompted the large slave owners and their political allies in southern states to start contemplating secession. South Carolina acted right away – the first state to secede from the union. Six more would secede before Lincoln took office in March 1861. The remainder would do so before the end of June that year.
This proved to be a foolish idea. Lincoln believed he had no authority to interfere with slavery where it existed and would not have acted without explicit permission from Congress, which was unlikely since the slave states had an equal number of Senators to forestall such permission. After the Civil War broke out, Lincoln initially ordered his military leaders to return runaway slaves to their owners. He only changed that order after the military leaders explained that the slaves were a military asset to the Confederacy and therefore fair game in wartime. With the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed zero slaves by its own terms, Lincoln made slavery an official issue in the War and nearly ensured the abolition of legal slavaery after the War was over.
The purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to make slavery an official issue in the War so the English would not enter on the side of the Confederacy, which they were considering doing.
Lincoln also believed he did have authority to force the seceded states to return to the Union and proceeded to call up troops for that purpose soon after he took office. The Confederacy’s defeat was by no means certain at the outset of the War, but they faced very long odds, and their own governing incompetence made their job even harder.
We thought the Civil War settled a number of issues decisively, but we have learned in the age of Trump that members of his Party are even willing to reminisce fondly about the good old days of slavery, stunning as that is to all thinking people. We knew that opponents of ending legalized racial segregation in the United States had flocked to the Republican Party after Democrat Lyndon Johnson led the way to passing major civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. We knew that they had only learned to be quiet about their desire to reinstate legal segregation. But we had thought they had given up on slavery.
Boy, were we wrong.
In an indication of how far the Republican Party has fallen, their new, so called president has sort of effectuated secession in reverse. In contrast to the legally scrupulous Lincoln, who opposed slavery but respected the lawful constraints on his authority, we have the entirely unscrupulous Donald Trump, who seems to think that the president of the United States is a sort of dictator who should suffer no lawful constraints on his authority at all and presides over a Party that recently nominated to high office a man who claimed the nation was better off when we still had slavery.
Instead of a minority of states fleeing the Union because of the president, we have a president who won the office with a minority of the popular votes who has inspired people all over to wish fervently that he would secede from office.
Lincoln took steps to prevent a major power from entering the war on the side of the slave owners. The would be slave owners in the modern Republican Party won the presidency with a new major power already on their side, the Russians.
The pro slavery side lost last time. They will lose again.