Main menu

Lincoln

This historical movie about the sixteenth president of the United States shows that transition of the United States from a pre-modern society to a modern one. The South was premodern, while the North was modern. The two fought each other for four years, the North won, and the South was forced to modernize.

It is sometimes believed that the war was fought about slavery. Slavery was part of Southern society, therefore it was part of the war, but it was not all. The whole of Southern society had to be transformed; slavery was just one of the elements that made up the South. I believe, and many historians agree with me on this point, that after a few decades, or maybe a century, slavery would have ended in the South, without the need for a war, because it was obsolete. Slavery works when there is work that needs to be done and no machines to do it. Slavery is inefficient when manual labor can be done by a machine, because a machine is less expensive to maintain than a slave. Machines do not have to be guarded, or fed, and even though they might break, they normally do not break, unlike men and women for whom illness is a normal part of life.

Slavery was prevalent at the end of the Roman Empire, but it died out in Western Europe during the Middle Ages so that, by about 1100, there were no more slaves. There were serfs, who were like slaves in some ways, but they were not exactly slaves. A slave is a human being who is owned by another human being; the owner can do whatever he wants to the slave, because the slave is his property. A serf is tied to a piece of land and is committed, for life, to serve the owner of that land. A serf must work for his lord without pay a few days a week, and he may not marry without his lord’s permission, and he cannot leave his land. A serf, however, is not the property of his lord. A lord does not have the right to kill his serf, except as punishment for a crime. A lord does not have the right to force his serf to leave the land (some lords did this, but it was not right). A lord could not sell a serf, or split up a family after he had given permission for one of his serfs to marry and thus start a family. Lords had the obligation to protect the serfs living on their land. After the Black Plague of 1346-49, there was a shortage of workers, so many serfs took the opportunity to work for pay, and then pay rent for their lands, which the lords preferred because they valued cash more than the products of the serfs’ labor. In this way, serfdom diminished and eventually disappeared in Western Europe. Thus, first slavery was transformed into serfdom, then serfdom was transformed into free labor working for money and paying rent. There was no war fought in Europe to free the slaves, nor was there any war fought to free the serfs. It just happened gradually because of changing economics.

The United States could have been like Europe. We see that after slavery was abolished in 1865, many of the former slaves became share-croppers. A share-cropper is much like a serf. In the 1960’s, the great-grandchildren of slaves finally gained equal rights with White Americans and rose out of share-cropping to become fully free citizens. I think that all this would have happened eventually without a Civil War. I think that slavery would have been abolished in the United States, and the grandchildren of slaves would have gained equal rights with White Americans. Maybe the abolition of slavery would have happened in 1920 instead of 1865, but if it had happened that way, I think that the peaceful emancipation would not have caused such hatred as the violent one did, and without such animosity, Blacks would not have been prevented from enjoying equal rights for such a long time. I think that if slavery had been ended in 1920, then by the 1960 or 1970 Blacks would have gained equal rights with Whites. The condition of Blacks today, in 2012, would not be worse than it is if the Civil War had never been fought. In fact, the condition of Blacks today might be better than it is, because the hatred fostered by a bloody Civil War and a cruel ‘Reconstruction’ would not exist.