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Coalitions and politics

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One curious line of reasoning used by many who defend appalling exercises like Confederate History month is to attempt to muddy the waters by observing that Lincoln, the Republicans, or “the North” were not, in fact pure as the driven snow with respect to slaver. On its own terms, this line of argument seems to pretty clearly be a dead end: a moderate shrinking of the moral gap between the North and South would do nothing to move the absolute position of the South on the moral spectrum here, which is what’s at issue when discussing the appropriateness of this kind of public historical narrative. But beyond that, the notion that Lincoln and many Northerners were primarily motivated by goals other than the abolitionist cause is true, but this is a deeply trivial truth. Indeed, the following is true: De Jure slavery was ended in this country by a political coalition which contained the following: some committed abolitionists, some lukewarm, timid abolitionists, and some people who were largely indifferent to the abolitionist cause. (Lincoln himself moved from the second category to the first). In this sense, the end of slavery is exactly like every other major political accomplishment in American history–by skill, luck or both, a group of committed reformers manages to steer a larger coalition long enough to accomplish a major goal. That’s how good things happen in politics. The notion that this ‘revelation’ makes a moral evaluation of the Confederacy more ambiguous is beyond bizarre.

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