Was the American Civil War a Just War?

Introduction 

The American Civil War was a defining moment not only in the history of the United States but in the history of the world. As Walt Whitman, an eyewitness of the Civil War, poignantly wrote in his book of poetry Leaves of Grass, it was on the United States that the “Earth’s résumé entire floats” and “the antecedent nations sink or swim with thee.”1 In other words, the United States acted, and arguably still acts, as the heir and representative of the entirety of the tradition of Western civilization. In the insistence of the founders of the United States that the underlying, central, and governing principles of the new nation were to be that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and that governments “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” the formation of the United States became a culminating moment in the history of Western thought.2 Principles that were primary in and essentially unique to Western culture, such as the equality of all men before God and the law, the belief that all human beings are entitled to certain rights by virtue of being members of the human race, and that a government must have the consent of the governed, were identified as the principles upon which the United States would stand. The Civil War, then, represents a summarizing event in Western civilization; it stands in line with the Peloponnesian War, the triumph of Christianity in Late Antiquity, the split between Eastern and Western Christendom in 1054, and the Protestant Reformation as one of the greatest schisms in Western civilization. Both sides of the Civil War, the federal government and the incipient Confederate States of America, represent this common heritage in all its contradiction and complexity. Part of this common heritage is the Just War theory developed by Greco-Roman thinkers like Aristotle and Cicero, which culminated in the thought of medieval and early modern Christian thinkers such as St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Hugo Grotius. Ironically, although both belligerents represent this common heritage and were fighting for two different aspects of Western civilization, and although both saw themselves as fighting for a just cause, neither participant in the American Civil War can be said to have fought a just war as both failed to meet the criteria of Just War theory.

Jus Ad Bellum

When considering whether a war effectively met the criteria of Just War theory, the first consideration that must be made is whether the reasons for war in the first place were just. In Latin, this stage of consideration is referred to as “Jus Ad Bellum,” meaning “just to war.” Traditionally, four criteria have been identified by Just War theorists as creating a situation in which a power is “just to war,” namely, (1) just authority, (2) just cause, (3) just intention, and (4) last resort.3

1. Just Authority

The first criterion, just authority, requires that the powers initiating and engaging in hostilities possess the legitimate authority to do so. Thomas Aquinas summarizes this point in his Summa Theologica in his claim that “in order for a war to be just” there must be a “sovereign” with valid authority “by whose command the war is to be waged” because “it is not the business of a private person to declare war” nor “the business of a private person to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime.”4 While it is apparent that the federal government of the United States meets this criterion, the government of the Confederacy does not appear to do so.5 Theoretically, it could be argued that the central government of the Confederacy derived its authority from the states which chose to enter into it and which were undoubtedly legitimate governing authorities, which in turn lends legitimacy to the government of the Confederacy as a kind of conglomerate government of these states. The Constitution of the United States of America, however, of which all of the constituent states of the Confederacy were signers, specifically grants the right “to raise and support Armies” only to the federal government.6 Furthermore, the Constitution also did not provide for the means nor even seem to envision the possibility of any state or group of states to decide to leave the Union, a fact which Abraham Lincoln himself pointed out in his First Inaugural Address, delivered on 4 March 1861:

It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.7

In addition, as Charles Guthrie and Michael Quinlan point out in their treatment of Just War theory in the modern world, “historically,” the criterion of just or competent authority “has usually meant the ruler or government of a sovereign state, as opposed to an internal warlord or faction.”8 In other words, traditional Just War theory does not seem to countenance a civil war, no matter for how ostensibly just a cause. The Confederacy, then, fails to meet the criterion of just authority.

2. Just Cause

A just cause for war is perhaps the most central and important of the criteria of Jus Ad Bellum. Even those who are entirely unversed in the niceties of Just War theory and international law generally demand that there be a just cause for the initiation of military action by one nation upon another. To determine if either or both sides of the Civil War possessed a just cause for war, the reasons for the conflict as viewed and enunciated by each side must be examined; although there are a variety of causes which led to the Civil War, there are two overarching reasons behind all of the causes: (1) a dispute over the role of the federal government in relation to the rights of the states to govern themselves and (2) slavery, arguably the deepest of all underlying issues and causes of the war.

From a Southern perspective, the ultimate cause of the Civil War was the infringement on the rights of the states by the federal government. As the website of the Civil War Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historical sites related to the Civil War, succinctly states it, “Southerners were sure that the North meant to take away their right to govern themselves, abolish slavery, and destroy the Southern economy.”9 From this perspective, it is possible to see the Civil War as a struggle by the Confederacy against the tyranny of the United States government, which would seem to indicate a just cause. If the implications of and reasons for the cry of “states’ rights” on the part of Southerners is examined deeper, however, the uncovered roots overturn such a conclusion.

Ultimately, for Southerners, the right of the states that was being demanded was the right to determine the legality of slavery. According to Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy,

our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from abolition]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.10

While Union leaders, on the other hand, identified the war primarily as “a struggle to preserve the Union” early in the conflict, they quickly realized that the only way to preserve the Union was to agree with the Confederate leadership that the war was primarily about slavery and to adopt the equal and opposite position of those like Stephens, seeking instead to “reconstruct the Union into the nation it should have been without slavery.”11 In its very essence, then, at its deepest roots, the Civil War was a war about slavery.

Although slavery has been practiced throughout most of the history of the world, including those segments of the world and its history that make up Western civilization, slavery has also received an unequivocal condemnation by this tradition. As historian Thomas Cahill notes, “in the prescriptions of Jewish law we cannot but note a presumption that all people, even slaves, are human and that all human lives are sacred.”12 From these ancient Jewish roots, Christianity derived its “claim that all were equal before God and all equally precious to him,” a claim which “ran through class-conscious, minority-despising, weakness-ridiculing Greco-Roman society like a charged current” and overturned the previous ideological foundations upon which Western society had based its belief in the legitimacy of the practice of slavery.13 14 As a result of this claim, early Christian thinkers and leaders like late fourth century bishop St. Gregory of Nyssa became among the first writers in the world to adopt a truly abolitionist position towards slavery and to oppose the practice on principle.15 As Cahill has pointed out, it is only within the context of this strain of thought that a claim like that of the American Declaration of Independence that it is “self-evident that all men are created equal” can make any sense at all or, for that matter, “could ever have been” made in the first place.16 If such a claim is accepted as true, whether self-evidently or not, slavery must, by implication, be viewed as immoral per se.

If the ultimate and underlying cause of the Civil War for both sides thereof is indeed slavery, it is this issue which must determine which side, if either, had a just cause for the initiation of hostilities. According to St. Augustine of Hippo, as quoted by Thomas Aquinas in his discussion of Just War, “a just war is … one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”17 Given that slavery is a “wrong” in need of “punishment” and that the Confederacy had “unjustly” seceded from the Union for this cause, the federal government here again seems to meet the criteria of Jus Ad Bellum whereas the Confederacy fails to do so.

3. Just Intention

The third criterion of Jus Ad Bellum, just intention, requires that the belligerents involved in a war have the correct intentions in commencing hostilities. In the succinct phrasing of Aquinas, the criterion of just intention is the criterion that belligerent powers “intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.”18 They cannot intend to inflict hateful or undue punishments upon their opponents but only to redress the wrongs for which they are going to war. In this regard, again, the Union seems to have the advantage over the Confederacy in meeting the criteria of Just War theory.

Although, as will be discussed in the section on Jus in Bello, the Union often failed to live up to its intentions, it is clear from both his words and his actions that President Abraham Lincoln, as the leader of the Union, desired “to achieve peace as expeditiously as possible.”19 His goal from the beginning of the war and throughout its duration was to end the conflict and reintegrate the South back into the Union as quickly and easily as possible. To this end, he opposed those members of his own political party who called for more radical measures in punishing the South’s political and military leadership as well as its economic aristocracy at the end of the war. Although he insisted upon the emancipation of blacks and the abolition of slavery throughout the United States, he was, not to his credit, even willing to compromise on the enfranchisement of former slaves and other blacks as full citizens with voting rights in order to satisfy the prejudices and alleviate the fears of Southern whites, stating in his final speech before his assassination that he desired that, among blacks, only “the very intelligent” and Union veterans of the Civil War be granted the right to vote.20

In contrast to these rather amicable intentions on the part of the highest leadership in the federal government stands the rancor that dominated the intentions of the highest leadership in the Confederate government. In his Normans and Saxons, an intellectual history of the idea of race in its relation to the Civil War, Ritchie Devon Watson, Jr., demonstrates that the rhetoric of white Southerners against blacks, Northern whites, and other target groups exceeded mere polemic and entered the realm of vitriolic demonization.21 One example of the existence and nature of such hatred even among the highest ranks in the Confederacy may be found in the apparent approval of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, for the assassination of Lincoln.22 In this point of Just War theory as in those previously considered, the Union once again meets this criterion whereas the Confederacy fails to measure up.

4. Last Resort

The final essential ingredient of Jus Ad Bellum, according to classical formulations of Just War theory, is that the resort to armed conflict be a last resort. Even if just authority, just cause, and just intention all exist, warfare must itself be the final and even unavoidable course of action in order for engagement in warfare to be deemed just. Augustine goes as far as saying that in order for a war to be just the nation which engages in its and its leader must be compelled by force of necessity to enter into warfare, claiming that “it is the wrongdoing of the opposing party which compels the wise man to wage just wars.”23 If either side in the Civil War can be said to have been compelled to enter the war by force of necessity, it must be the Union.

While there are many events which contributed to the eventual outbreak of open conflict between North and South, the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency is undoubtedly the match that sparked the flame. The crisis created by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, in which antislavery and proslavery factions vied to populate the territories with their own members and, by extension, to depopulate the territories of members of the other faction, in order to ensure that the new territories entered the Union as non-slave or slave states, respectively, the 1859 attack of John Brown and his men upon the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, by which he hoped to spark a war over slavery, and other similar events created a tension which hung thick in the air in 1860. The election of Lincoln, who had been elected as a senator from Illinois only two years earlier on “a strong anti-slavery ticket,” as it has been described, was the final straw as far as Southerners were concerned.24

Although he did not receive the majority of the vote, Lincoln did receive a strong plurality among the four candidates for the presidency. Whereas his Democratic opponent, Stephen Douglas, carried 29.5% of the vote, Lincoln took 39.9%, more than enough to represent a decisive victory.25 In the words of historian William E. Gienap, “the northern majority possessed the power to which it was entitled. Yet southerners refused to accept the popular verdict.”26 According to historian William C. Harris, who, in turn, relies upon the account of historian John William Draper, Jefferson Davis himself once plainly informed two Northerners who inquired of him the reasons for secession during the Civil War, “we seceded to rid ourselves of the rule of the majority.”27 In short, in the words of Harris, “Southern failure to abide by majority rule was at the center of the secession crisis.”28 29

Lincoln, on the other hand, tried to prevent Southern secession and the outbreak of war. Although he was portrayed by those who wanted to stoke Southern fears as a “black Republican” and an “abolitionist” and although he had voiced opposition to slavery in the past, Lincoln continually reassured those who would listen to him that he was no radical and did not plan to drastically overturn the state of things in the United States.30 His priorities, as he himself said, were to maintain the Union, to enforce its laws as they stood, and to seek peaceful resolutions to the conflicts and complexities that plagued it. The South, however, hardly gave him the opportunity to even begin taking action. Only “one month after Lincoln was elected president, the state of South Carolina announced its secession from the Union” and “within a few weeks, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit.”31 The Confederates were also the first to engage in violence against the other side, firing the opening shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on 12 April 1861. Even in his Second Inaugural Address, delivered on 4 March 1865, as the war was drawing to a close, Lincoln expressed a belief, perhaps solidified throughout the course of a war he had first fought to prevent and then tried desperately to abbreviate and lessen the harshness of but had failed in both goals, that the United States had been inexorably drawn into the war by divine mandate:

We shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.32

In its rush to and insistence upon secession, the Confederacy yet again failed to meet the standard set by Just War theory. The Union, on the other hand, especially in its leader’s willingness to continue to attempt to negotiate through the differences of ideology and practice that separated the two major regions of the nation and in his stated commitment to place the peace and preservation of the Union foremost in his desires, successfully satisfied the criterion of last resort. There can be little doubt that in meeting the requirement of Augustine that a just war be a war in which a national power is compelled to participate by force of necessity the Confederacy fell far short and the Union succeeded.

5. Conclusion

In final consideration of the four criteria of Jus ad Bellum, the Union is shown to have had the “right to war” in the Civil War whereas the Confederacy did not. Whereas the federal government was a legitimate and sovereign governing authority, the Confederacy failed, as a rebellious group rising against its legitimate government, to meet the criterion of just authority. The federal government also satisfied the criterion of just cause in its desire to simultaneously preserve its sovereign territories to itself and to end the gravely unjust practice of slavery within its borders, whereas the Confederacy’s quest to uphold the institution of slavery, given that it is unjust per se, is clearly an unjust cause for war. The Union’s just intention of repatriating the Southern states to itself quickly and peacefully also satisfied the criterion of just intention, whereas the vitriolic hatred exhibited by all ranks of Confederate leadership for blacks, Northern whites, and anyone else opposed to its cause runs obviously contrary to the criterion of just intention. Finally, the South’s overeager rush for war presents a stark contrast with the nearly desperate pleas of the leadership in the federal government for a peaceful resolution to the internal dissensions of the United States, demonstrating that only the federal government meets the criterion of last resort. In short, the Union adequately satisfied the criterion for Jus Ad Bellum, whereas the Confederacy did not.

Jus In Bello

The next series of points which must be considered in a discussion of whether a specific war can be considered a just war in accordance with traditional formulations of Just War theory is that set of criteria which fall under the category “Jus In Bello,” a Latin phrase meaning “just in war.”33 As the name of this set of criteria indicates, Jus In Bello involves the consideration of whether the actual conduct of a particular belligerent in a war was just. The three criteria of Jus In Bello are (1) proportionality, (2) discrimination, and (3) responsibility. Whereas the federal government adequately satisfied all of the criteria for Jus Ad Bellum, both the Confederacy and the Union failed to satisfy any of the three criteria of Jus In Bello. The actions of the Union army which entered into and crossed through Georgia under General William Tecumseh Sherman, perhaps best demonstrate the failures of both sides in the Civil War to conduct a just war. Sherman’s infamous March to Sea, which has been remembered by subsequent generations largely for its brutality, particularly serves as an outstanding case study in the failure of both powers in the Civil War to practice just conduct within warfare.

1. Proportionality

The first criterion of Jus In Bello is proportionality; proportionality requires that the methods and amount of force used during warfare be proportionate to their desired effect. In other words, given that a belligerent power has just cause and just intention, said belligerent power may only use the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve its intention and satisfy its cause. The actions of the Union army under General Sherman, in flagrant defiance of this criterion, exemplify disproportionality in wartime conduct.

Even before their March to the Sea, more properly referred to as the Savannah Campaign, the Union troops led by Sherman proved their preference for cruelty and their penchant for disproportionality. The burning of Atlanta, Georgia, is one example. On 14 November 1864, just over two months after his army had captured the city, Sherman ordered the entire destruction of the city of Atlanta. According to historian Russell S. Bonds, approximately 4000 homes and businesses were burned to the ground; of the entire city only 400 buildings, just about a tenth of the city, remained standing.34 In a description reminiscent of the common, even if probably false, depiction of the burning of Rome, during which the Emperor Nero, ostensibly the perpetrator of the crime, arrayed himself in a stage costume and sang a song, Union officer Captain Daniel Oakey reported that, while Atlanta burned, the Second Massachusetts’s “post band and that of the Thirty-third Massachusetts played martial airs and operatic selections.”35 36

Whatever the accuracy or lack thereof in this grotesque picture, there can be little doubt that the burning of Atlanta was an act of gross disproportionality in the conduct of warfare. The burning of Atlanta, however, was only the beginning. The March to the Sea that commenced with the burning of Atlanta continued for more than a month, with the federal troops under Sherman “creating a charred avenue over 40 miles wide through the unprotected State [of Georgia], destroying the railroads, seizing all provisions, pillaging, plundering and burning.”37 Sherman’s actions were drastically disproportionate to the cause and intentions of the federal government; the Union and its leaders, then, especially Sherman, failed to succeed in meeting the criterion of proportionality.

2. Discrimination

The second criterion of Jus In Bello is discrimination, which refers to the responsibility of the belligerent power to discriminate between military and civilian targets and to only strike the former while avoiding as much as possibly any damage to the latter. Sherman’s burning of Atlanta and the entirety of his Savannah Campaign once again demonstrate the failure of the federal forces engaged in the Civil War to conduct themselves justly on this point. Not only did Sherman fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets, he actively ordered and encouraged his troops to raid and attack civilian targets.

While his troops were in the Carolinas, for instance, before entering into Georgia, Sherman sent out foraging parties which became known as “Sherman’s bummers” who became a well-known and much-despised presence among the civilian population for their behavior.38 These “bummers” became known among the civilian populations of the Carolinas for their lewd and disrespectful demeanor and for “pillaging and burning” food and other necessary supplies that were often extremely scarce in the South during the war.39

When his “bummers” began to be found murdered wearing signs indicating “death to all foragers,” Sherman offered pale and unacceptable excuses for their behavior. He wrote to one of the generals under him, for instance, that “I contend if the enemy fails to defend his country we may rightfully appropriate what we want.”40 41 He added the further justification that he believed his troops had the right to “destroy cotton and tobacco,” in spite of the fact that these crops were grown by civilians on privately-owned property and often represented the livelihood of those who grew them, “because these things are assumed by the rebel Government to belong to it, and are used as a valuable source of revenue.”42 For Sherman, nearly every Southerner was in some sense an enemy, complicit in the Confederate rebellion against the federal government and liable to punishment for his or her complicity. Every target, then, was, in some sense, a civilian target.

Using a similar line of reasoning, Sherman justified his burning of Atlanta by claiming that the city had been and could again be, after the departure of his troops to continue their march, be put to military use.43 This is hardly a valid reason, however, to destroy nearly an entire city, including thousands of private homes and businesses. Years after the Civil War, Sherman would, perhaps in an attempt, whether conscious or not, to justify his actions during the war, tell a crowd of listeners, “there is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory. But boys it is all hell.”44 45 In the end, it is abundantly clear that Sherman and the Union forces of which he was a leader refused to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants; as a result, they failed to meet the criterion of discrimination.

3. Responsibility

According to Jon Dorbolo, the third and final criterion of Jus In Bello, responsibility, itself divides into three parts.46 According to this criterion, a belligerent power is not responsible for the negative consequences of the war and therefore not itself unjust in spite of the injustice which inevitably accompanies armed conflict if (a) the particular course of action which caused the negative consequences was intended for good, (b) the particular course of action which caused the negative consequences was not intended for bad, and (c) the overall good outweighs the bad.

It could be argued that even Sherman’s March to the Sea, in spite of all its apparent brutality, does in fact fit the criterion of responsibility and therefore qualifies as Jus In Bello. It was, after all, so it could be argued, only what was necessary to end the war as quickly as possible. By demoralizing Southerners and destroying their means of subsistence in addition to their military supplies, Sherman stripped them of their will to war and so brought about the end of the war. If this is true, it can be seen that Sherman’s actions were intended for good, were not intended for bad, and, given that he accomplished his goal of bringing about the end of the war, this good outweighs all of the bad he did in order to achieve it. Even Sherman himself, after all, once said, only a few months after his brutal Atlanta and Savannah campaigns, that “the legitimate object of war is a more perfect peace.”47

Such a line of reasoning, however, does not stand up to the light of scrutiny and thorough, thoughtful consideration. In the end, this line of reasoning amounts to little more than a Machiavellian assertion that the ends justify the means. If Sherman’s March to the Sea is allowed as somehow “just” simply because it contributed to the eventual Confederate surrender and Union victory in the Civil War, nearly any conduct within warfare can be twisted to fit the definition of Jus In Bello. While it can be admitted that Sherman’s actions contributed substantially to the fall of the Confederacy and the triumph of the Union, this admission can in no way be used to justify the actions as having been just per se.

4. Conclusion

The only sound conclusion that can be reached in regards to Jus In Bello and the Civil War is that neither belligerent power met any of the criteria. Both sides in the Civil War failed to practice proportionality and discrimination. As a result, both sides bear the full burden of responsibility for the negative consequences of their actions.

Jus Post Bellum

Although not included in the classical treatments of Just War theory, the concept of Jus Post Bellum, or “justice after war,” has been become a standard aspect of formulations of Just War theory in the modern world and seems a fitting conclusion to any discussion of Just War theory.48 Brian Orend, one of the first of the modern Just War theorists to discuss the concept of Jus Post Bellum, outlined two criteria in particular for Jus Post Bellum: (1) compensation and (2) rehabilitation. Drawing upon earlier and generally accepted formulations of Just War theory, Orend posits that, in short, the victor in a war must not exact undue punishment from the losing power but should instead assist in its attempts to rebuild and rehabilitate.

While the era of Reconstruction which followed the Civil War had both its accomplishments and its failures, a fair assessment would conclude that Reconstruction largely met the criteria of Jus Post Bellum as outlined by Orend. The Union succeeded in reintegrating the South back into the United States in a relatively expeditious manner. Efforts were made to rebuild the South and what few punishments were exacted upon the former Confederacy and its leaders, such as the disenfranchisement of many Southerners from the vote and the imprisonment of leaders like Jefferson Davis, were generally, for better or worse, short-lived. The failure that lingers over Reconstruction is, ultimately, its inability to simultaneously integrate the newly freed slaves and other blacks throughout the United States as well as reintegrate the whites of the South into the fabric of American life and politics. These two goals appear to have been mutually exclusive in practice. As a result, the unequivocal recognition of full citizenship for black Americans was delayed for nearly 100 years and a long era of segregation, lynching, second-class citizenship, distrust, and hatred set in Southern life and in American life as a whole. In consideration of this, it could be said that the United States also failed to accomplish Jus Post Bellum in that it did not fully satisfy the criterion of rehabilitation, or at least took an inordinately long time to do so.

Conclusion

The American Civil War, as the outbreak of armed conflict due to a rift that had existed in the fabric of Western civilization nearly since the infancy of that civilization, embodied a certain tension in Western thought and finally determined the course that Western civilization would take on the questions of slavery, liberty, equality, and democracy. Although the Civil War, on both sides, was truly representative of the heritage of the Western tradition, neither belligerent satisfied all of the criteria for Just War theory, a central aspect of Western thought on warfare and international relations.

While the Union met the criteria of Jus Ad Bellum, qualifying as having just reason and ability to engage in warfare, the Union failed to maintain justice throughout the war and so satisfy the criteria of Jus In Bello. In addition, although it could be argued that the efforts of the federal government to reintegrate white Southerners back into the mainstream of the United States indicates that the Union satisfied the criteria for Jus Post Bellum, it should also be pointed out that in allowing the reentrance of Southern whites into American life a very large number of human beings, namely freed slaves and other blacks, were excluded from meaningful participation in American life and denied justice. In addition, injustice was allowed to continue in the South, in spite of the end of slavery, in the form of segregation and oppression targeting blacks and other ethnic and religious minorities. The other belligerent power in the war, the Confederacy, failed to satisfy any of the criteria of Just War theory. On final analysis, then, although the Civil War accomplished the good of finally ending slavery in the United States, a power representative of and at the helm of Western civilization, it must be concluded that the American Civil War was not a just war.

Notes1 Walt Whitman, “Thou Mother With Thy Equal Brood,” 4, Leaves of Grass (New York: The Modern Library, 2001), 564.

2 Declaration of Independence, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/index.htm (accessed 23 December 2012).

3 Jon Dorbolo, “Just War Theory,” Oregon State University (2010) http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/just_war_theory/criteria_intro.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

4 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II, Section II, Q. 40. Art. 2., ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 20 (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 578.

5 Although it could be and has been argued that the incipient American government failed to meet this criterion in the Revolutionary War, the consequences of such a determination for the Civil War are ambiguous. There is the potential for using the assumption of the inherent righteousness of the American cause in the Revolution coupled with the lack of support for any revolution at all in Just War theory as an argumentum ad absurdum against Just War theory. Free of the assumption of the justness of the American cause against the British monarchy, however, the case could also be made that the American Revolution was in fact unjust. One example of a paper which argues that the American Revolutionary War was an unjust war is John Keown, “America’s War for Independence: Just or Unjust?,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, http://kennedyinstitute.georgetown.edu/files/KeownAmericasWar.pdf (accessed 23 December 2012).

6 The United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, item 12, http://constitutionus.com/ (accessed 23 December 2012).

7 Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

8 Charles Guthrie and Michael Quinlan, Just War: The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare (New York: Walker & Company, 2007), 13.

9 “States’ Rights: The Rallying Cry of Secession,” Civil War Trust (2011) http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/civil-war-overview/statesrights.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

10 Alexander Hamilton Stephens, in David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 49.

11 Ibid., 364-5.

12 Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York: Anchor Books, 1998), 154.

13 Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 44.

14 Aristotle, for example, argues in his Politics, Book I, Chapters 3-6, as elsewhere, that there are those who are “intended by nature to be a slave” and those, on the other hand, who are naturally masters. The Confederate racial ideology as elucidated by Stephens, though never fully developed, seems to have been a revival of this way of reasoning, which further exhibits the nature of the American Civil War as a civil war in Western civilization as a whole, perhaps between the Hebraic and Greco-Roman strands thereof. (Aristotle, Politics, in, Aristotle II, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 9 (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 446-9.)

15 Although the sentiment is common to many early Christian writers, Gregory of Nyssa is singled out for having issued one of the clearest calls for abolition in the ancient world in his fourth homily on Ecclesiastes; see Eric Denby, “The First Abolitionist? Gregory of Nyssa on Ancient Roman Slavery,” 9 May 2011, http://www.academia.edu/1485109/The_First_Abolitionist_Gregory_of_Nyssa_on_Ancient_Roman_Slavery (accessed 23 December 2012).

16 Cahill, Gifts of the Jews, 249.

17 Augustine of Hippo, in Aquinas, Summa Theologica.

18 Aquinas, Summa Theologica.

19 Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2002), 73-4.

20 Abraham Lincoln, in Foner, Reconstruction, 74.

21 Ritchie Devon Watson, Jr., Normans and Saxons: Southern Race Mythology and the Intellectual History of the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008).

22 “Jefferson Davis and the Assassination,” University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/davistestimony.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

23 St. Augustine, The City of God, Book 4, Chapter 14, tr. Marcus Dods, in Robert Maynard Hutchins, Augustine (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 196.

24 Thomas H. Flaherty, ed., The Colonial Overlords (TimeFrame AD 1850-1900) (Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1990), 140.

25 “Election of 1860,” The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=1860 (accessed 23 December 2012).

26 William E. Gienap, “The Republican Party and the Slave Power,” in Robert H. Abzug and Stephen E. Maizlish, editors, New Perspectives on Slavery and Race in America: Essays in Honor of Kenneth M. Stampp (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986), 64-65.

27 John William Draper, in William C. Harris, “Abraham Lincoln and Secession,” The Lincoln Institute Presents: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/library/newsletter.asp?ID=140&CRLI=197 (accessed 23 December 2012).

28 Harris, “Abraham Lincoln.”

29 This conflict between the democratic principle of majority rule, enshrined in the Constitution, and the interests of the wealthy and powerful Southern aristocracy exhibits another way in which the American Civil War represents the summarizing of a conflict that had long troubled Western civilization as a whole, namely the conflict between the oligarchic and democratic forms of government. This rift in Western thought makes perhaps its first appearance in a written document with Herodotus, The History, Book III, pars. 80-3, in which passage the respective merits and demerits of monarchy, democracy, and oligarchy are discussed and debated. The history of Athens, arguably the world’s first democracy, also exhibits this tension. (Herodotus, The History, in Herodotus and Thucydides, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 6 (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 107-8.)

30 Harris, “Abraham Lincoln.”

31 Flaherty, Colonial Overlords, 140.

32 Abraham Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address,” http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

33 Dorbolo, “Just War Theory.”

34 Russell S. Bonds, War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta (Yardley: Westholme Publishing, 2009), 363.

35 For a classical presentation of the common depiction of the burning of Rome, see Suetonius, “The Life of Nero,” 38, in The Lives of the Caesars, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Nero*.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

36 Daniel Oakey, in “Sherman in Georgia!,” Home of the American Civil War (10 February 2002) http://www.civilwarhome.com/shermangeorgia.htm (accessed 23 December 2012).

37 “Sherman in Georgia!”

38 “The Carolinas Campaign: Death To All Foragers,” Wade Hampton Camp, http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/hist-hvs.html (accessed 23 December 2012).

39 John G. Barrett, Sherman’s March Through the Carolinas (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956), 96.

40 William T. Sherman, in “The Carolinas Campaign.”

41 Sherman’s statement sounds very similar to the claim of Aristotle in his Politics, Book I, Chapter 8, in which he asserts that “the art of war is a natural art of acquisition, an art which we ought to practise … against men who, though they be intended by nature to be governed, will not submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.” In short, Aristotle, in a foreshadowing of Sherman, claims that it is right to take what one’s enemy cannot prevent one from taking and that the ability to acquire indicates that it is naturally just to do so. A similar sentiment is expressed in the famous Melian dialogue recorded in Thucydides’s account of The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book V, par. 89, in which the Athenians nonchalantly inform the Melians that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” This ethic of “might makes right” perhaps indicates the similarity of Sherman’s ideas of warfare to those developed before the advent of a full-fledged Just War theory following the triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire. (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, in Herodotus and Thucydides, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 6 (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 505.)

42 Ibid.

43 “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” Home of the American Civil War (16 February 2002) http://www.civilwarhome.com/marchtothesea.htm (accessed 23 December 2012).

44 Sherman, in Eicher, Longest Night, 847.

45 This statement presents an interesting contrast with the claim of the Presocratic Greek philosopher Democritus, as recorded by Plutarch, that men “ought to be instructed in the art of war … which is a source of great and glorious things for men,” in Plutarch, Against Colotes, 1126A. It demonstrates that even in the case of someone like Sherman, whose approach to warfare was far more in line with combat before the full flowing of Just War theory in the Christian era, perspectives had been altered and shaped by the introduction of new ideas on warfare. (Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 229.)

46 Dorbolo, “Just War Theory.”

47 Sherman, in Eicher, Longest Night, 847.

48 Brian Orend, “Justice after War,” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/journal/16_1/articles/277.html/_res/id=sa_File1/277_orend.pdf (accessed 23 December 2012).

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3 comments

  1. Lots of problems with this essay imho. The first one that jumps out at me is you seem to equate “secession” with “waging war”. Remember, that had the U.S. accepted the secession of the C.S. there would have been NO war at all. And the legitemacy(sp?) of the C.S. is the same as that of the 'incipient' union of 1776 as described in the Dec. of Indep.

  2. The first one that jumps out at me is you seem to equate “secession” with “waging war”.

    See the quote by Lincoln featured in this essay: “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.”

    And the legitemacy(sp?) of the C.S. is the same as that of the 'incipient' union of 1776 as described in the Dec. of Indep.

    See my note 5.

  3. I simply disagree with you and old Abe. The Declaration spells out what I think is the proper philosophy for gov't. That is the “consent of the governed”. I would take it even further and call for a consensus, but that's not germane here.

    The Union lost the consent of the Southern people. They gave their consent to Davis's gov't. Even Lincoln held this view when TX was seceding from Mexico, and gave a great speech on it to the House.

    The right to leave a gov't MUST be. Otherwise the members of the union are all slaves to it. Unfortunately the only nation i'm aware of that codified it was Ethiopia. Subsequently Eritrea seceded with no war. (Hopefully they can keep that streak going)

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