[From "American History Series: Distinctions of Rights"]
I’m continuing to enjoy reading Eric Foner’s new book The Second Founding: How The Civil War And Reconstruction Remade The Constitution in part because it sheds so much light on the ongoing Sohrab Ahmari vs. David French debate within mainstream conservatism.
This is an important point.
Americans didn’t think about “rights” in the same way today that we did before the War Between the States. This is particularly true of the South. Every Southern state was a slave state. The Constitution had secured slavery. It was the states that determined citizenship, not the federal government, and blacks weren’t citizens of any states in the antebellum era outside of New England.
There was no such thing as negro equality – natural, civil, political or social – and the mainstream consensus of the antebellum era was a strong denial of it. There used to be sharp distinctions between these various categories of rights. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided that blacks weren’t eligible to be American citizens at all in the Dred Scott decision, which is why the 14th Amendment had to be passed during Reconstruction to uphold the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
It was the Confederacy that fought to defend the old America made up of organic communities that was a White Republic that was comfortable with inequality and limited government.
It was the Union that fought to create a new consolidated and centralized nation-state based on liberal democracy, free-market capitalism, industrialism and abolitionism.
In that war, one side fought for classical republicanism and the other side fought for liberal democracy. This is a subtle, but hugely important philosophical distinction.