Friday, May 24, 2024

Could the Confederacy Have Won the Civil War by Arming Their Slaves in 1862?

The primary reason why the Union defeated the Confederacy in the Civil War is that the Union had far more soldiers and sailors than did the Confederacy.  The Union enhanced this advantage beginning in the summer of 1862 with the first deployment of black soldiers.  By the end of the war, 180,000 black soldiers and 18,000 black sailors had fought for the Union; and most of them had been enslaved at the start of the war.

The Union's numerical advantage could have been lessened if the Confederacy had armed its slaves early in the war.  David Brion Davis--one of the leading historians of slavery and abolition--once suggested that if the Confederacy had armed large numbers of its slaves as early as the spring of 1862, that might have won the war for the South (Davis 2006, 11).  Actually, in the last year of the war, there was a public debate in the Confederacy over the possibility of arming the slaves.  And in March of 1865, the Confederate Congress passed a law authorizing the military enrollment of slaves to fight for the South.  But by then it was too late to make any difference in the war, because Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9.

The Confederacy was a grand experiment in government.  Conceived in the liberty of white men to enslave others and dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal, it became the largest and most powerful republic of white men based on slavery in the world at that time.  (This explains why some of the leading thinkers on the American Far Right today--like Curtis Yarvin--admire the Confederacy.)  The Civil War was a test of whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure.  It did not.

Could the Confederacy have endured if it had armed its slaves early in the war?  Or would this have denied the theory of slavery on which the Confederacy was founded?  Could the slaves have been armed without being emancipated?  Would armed slaves have fought to preserve their own enslavement?  If they had, would this have proven that they were natural slaves who consented to their enslavement?  Or did most Confederate leaders in March of 1865 accept the emancipation of slaves as the necessary condition for arming them?  Did they therefore accept that a slaveholders' republic like the Confederate States of America could not long endure?

The critical turning point for the Confederacy in this debate came at the beginning of July of 1863.  On July 3, Jefferson Davis received the news of the defeat at the battle of Gettysburg, with 28,000 Confederate men killed or wounded, one third of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  On July 4, Davis learned of General Pemberton's surrender to Grant at Vicksburg and the loss of a whole army of 30,000 men.  A few days later, Davis received a letter from Robert E. Lee asking for reinforcements.  Lee observed: "Conscious that the enemy has been much shattered in the recent battle, I am aware that he can easily be reinforced, while no addition can be made to our numbers."

Now, for the first time, some Confederate officials began to discuss the enlistment of black men.  In August, a legislative committee in the Alabama state legislature debated a series of emergency measures that included the compulsory impressment of slaves for military service as "pioneers, sappers, and miners, cooks, nurses, teamsters, or as soldiers" (McCurry 2010, 323).  One newspaper editor at the Montgomery Weekly Mail worried that that negroes are "racial inferiors," but "the proposition to make them soldiers" would be a "practical equalization of the races."

In this early debate, there was no discussion of the possibility of emancipation.  But over the next year and a half, three possibilities emerged.  (1)  Arm the slaves and keep them enslaved.  (2)  Arm the slaves and emancipate only the black soldiers, and perhaps also their families.  (3)  Arm the slaves and emancipate all the slaves.

The third option was the most radical.  It was proposed on January 2, 1864, in a remarkable memorandum written by Major General Patrick Cleburne.  He was an officer of the Army of Tennessee, and he sent the memo to other officers.  "Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy," he insisted.  "If this state continues much longer, we must be subjugated."  Moreover, "slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness," because Confederate slaves were being recruited by the Union armies, and the slaves were an "omnipresent spy system" for the Union soldiers.  Thus, the Confederates had to wage war with the Union army in front and "an insurrection in the rear" (Cleburne 1880; McCurry 2010, 325-331).

Under these circumstances, the only way for the Confederacy to have any chance to avoid defeat, Cleburne argued, was to recruit the slaves into the Confederate army.  But to motivate the slaves to fight for the Confederacy, he insisted, they would have to be promised a general emancipation.  To preserve its independence, the Confederacy would have to give up slavery.  "For many years, ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced, the negro has been dreaming of freedom.  It has become the paradise of his hopes.  To attain it, he will attempt dangers and difficulties not exceeded by the bravest soldier in the field."  The Confederacy would have to satisfy that dream of freedom "by emancipating the whole race upon reasonable terms" (Cleburne 1880). 

Jefferson Davis ordered the suppression of Cleburne's document, because it was "injurious to the public service that such a subject should be mooted."  Cleburne was ordered to destroy all of his personal copies.  Sometime in the 1880s, a copy of his memo was discovered and published.

In November of 1864, after the fall of Atlanta in September, the Confederacy's situation had become so desperate that even President Davis proposed to the Confederate Congress that slaves be armed.  But unlike Cleburne, Davis said nothing about general emancipation.  

Davis's proposal sparked a passionate debate.  Many Southerners thought that arming slaves would betray the proslavery national identity of the Confederacy.  General Howell Cobb of Georgia complained:  "If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong" (McCurry 2010, 352).  

But by the winter of 1864, the Confederate armies had become so decimated by casualties and desertion--Davis said that two-thirds of the army had deserted (Weitz 2005)--some Southerners argued that arming slaves might be a necessary evil.  Some thought that the slaves would fight for the Confederacy--and for the preservation of slavery--without any promise of freedom for themselves.  Others thought the slaves would fight only if the armed slaves were promised freedom for themselves and their families.  Almost no one took Cleburne's position that arming slaves would require a general emancipation of all slaves.

On March 8, 1865, the Confederate Congress passed a law (by a narrow vote) authorizing President Davis to arm slaves.  On March 13, Davis signed the law that permitted him "to accept from the owners of slaves the services of such number of able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient . . . to perform military service in whatever capacity he may direct" (McCurry 2010, 350).  Notice that this preserved the power of the slaveholder over his slave, and nothing was said about emancipation.

On March 17, Abraham Lincoln responded to this development in an impromptu speech at the White House to the 140th Indiana Regiment:

". . . I have in my lifetime heard many arguments why the negroes ought to be slaves; but if they fight for those who would keep them in slavery it will be a better argument than any I have yet heard. (Laughter and applause.)  He who will fight for that ought to be a slave. (Applause.)  They have concluded at last to take one out of four of the slaves, and put them in the army; and that one of the four who will fight to keep the other in slavery ought to be a slave himself unless he is killed in a fight. (Applause.)  While I have often said that all men ought to be free, yet I would allow those colored persons to be slaves who want to be; and next to them those white persons who argue in favor of making other people slaves. (Applause.)  I am in favor of giving an opportunity to such white men to try it on for themselves. (Applause.) . . ." (1989, 2:690-91).

Lincoln seemed to suggest here that any slaves who would fight for their own enslavement ought to be enslaved, because they have shown themselves to be natural slaves.  But there is also a mocking tone to his comments (with laughter from the audience) that indicates he doesn't believe this--that surely slaves will never fight to enslave themselves, and the Confederates are foolish if they believe this.

Apparently, however, President Davis was unwilling to try the experiment of arming slaves to fight to keep themselves in slavery.  On March 23, he signed and released a general order, as a piece of enabling legislation, that "No slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freedman" (McCurry 2010, 350-51).  This is a stunning concession by the President of a slaveholding republic:  to win the slave's "consent" to fight for the Confederacy, Davis must recognize his "rights of a freedman."

General Lee wanted to go further than that--more towards Cleburne's proposal.  He said that they could not "expect slaves to fight for prospective freedom when they can secure it at once by going to the enemy," so "the best means of securing the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of gradual and general emancipation" (McCurry 2010, 342).

There is a long history from antiquity to modern times of arming slaves, but one historian surveying that history has concluded that "the arming of slaves both enabled and encouraged" slaves to claim their natural rights--"rights to freedom, rights in property, rights as citizens, and rights to recognition" (Brown 2006, 342).  In their effort to arm their slaves, the Confederates seemed to reach the same conclusion.

This confirms the argument I have often made on this blog about the evolutionary history of slavery:  that from the first appearance of slavery in archaic chiefdoms and states (such as in Mesopotamia), we can see that slavery violated the natural desire for freedom that had become part of evolved human nature in the foraging state of nature, and therefore slaves have always tended to run from slavery to freedom.  In doing that, they express the Lockean liberal principle of self-ownership.


Brown, Christopher Leslie. 2006. "The Arming of Slaves in Comparative Perspective."  In Christopher Leslie Brown and Philip D. Morgan, eds., Arming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern Age, 330-353.  New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.

Cleburne, Major General Patrick R. et al. to Commanding General, the Corps, Division, Brigade, and Regimental Commanders of the Army of Tennessee, January 2, 1864.  1880.  In United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, vol. 52, pt. 2, 586-592.  Washington, DC, 1880-1901.

Davis, David Brion.  2006.  "Introduction." In Brown and Morgan, 1-13.

Lincoln, Abraham.  1989.  Writings.  2 vols.  Ed. Don Fehrenbacher.  New York: Library of America.

McCurry, Stephanie.  2010.  Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Evolutionary Group Selection in the American Civil War: Why Men Fought for Preserving the Union and Emancipating Slaves

As I suggested in my previous post, evolutionary group selection favors Lockean liberal regimes when people vote with their feet by fleeing illiberal regimes and moving to liberal regimes where they can satisfy their evolved natural desires for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That's why Locke argued for open borders immigration to allow for cultural group selection that would benefit free societies.

We can see that in the American Civil War.  Before the war, millions of people migrated to the Northern states from overseas and from the Southern states (including slaves who had fled to the North for freedom). which gave the North a much bigger population (22 million) than the South (9 million, of whom 3.5 million were slaves).  Consequently, the number of men of the age for military service was much greater in the North than in the South.  Moreover, in the South, 40 percent of its adult male military-age population was enslaved and thus ineligible for service.  Then, beginning in 1863, black men in the South could flee to Union lines and enlist in the Union army with the promise of emancipation.  By the end of the war, as many as 200,000 emancipated slaves were fighting in Union armies.  In the last years of the war, the Union armies were three to four times the size of the Confederate armies, and two-thirds of the Confederate soldiers deserted.  Near the end of the war, in February of 1865, Judah Benjamin, the Secretary of State of the Confederacy, lamented the lack of soldiers: "War is a game that cannot be played without men.  Where are the men?" (McCurry 2010, 424, n. 15).  That's why the Confederacy lost the Civil War.

The critical turn in that war came in 1863 when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, so that then the Union was fighting not just for preserving the Union but also for emancipating slaves.


During the first eighteen months of the war, Lincoln always said that while the Congress had the constitutional power to prohibit the extension of slavery into the western territories, with the hope that this would put slavery on the road to "ultimate extinction," neither he nor the Congress had the constitutional power to abolish slavery in the slave states where it already existed.  Therefore, his objective in the Civil War was to save the Union, not to abolish slavery.  And when the Radical Republicans urged him to abolish slavery, he responded by saying that not only did he not have the constitutional power to do this, if he did make emancipation the purpose of the war, he would lose the support of the border states (Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland), which would make it impossible to win the war and save the Union.  Moreover, it was clear that many of the people in the North did not support emancipation.

But by the end of the summer of 1862, Lincoln judged that public opinion in the North was beginning to move towards recognizing emancipation as a necessary means for defeating the Confederacy and thus saving the Union.  He first hinted at this in a letter on August 22, 1862, to Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune that was published in many newspapers:

"I would save the Union.  I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. . . .  My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.  I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. . . ."

 "I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free" (1989, 2:358).

Notice how he quietly prepares the public for an announcement that some emancipation is necessary as a means to preserve the Union: "I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause."  In fact, when he wrote this letter, he had already drafted an emancipation proclamation, but he was awaiting a Union military victory, so that the proclamation would not look like an act of desperation.   

Then, on September 22, 1862, five days after the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation declaring that all slaves in any state or part of a state still in rebellion against the United States on January 1, 1863, "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free" (1989, 368-70).  On New Year's Day, 1863, he issued his Final Emancipation Proclamation "as a fit and necessary war measure."  In a time of peace, Lincoln would have had no constitutional power to emancipate slaves.  By in time of war, as Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln believed that under the law of war, he could take the property of enemies as contraband if that were necessary to weaken the enemy.  In this case, he had the power to emancipate the slaves held as property by the enemy.  He could therefore declare that in all of the states, or parts of states, that were in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, "are, and henceforward, shall be free."  This turned the Civil War into a war of emancipation because as the Union armies marched into the South, they would be emancipating the slaves that fled to Union lines.

This provoked an intense debate among Union soldiers.  During the first eighteen months of the war, only about three in ten Union soldiers in McPherson's sample of letters and diaries expressed the view that while preserving the Union was the paramount goal of the war, the abolition of slavery would necessarily serve that goal.  Eventually, however, by the fall of 1863, a majority of the Union soldiers had been converted to this view after many months of debating this issue with their fellow soldiers in camp and their family and friends in letters (117-30).

For example, Colonel Marcus Speigel was commander of the 120th Ohio.  Since he was a Democrat, it was not surprising that he denounced Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.  He wrote to his wife in January of 1863: "I am sick of the war. . . . I do not fight or want to fight for Lincoln's Negro proclamation one day longer."  But then he worried when he heard his men say the same thing, repeating what they had heard from other Democrats about how the Proclamation had made the war unconstitutional and so it should be ended by negotiating peace with the Confederacy.  By April of 1863, Speigel repudiated the Democratic Party for not supporting the war to defeat the Confederacy.  Then, in January of 1864, a few months before he would be killed in the Red River campaign, he wrote to his wife from Louisiana: "since I came here I have learned and seen more of what the horrors of Slavery was than I ever knew before. . . . . I am in favor of doing away with the . . . accursed institution. . . . . I am now a strong abolitionist" (125).

Another reason that converted many Union soldiers to emancipation is that they began to understand how emancipation hurt the enemy and helped them in their fight.  As one soldier said: "Every negro we get strengthens us and weakens the rebels."

Moreover, the soldiers were impressed by the recruitment of black regiments.  They saw that this could bring the war to a quick end.

They were also impressed by how courageously the black soldiers fought.  After the battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864, a private in the 89th Illinois wrote to his mother:  "I have often herd men say that they would not fight beside a negro soldier but on the 16th the whites and blacks charged together and they fell just as well as we did. . . . When you hear eney one say that negro soldiers wont fight just them that they ly for me. . . . I have seen a great meny fighting for our country.  Then why should they not be free" (127).

This denies the claim of historian Joao Pedro Marques that slaves did not fight for the abolition of slavery.  In this case, and also in the case of the Haitian Revolution, slaves were armed, and they fought not just for their individual emancipation but for the emancipation of all slaves.

This natural propensity of evolved human nature to resist one's own enslavement drove the evolutionary group selection that favored free societies over slave societies.

Amazingly, even the Confederacy near the end of the war saw that they would have to arm their slaves to fight for them, even though this contradicted the principle of slavery at the foundation of the Confederacy as a slaveholding republic.  That's the subject of my next post.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

What Men Fought For in the Civil War: Confirming Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Scottish, Swedish, German, Irish, and French Soldiers of the Union Army at Corinth, Mississippi

The casualty rate for soldiers in the Civil War was higher than any war in American history. Why were these men willing to fight in such a bloody war.  What motivated them?  Were they fighting for a cause--out of a sense of duty to their country or devotion to some political principle such as liberty and equality?  Or were they fighting only for their comrades in arms?  Or were they coerced into fighting by threats of punishment for those who refused to fight?  And were the motives for the Union soldiers different from the Confederate soldiers?  

To answer these questions, historian James McPherson studied more than 25,000 letters and nearly 250 private diaries written by 1,076 soldiers--647 Union and 429 Confederate--to see what they said about their motives for fighting (For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997]).  Of the almost 3 million men who were soldiers in the Civil War, about 2.1 million were Union soldiers.  So the Union army was more than twice as large as the Confederate army.

McPherson deliberately excluded writing that was written for publication--such as published memoires written or revised after the war was over--because he wanted to see what the men said candidly to their wives, fiancés, family members, and friends during the war, rather than what they might want to present to a public audience.  It was also important that they could speak bluntly and honestly because the Civil War armies did not censor the writing of their soldiers.

McPherson admitted that his samples of Union and Confederate soldiers were skewed in various ways.  The most obvious is that these samples of writing excluded the illiterate.  But that is not a serious limitation considering that about 90 percent of the soldiers in the Civil War were literate.  Most of the soldiers read the newspapers that were regularly circulated among the troops, which allowed them to follow the political news and debates throughout the war.

McPherson's samples were skewed in favor of those who volunteered early in the war in 1861-1862.  His samples contained disproportionately fewer men who entered the war in 1863-1864 as draftees, substitutes, or people who enlisted only because they were paid big bounties.  But McPherson saw this bias as actually beneficial because he wanted to explain the motives of Civil War soldiers for fighting, and it was known that draftees, substitutes, and those paid bounties tended to avoid the real fighting.  

In fact, it was widely reported that about one half of the soldiers were "skulkers" who found ways to hide or run away from the fighting.  Some deserted for good.  The diary entries of a private in the 101st New York candidly recorded his avoidance of the fight at the second battle of Bull Run:  August 29, 1862: "Marched about three miles and fought all day they marched us up to Reb battery and we skidadled then I fell out and kept out all day.  Laid in the wood all night with 5 or 6 others."  August 3o: "Laid in the woods all day while the rest were fighting" (7). 

The fighting soldiers were most likely to be killed, and so we can see that the soldiers in McPherson's samples were most likely to be real fighters.  The casualty rate for all Union soldiers was 5 percent.  But 17 percent of the soldiers in the Union sample were killed or mortally wounded.  Similarly, while the casualty rate for all Confederate soldiers was 12 percent, this was 29 percent for the Confederate sample (ix). 

After World War II, many studies of combat motivation in that war concluded that soldiers in combat are mostly moved by "primary group cohesion"--fighting for the survival of one's comrades--and that devotion to patriotic or ideological causes is unimportant.  Many historians have assumed that this must have been true for soldiers in the Civil War as well.  But McPherson's study of the letters and diaries that he collected refutes this.  Two-thirds of both Confederate and Union soldiers in his samples expressed some patriotic motives (duty and honor in fighting for one's country), and over 40 percent spoke about particular ideological principles such as liberty, self-government, and resistance to tyranny (114).  For example, an officer in the 54th Ohio said he was fighting for "the guaranty of the rights of property, liberty of action, freedom of thought, religion . . . that kind of government that shall assure life liberty & the pursuit of happiness" (112).

I see evidence in McPherson's work that the Union soldiers were more moved by liberal principles, and the Confederates more moved by antiliberal principles, and that Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address correctly saw that the Civil War would be the ultimate test of the liberal principles of the Declaration of Independence.  

As Lincoln said, the Civil War was a test of whether a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure.  If that nation could survive the Civil War and then be dedicated to a new birth of freedom, this would show to the world that popular or republican government shall not perish from the earth.   In McPherson's sample of letters and diaries, we can see that many of the men who fought in the Civil War saw the truth of Lincoln's interpretation of the war.


In 1861, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis appealed to the revolutionary spirit of "our fathers" who fought for American liberty in 1776.  Similarly, both Confederate and Union soldiers said they were fighting for the cause of liberty that began with the American Revolution.  The Confederates said they were defending their liberty from a tyrannical government.  Unionists said they were fighting to preserve the nation conceived in liberty from being destroyed by secessionist anarchy.  Clearly, Northerners and Southerners disagreed in their definitions of liberty.

A Mississippi Confederate private wrote to his wife in 1862 that "if we was to lose, we would be slaves to the Yanks and our children would have a yoke of bondage thrown around there neck."  A Kentucky Confederate wrote: "We are fighting for our liberty against tyrants of the North . . . who are determined to destroy slavery" (106).

Confederates who were slaveholders stressed their right to hold property in slaves as the basis of their liberty.  Even soldiers who were not slaveholders stressed the property they held as members of the white race as the basis of their liberty.  A Louisiana artilleryman in 1862 wrote: "I never want to see the day when a negro is put on an equality with a white person.  There is too many free niggers . . . now to suit me, let alone having four millions."  A private in the 38th North Carolina wanted to show the Yankees "that a white man is better than a nigger."  A soldier from the Shenandoah Valley told his fiancée that he would fight to assure "a free white man's government instead of living under a black republican government" (109).

The Confederates believed in equality, but it was, as McPherson observed, "the equality of all who belonged to the master race," which supported "herrenvolk democracy" (109).

Thus, as Lincoln had said, the dispute between the North and the South was a conflict between contradictory definitions of the liberty and equality affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. 

In 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas gave a speech in Peoria, Illinois, defending his support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would allow the people in the western territories to decide by majority vote whether they would become a slave state or a free state.  He insisted that a congressional prohibition on the expansion of slavery into the western territories would violate "the sacred right of self-government" by denying the right of the people to decide by popular vote whether they would have slavery.

Lincoln was in the audience for this speech, and he immediately responded with his own speech arguing that Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act would violate the policy set by Thomas Jefferson and other American founders--starting with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787--that prohibited the expansion of slavery into the western territories.  Lincoln denounced Douglas's claim that the "right of self-government" could establish slavery because this assumed a peculiar view of liberty: "That perfect liberty they sigh for--the liberty of making slaves of other people--Jefferson never thought of; their own father never thought of; they never thought of themselves, a year ago" (1989, 1:309).

In 1864, Lincoln saw this same disagreement about liberty as the underlying cause of the Civil War:

"The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one.  We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.  With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor.  Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name--liberty.  And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names--liberty and tyranny."

"The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one" (1989, 2:589-90).

This is the contradiction between a liberal definition of liberty and an illiberal.  In 1858, Lincoln had stated the liberal definition of liberty as the principle that "each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man's rights" (1989, 1:449).  Notice that this is also a liberal definition of equality--every individual is equally free in his right to do as he pleases so long as he does not interfere with the same right of every other man.


Many of the soldiers in the Civil War--both Unionists and Confederates--believed that this conflict over the definitions of liberty and equality would be decided by God in war--the "God of Battles" as they called Him (67, 72, 122, 157).  These men had been shaped by the Protestant revivalism of the Second Great Awakening that swept over America in the first half of the nineteenth century.  In many military units, the soldiers organized their own revival meetings before and after battles to stir themselves up to a religious frenzy.  The armies in the Civil War might well have been the most religious armies in American history (Ahlstrom 1972, 385-509).

A Pennsylvania soldier explained that "religion is what makes brave soldiers."  One reason why that might be true is that the Christian belief in eternal salvation and life after death in Heaven could lessen the believer's fear of death in war.  A private in the 33rd Mississippi wrote to his wife: "Christians make the best soldiers as they would not fear the consequences after death as others would."  This was confirmed by the worries of nonbelieving soldiers.  A South Carolina artillery officer admitted that death terrified him because "I am not a christian--a christian can afford to be a philosopher because he believes in a certain reunion hereafter but a poor devil who cant believe it hasn't that support" (68).

Another reason why religion might make brave soldiers is that they can believe that God is on their side, and they can pray for God's help.  The problem here, of course, is that both sides in the Civil War thought they were fighting for God's cause.  As I have noted previously, the Civil War created a theological crisis for America that was sharply stated by Lincoln in his Second Inaugural.  "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.  It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged.  The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.  The Almighty has His own purposes."

The Christian churches were split over the Civil War and particularly the issue of slavery.  Many of the Southern churches pointed to the Bible's clear endorsement of slavery.  But many of the Northern churches insisted that a just God must surely condemn slavery.  Lincoln suggested that God had given no clear answer to the question of whether He willed the preservation of slavery: "The Almighty gives no audible answer to the question, and his revelation--the Bible--gives none--or, at most, none but such as admits of a squabble, as to its meaning" (1989, 1:685).

Both Union and Confederate soldiers prayed to God to give them victory.  This is what Locke and the American Revolutionaries called the "Appeal to Heaven"--resolving a political dispute by going to war and allowing God to decide the winner.  Preparing to go into action at Vicksburg in 1863, a soldier in the 37th Mississippi declared: "Surely the God of Battles is on our side."  An Alabama artillery lieutenant wrote in February of 1863 that "I have always believed that God was with us--if I had not my arm would long since have been palsied."  Even after the fall of Atlanta in 1864, he still could not "believe that our Father in Heaven intends that we shall be subjugated by such a race of people as the Yankees" (72-73). 

But that is exactly what some devout Yankees believed.  A Pennsylvania private was sure "that God will prosper us in the movements about to be made against this cursed rebellion."  A lieutenant in the 16th New York, who would win the congressional medal of honor, wrote in 1862 that "the cause for which we battle is one in which we can in righteousness claim the protection of heaven.  Humanity is largely interested in the issues of this monstrous rebellion hence He who is the embodiment of humanity will bestow in great abundance His blessings upon his and our cause" (73).  In their letters and diaries, many Union soldiers expressed the same confidence that God was on their side of their just cause.

Did Lincoln agree with this?  Many people have interpreted his Second Inaugural Address as implying that God had been on the side of the Union, and that the Union soldiers were fighting a holy war.  But in the passage I just quoted, Lincoln suggests that we cannot know whether God is on one side or the other in this war: "The Almighty has His own purposes."

Moreover, in the first paragraph of the Second Inaugural, Lincoln suggests that the outcome of the war will be decided not by God's intervention but by the military actions of the armies: "The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all.  With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured."  By the time of the Second Inaugural (March 4, 1865) the victory of the Union over the Confederacy was clearly imminent.  Four weeks later--on April 9--Lee would surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House.

As Commander in Chief, Lincoln had always believed that a Union victory would depend on a military strategy to guide the movements of the Union armies and a political strategy for holding together a complex coalition of groups supporting the Union cause.  His private secretary John Hay, who lived in the White House, often heard Lincoln walking back and forth in his bedroom late into the night as he read and digested books on military strategy.  Every day, he studied the military reports coming in from the field; and he questioned his generals and admirals about what they were doing, meeting with them in Washington or in the field, or corresponding with them.

By early in 1862, Lincoln had formulated a military strategy based on the concept of "concentration in time."  In his book on Lincoln as Commander in Chief, McPherson explains this:

"Because the Confederacy's basic military strategy was to defend the territory that lay behind its frontier, Southern armies had the advantage of interior lines.  That advantage enabled them to shift reinforcements from inactive to active fronts, as they had done at Manassas in July 1861.  This concentration in space could be overcome only if the Union employed its greater numbers (a reality despite McClellan's belief to the contrary) to attack on two or more fronts at once--concentration in time" (2008, 70).

In a letter to Generals Buell and Halleck on January 13, 1862, Lincoln explained this strategy:

"I state my general idea of this war to be that we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has the greater facility of concentrating forces upon points of collision; that we must fail, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his; and that this can only be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points, at the same time; so that we can safely attack, one, or both, if he makes no change; and if he weakens one to strengthen the other, forbear to attack the strengthened one, but seize, and hold the weakened one, gaining so much" (1989, 2:302).

Unfortunately, for two years, Lincoln could not find any generals willing to take his advice.  But, finally, in early 1864, Lincoln found the general who recognized the shrewdness of Lincoln's military strategy: Lincoln appointed Grant the general-in-chief of the armies.  Grant worked out a coordinated strategy for all major fronts.  Grant ordered five separate armies to advance simultaneously from exterior lines against five smaller Confederate armies so that they could not use their interior lines to reinforce one or another of them.  Lincoln told John Hay that Grant's plans reminded him of his own "suggestion so constantly made and as constantly neglected, to Buell & Halleck et al to move at once upon the enemy's whole so as to bring into action our great superiority in numbers" (Hay 1997, 193).  As carried out in 1864 by the team of Grant, Sherman, Thomas, and Sheridan, this strategy won the war (McPherson 2008).

Notice that the key to this strategy was exploiting the advantage of the Union in its greater numbers of soldiers--over twice as many as the Confederates.  This was due to the greater population of the Northern states, which gave them a greater pool of potential military recruits.

Not only was the Confederacy weakened by its small total population--about one-third that of the Union--but as a slave society, the Confederacy lacked access to 40 percent of its adult male military-age population, who were enslaved and thus not eligible for service.  This left about 965,000 free white men between the ages of 18 to 45 to draw on for military service.  But then, of course, not every adult white man could serve.  This meant that at most the Confederacy could put an army of no more than about five hundred thousand men in the field (McCurry 2010).

The greater population of the North can be explained as largely the consequence of the liberal social order in the North that had attracted millions of immigrants from overseas and many migrants from the South.  The comparatively open and free society of the North offered more opportunities for people seeking a better life than did the illiberal South where slaves did most of the work.  As Lincoln said, in the free states, an ambitious man "can better his condition" because "there is no such thing as a freeman being fatally fixed for life, in the condition of a hired laborer" (1989, 2:144).  Of the millions of overseas immigrants to the United States from the 1830s to the 1850s, most of them (about seven-eighths) settled in the North.  Also, the migration of white Southerners to the North was three times greater than the migration from the North to the South.

Over 40 percent of the Union's armed forces were immigrants and the sons of immigrants--totaling about 600,000 out of 2.1 million.  The Confederacy had only a few thousand immigrants fighting for them (Doyle 2015, 158-81).

Previously, I have written about immigration as cultural group selection that favors liberal regimes.

The number of Union soldiers was also increased, beginning in 1863, by the recruitment of emancipated slaves as soldiers.  By the end of the war, there were as many as many as 200,000 black Union soldiers.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was controversial, however.  And it did provoke debates among the Union soldiers.

I will take that up in my next post.


Ahlstrom, Sydney E. 1972. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.

Doyle, Don H. 2015. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. New York: Basic Books.

Hay, John. 1997. Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay.  Eds. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner.  Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Lincoln, Abraham.  1989.  Speeches and Writings.  2 vols.  Ed. Don Fehrenbacher.  New York: Library of America.

McCurry, Stephanie. 2010. Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

McPherson, James M.  1997.  For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought In the Civil War.  New York: Oxford University Press.

McPherson, James M.  2008.  Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief.  New York: Penguin Press.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

The Crisis of the House Divided in 2024: Trump and the Antiliberal Tradition in America

Some Americans shocked by Donald Trump's MAGA movement have insisted: "This is not who we are."  President Biden has adopted that as the main theme of his campaign against Trump--that Trump and his MAGA movement are trying to overturn those moral and political principles that have always defined the American people. 

But now some historians are saying that Trump's political movement has deep roots in an American antiliberal tradition that has always been set against the liberal tradition that originated in the American Revolution and the liberal principles of the Declaration of Independence: since 1776 America has been split in two--a liberal America that embraces the ideal of equal liberty for all in the Declaration of Independence and an antiliberal America that rejects it.  

Two new books make this argument:  Robert Kagan's Rebellion: How Antiliberalism Is Tearing America Apart--Again and Steven Hahn's Illiberal America: A History.  In this post, I will respond to Kagan's book.

Kagan elaborates an argument that he first set forth in some articles in the Washington Post.  He makes two claims.  The first is that the American presidential election of 2024 will be like the election of 1860 in manifesting what Abraham Lincoln called the Crisis of the House Divided, which will provoke a rebellion against America's liberal democracy comparable to the South's rebellion in the Civil War.  The second claim is that this crisis in 2024 is only the most recent expression of a struggle between liberalism and antiliberalism that has been woven into American history ever since the American Revolution and most dramatically displayed in the American Civil War.

Kagan predicts that if Trump wins, he will become a dictator in punishing his enemies and exercising unlimited power in violation of the Constitution; and his supporters will allow him to do this.  If Trump loses, he will say the election was stolen, his supporters will deny the legitimacy of the federal government, and those state governments under Republican control will refuse to accept Biden's presidency, and perhaps secede from the Union and form a pro-Trump confederacy.  Either way, American liberal democracy will be dissolved.

This is possible, Kagan argues, only because the many Americans who support Trump reject the liberal principles of the American Revolution, and consequently they will justify Trump's illiberal behavior.  Trump's supporters show that they belong to an American tradition of illiberalism that stretches back to the origins of American politics.

Kagan sees the Declaration of Independence as the statement of the radical liberalism of the American Revolution--that all men are created equal and equally endowed with unalienable natural rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that governments are instituted by consent of the people to secure these rights, and that when any government fails to secure these rights, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government and to institute a new government that seems to them most likely to secure their safety and happiness.  

Throughout American history, the most fundamental political debates have been about how best to extend that equality of rights to all Americans.  Kagan agrees, therefore, with Lincoln's belief that this equality of rights in the Declaration was meant to be the "standard maxim for free society" that would be "constantly looked to--constantly labored for--and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated and therefore constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere" (Speech on the Dred Scott Decision, June 26, 1857).

But from the beginning in 1776, according to Kagan, these principles have been rejected by many Americans who have embraced a racial, religious, and ethnic antiliberalism, in which America is defined not by its commitment to human equality of rights but by its identity as a white Protestant Anglo-Saxon nation.  The American antiliberal groups have included the slaveholding South, the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South, the Ku Klux Clan in the 1920s, the anti-immigration movement that led to the Immigration Act of 1924, the Dixiecrats of the 1940s and 1950s, the John Birch Society conservatives, the antiliberal conservatives associated with William Buckley, the supporters of George Wallace, the movement for Pat Buchanan, the New Right around Ronald Reagan, and now the antiliberal populists who have taken control of the Republican Party under the leadership of Trump.

Kagan believes that Trump's MAGA populism shows all the elements of American antiliberalism.  The racial element is white nationalism: all white groups have voted in greater numbers for Trump than for his opponents.  The religious element is Christian nationalism:  many of Trump's most fervent supporters want to restore America's identity as a Christian nation.  The ethnic element is Anglo-Saxon and European nationalism:  Trump's anti-immigration stance is predominantly opposition to immigrants of Hispanic, African, Middle-Eastern, and Asian ethnicities.  America is for Americans, and those Americans who do not support Trump's ethnic, religious, and racial vision of America are not true Americans.

Although I agree with much of what Kagan says, I disagree with him on three points.  First, he fails to make a good intellectual argument for the Lockean and Lincolnian interpretation of the Declaration of Independence.  Second, he fails to see that over the past 250 years of American history, the liberal tradition has ultimately prevailed over the antiliberal tradition--even among American conservatives. Finally, he fails to see that as a consequence of that triumph of the liberal tradition in America, Trump and his supporters have neither the guts nor the guns for fighting a civil war to overthrow that liberal tradition.


Kagan identifies the liberal principles of the Declaration of Independence (particularly in the first two paragraphs) as a concise and elegant statement of John Locke's political philosophy, and so the liberal tradition in America as based on the Declaration is a Lockean tradition of thought (13, 17, 30-31, 34, 41, 151).  Kagan says nothing, however, about Claire Rydell Arcenas's argument that the Declaration does not show Locke's influence at all.  He should have responded to her by showing the many clear echoes of Locke's language in the Declaration, as I did a few years ago.

Kagan should also have responded to Pauline Maier's claim that Lincoln's elevation of the Declaration to being America's statement of the "standard maxim for free society" was Lincoln's mythic invention.  Lincoln saw the highest moral standard for American politics stated in the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence--particularly, the assertion that "all men are created equal." But Maier argued that from 1776 to 1790, almost no one thought that opening section of the Declaration was important.  It was only later, after the Jeffersonian Republicans had transformed the interpretation of the Declaration, that the "self-evident truths" of the second paragraph became the most important part of the Declaration.  

In my previous post, I answered Maier by arguing that the political philosophy of the Declaration was widely recognized beginning in 1776 as necessary for the moral justification of the Revolution, although George Mason's language in the Virginia Declaration of Rights was quoted more often than Jefferson's revision of that language, and as Maier admits, Jefferson's language had the "same content" as Mason's.  Then, beginning in the 1790s, the Jeffersonian Republicans began the tradition of quoting Jefferson's language as the most concise and eloquent statement of the founding principles of the American Revolution.  So, when Lincoln appealed to Jefferson's principles in the Declaration, he was not creating a myth but extending a tradition that had emerged early in the American founding period. 

But while Locke, Jefferson, and Lincoln all agreed that we can justify the human equality of rights as "inherent in the nature of being human"--as originally expressed in the state of nature--Kagan insists that they were wrong because liberalism is "a choice, and, at root, a faith" for which there is no rational proof or justification.  "Either one believes in its principles or one does not" (13-14).

This is not much of an argument for liberalism.  Indeed, it's not an argument at all, but rather a groundless "faith" or "choice."

Kagan simply assumes without proof that there is no empirical argument for natural rights as "inherent in the nature of being human."  He thus ignores the evolutionary historical evidence that Locke was right about the state of nature as the original condition of our human ancestors and that the American Revolutionaries were right about their being in a state of nature.  I have written about this in some previous posts.

Kagan asserts: "Since the dawn of humankind, people have been ruled by tyrannies of one form or another.  That is the norm" (10).  He offers no proof for this assertion.  And he does not respond to the evidence that I and others have presented to show that democracy is natural for human societies, because it arose in our earliest evolutionary history in Paleolithic hunter-gatherer bands, so that it is part of our genetically evolved human nature.

Contrary to Kagan, liberalism does not depend on a blind "faith."  Locke, Jefferson, and Lincoln were right in seeing that it can be supported with reasons and evidence that show how our natural rights arise from our evolved human nature.


Even if there is a good case to be made for liberalism, we have to wonder how successful it has been in persuading the American people.  If American history since 1776 has been a perpetual struggle between a liberal tradition and an antiliberal tradition, has one side emerged as stronger than the other?

Kagan's answer is unclear.  Sometimes he says that "large numbers of Americans" or "millions of Americans" are on the side of antiliberalism, and at other times he says that "half the country" is antiliberal.  But then he also says that at the founding "the great majority of Americans" were antiliberal.  And yet in the 1950s, antiliberalism "had fallen into minority status in both parties."  He also says that in recent history "the core antiliberal constituencies were declining in absolute numbers in the country at large, but as a percentage of Republicans, they were growing in both numbers and influence."  He quotes Glenn Ellmers (a scholar at the Claremont Institute) as saying that "most people living in the United States today--certainly more than half--are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term," because only "the 75 million people who voted" for Trump in 2020 are true Americans.  (Previously, I have written about how Trump has split the Claremont Institute, with people like Ellmers taking the side of Trump against Jaffa's legacy of Lincolnian liberal conservatism.)  But then Kagan says that no more than "tens of millions of Americans will follow Trump wherever he leads."  (See pages 3, 5, 8, 77, 89, 94, 124, 135, 141, 161, 182, 196.)

In the final paragraph of his book, Kagan concludes that the future of American liberalism looks good--if it can survive the 2024 election:

"Meanwhile, the overall long-term prospects for American liberalism are actually bright, if only because the demographic shift is a reality that can't be blinked away.  White supremacy is another Lost Cause.  As America becomes increasingly multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural, and as it becomes impossible for any single ethnoreligious group to dominate American politics and society, the appeal of liberalism as the only means of holding such a society together should grow.  Many white people may not change their attitudes toward other racial and ethnic groups--after all, they haven't changed in two hundred years--but their ability to fight to preserve their hierarchies will diminish because they will be too badly outnumbered.  That is why 2024 is the year when the antiliberals hope to overthrow the system.  It may be their last chance" (217-18).

I agree that the "demographic shift" towards a "multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural" America favors liberalism.  But I also believe that there has been an intellectual shift in the moral and political culture of America that favors liberalism.  If we don't see that intellectual shift, that's because most of what Kagan identifies as antiliberal conservatism is only a pretense of antiliberalism that disguises an underlying liberal conservatism.

For example, Kagan speaks of Patrick Deneen as one of the leading antiliberals in America today (176, 185).  But as I have argued, if you study Deneen's writing carefully, you will see that he is actually a liberal!  As an illustration, you will notice that while Deneen praises John Winthrop's Massachusetts Bay Colony as the antiliberal founding of America--in contrast to the Lockean founding in 1776--Deneen refuses to defend the theocratic code of laws in Massachusetts--such as capital punishment for adulterers, homosexuals, witches, blasphemers, and those who refuse to worship God in the right way--because Deneen believes in the liberal principle of religious liberty, and so he's on the side of Roger Williams rather than Winthrop.

If you wanted to see a true model of antiliberalism, you would have to look beyond American history to Joseph de Maistre. In reaction against the French Revolution, Maistre initiated a Counter-Enlightenment tradition of thought based on a theocratic authoritarianism--the idea that all government comes from some unquestioned coercive authority that is divinely infallible and that all such authority is derived from the Pope as God's representative on Earth.  He proposed a restoration of the Bourbon monarchy to the throne of France, ruling under the supreme authority of the Pope in both temporal and spiritual matters.  Atheists, Jews, and heretical Christians (such as the Protestants) should be suppressed.  He claimed that the rationalist rejection of Catholic Christianity and theocratic monarchy was responsible for the disorder that followed the French Revolution of 1789.  Even the most extreme right-wing Catholic Integralists in France today who profess to be in de Maistre's tradition can't endorse his theocratic authoritarianism.

As compared with de Maistre, almost all American conservatives today--even those who pretend to be antiliberal or post-liberal--are really liberal conservatives.  You can see that in the debate that has recently emerged between the "National Conservatives" and the "Freedom Conservatives."  If you compare the "statement of principles" for National Conservatism with that for Freedom Conservatism, you can see that they agree in affirming the liberal principles of individual equality and liberty, and thus reject any ethnoreligious antiliberalism.  

For example, in the National Conservatism Statement, the section on "God and Public Religion" includes this: "Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private.  At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children.  Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes."  

That's a long way from the theocratic coercion of Winthrop or de Maistre.

Here's the section on "Race" in the National Conservatism Statement:  "We believe that all men are created in the image of God and that public policy should reflect that fact.  No person's worth or loyalties can be judged by the shape of his features, the color of his skin, or the results of a lab test.  The history of racialist ideology and oppression and its ongoing consequences require us to emphasize this truth.  We condemn the use of state and private institutions to discriminate and divide us against one another on the basis of race.  The cultural sympathies encouraged by a decent nationalism offer a sound basis for conciliation and unity among diverse communities.  The nationalism we espouse respects, and indeed combines, the unique needs of particular minority communities and the common good of the nation as a whole."

This "decent nationalism" is a liberal multiracial and multiethnic nationalism.

What we see here is the ultimate triumph of the liberal tradition in American history.  The critical turning point in that history was the Civil War.  That war was a test of whether a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could endure in a war with a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal.  The victory of the Union over the Confederacy was, as George Fitzhugh sadly conceded, the victory of John Locke over Robert Filmer.

Moreover, there is a good argument for saying that the military superiority of the Union over the Confederacy really was in some ways a product of the Lockean liberal culture of the North.  Consider, for instance, how the greater population of the Northern states over the Southern states arose from differences in migration.  Before the Civil War, the migration of white Southerners to the North was three times greater than the migration from the North to the South.  At the same time, seven-eighths of the immigrants from overseas settled in the North.  (This later became important for the Union army: 24 percent of all Union soldiers were born abroad [McPherson 1997: ix].)  In the 1840s alone, the population growth in the North was 20 percent higher than in the South (Kagan, 70).  Proslavery Southern leaders saw this population growth in the North as the single greatest threat to the South, which is why they fought so hard to expand slavery into the western territories, and thus increase the number of slave states.

What we see here is what evolutionary scientists call cultural group selection through migration and assimilation, in which countries with cultural traditions of freedom have higher fitness than countries that are less free.  John Locke understood this, which is why he argued that free societies benefited from having open borders, so that they could attract migrants from less free societies.  The freer societies with a growing population of productive and inventive people become the more prosperous and powerful societies.  In this way, people "vote with their feet" in favor of freedom.

And of course, not only did many white Southerners migrate to the North, many slaves ran away to the free states, forcing Southern slaveholders to demand that people in the North capture these fugitive slaves and return them to slavery.  That's why the debate over the fugitive slave laws was so intense.

Because of its larger population, the Union had a larger pool of men from whom soldiers could be recruited.  Consequently, the Confederate soldiers were badly outnumbered by their opponents: of the 3 million Civil war soldiers, over 2.1 million (70 percent) were Union soldiers.

Now, of course, once Reconstruction was ended, the Jim Crow South did preserve some of the Southern antiliberal tradition for almost a hundred years.  But even that was eventually defeated by the liberal tradition of the Civil Rights Movement, signaled in 1965 by an American President from the South, speaking before a joint session of Congress, declaring: "We shall overcome."


But then is it likely, as Kagan predicts, that after the election of 2024 Trump will lead his MAGA movement in a new rebellion against the American liberal tradition that will provoke another civil war?  After all, if the people do have the right to overthrow an unjust government, as the Declaration of Independence says, and if Trump and his supporters believe that the American liberal regime is unjustly oppressing them, then they should be willing and able to launch an antiliberal rebellion.

I don't think so.  As I said three years ago, the response of Trump and his supporters to his defeat in the 2020 election shows that they do not have the guts or the guns to rebel against the American liberal political order.

He did not have the guns because military leaders such as General Mark Milley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) made it clear that they would not allow the military to support a presidential dictatorship.  And he did not have the guts because he lacked the courage to assert his dictatorial will in violation of the Constitution.  He displayed his unmanly weakness on January 6 when he failed to lead the march on the Capitol as he had promised earlier in the day, and instead he watched the attack on TV at the White House, as if it were an entertaining TV drama.  Later, he meekly condemned the insurrectionary violence that he had inspired, and he told the insurrectionists to "go home with love and in peace." As Nicholas Fuentes of the white nationalist "America First" internet broadcasts said, Trump on that day proved to be "very weak and flaccid."

Kagan writes:

"What we are witnessing, however, is not a political battle but a rebellion.  The events of January 6, 2021, proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past.  Though it may have been shocking to see normal, decent Americans condoning a violent assault on the Capitol, that event demonstrated that Americans as a people are not as exceptional as their founding principles and institutions" (215).

But as shocking as the January 6th insurrection was, it could have been much more shocking.  Trump could have ordered the military to support the insurrectionists and to take control of the Capitol.  And he could have ordered his MAGA supporters to rise up and follow his leadership as the American Caesar.  He didn't do that because he didn't believe that Americans would support an antiliberal revolution to overthrow the American constitutional order.

By contrast, in 1861, Southern political leaders could count on there being a sufficiently strong antiliberal tradition in the South to support a Confederacy of states in rebellion against the national government.  

I am not convinced by Kagan's suggestion that when Trump wins or loses the presidential election of 2024, there will be such a strongly antiliberal MAGA movement that it will support Trump in becoming an antiliberal dictator.