Letter: Unintended consequences

I was intrigued by John Henry’s comments about the Civil War [“Raves for Maxwell’s ruckus,” Aug. 29] and, by implication, the role that Lincoln played which Henry felt did “more than anything [to] turn the citizen state on its head.”

One way I can interpret his assertion is that the change may have started with Lincoln’s belief that through emancipation and ending slavery the federal government, without question, should prevail over “states’ rights.”

And, further, I’d assume that he would agree that Lincoln’s actions were the right and moral policy to implement. Thus, what was moral and right (beyond political philosophy) should prevail and that an unintended consequence of a moral and just policy was unleashing the power of the central government and tipping the balance against states’ rights in this historical moment.
I could also interpret his assertion to mean he believes the federal government should not have acted to “disrupt the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government.” I think he would agree that the consequence of preserving that balance at that point would have perpetuated the shame of slavery because the southern states would have had little reason to change the status quo, their economies and cultural life. The moral change may have taken many decades without the assertion of the supremacy of the federal government and, ultimately, the threat of force.
Mr. Henry left unresolved his position on the moral rightness of the Civil War and the North’s victory in both preserving the union and eliminating slavery and its shame upon us and our constitution. By not clarifying his position, he implies that we should have preserved the “constitutional balance between the states and federal government,” thus placing a higher value on it than on what was morally right. I don’t believe he intended to leave that impression.
Certainly there were earlier instances when our President and Congress believed that a pure “states’ rights” interpretation of the constitution would tear the Union apart; the Federalist Papers speak clearly of this fear among the founders before the constitution was even written. 

So, his final paragraph requires that much more be said so that the reader doesn’t conclude that we should not have fought the Civil War for fear of the unintended consequence of upsetting the “constitutional balance between the states and the federal government.” This may not be what Mr. Henry intended, but it is an impression I am left to ponder.

Ralph Bates

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