Correcting Ron Paul: Buying the Southern Slaves Was Not an Option

President Abraham Lincoln at the Antietam battlefield (Opinion Forum)

Ron Paul insisted in a recent interview that Abe Lincoln could have avoided the Civil War by buying the southern slaves from the southerners. Paul argues that Lincoln (a warmonger) was “determined to fight this civil war” that he could have avoided “for 1/100 the cost.”
Right Wing News reported, via HotAir:

QUESTION: Getting down to the last two questions here…. Most people consider Abe Lincoln to be one of our greatest presidents, if not the greatest president we’ve ever had. Would you agree with that sentiment and why or why not?

RON PAUL: No, I don’t think he was one of our greatest presidents. I mean, he was determined to fight a bloody civil war, which many have argued could have been avoided. For 1/100 the cost of the war, plus 600 thousand lives, enough money would have been available to buy up all the slaves and free them. So, I don’t see that is a good part of our history. Besides, the Civil War was to prove that we had a very, very strong centralized federal government and that’s what it did. It rejected the notion that states were a sovereign nation.

The people who disagree want to turn around and say, “Oh, yes, those guys just wanted to protect slavery.” But that’s just a cop-out if you look at this whole idea of what happened in our country because Lincoln really believed in the centralized state. He was a Hamiltonian type and objected to everything Jefferson wanted.

Of course, this is ridiculous on many levels. For one, hindsight is 20/20. No one knew going into the war what it would mean to this country– that 600,000 Americans would lose their lives, that the South would be devastated.

And, buying out the slave owners was not an option.
According to

With so much to lose on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, economic logic suggests that a peaceful solution to the slave issue would have made far more sense than a bloody war. Yet no solution emerged. One “economic” solution to the slave problem would be for those who objected to slavery to “buy out” the economic interest of Southern slaveholders. Under such a scheme, the federal government would purchase slaves. A major problem here was that the costs of such a scheme would have been enormous. Claudia Goldin estimates that the cost of having the government buy all the slaves in the United States in 1860, would be about $2.7 billion (1973: 85, Table 1). Obviously, such a large sum could not be paid all at once. Yet even if the payments were spread over 25 years, the annual costs of such a scheme would involve a tripling of federal government outlays (Ransom and Sutch 1990: 39-42)! The costs could be reduced substantially if instead of freeing all the slaves at once, children were left in bondage until the age of 18 or 21 (Goldin 1973:85). Yet there would remain the problem of how even those reduced costs could be distributed among various groups in the population. The cost of any “compensated” emancipation scheme was so high that even those who wished to eliminate slavery were unwilling to pay for a “buyout” of those who owned slaves.

Also, the estimated economic cost of the Civil War was $6.6 billion. Buying the slaves would have cost at least $2.7 billion. It was more than 1/3 the total cost of the war, not 1/100th. This was not an option economically at the time.

And, who is to say that the South would accept such an offer?… And, who is to say that the southern democrats would abide by such an agreement?

One more thing– Seven southern states seceded before Lincoln even took office.

For Ron Paul to suggest that Abraham Lincoln was some kind of warmonger who could have bought off the South, is not just inaccurate and a little crazy, it’s offensive.

UPDATE: Leah V. added this:

As a graduate student specializing in Civil War history, I know that Lincoln expanded federal powers at the expense of states’ and some individual rights. But I have always believed that his measures were appropriate for the times. I realize Obama and his cronies could make the same argument today. Nevertheless, I find problematic the notion that the federal government should have respected the southern states’ right to hold slaves. To me it is morally akin to the federal government respecting a woman’s right to kill her unborn children.

Like you, I find Ron Paul’s argument faulty. As slavery was an integral part of southern economy and culture, I sincerely doubt that southerners would have been interested in selling their slaves to the federal government, and I am skeptical that they would have ever abandoned slavery without the coercion of war. (There are, however, several historians who disagree with me and say that slavery would have died out on its own anyway.)

To tell you the truth, I believe the Civil War was a divine judgment on the entire nation for its complicity with slavery. It makes me shudder to think of what God has prepared to punish us for tolerating abortion.

And, Bruce added this:

Lincoln / Congress did buy all the slaves residing in the District of Columbia.

This is not a widely known action taken by the Federal government and it may have some bearing on your discussion.

Thanks for your time,


ps – I have always thought that this would be a good legal precedent for those of us who are descendents of slave owners to use in a friend of the court brief if and when the civil rights groups try to extort reparations for former slaves.

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Thanks for sharing!