Holy crap! I knew Ron Paul was a loony, but I had thought it was in an endearing libertarian way. It turns out he thinks that Abraham Lincoln was wrong to start the Civil War and that a policy of “gradual emancipation” would have been preferable. That is wrong in so many different ways I hardly know what to say. See the first link above for some details (which barely scratch the surface, but still).
Now I am an actual Southerner. I can’t abide the word “Civil” any more than any other Southerner (*). I talk about “The War of Northern Aggression” and “The Recent Unpleasantness between the Sections.” But the line that the evil Yankees started the thing as a war of economic imperialism just doesn’t hold up in light of even a quick survey of the history. I’ll go even further: the Southern aristocratic culture was evil and had to be destroyed. It would have been nice to have done it without killing 600,000 people and devastating the South, but the Fire-Eaters just couldn’t wait for that.
Oh, one other point: I have heard it argued that the war could not possibly have been about slavery–very few of the southerners actually fighting owned slaves (or at least many slaves), and very few of the northerners really cared (including Grant himself, at least at first!)–or abstract concepts like States’ Rights and Preserving the Union. That misses a simple but important point: the reasons the soldiers were fighting do not necessarily have anything to do with the reasons the war started. Shelby Foote put it well:
For all the talk of States Rights and the Union, men volunteered for much the same reasons on both sides: in search of glory or excitement, or from fear of being thought afraid, but mostly because it was the thing to do.
Oh, and Ron Paul is pretty screwy on economics too. The gold standard??? I suppose that is consistent with being an antebellum southerner…
(*) Bullwinkle reference