Friday, July 10, 2009

Did the antebellum American political system truly fail?

After some of the reading I have done recently, it seems like the easy opinion for me to have is that the American political system failed in the mid-nineteenth century, and that failure is what led to Civil War. After all, war is generally accepted to be a final option, a worst-case scenario, a last resort. This was the thought that inspired one of my previous posts, which ended up debating if the coming of the war was a good or bad thing.

A funny thing happened on the way to this conclusion, however. On a message board on which I’ve started posting, another poster suggested a different way to look at this idea and I admit his thought intrigues me. He claims that the political system of compromise did work for several decades, but eventually reached the point where compromise was no longer possible, making this system no longer capable of maintaining peace. The basic concept is sort of “all good things must come to an end” and that would include the antebellum way of playing politics. The system worked well for a long period of tiem, but as conditions throughout the country changed, the system as it worked could not keep up to that change, and with so much strong disagreement and controversy over the relationship of the government and slavery, compromise was no longer an option. Without this key aspect being possible, the system was now outdated and unsuited for the task at hand. (His point was also that the new political process that replaced the old one was war – i.e. that war itself is a political process, another intriguing concept.)

Whether or not this is the correct philosophy is not something I can definitely declare yet, but I do find it to be an interesting viewpoint and one that I must ponder some more as I read more about the coming of the war in the future. Just how did the American political system handle the many pre-war controversies? Obviously, it did not handle them well, and could no longer adapt to meet the needs of North and South’ but was that a sign of total system failure, or simply a sign of a system or process that had outlived its usefulness? And are those two concepts really different? Is coming to the end of usefulness the same as failure? After all, if you are not useful for the occasion, then you have failed to meet it. Does it depend on how literally you take the word “failure” to mean? Perhaps it will all come back around to being a failure and this whole question of today’s entry could prove to be mere semantics, but it remains a thought and idea that I feel deserves more exploration and thought.

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