Reparations for Slavery:

They have already been paid

War is hell, you cannot refine it.

-- W.T. Sherman

The topic of reparations for American Black slavery has been much discussed, and that discussion is not over. I think that such reparations are not justified. (1) Unlike most who argue against monetary reparations, I think they are not only possible (though difficult) but just--if no other payment had yet been made.

However, reparations for slavery have already been made. The name of the reparations program was "The American Civil War." Consider the following facts (2):
  1. About 11% of the total population (counting men, women and children) of the 1860 United States was in military service for some portion of the war; from the Confederate States considered separately, about 13% of the total population was enrolled. Of those enrolled in military service, the vast majority were White and all were male. (3)

  2. Of the (overwhelmingly White) men enrolled in military units, Union and Confederate, 14% died of their wounds or of disease; another 11% were wounded but survived. (4) In Confederate units, deaths approached 19% of the men enrolled, an order of magnitude higher than the death rate in any other American war. This amounted to an aggregate 550,000 dead and more than 400,000 wounded from military units alone.

    Civilian casualties are unknown, but were certainly very much lighter than in 20th-Century wars. Nevertheless, it is worth repeating that more Americans died in the Civil War than in all other wars the United States has fought, combined. Even if one leaves Confederates out of the total, the number of U.S. soldiers who died closely approaches the total of U.S. deaths in the Second World War--out of a population 1/6 as large.

  3. The monetary cost of the Civil War, North and South, is estimated at $44.4 billion in 1990 dollars. This breaks down to Union costs of more than $1000 (1990 dollars) for every man, woman and child in the Union; and Confederate costs of well over $2000 for every man, woman and child in the Confederacy.

    This is only the direct, billed cost of military pay and supplies, excluding veterans' pensions which typically add a threefold increase. Nor does it include the many millions (in 1864 dollars) of damage done to the infrastructure of the Confederacy--and of Union border states--during the war; each million amounts to about $9 million in 1990 dollars. We could conservatively estimate that the total monetary cost of the Civil War was on the order of $200-500 billion in 1990 dollars, and perhaps as high as one or two trillion dollars.

God's justice has, I think, been served in the case of American slavery. Abraham Lincoln said it well, on March 4, 1865:

If God wills that [the war] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

No attempt is made here to argue that the Civil War was exclusively or even primarily fought over the issue of slavery, though a casual perusal of the Confederate Constitution makes a pretty fair case. (See also this point-by-point comparison of the U.S. and C.S. Constitutions.) Nevertheless, ending slavery became the primary purpose of the war for many if not most Northerners, and was certainly the end Lincoln hoped for by 1862--though he did not think that the Executive had the unilateral authority to abolish it in States that were not in rebellion.

The end of slavery was one of the two most important results of the war (with the extinction of State Sovereignty). Except in rebel-held areas of the country, abolition did not come formally until the 13th Amendment was ratified in January 1865, when the war was almost over.

  1. The issue of reparations for years of lynchings, Jim Crow and other barbarism is separate; in many cases such reparations would be logistically and morally simpler than any modern attempt at reparations for slavery. As with the internments of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, the heirs of those affected are more easily established.

    Remember that there are many Americans who have thought of themselves as "White" for generations, who have African slaves among their ancestors. And there are a good number of "Black" Americans who have no ancestors who were slaves within the territory of the United States. (Let's not forget that, if we go back far enough, almost everyone has at least one enslaved ancestor somewhere. Slavery was a worldwide institution and not usually race-based.)


  2. See the US Civil War Center at Louisiana State University.


  3. Black men were not allowed in combat positions--except for a few Louisiana Native Guards regiments formed in 1862 by free Creole men, who considered themselves "Black" about as much as Louisiana White men did--until the North began enrolling Negro regiments, officered by whites, in 1863. See The Colored Troops from Fox's Regimental Losses.

    An attempt was made in Helena, Arkansas, to organize slaves into armed Confederate units in 1861; and Creole units such as the Louisiana Native Guards were also offered to the Confederacy. Such units were uniformly turned away or marginalized by the Confederate War Department.

    The Confederacy finally began trying to raise regiments from among the slaves in early 1865, offering freedom to those who enrolled, but had few takers; much Black manpower had already left for Union-held territory and Union regiments.

    The claim that there were Black Confederate soldiers throughout the war is a damnable lie that can only be credible to those who know nothing about the Civil War period.


  4. No record was apparently kept of those permanently incapacitated, but not killed, by the diseases epidemic in Civil War military units. However, this is doubtless another 2-5% of those enrolled.


Copyright © 2002 by Daniel J. Berger. This work may be copied without limit if its use is to be for non-profit educational purposes. Such copies may be by any method, present or future. The author requests only that this statement accompany all such copies. All rights to publication for profit are retained by the author.

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