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It would have been possible, but it would have been very difficult.
In order to end slavery, I think that it would have been necessary for the government to buy all the slaves from their former masters. That seems totally wrong, but I think it would have been necessary. After all, it is completely wrong for the government to take away people's legal property, even if we later start to think that it is immoral to own such property. Imagine if the government decided that owning animals was illegal. Could they just order farmers to let their animals loose with no compensation?
But it would have been possible. Other countries, most notably Brazil, abolished slavery without having to go through a war.
I think that the Civil War was needed in order to abolish slavery. It seems to me that the fundamental conflict was so rooted in absolute certainty of one side's right over the other's that compromise or gradual acceptance was impossible. I think that the South was genuinely convinced that slavery was not as much of a moral evil but actually a preserveration of one's own way of life. They were so incensed at the perceived arrogance of the North that there was no way compromise would have been evident. At the same time, I think that the North was both convinced that slavery was a moral wrong and/ or that the South was acting out of order in demanding to living out its own freedom in strict defiance of a national order. In this light, I am not sure that slavery could have been abolished without conflict because two conflicting visions of American consciousness were heading towards one another on a collision course.
Obviously we can't go back in time and try several methods, but we can look at several points in our own history for comparison sake. I believe what happened likely had to happen to achieve the desired result because of the greed of the plantation owners in the South.
Our Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was revolutionary. Often we think of it as a time of non-violent peaceful demonstrations and assembly in effort to fundamentally change culture, but it was not without much bloodshed either. Could such a method have worked in the 1860s?
From the first Great Awakening in the early 1700s, people were beginning to argue against slavery. When slavery was abolished in England in 1806, we remained slave-owners. Often with wealth comes great power. Obviously these plantations were producing enough of a crop that they had a monopoly on both the ears of politicians and the markets. Although non-violent efforts had been made, the greed that held the slave-owners in power was not easily overtaken. A defining act had to happen which would either separate the states or establish a moral value of human life, all human life.
Yes, certainly. The rest of the world has done so, some before 1865, some since.
But without war, it would not have been possible to destroy the political power of the South and bring the South's labor-, natural-, and agricultural-resources under the control of northern industrial politicians and business men.
I do believe that it would have been possible to accomplish the abolition of slavery without warfare, but it would have been extremely difficult. Had the North put the South under an economic embargo and blockaded ports, the South would have responded with military action. An "internal" embargo might have been effective, if the North had shut down trade across state and regional lines, but this would have cut off supply to Northern mills and industries.
I think another factor that would have eventually abolished slavery were the advances made in machinery. As more machines were invented and put in use there would have been less demand for slaves. this would have been a long time coming though.
Of course it could have been abolished, at least on paper, by a simple stroke of the pen. Unfortunately, the culture of slavery was so entrenched into society that it needed something drastic and radical to turn the former structure upside down in order to have a new starting point for race and equality. It took awhile to see the full fruits of that shake-up, but the process certainly began with the Civil War.
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