Lee’s Surrender

GabeAmerican History(ML), Mini Lessons

From Common Sense American History eBook:

Clearly defeated, Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, eighty miles west of Richmond on April 2, 1865. The Civil War finally ended.  Lincoln sought to reconcile the two warring sides. He viewed the war as a tragedy caused by the sin of slavery. Having come into office relatively inexperienced, Lincoln proved to be a man of extraordinary wisdom and a man of high character. Having led this nation through the war, he hoped to provide leadership in binding the nation’s wounds. Two days after Appomattox, while attending a play with his wife at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., an actor in the play, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and white supremacist, snuck into the Lincoln’s balcony suite and shot Lincoln. Lincoln died the next day.

  1. Given the evil of slavery, why would Lincoln have wanted to treat the South with dignity?
  2. Do you think, had Lincoln lived, that civil rights for former slaves would have advanced faster?
  3. The Civil War was extremely costly in terms of lives lost and social disruption. Recognizing that, the economics are intriguing. It is estimated that the 4 million slaves in 1860 were valued at about $3 billion. The Civil War, however, cost more than $6 billion. Knowing this, could the bloodshed have been avoided simply by buying all the existing slaves? Or was there more at stake?
  4. One of the consequences of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox was the ending, for all intents and purposes, of a decentralized version of American federalism. Lord Acton (famous for his saying that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely) said that in secession was to be found the only check on the absolute power of the state, and that as a result, the South was fighting to preserve an example of liberty for the world.

Lee was no friend to slavery, although he was also not an abolitionist. But leaving slavery aside (if that is possible), why might someone argue that liberty was harmed by ending the possibility of secession?

In February, 2017, one poll showed that 1/3 of Californians would like to secede from the Union. And in Spain, Catalonian secessionists won a referendum on the question, and are now being forcibly shut down. Should California and Catalonia be allowed peacefully to secede?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers.  Click here to download the Common Sense American History materials.

Image Citation:

Tom Lovell.  3, Nov. 2018, Surrender at Appomattox [Digital image].  Retrieved from <google.com>.