Libertarians need not support the Confederacy

Regarding jus in bello, Magness considers the issues with libertarian moral philosophy in terms of supporting the North: “its indulgences in unrestricted warfare, suspension of civil liberties, centralization of power, or any of the other charges often made against the Union’s wartime cause or its outcome.” To be sure, the North let its generals perform what would today be called war crimes, and that is morally repugnant.

Yet, the South’s actions were hardly better—Camp Sumter, the Fort Pillow massacre, the Shelton Laurel massacre, and the Centralia massacre are just a few examples of the South’s violations of the customary laws of war. Reprisals and abuses were common on both sides; the jus in bello case is largely a wash on this issue.

Magness touches on the “suspension of civil liberties,” yet the only civil liberty he mentions in discussing the North is President Lincoln’s 1861 habeas corpus suspension. In any event, Congress ratified both this and a subsequent suspension in 1863, curing any constitutional defect. Any arguable jus in bello defect here is negligible. Moreover, the South denied the habeas corpus rights—and many other rights—of its millions of slaves for the entire war.