Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Civil War & Lincoln

Defending States' Rights

If, as E. J. Dionne allows, "the central cause of the [Civil] war was our national disagreement over race and slavery, not states' rights or anything else," then there is no reason why we need to associate the defense of federalism with either slavery or racism.

Perhaps Mr. Dionne will soon come out in support of Randy Barnett's proposed federalism amendment.

Discussions - 20 Comments

EJ's column was full of the Progressive historicist interpretation of the Civil War. He couldn't bear to mention natural rights, though he does quote Alexander Stephens' denunciation of Jefferson's reliance on "the laws of nature."

hey ken, i don't "do" ej (or ny times) but even he can be right once. southern states had NO PROBLEM with fugitive slave laws (whereby the feds told the states "we can take back those slaves you are hiding because they are private property). so please dont try to tell me there was any real principle involved. it was all about slavery. the other stuff is a "whitewash'".

The best comment on this subject I know is the statement that, before the Civil War, the United States, as in "those United States," was plural. After the Civil War, it was singular, as in "The United States is..."

The thing that always gets me about the Civil War is the Question: If it was all about slavery why was it that there were slave states fighting on the side of the union? When I have asked this question before all I have gotten is the sound of crickets chirping.

I would surmise that some slave states preferred maintaining the union to maintaining slavery.

Pretty simple, really.

PS: The idea that it "was all about slavery" is a bit of strawman, isn't it? To say that slavery was a major issue or the primary issue or a necessary condition isn't really the same thing as saying it was the only reason, is it?

There's no single quick answer to the question. But . . . .

1. For one thing, even slave states that joined the Confederate cause had far less than unanimity of opinion about fighting against the U.S.

1a. Partly because so few Southerners were slave owners.

2. Lincoln made huge efforts to keep the "border states" in the union with strange contrivances - like with the Emancipation Proclamation which pointedly did not free slaves in the border states where it would have had legal legitimacy.

3. I think it's fair to say that the key disputes of the Civil War at the start weren't so transparently obviously about Slavery as the key dispute was at the end of the Civil War.

You're asking the wrong question about slavery and the War of Northern Aggression.

First of all, there was a war because the north invaded the South. Had the north not invaded, there would not have been a war!

Was the War a moral crusade by the righteous north to end slavery in the evil South? No, it was not.

So if you believe that the War was "about slavery" in the sense of being some sort of virtuous campaign to end slavery, you are very mistaken.

Why did the north invade? Once you wade thru the propaganda it all comes down to money. The South provided most of the revenue for the federal gov't and a market for the northern factories.

the north didnt "invade" the south, the south fired on a federal base at ft sumter, that started the war. and for those that keep insisting it wasnt just slavery but other various reasons, read the secession resolutions the confederate states passed, all 11 are entirely about slavery and nothing else. however it wasnt a racist thing it was an economic thing. slaves propped up the southern economy and the slaveholders didnt believe what we now know about economics. states rights is a canard invented by southerners to try to rewrite history. the truth is that a small group of rich slaveholders dragged them into a war to preserve a feudal economy.

Now, why did the Confederates fire on Ft. Sumter? Even tho this is considered to be the start of the war, the truth is that in January ... before Lincoln took office and without authorization ... General Scott attempted to reinforce the garrison with troops and supplies. The Confederates turned the ship back by fire. Sending reinforcements is an act of war!

Further, Lincoln announced that tariffs would continue to be collected at Fort Sumter for the coffers of the Union regardless of the secession of South Carolina from the Union. Despite warnings from his cabinet that sending a ship to Ft. Sumter would be considered an act of war, he did so anyway.

First of all you have two separate actions ... secession and invasion.

There is no legal barrier to secession in the Constitution. one can easily argue that secession is clearly legal under the 9th and 10 Amendments. The reason for secession is irrelevant.

Next, did Lincoln invade the South to free the slaves? The answer is clearly no. There is no high moral ground for the north. It was all about money and power.

Regardless of Ft. Sumter, the north most certainly did invade the South. What else can you call it when you send an army into another country's territory? In WWII the Allies invaded N. Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France.

The South sent emissaries to DC to try to negotiate a peaceful separation but they were ignored by Lincoln. Instead, he sent the army.

Both sides miscalculated and over 600,000 died.

The states with slave codes still in effect were all border states with some degree of industrialization and direct trade with the North. Their slave holding class did not dominate their politics, so the interests of that class could not provoke the idiocy of secession, where many died to promote the evil interests of very, very few.

"There is no legal barrier to secession in the Constitution."

Of course there is; legally under the constitution, the federal government can enforce the laws made pursuant to the Constitution. A state could make a null and void proclamation of secession, but as soon as they try to make it stick they fall afoul of that perfectly legal and constitutional power.

-Lobo deserves a more thorough fisking:

"First of all you have two separate actions ... secession and invasion."

-It can't be an invasion when it was already American territory. It was the just and necessary suppression of insurrectionists.

"There is no legal barrier to secession in the Constitution. one can easily argue that secession is clearly legal under the 9th and 10 Amendments."

-Dealt with above, there is nothing in the 9th or 10th amendments which make any other part of the Constitution null and void.

"The reason for secession is irrelevant."

-The reason for secession determines the moral validity of crushing it, and morally it needed crushing.

"Next, did Lincoln invade the South to free the slaves? The answer is clearly no. There is no high moral ground for the north. It was all about money and power."

-Lincoln never said his direct or immediate goal was to free the slaves, he said very clearly it was to preserve the rule of law and the constitution. Curiously, he was attacked for this by some white abolitionists but notably not black ones, for example Lincoln had the full support of Frederick Douglass. That was because the preservation of constitutional law and government was best chance the slaves had for emancipation. The rule of true law and order founded in natural law--as opposed to rule by a slaveholding oligarchy--this is the moral high ground. The South wanted to seize power it did not justly have, so the high ground there was the North's as well.

"Regardless of Ft. Sumter, the north most certainly did invade the South. What else can you call it when you send an army into another country's territory? In WWII the Allies invaded N. Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France."

-Invasion has a military connotation of going into a foreign country, which the North absolutely was not.

"The South sent emissaries to DC to try to negotiate a peaceful separation but they were ignored by Lincoln. Instead, he sent the army."

-So? Lincoln would have been derelict in his duty if he had so much as sent them tea and crumpets. The southern emissaries had no legitimacy. All the Southerners could legitimately do was surrender and be tried for their treason.

-Both sides miscalculated and over 600,000 died.

Well over 600,000. That figure is just direct casualties of combat. It is hard to see what miscalculation the North made which was not fundamentally dwarfed by the proud, grotesque stupidity of the South. They never had one earthly argument on any of the questions in their favor--not one.

There is no good grounds for moral relativism here, the South was abjectly in the wrong.

The federal government neither sought nor received any new or unconstitutional powers in the war, and arguably had none until the Sherman anti-trust act, and few more until Wilson, and none unendurable until FDR.

As he so often is, Dionne is wrong here. Slavery was the principle disagreement between the North and South, but it was hardly the only issue. Instead of accepting the South's right to leave the Union (and I think they did in fact have that right), Lincoln chose to fight. Only later (when losses mounted beyond what pro-Union rhetoric could bear) was the war made into a crusade to free the slaves. This is, I think, a matter of record. Abolitionists were always a tiny minority in the North; most Northerners fought the war over Union, and most Southerners fought it over sovereignty. It is important to realize just how much prejudice there was against the black man on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. For your average soldier from Indiana or Illinois, helping the black man was a low priority. Even Ken Burns' "The Civil War" admits this.

As for Lincoln, he was a fine, resolute leader, but not a particularly democratic one. We can admire him and still admit that his means (and perhaps even his ends) were not really in keeping with the original intent of the Constitution. Whether he intended to kill States' Rights or not, war is always a strong centralizer of authority. America was not the same country after the CW, and that's good and bad at the same time.

"Slavery was the principle disagreement between the North and South, but it was hardly the only issue."

-Where exactly has Dionne said it was the only issue? I do think it was the central issue, without which there would have been no war and quite possibly there would have been one if none other existed.

"Instead of accepting the South's right to leave the Union (and I think they did in fact have that right), Lincoln chose to fight."

-The South had no right to secede, and attempting it violated several perfectly clear provisions in the constitution. Lincoln had only to chose to do his duty to enforce federal law in deciding to fight. The South bet he wouldn't and lost big time, as was well enough once the South undertook it's crime.

"Only later (when losses mounted beyond what pro-Union rhetoric could bear) was the war made into a crusade to free the slaves."

&

"As for Lincoln, he was a fine, resolute leader, but not a particularly democratic one."

So he changed the rationale for the war to include the emancipation of southern held slaves, to include that which was popular--but he wasn't a democratic leader? He certainly took a great strategic risk in favor of the popular will.

"It is important to realize just how much prejudice there was against the black man on either side of the Mason-Dixon line."

Which prejudice was without relevance to the question of the constitution and the union, which was the fulcrum the tide of war fell over when the shooting started--started by the South.

"Even Ken Burns' "The Civil War" admits this."

I doubt he ever denied it.

"We can admire him and still admit that his means (and perhaps even his ends) were not really in keeping with the original intent of the Constitution. "

The constitution was the entirety of his end, emancipation a means to that end--in fact in the end he was murdered over his fidelity to it--and his means were not destructive of his ends.

"Whether he intended to kill States' Rights or not, war is always a strong centralizer of authority. America was not the same country after the CW, and that's good and bad at the same time."

States had no rights before the war they did not have after. They have the same right now, to the extent the constitution is respected. What was lost were the imagined rights they never had, such as the "right" to secession. Were constitution to be undertaken by means of article V, then it would be constitutionally valid.

The unconstitutional bloat in the federal government did not begin until the late 1800's and the rise of the progressives such as Wilson and FDR.

Point the the clause in the Constitution that forbids secession. You won't find it.

There is no constitutional bar to secession ... It's not mentioned. Does that mean that it does not exist? Not if you read the 9th and 10th Amendments:

Article IX. -The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Article X. -The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.

Secession is a natural right. In the case of TN, the legislature present to the people the ordinance of secession and the people voted on this natural right and seceded. The power to secede is NOT PROHIBITED therefore, per Article X, it was and still is reserved by the States or the people. Thus the power seceded does exist and is legal. You can dance around that all you want but there it is.

Further, Jefferson and Madison (the Father of the Constitution) also argued in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions that the States had the right to be released from the compact (the Constitution), thereby suggesting that secession from the Union was legitimate.

Even Lincoln used the word invasion ...

"The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object."

Abraham Lincoln
FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS
MONDAY, MARCH 4, 1861

Lobo Solo, you are right that the Founders (and Madison) considered the right of revolution (which could include secession) to be a natural (as distinct from constitutional) right. But their understanding of the natural right of revolution would justify revolt by the slaves rather than Southern whites.

Here is Madison on the subject http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mjmtext:@field(DOCID+@lit(jm090163))

I think the reasons set forth here are accurate and relevant. I would add that the Lincoln administration did its best to force the slave states (i.e. Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland) to remain loyal: pro-Rebel Maryland and Delaware politicians were arrested and often imprisoned; large Union forces were deployed in Kentucky and Missouri to crush Rebel guerrillas, and they even evicted the inhabitants of several Missouri counties to deprive the Rebels of their civilian supporters.
These tactics succeeded in Maryland and Delaware simply because the main armies of the Union were based there, and because these states made gobs of money supplying and transporting Union troops. They were not as successful in Missouri, though they did succeed in keeping the state government and state militia from seceding. Union armies had to fight numerous battles to keep Kentucky in the Union; here too they succeeded.
In any event, the reason why Lincoln's actions succeeded was that pro-Union sentiment was more pervasive than pro-Rebel sentiment, and for good reason: slave-owners and their supporters were almost entirely opposed to any program of economic improvement (e.g. public schooling, canal and railroad construction, the Homestead Act), while farmers and small townsmen without slaves wanted to modernize their states and so backed the Republicans or Douglas Democrats (as a former Tennessee resident, I'd say also that southerners resent the wealthy more than northerners do, and in the 1860's the wealthy were the slave-owners).
The whole "states rights" argument is bullshit. The only "right" that the Rebels fought for was the right to own slaves. If there had been no slaves in the south, there would not have been a civil war. Period.

Anyone who dismisses non-slavery reasons for the Civil War as "bullshit" is an ignoramus. Do some reading. The sense of Southern grievance against the North was palpable and deeply based in both culture and economics. It wasn't slavery alone that caused the war.

There is no Constitutional bar to secession, and there is no reason to argue this point. Madison is irrelevant -- what matters is what the Founders signed off on. "Intent" is trumped by what is written and agreed to by all parties.

The rebels had plenty of "sentiment" on their side, and if you don't believe it look at Southern casualties in that war. Something like a third of the Southern white male population was killed or injured during the CW. Such sacrifice for a cause is atypical in the annals of history.

Southerns saw themselves as engaged in the 2nd American Revolution (which is why George Washington was on some of their money). You can't "rebel" against something you don't belong to.

For the record, I'm pretty sure the positives of a Northern victory outweigh the negatives, and I'm no neo-Confederate. But I long for the days (not so long ago) when Southerners were honored as fellow Americans who fought for what the thought was right. This new tendency to disparage them and cast them as some kind of proto-Nazis is disgusting and not good for the country.

Redwald, in understanding what was agreed upon (and who exactly the parties who agreed upon were and what they formed), the opinion of one of the Founders (and Father of the Constitution and early President) is to be preferred to the opinions of latter generation secessionists (or their intellectual father John Calhoun in the years after his presidential ambitions were blasted) who as in the Dred Scott decision were totally unprincipled in twisting and distorting the Constitution to fit their momentary policy preferences.

I'm not sure that right in war is judged by who has taken the most casualties. Japan and Germany lost a far larger fraction of their population in war with the US than vice versa.

You are right that some of the rhetoric of secession included allusion to the American Revolution and argued that the secession was an improvement on the original. The Cornerstone Speech makes just that argument though it reveals that the secession, based on forming an explicitly slavery-based republic was a mockery of the American Revolution.

Well I've never found it a cause of regret that our country was not dismembered in the 1860s. I also don't find it rare that Southerners like George Washington, James Madison and Martin Luther King Jr. should be honored as fellow Americans..though of course none of them were perfect.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/16017