Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Mac Owens’ thesis about the current Democratic Party resembling Copperheads appears in today’s Christian Science Monitor.

Discussions - 32 Comments

The natural corollary to this "Democrats are Copperheads argument" is that George Bush should follow Lincoln’s model: unconstitutionally suspend habeus corpus, throw tens of thousands of these Democrats in jail without trial, and then simply deport the leaders who have too much political clout to submit. Are you suggesting that course of action?

There are a handful of Democrat politicians today that are good people, but most of them are not. The Copperheads, however, are American heroes. Like Socrates, they are martyrs for something greater. They opposed the left-wing dictatorship of Lincoln.

The Cooperheads were right to protests the invasion of the South and Lincoln’s usurpations. The anti-War Democrats are right to protest the Iraq War, just often for the wrong reasons.

Mac Owens is a great guy and, as usual, he’s written an intelligent article. In his conclusion, he outlines a possible danger for today’s Democrats, in view of the example of the Northern Democrats or Copperheads. The Copperheads set themselves up for long-lasting political weakness because they opposed the Union cause. Basically, they bet on the wrong horse, expecting the Confederacy to win the war of secession. Masses of returning Union veterans helped to assure Republican Party dominance for the next generation.

Mac continues: The anti-war Democrats of our own time have made a similar calculation. Judging the war unwinnable, and knowing that Americans hate to lose, they work against the Republican administration in order to take control of the White House and to increase their majorities in Congress. But if the war turns around, they will face retribution at the polls, with returning veterans forming a core of support future Republican victories.

The moral danger in this strategy is obvious enough: it puts Democrats into the position of lining up their electoral interests with U. S. defeat, tempting them to advocate policies that make defeat more likely. That will matter electorally only if the U. S. can claim victory. If America does lose, then the Democrats win. But, Mac asks, what if the U. S. wins?
Running this thought-experiment requires one to ask: What happens if Bush is vindicated? This obviously would be good for Republicans electorally. I doubt that it would be AS good for them as the Civil War victory was, however, for two reasons. First, the Civil War was just that: brother against brother. The feelings the war aroused were much more intense than the feelings aroused by this war. Second, the Civil War did indeed involve conscription of mass armies on both sides. Therefore, the percentage of voters who were veterans was much higher than it will be, after the Iraq War is finished.

Therefore, Democrats now take a lesser risk than did their Copperhead forebears. Is the risk worth the potential for victory on a pull-out platform in `08? They say yes, believing the war effectively lost, already.

Statues should be set up to celebrate the original copperheads. They were true conservatives and true patriots, opposing the left-wing dictator Lincoln. Although the neocon war in the Middle East today is immoral and wrong, the Democrats are opposing it for the wrong reasons. They are globalists too; they supported the war in Bosnia, and soon they will want to start a war in Darfur.

Help me understand this analogy better: why did we go into Iraq, and why are we there now?

4: Professor Morrisey, thanks for posting in response to the actual topic of this thread. Perhaps we can retrieve it from the fire-breathing Lincoln bashers, who seem more interested in chewing over 150-year-old hatreds than in addressing the current crisis. I think you’re quite right that Owens’ analogy fails in regard to possible political consequences for today’s Copperheads. The Iraq war doesn’t remotely involve the whole nation, in either a numerical or an emotional sense, as the Civil War did. I would add that Americans of 1870 and 1880 weren’t softened and infantilized by decades of left-wing propaganda from Hollywood and everywhere else. They had red blood. Ours is mostly a light pink.

The actual topic of this thread is a 150-year-old one. I didn’t post it, the head of the Ashbrook Center did. And none of his minions will answer the question I put forth in no. 1 because they know their answer can only be "yes."

A student of Bradford can’t but help to be saddened by such analogies like MacOwen’s because it would force us into the side of those whom I really don’t want to be. Heck I normally I like MacOwen’s stuff but this Jaffite-Lincoln analogy just muddies the waters and give the paleos red meat to charge at you. What is the point? I am not convinced that a glorification of Lincoln helps our chances to convince Americans that this war is one we must win and if we don’t win the conquences are unacceptable for free men and women everywhere, including America.

What the current dems are like are what they are the anti-war libs of the 60s who lost Vietnam and sent millions to their deaths!!! Gee nearly all the Dem Committee chairs are of the class of 74!!! The crowd that prevented Ford from keeping our promise to uphold the gov’t of South Vietnam!!!

So you right wingers who hate W and this war.. so do you really want to be on the side of the 60s hippies and Anti War crowd you find yourself supporting today. Heck its just like the New Conservatives like Gary Wills and others who broke with the right on Vietnam and joined up with the New Left... and then their cohabitation with them leftist got them spouting their other left wing positions so at the end of the day they end up men of the left. Which will happen to Senator Webb... he will be slowly lurched to the left because he will more and more depend on the democrats for support and who are the democratic staffers who run the committees but the hard core left... they will write his actual policy not him. Gee soon he end up supporting gay mariage and right to die legislation.

Mac Owens’ article (in the current CSM and the original NRO versions) is correct to expose the Democrats’ habitual bad attitudes about the armed forces (unless, of course, they are yoked and subordinated to some multilateral mission irrelevant to the national interest). As Owens also aptly argues, their attempts to exploit the military’s difficulties in Iraq for partisan political advantage (as, e.g., in this week’s military spending bill laden with pork for Democrats’ special interests) may ultimately backfire, and at any rate is contemptible.

But the serious, even fatal, flaw in Owens’ argument is his asserted analogy of the Civil War to the Iraq War. The Civil War -- to state the obvious – was eminently, emphatically, thoroughly about the well-being of the United States. The stakes: Would the rebellion destroy America’s hard-won peace, security, strength, civic union, and rule by the Constitution? Domestically, would the United States be doomed to oscillate between tyranny and anarchy? Would it have to militarize permanently to deal with a new, unfriendly neighbor, with claims on the Mississippi and the West, and which had also invited European intervention (recognition and aid from Great Britain and France)? Would the United States forfeit the Monroe Doctrine?

The Iraq War, as defined and operated by the Bush Administration, is emphatically about the well-being of a far-flung, foreign country with none of the hard-won achievements in civil society and political life that America had achieved by 1860. Whatever concern existed in relation to U.S. security and well-being has either been satisfied (forcing Saddam to come clean on weapons, as per Congress’s original authorization) or has yet to be rigorously demonstrated in concrete (not abstract or idealistic) terms by Bush, Cheney et al. And any domestic benefit, actual or potential, from the war has to be weighed – in a sober, statesmanlike calculation – against the harm that the war has already caused America, both in loss of American blood and treasure, and in our domestic tranquility and reputation in the world. Has anyone in power made that calculation or explained it to the American people? Have Owens and other apologists for the ongoing war made and explained that calculation?

American foreign policy is -- or should be -- always, primarily for the well-being of the American polity. This is not only just (for our own citizens, who pay the taxes and fight the wars) but also practical. We do not have the means to achieve other peoples’ common good, which is relative to their own circumstances, composition, history, etc. Natural right varies, as Aristotle says.

Democrats’ impure motives and ill-advised plans (and the odd, hateful email to Mac Owens) do not constitute a positive argument for the Iraq engagement, or an excuse for Republicans’ failure to take a hard look at its cost to the American polity.

8: Brutus, Owens’ point isn’t that there were Copperheads 150 years ago. That topic is simply used toward a larger purpose: To argue that there are Copperheads today. So you people are wrong to hijack this thread for axe-grinding about the Civil War. The post is about the Iraq war, not the Civil War, or the War Between the States, or the War for Southern Independence, or whatever you bilious revanchists and irredentists want to call it.

9: Clifford, good point about Senator Webb. I suspect he will become a rather reliable liberal Democrat, in part for the reasons you cite. He probably is already. It was probably always naive to expect otherwise.

Again, I prefer "Jeffersonian."

Well, since the Claremont/Ashbrook people are about to pull the shroud over the "comments section," let me say that equating today’s Leftist with yesterday’s Copperhead was guaranteed to insult those who don’t see the Old South as a bunch of traitors. While I guess the CA Axis teaches that Southerners were cultural enemies, and those that aided them traitors, this was never the majority view of most Americans. Southerners have been viewed as benighted, misguided, or retrograde, but they have never been thought of as alien or inimical to the American experiment. Who teaches that?

Actually, the Claremont/Ashbrook Axis turns out surprisingly fragile...more fragile than I suspected. This is too bad, since we have a crying need for tough conservatives these days.

I am a great admirer of Lincoln, and I do not regard Southerners, present or past, as "cultural enemies."

As David Frisk points out, the point of my article was not the Civil War but the Iraq War. My concern is when dissent become obstruction.

Nonetheless, I had to laugh when I read some of the comments. It is an old story. I think I write some pretty controversial stuff for NRO and Ashbrook, but there is nary a peep until I make some reference to the Civil War, or more properly, The War of the Rebellion.

The fact is, I probably know a great deal more about the Confederacy than most of my critcs. I was raised in a Lost Cause houshold. All my forebears fought for the Confederacy--my hometown of Bryan, Texas and surrounding Brazos County contributed mumerous troops to the famed Texas Brigade of John Bell Hood. I was raised to admire Lee and Jackson (I still do, for their military prowess. Indeed, Lee is the greatest general of the War). Mel Bradford was one of my professors at the University of Dallas, and indeed, was a member of my dissertation committee (I wrote on Hamlton). But he was much better on Faulkner and Southern literature than on the Founding and the Civil War.

I initially intended to write on Alexander Stephens and his post-war defense of secession and states’ right. But then Harry Jaffa, whom I had never met before he attended a conference on the UD campus, called my attention to Stephens’ speech of 21 March, 1861. There’s no mention here of states’ right. But there is a long discussion of why Jefferson was wrong about all men being created equal, which caused the old Republic to founder. The Cornerstone of the new Confederate Constitution, he continued, would be African slavery.

At that moment, I became an apostate Southerner. As any student of religion knows, an apostate is worse than a non-believer because the former has seen the "truth" and rejected it.

So much as I admire the military prowess of Lee (but even here, remember that there was only ONE successful Confederate army. The Army of Tennessee stumbled from one defeat to the next under the dysfunctional leadership of Braxton Bragg), I believe the Confederate cause was wrong. So take your best shots.

Alexander Stephens obstructed the Confederate effort in many ways, not the least of them his wicked "cornerstone" speech. But read Davis’s speeches of the time and you will find an embrace of the theory behind the Declaration.

This constant focus on one speech by one crackpot has been going on for years. Read Karl Marx’s coverage of the Civil War. He said the exact same thing about Stephens. That’s right, Karl Marx supported the Union cause. What more does a "conservative" need to know?

Owens says "I believe the Confederate cause was wrong." I’m not sure what to say about that comment. The "cause" was independence. They already had slavery; they wanted independence. Were they wrong to want it? Maybe. I’m not going to debate that.

Then Owens says this: "My concern is when dissent become obstruction." Here we come to the real issue. For the sake of the argument I will grant that Lincoln was right to try and save the Union. The debate then moves to a question of means, not ends.

Was Lincoln correct to use the means I described, accurately, in post no. 1? Furthermore, given the stakes of the "War on Terror," would George Bush be right to use the same means against today’s "Copperheads" once "dissent become obstruction"?

Well, Mac, that’s honest. Now, can you tell me why the "first" Founding was right and the second wrong?

But, the Southern Confederacy never once put forth a valid reason to leave the Union. They left just because they did not like how their political fortunes were playing out in Washington D.C.

Compare the list of grievances that was put forth in of Declaration of Independence versus the ones put forth by the states that formally put one out and you will notice a serious lack of merit to the Southern cause.

We’ve had this argument before. It is nowhere written in stone that you absolutely MUST articulate grievance to have a legitimate "right" to leave a polity. Since the Southerners were oh-so-careful to leave the Union in a particular sequence (so as not to violate Constitutional rules that apply to States), if the document had stated "give reasons before exiting" I’m sure they would have. Tariffs, territory, and Northern hostility to slavery were ample reasons in their minds, and I’m sure they could have articulated them if they had thought it necessary.

Now, let Mac speak for himself, please.

Although the original topic seems to have become tangential to the thread, I should add that Mac’s article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, which is one of the best of the `liberal’ publications. I take it that he was asking the thoughtful readers of that publication to think a bit more carefully about the possible electoral consequences/risks of their opposition to the war. Not at all a bad thing to do.

Some of you guys crack me up. Please, Dain, spare me. There was no "second founding." There was instead a repudiation by the Southern secessionists of the American Founding based on the idea that "all men are created equal." It wasn’t just that crackpot Stephens, but John c. Calhoun as well who argued that Jefferson was wrong.

There was never a constitutional right to seceed. As Lincoln said, there is always a right of revolution. But the South never used this argument. The natural right of revolution was not the basis on which the South seceeded. To have done so might have given some ideas to those held in bondage.

No, I think you need to spare me. You say there was no such right, but the Constitution is silent on the subject. And, of course, you know what it says about that. I’ve read Webster and all the other apologists for taking up arms against secessionists...their arguments are very, very thin. As for the first founding, they said nothing about all people being equal...that’s not in the Constitution (hence the need for a Bill of Rights). And...the U.S. sanctioned slavery, did it not? So, we can conclude that both the 1st and the 2nd Founding excluded suffer from a double-standard. Face it, buddy, your opinions aren’t based on much except emotions.

That’s a major leap of logic, dain.

How so, Dale? People do many things that are not established by the Constitution, and the X Amendment makes it clear (in plain English) that any power not specified by the document was reserved for the people and the States. I guarantee you that most people who supported secession thought that they had the legal right, even under the current Constitution. I think they were correct about that.

As for the First Founding, the documents produced were clearly compromises by two major parties: Northern "free" States and Southern "slave" States. These States agreed to abide together under a common central government under THOSE terms. After years of struggling with the North over trade, slavery, and territory, the South was finally convinced that the compact no longer served their interests well. And, importantly, the Founders had specifically omitted the notion of a perpetually-binding Constitution (you can find this in the Federalist Papers).

Here’s the deal, Dale. Compacts/contracts that can never be broken, regardless of circumstances, eviscerate the voluntarist philosophy that gives such contract-making its moral authority. Even the most sacred contract of all, marriage, can be broken under certain circumstances. The South thought the marriage was ending, and they left.

You know, I’m not trying to rewrite history here, and in many ways it was a good thing the Union was preserved. What I object to is the moral high-horse that some people mount when discussing Lincoln. He was, more than any other human being, responsible for a half million deaths, and these among his own people. I’m sorry, he’s no hero...a better man might have found a way to preserve the Union and spare us the war. We’ll never know.

I notice that no one, not even Dain, bothers to answer the most important question that would arise in the mind of anyone who reads Owen’s piece. And I can only think that the reason is that everyone, including Dain, thinks that what Lincoln did to the Copperheads was justifiable and that Bush should do the same thing today. Y’all are really scary.

Jefferson Davis, in his speech before leaving the Senate, take pains to separate the principles of secession from the principles behind nullification (which he regarded as absurd). And unlike Stephens, and Calhoun, he never repudiates the Declaration. Sure there were fire-eaters who said ridiculous things, but who ends up as president?

Furthermore, if one wants to argue that the South fought primarily for white supremacy (which is Stephen’s thesis) than one is forced to conclude that that South won the war. For white surpremacy (described in the way Stephens described it) predominates throughout the entire country for 100 years after secession.

The activities of the Copperheads were quite diverse, ranging from editorializing to terrorism. I think any free Republic must allow political expression/opposition, even in time of war. But spying or violence...nope. In that case the Copperheads should have left the North and enlisted in the Confederate Army. Southerners were NOT guilty of treason, but SOME of the Copperheads were. Lincoln’s shutting down newspapers and incarcerating U.S. citizens without trial was also plainly wrong. How’s that for an answer?

’ better man might have found a way to preserve the Union and spare us the war’

May be, but none come to lead, did they? And, with no disrespect to you, I don’t see how the South would ever peacefully let go of its way of life.

Slavery ended everywhere within 50 years of the civil war (not counting the ’slavery’ going on today...the governmentally-sanctioned kind, I mean). Why? Well, the world was moving on. The cotton gin had made slavery profitable, but other machines (and competition from Egypt and India) would have eradicated that profitability. Moreover, not every Southerner liked slavery, and while such people were a minority in 1860, part of the insistence on slavery was the Southern inferiority complex...Northern elites were dinging them pretty hard in the 1850s. It got their back up and solidified opinions that might otherwise have been more moderate (not, probably not in South Carolina, but elsewhere, yes). Given a little space and some guarantees, surely Lincoln could have isolated the nascent Conferacy, limiting it to 2 or 3 States. Then, with a bit of persuasion, some more guarantees, and Virginia as intermediary, the Union might have been preserved and slavery extinct by 1900. Counterfactual history, yes, but plausible..hell, even Brazil eliminated slavery by 1890.

Dain, I think you’re probably right about this. Slavery continued to prosper because slaveowners were able to pass along the costs of enforcement to others, in particualr to the northern states in the form of the Fugitive Slave Law. In an independent Confederacy slaveowners would have had to take on many more of these expenses themselves, making it a far less profitable proposition. I also think that there would have been a growing movement in Britain to prevent the purchase of cotton from a country whose very existence was based on slavery.

Yes, John, slavery had a lot going against it. I think eventually the Confederacy would have wearied of being a pariah state, and there just wouldn’t have been that bedrock class interest (given falling profits) to maintain it against increasing economic and cultural pressures. This is one of the reasons I hold the views I hold...the Civil War was just needless in my opinion (I think WWI was even more stupid). Southerners were Christian Europeans, and they were having a hard time justifying slavery to themselves (but, like good Celts, the worse their conscience, the angrier they got). When you put it all together, it becomes pretty apparent that they would have been forced to abandon slavery within a few decades at most.

Can you imagine a Southern society without the Klan? Without the nasty resentment of blacks by disenfranchised Southern Whites? Without the hyper-expansion of the Federal government. How might those half million young men who died have added to our culture? Yep, counterfactual but plausible. Perhaps all parties were victims of circumstances, Abe Lincoln included, but it sure was an awful business. Ending slavery was important, but I don’t see any other outcome to recommend the Civil War.

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