Debating DiLorenzo: Lincoln, Secession, and Sumter

Here’s what Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo told Brian Lamb in 2008 about Lincoln, secession, and the Sumter crisis:

LAMB: … I want to ask you something you said. Was he a great man?

DILORENZO: He was – when you consider that he had less than one year of formal education and he became one of the top lawyers in the United States self taught, he certainly had greatness. I think he was brilliant. I think he was a genius. And I think a great a tragedy for America, however, is that he uses genius to essentially manipulate the South Carolinians into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter and plunging the whole nation into a war. And then, invading his own country after, you know, at Fort Sumter, as you know, no one was killed or hurt, but the response was a full scale invasion of the entire southern states.

And so, I think, he used his genius in a way that – in my latest book ”Lincoln Unmasked” I write about how wouldn’t it had been great had he used this genius to be more statesmen like and end slavery peacefully like the British and the Spaniards did and then do other things for America, as opposed to a four year war that killed 650,000 Americans?

LAMB: How did he trick the South Carolinians?

DILORENZO: Well, he promised he would not send war ships to Fort Sumter, certainly, when he did. And then in my book, I quote him – a letter from Lincoln to his naval commander, Commander Fox, Gustavus Fox thanking him for his assistance in getting the outcome that they desired, and the outcome that they desired was getting the South Carolinians to fire on Fort Sumter because he guessed correctly that the people of the north would rally behind the flag and support the war that he wanted to get into.

And at the same time, you had the confederates had sent peace commissioners to Washington to offer to pay the south’s portion of the national debt and to pay for federal forts like Fort Sumter. Napoleon III of France offered to broker some sort of compromise, but Lincoln refused to speak to any of them. He wouldn’t see any of them. He was determined to go to war, which he did.

LAMB: Why was he determined to go to war?

DILORENZO: Well, I think, he came up with this idea of the mystical union. He – in one of his speeches he talked about the mystic cords of memory that – of the union. But up to that time, a great deal of Americans, I would argue most Americans understood that the union was voluntary and that it would be an atrocity if any state left to march an army into that state and kill some of inhabitants just to keep it back into the union.

In my book, ”The Real Lincoln”, I ran across a big two volume set of books called ”Northern Editorials on Secession” by a man named Howard Perkins and it’s just reprinted northern newspaper editorials in 1859, 1860, 1861 about this whole issue of secession and some other topics. And he concludes that the majority of the newspaper from New York to Cincinnati to Vermont, Wisconsin in the north were in favor of letting the south go peacefully because they believed in the old Jeffersonian dictum that the union was voluntary. In the declaration of independents when governments derived their just powers from the consent of the governed. And when the northerners saw the south saying, we no longer consent to be governed by Washington, D.C. most of them said, OK, well let them go. Horace Greeley, really the famous newspaper man, he’s often quoted as saying this, he might have thought they were mistaken or wrong headed, but let them go and maybe we can persuade them to come back into the union at some future date seemed to be the attitude of a lot of these newspaper people.

Crossroads comments:  My, but we have a lot of ground to cover here.  First, let’s note that DiLorenzo sees Lincooln as a tyrant, but then faults him for failing to end slavery on his own (which is something a tyrant would do, right?).  Of course, that’s what secessionists were afraid he would do, and so they seceded.  DiLorenzo seems unaware of the tensions in his own argument, tensions that soon turn into contradictions.

After all, I think we can agree that without secession, there is no war.  What guaranteed secession was Lincoln’s election, because secessionists saw him as the enemy of slavery.  Lincoln had said nothing about using violence to end slavery: indeed, he had repudiated John Brown.  But white southerners were willing to use violence to preserve slavery.  Lincoln can’t win in DiLorenzo’s eyes.  Any plan he would have proposed (as well as any plan he did propose) got no traction among secessionists (or, indeed, the vast majority of southern whites).  Somehow DiLorenzo overlooks that.  Any plan he did propose would have been greeted by secession.  In any case, secessionists in the Deep South decided to act before finding out what Lincoln would do, so that point’s moot.  So Lincoln’s blamed for bringing on the war as well as blamed for not proposing a policy guaranteed to bring on secession and most probably conflict.

After all, if Lincoln allowed the Deep South’s secession to go uncontested, how does that contribute to the abolition of slavery?  DiLorenzo does not say.  And what measures could Lincoln had secured that would not have led to his being called the tyrant DiLorenzo claims he is?  DiLorenzo does not say.

Of course, it’s amusing to hear that Lincoln was invading his own country.  That’s how far DiLorenzo will go to whitewash the history books of Confederate complicity.  Secession’s okay, because it’s a voluntary union, yet South Carolina’s still Lincoln’s own country.  It’s an interesting argument to try to follow.  Try to follow this … if it’s Lincoln’s own country, then secession’s unconstitutional, and a state cannot simply leave the Union.

Now, who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter?  Jefferson Davis authorized it.  Yet he does not seem to exist, either, in DiLorenzo’s narrative.

As for Fort Sumter, perhaps DiLorenzo needs to refresh his understanding of the facts.  Lincoln sent an expedition to reprovision the fort.  Given that South Carolinians had fired on a United States vessel in January, it was only understandable that warships might well accompany the expedition.  However, if Lincoln was hell-bent on starting a war, why notify Governor Pickens in the first place?  Why couldn’t Jefferson Davis have let the garrison be resupplied, and continue negotiations?  Why did he choose war?  Oh, that’s right, the Confederacy exercises no agency and bears no responsibility for what happened in April 1861.  It’s all Lincoln’s fault.

The Fox letter (dated May 1, 1861) that DiLorenzo cites reads as follows:

I sincerely regret that the failure of the late attempt to provision Fort-Sumpter, should be the source of any annoyance to you. The practicability of your plan was not, in fact, brought to a test. By reason of a gale, well known in advance to be possible, and not improbable, the tugs, an essential part of the plan, never reached the ground; while, by an accident, for which you were in no wise responsible, and possibly I, to some extent was, you were deprived of a war vessel with her men, which you deemed of great importance to the enterprize.

I most cheerfully and truly declare that the failure of the undertaking has not lowered you a particle, while the qualities you developed in the effort, have greatly heightened you, in my estimation.  For a daring and dangerous enterprize, of a similar character, you would, to-day, be the man, of all my acquaintances, whom I would select.

You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort-Sumpter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result.

Most of the letter deals with a mishap to Fox’s original plan.  Clearly it is the last sentence that draws our attention, and all it suggests is that Lincoln saw the effort to relief Sumter as a win-win situation: either the fort would have been resupplied, prolonging the stalemate, or the Confederates would initiate hostilities.  That’s different than saying he wanted war: he left that decision in Davis’s hands.  Nor does DiLorenzo mention Davis’s interest in initiating hostilities at Fort Pickens, a sign of Confederate intent.

Most studies of the Sumter crisis show a growing determination not to allow the secessionists to get their way: the idea that most northerners thought secession was legitimate is simply wrong-headed.  Indeed, DiLorenzo returns time and again to that notion that the Union was voluntary precisely because he does not want to wrestle with the vocabulary of secession or address its constitutionality.

I’m surprised DiLorenzo doesn’t know more about Napoleon III and how his efforts to broker a settlement recognizing CSA independence were tied to his own interests in restoring French power in the western hemisphere.  Apparently tyranny’s okay, so long as it’s French.  Oh, and by the way … the French first conveyed their willingness to mediate to an American representative on May 12, 1861.  That’s a month after the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter.  See Lynn Case and Warren Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970), p. 31.

Of course Lincoln would not meet with Confederate representatives, for doing so would grant legitimacy to the Confederacy.  That is something of a sticking point, after all.

So much for Dr. DiLorenzo’s arguments on these points.

53 thoughts on “Debating DiLorenzo: Lincoln, Secession, and Sumter

  1. Bob Huddleston February 27, 2011 / 7:49 pm

    “And I think a great a tragedy for America, however, is that he uses genius to essentially manipulate the South Carolinians into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter and plunging the whole nation into a war.” I shake my head over this line of reasoning: do these Confederate Romantics not realize that they are essentially arguing that the Rebels, including Davis, were such idiots that AL was able to play them like a violin to do his will?

    • David Rhoads February 28, 2011 / 6:52 am

      Actually, that line of reasoning is not out of character for Confederate Romantics. It’s long been a staple of Lost Cause mythology, for example, that Longstreet was able to dominate and manipulate his commanding officer, Robert E. Lee, to the detriment of the Confederate war effort but not, somehow, to the detriment of Lee’s reputation. D.S. Freeman made the case explicitly in his biography of Lee (here writing about 2nd Bull Run/Manassas):

      “For the third time Lee declared himself for an attack. He believed that a drive along the Gainesville-Centreville turnpike would certainly dislodge the force on the right at the same time that it would relieve Jackson, whose troops were now furiously engaged on the extreme left. Longstreet was obdurate. The day was nearly done, ‘Old Pete’ argued. An advance would get nowhere and might prove disastrous. It would be far better to make a reconnaissance later in the evening. Then, if an opening were found, the whole army could be thrown against the enemy. Lee hesitated. Judgment and consideration for the opinion of his subordinate were at odds. At length, though unconvinced, he assented. His decision was reached after far too little deliberation and probably was expressed in a very few words, but the moment was an important one in the military career of Lee, important less in its effect on the outcome of the battle than in its bearing on Lee’s future relations with Longstreet. In all the operations since Lee had taken command of the Army of Northern Virginia he had not shown any of the excessive consideration for the feelings of others that he had exhibited in West Virginia in his dealings with General Loring; now it appeared again. The seeds of much of the disaster at Gettysburg were sown in that instant — when Lee yielded to Longstreet and Longstreet discovered that he would.” (Freeman, R. E. Lee, Vol. II, pp. 324, 325.)

    • Christopher Shelley January 24, 2015 / 8:50 pm

      DiLorenzo is not a RomCon–he’s something far more pernicious.

  2. Marc Ferguson February 27, 2011 / 8:17 pm

    Another problem here is DiLorenzo’s assertion that many, if not most, Northern newspapers were in favor of allowing secession. He cites Horace Greeley as an example of this. However, if he were familiar with the literature on secession and the Northern reaction, he would know that Kenneth Stampp addresses this point, stating that when Greeley took this position he wasn’t advocating allowing unilateral secession as it was occurring, but only through a Constitutional Convention or a direct vote of the people. As Stampp writes in _And the War Came_, “Peaceful secession as envisioned by these northern nationalists hardly fitted the pattern of the states-rights concept… Southerners must make formal application for permission to secede… Meanwhile the South must wait quietly until the Federal government and the northern people had time for careful deliberation… Secession, then, must be slow and painless, a product of negotiation which would respect the authority of the Federal government and protect the interest of the nonseceding states.” [22-24] Stampp goes on to observe that “the scheme of peaceful separation had nearly evaporated by the end of December.”

    DiLorenzo’s characterization of Greeley and other Northerners as advocating “letting the south go peacefully because they believed in the old Jeffersonian dictum that the union was voluntary” is false. Now, I don’t know if Lincoln would have supported such a process had it gained momentum, but there was no danger of that since secessionists were presenting secession as a fait accompli, and insisting the Lincoln administration negotiate separation terms on that basis, which Lincoln and most Northerners saw as unconstitutional.

    • Al Mackey February 27, 2011 / 11:14 pm

      And if we look at Perkins’ book, we see that DiLorenzo misstates Perkins’ conclusion. “With many editors, however, changing tempers later produced a willingness to oppose the southern course with whatever arguments were available, and of those the denial of secession as a constitutional right ranked first among a people with a stubborn faith in legal processes. The southern program, editors then asserted, actually invoked not a right of secession but the right of revolution. To this doctrine northern editors without exception gave lip service, but almost unanimously they declared that it could be exerised only for proper cause.” [pp. 10-11]

  3. M.D. Blough February 27, 2011 / 8:25 pm

    There is also the point that, by the time that Lincoln took the oath of office, the initial rebel states had a provisional constitution, inaugurated a president and vice-president, and had an army. It wasn’t the South Carolinians who were “manipulated”, essentially or totally, into firing the first shot. It was a conscious decision by the Confederate cabinet conveyed to General Beauregard.

  4. Steve Witmer February 27, 2011 / 9:18 pm

    That’s the big recurring question…where, in all this, is Jeff Davis, the Confederate Congress, P.G.T. Beauregard, et al? It’s as if they don’t exist in the equation at all, and Lincoln is 100% responsible for every action and reaction on both sides — even those that occurred before he was inaugurated.

  5. M.D. Blough February 27, 2011 / 9:55 pm

    As for DiLorenzo’s claim, “Well, I think, he came up with this idea of the mystical union. He – in one of his speeches he talked about the mystic cords of memory that – of the union. But up to that time, a great deal of Americans, I would argue most Americans understood that the union was voluntary and that it would be an atrocity if any state left to march an army into that state and kill some of inhabitants just to keep it back into the union.”

    He either has not bothered to read, or deliberately ignored material such as (1) Daniel Webster’s 1830 response during the Nullification Crisis, that concludes “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”, (2) Madison’s letters during the Nullification Crisis including his December 1832 letter to Nicholas Trist in which he states, “It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr. Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them.” and (3) President Andrew Jackson’s December 10, 1832 “Proclamation Regarding Nullification” including the call, “Fellow-citizens! the momentous case is before you. On your undivided support of your government depends the decision of the great question it involves, whether your sacred Union will be preserved, and the blessing it secures to us as one people shall be perpetuated.” Jackson threatened to personally lead troops into South Carolina and hang the ringleaders of nullification if South Carolina persisted in its claims that it had the right to nullify a federal law.

    • lunchcountersitin February 28, 2011 / 9:31 am

      You’ve touched on something I’ve discussed elsewhere. Many Confederate partisans seem to feel that Lincoln’s actions in opposition to secession/disunion were unprecedented. This is hardly the case. In the Jackson proclamation you mention, he says somewhat near the end:

      “They (SC politicians) know that a forcible opposition could alone prevent the execution of the laws, and they know that such opposition must be repelled. Their object is disunion, hut be not deceived by names; disunion, by armed force, is TREASON. Are you really ready to incur its guilt?”

      The infrequency with which Jackson’s comments were cited at the time of war once struck me as odd. But then, it’s no wonder that Confederates wouldn’t quote their Southern Democrat, who decried disunionist talk. And Jackson was probably no hero of many Republicans either.

      Jackson not only articulated a strong challenge to nullification, but to secession too, which was an implied threat of SC during the Nullification Crisis.

      • Brooks D. Simpson February 28, 2011 / 10:33 am

        The odd thing, as Russell McClintock recently pointed out, is that in the secession crisis of 1860-61 Lincoln was much more Jackson and much less Clay, his hero. His efforts at compromise once in office concerned the upper South.

  6. R. B. Bernstein February 28, 2011 / 12:52 pm

    One aspect of this controversy that hasn’t received enough attention is the essentially contested nature of the Union. Though I tilt to the Washington-Hamilton-Marshall-Story-Clay-Webster-Lincoln side of the analysis, I am willing to acknowledge that there was another side that regarded the Union as much more fragile and much more state-centered and much more open to interposition, nullification, and maybe even secession. And yet Brian Steele has a fine recent article arguing that Jefferson, though he proposed nullification in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, was not in favor of secession and wanted the Union to be preserved.

    Even so, those who seek to rehabilitate the Confederacy as something other than a treasonous conspiracy agaisnt the Union ought to acknowledge that there’s a long and honorable tradition that cuts against their position. But, insisting that they have the only right answer, they never will acknowledge that view.

  7. Kgray April 23, 2011 / 2:55 am

    Secessionists talk about “Liberty” and “Freedom” and “the right to depose tyrants” when speaking upon the “concept” of the Constitution, but seem to disregard the Preamble as being some vague source for the existence of the Constitution. However, when it comes to the 10th amendment and the “Right to Secede”, then the Constitution becomes a binding document having a specific purpose of unquestionable intent.

    Fairly, we should allow President Lincoln to have the same freedom of what is “meant” and what is “written”, without having to rationalize his actions beyond Constitutional limits. President Lincoln execution of his powers was not an adventure in idealism, but was a duty of his to perserve Soverein power over land; that power granted by the Presidential Oath, and interpreted upon “….a more perfect Union” as written in the Preamble (though the Preamble does not grant powers, it shows scope, purpose, and intent).

    Surely, what is “perfect” and what is a “Union” (written with a capital U) is debatable. But, defining “Union” as being void of any “concept of land” is a hard agruement to win.

    As for the question of Sovereinty: Was the United States acting as a Soverein Nation during the Louisianna Purchase from France in 1803? What about other events the United States was acting as a Soverein Nation before secession? When, then, did the United States stop acting as a Soverein Nation in 1861?

    • Christopher Shelley April 9, 2014 / 7:23 pm

      The preamble’s “We the People” is enough–I don’t think one need read through all the way to “more perfect Union” to find secession unconstitutional. The ratification conventions in 1787 and 1788 were organized state by state, but were not an expression of state sovereignty. They were conceived by the Framers as an expression of The People of the United States, thereby vesting sovereignty directly into the new federal government. This meant that the new government would not be a creature of the states, which all admitted sucked. (I don’t believe they used that term, though.)

      And in letters that went back and form during these ratification debates, Madison and Hamilton–two guys who would know what the Constitution meant if anyone did–stated that the Union was perpetual.

  8. Lynn D Talafuse September 13, 2012 / 6:26 pm

    Peoplewho argue for war assume that secession mandated war. The truth is that Lincoln could not go to war over either secession or slavery. He made no attempt to reconcile with the Southern states. He meant to have war and he needed some act that would get tehNorthern peopple to go. There were three forts Lincoln was looking at as a catalist. The reeason he did not wait for congress o give him the legal means to call up the army was because they would most likely not give it. If Lincoln wanted to aviod war, why did he not leave it in the hands of congress, which is how the constitution syas i should be?

    • Margaret D. Blough September 14, 2012 / 1:22 am

      Why did he not leave it the hands of Congress? First, because Congress had already given him the authority he needed to issue the call for troops. The Militia Act of 1795 provided, “Sec. 2 And be it further enacted, that whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed, or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth the militia of such state, or of any other state or states, as may be necessary to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed; and the use of militia shall so to be called forth may be continued, if necessary, until the expiration of thirty days of the then next session of Congress”

      President Lincoln, after Ft. Sumter fell, used his Article II, Section 3 constitutional authority to call Congress into special session beginning on July 4, 1861. The 37th Congress was not due to have its first session until the first Monday in December 1861 (December 2, 1861) as provided Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution before it was amended by the 20th Amendment (In fact, some states were still having Congressional elections in the Spring of 1861, which was before a single federal election day was set. Furthermore, rail transit through Maryland to DC was not truly secure from sabotage or mob attack until around late June).

      There was no Congress in April 1861, because the 36th Congress (1859-1861) was concluded, having finished its lame duck session in March. The House adjourned on March 3, 1861, the day before Inauguration Day. The Senate was in special session from March 4 to March 28 to deal with executive business (including cabinet confirmations). The Confederates didn’t move against Ft. Sumter until Congress was gone.

      The US Supreme Court upheld many of the President’s actions during the period between the fall of Ft. Sumter and the beginning of the special session of Congress and held no declaration of war was needed to take action to suppress a rebellion/civil war within the United States in the 1862 decision in Prize Cases (Chief Justice Taney participated in the case and dissented from the ruling). The case dealt with the validity of the blockade of the rebel states declared by President Lincoln.

      President Lincoln offered multiple olive branches to the rebels but would not betray the principles of platform on which he and his party had been elected (especially no action against slavery where it was established, but opposition to expansion of slavery into the territories). The choice for war was made by the Confederate cabinet and Jefferson Davis when they decided to fire on the relief expedition to Ft. Sumter and fire on the Fort, which was already being starved out.

      • rcocean September 14, 2012 / 3:44 pm

        “The choice for war was made by the Confederate cabinet and Jefferson Davis when they decided to fire on the relief expedition to Ft. Sumter and fire on the Fort, which was already being starved out.”

        Absolutely true. And Virginia and Tennessee chose the Confederacy over the Union. Sad, because had these two states simply chose neutrality – NC would’ve followed suit – and the war would’ve been over within a year. This of course, is why Davis chose war, war meant the rest of the south joining the Confederacy. And of course, Davis was 99% certain the South would win.

    • Caldwell September 14, 2012 / 1:33 pm

      You are correct Lynn, it is perfectly true that Lincoln had no authority to interfere with the events taking place in the Southern States. It is also a fact that the Militia Act of 1795 gave Lincoln no authority at all in the matter. That act would have been applicable ONLY if the seceded States had requested federal help. More specifically, Article 4, section 4, of the U.S. Constitution plainly states:

      “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence”

      Obviously, not a single seceded State made an application for federal intervention. And then there is the simple truth that the seceded States were no longer subject to U.S. law on any level; they had seceded. Either way, Lincoln and the U.S. acted lawlessly.

      • Brooks D. Simpson September 14, 2012 / 1:56 pm

        As the clause says “in this Union,” and as the seceded states said they were not in the union, you might have your explanation as to why a Confederate state would not have appealed to Lincoln to stop them from seceding. What an odd piece of logic you offer.

      • Margaret D. Blough September 14, 2012 / 9:14 pm

        You do realize. don’t you, that the Militia Act of 1795 was passed by a Congress of the Framer’s generation and that the Constitutionality of President Lincoln’s actions in the post-Ft. Sumter period was upheld by the US Supreme Court in the Prize Cases decision in 1862, including expressly upholding his invocation of the Militia Act? Article IV deals with a state dealing with domestic violence within its border. It says nothing about a state being able to prevent the Federal government from enforcing FEDERAL law within a state’s borders and it does not deal with a state’s officials violating their oath of office, mandated under Article VI, to support the US Constitution. You do remember Article VI which also includes this provision: “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding” The debates of the Constitutional Convention on July 18, 1787 are instructive on this point. There is nothing in it to support the rather bizarre idea that a Constitution created to prevent a feared risk of disunion would include a section that would mandate that, if a state attempted to unilaterally break up the Union by engaging in rebellion, particularly armed rebellion, against the US government, the US government would be powerless to act unless the rebellious state invited it to come in to it to suppress its own rebellion.

        The issue of the right of the Federal Government to enforce federal law against a recalcitrant state was not a novel one. The Militia Act of 1795 codified what the federal government had already done during the Whiskey Rebellion when the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was unwilling to act to enforce federal tax law and protect the collectors against its own citizens. Washington personally led troops into Pennsylvania. Both Presidents Madison and Jackson were prepared, when faced with threats of secession to use military force to suppress such rebellion.

        You take it as a given that there was a legal right to secession. That was never accepted by any U.S. president or federal court. Both Madison and Jackson expressly denounced the argument that secession was constitutional.

        • John Foskett September 15, 2012 / 10:31 am

          In other words, stop making it up.

      • Andy Hall September 15, 2012 / 10:46 am

        And then there is the simple truth that the seceded States were no longer subject to U.S. law on any level; they had seceded.

        Then they have zero protection under the U.S. Constitution.

        Either they had seceded, and the United States invaded a foreign nation, or they hadn’t, and Lincoln was putting down an insurrection as authorized under Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 15 of the Constitution.

        The Confederacy: Wanting it Both Ways Since 1861

  9. Spelunker January 24, 2015 / 8:23 am

    Ha! Trick? Please…

    2:30 A.M., April 12, 1861.

    “I will, if provided with the proper and necessary means of transportation, evacuate Fort Sumpter by noon on the 15th inst.,”

    ROBERT ANDERSON, Major United States Army. Commanding.
    To Brig.-Gen. P.G.T. BEAUREGARD, Commanding Provisional Army C.S.A.

    April 12, 1861, 3:20 A.M.

    “We have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter, in one hour from this time.”

    JAMES CHESNUT, JR., Aid-de-Camp.
    STEPHEN D. LEE., Captain S.C. Army and Aid-de-Camp.

    To Major ROBERT ANDERSON, United States Army Commanding Fort Sumter.

    Brooks, do you have any information on the ownership of Fort Sumter at the time the South opened fire? Would South Carolina’s secession have any bearing on the ownership of the Fort? I didn’t really look into the ownership very in depth, but I did find this:

    It is my belief that South Carolina was not the owner of the Fort on April 12th, and they certainly were not occupying it. Perhaps that is why they opened fire, butthurt and pride? But is the ownership a settled issue?

    Only in the South does resupply mean “hostile”:

    Stephens was a tool.

    • Jimmy Dick January 24, 2015 / 1:08 pm

      If I recall correctly, Andy Hall wrote about the ownership of Ft. Sumter. It was federal property beyond a shadow of a doubt, but modern day neo-confederates don’t bother themselves with things like facts in the creation of their myths.

      • Andy Hall January 24, 2015 / 4:07 pm

        No I didn’t get into that particular analysis. It’s not a question that much interested me and, as far as I’m concerned, firing on Fort Sumter renders the question moot. Finely-crafted legal arguments are the weapons of the courtroom; by resorting instead to a trial by combat (to use an old term), South Carolina voluntarily chose another means of determining the question.

        O. J. Simpson is in a prison cell in Nevada today because he held up some sports memorabilia dealers he claimed had his property. The actual ownership of property is irrelevant to Simpson’s criminal case; he went to prison because of the means he chose to pursue his claim. So too with the Confederacy; they resorted to war to settle the issue, and that’s what they got.

        • Jimmy Dick January 25, 2015 / 4:14 pm

          I thought you had a forum entry on this in Dead Confederates. Maybe it was another blog. In any event the research was very good which is why I thought it was yours!

          You are correct. South Carolina made a decision. They paid the price for making the wrong choice. Those that complain about this today obviously do not comprehend the past while they also do not understand the law.

          • chancery January 25, 2015 / 6:43 pm


            You’re probably thinking of Al Mackey’s comprehensive dissection of the ownership question in a post at his Student of the Civil War blog, part of an excellent series on the attack on Fort Sumpter.


            Although I can’t find it now, one of Al’s posts referred to some earlier threads on civilwartalk, mostly interesting as case studies in self-delusion on the part of Lost Causers who believe that older statutes trump newer ones.

          • chancery January 25, 2015 / 6:44 pm

            Aargh, Sumter, not Sumpter!

      • John Foskett January 25, 2015 / 9:32 am

        Bob: Thanks for this. The language is pretty strong. The land is “ceded” to the United States. There is no reservation or reversion. And all claims of ownership to the contrary are ‘extinguished”, subject to Laval, et al. getting compensation if their claim is deemed valid. In particular, there is nothing about reversion should South Carolina “secede” – even though that was allegedly a right which existed. In fact, the ceding of the property was a sovereign act by the state of South Carolina, so a contrary argument based on “secession” is flatter than a week-old cow flop in the South 40.

  10. Spelunker January 24, 2015 / 5:32 pm

    Thanks for the info, I will check both of those out.

  11. Sarah Goodwich April 29, 2017 / 4:05 am

    Brooks D. SImpson writes that “the idea that most northerners thought secession was legitimate is simply wrong-headed.”

    Here, SImpson argues that simple IGNORANCE of such legitimacy, is somehow an excuse for international imperialism; and so he completely avoids the question entirely, of whether it WAS legitimate.

    Indeed, ironically, SImpson further argues that “DiLorenzo returns time and again to that notion that the Union was voluntary precisely because he does not want to wrestle with the vocabulary of secession or address its constitutionality.”

    But Simpson likewise does neither; and therefore his implied counter-argument– i.e. that the Union was NOT voluntary, and secession was NOT legitimate– is entirely arbitrary…. ALSO ” precisely because he does not want to wrestle with the vocabulary of secession or address its constitutionality.”

    Indeed, the very phrase “constitutionality” displays a gross ignorance of the matter, since it implies that the Constitution had anything to do with secession– which would imply that it was a NATIONAL constitution, which is indeed the very question– a question which Simpson indeed begs, by implying that secession is a Constitutional question.

    Indeed, Lincoln claimed that the Constitution WAS national, in denying secession as legal; however in reality, the individual states were expressly assured, prior to ratification, that the Constitution would only be federal– NOT national, and that every state would be found solely by its own voluntary act.”

    So by claiming that the Constitution (and the Union) WAS national, Lincoln simply pulled the biggest “bait-and-switch” in history… and Simpson supports it, by arguing:
    “Try to follow this … if it’s Lincoln’s own country, then secession’s unconstitutional, and a state cannot simply leave the Union.”
    And that’s as close as Simpson comes to a legal argument, when it is clearly figurative: i.e .they were the People whom Lincoln was sworn in Article I of the Constitution to PROTECT from invasion– not to INVADE them; indeed, this Article only even permits assistance against domestic violence in any state, on application by the state government itself, so that the federal government cannot invade on its own authority under PRETEXT of such.
    Rather, SImpson simply argues that “After all, I think we can agree that without secession, there is no war.”
    This is quite basically the equivalent of a mugger saying, that “if he had given me his money, I wouldn’t have shot him,” i.e. it ignores entirely the legal question of the victim’s right to refuse, or to live– just like Simpson ignores the right of the states to secede.
    Rather, Simpson, like the mugger, argues that submission and obedience would have avoided the incident, and therefore holds the victim to blame for the consequences of death and despoilment.

      • Sarah Goodwich April 29, 2017 / 10:48 am

        And with defenders like you, Lincoln didn’t need John Wilkes Booth.
        Dilorenzo is Dilorenzo; I am simply telling history the way it happened, to show that you are not making your point, but simply contradicting your adversary like Monty Python’s John Cleese.

        Let us here, as you put it, “wrestle with the vocabulary of secession or address its constitutionality.”

        1. I’ll begin with the fact the Constitution was legally adopted among 11 sovereign nations in 1788, each by the act of its respective People– i.e. it’s voting citizens, not its respective government officials– with the intent, and the express assurance, that the Constitution would, if adopted, be only a federal Constitution– not national; i.e. that every state was bound solely by the voluntary act of its respective People in ratifying it.

        2. Likewise, for nations to join to form a single nation, requires an express manifestation of this intent–, as with the 1707 Treaty of Union between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland to form the single Kingdom of Great Britain, where this intention was expressly manifested to join the two kingdoms into a single kingdom.

        3. The states, meanwhile, not only manifested NO such intent to conjoin their respective “free, sovereign and independent states” into a single state of ANY kind; but on the contrary, the People of New York REFUSED to ratify the Constitution, until given express assurances by Madison himself in Federalist 39, that the Constitution would NOT join the states into a single nation; but that it would only be a voluntary FEDERAL republic like the Articles of Confederation before it, and that .

        Therefore, the People (again, not the government) of any state could nullify any federal law– or secede from the Union entirely, just like Brexit.

        “The constitution makes no provision for states to leave the union. ”
        It’s a federal Constitution– NOT national; so it doesn’t HAVE to “provide” for them to leave. Each state is a sovereign nation unto ITSELF, it can do whatever its sovereign rulers– i.e. the People of the state– DECIDE to do.
        From Federalist No. 39:
        *…the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but… this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act…. the act of the people, as forming so many independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation…
        Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a federal, and not a national constitution.*

        As to what that means, from Law of Nations, Book I, Chapter I, § 10. “Of states forming a federal republic:”

        *Finally, several sovereign and independent states may unite themselves together by a perpetual confederacy, without ceasing to be, each individually, a perfect state. They will together constitute a federal republic: their joint deliberations will not impair the sovereignty of each member, though they may, in certain respects, put some restraint on the exercise of it, in virtue of voluntary engagements. A person does not cease to be free and independent, when he is obliged to fulfil engagements which he has voluntarily contracted.*

        This was contrasted against § 11, “Of a state that has passed under the dominion of another:”

        “But a people that has passed under the dominion of another is no longer a state, and can no longer avail itself directly of the law of nations. Such were the nations and kingdoms which the Romans rendered subject to their empire; the generality even of those whom they honoured with the name of friends and allies no longer formed real states. Within themselves they were governed by their own laws and magistrates; but without, they were in every thing obliged to follow the orders of Rome; they dared not of themselves either to make war or contract alliances; and could not treat with nations.”
        *The law of nations is the law of sovereigns; free and independent states are moral persons, whose rights and obligations we are to establish in this treatise.*

        THIS was the intent of the Founders, and the Peoples of the states in ratifying the Constitution– i.e. a voluntary, international union– not a new single prison-nation bound together by force, no different from the prior one.

        Madison clarified this beyond all question at the turn of the 19th century, in the Virginia Report:

        *It is indeed true that the term “states” is sometimes used in a vague sense, and sometimes in different senses, according to the subject to which it is applied. Thus it sometimes means the separate sections of territory occupied by the political societies within each; sometimes the particular governments established by those societies; sometimes those societies as organized into those particular governments; and lastly, it means the people composing those political societies, in their highest sovereign capacity. Although it might be wished that the perfection of language admitted less diversity in the signification of the same words, yet little inconvenience is produced by it, where the true sense can be collected with certainty from the different applications. In the present instance, whatever different construction of the term “states,” in the resolution, may have been entertained, all will at least concur in that last mentioned; because in that sense the Constitution was submitted to the “states;” in that sense the “states” ratified it; and in that sense of the term “states,” they are consequently parties to the compact from which the powers of the federal government result.*
        *The states, then, being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal, above their authority, to decide, in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated; and consequently, that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.*
        *However true, therefore, it may be, that the judicial department is, in all questions submitted to it by the forms of the Constitution, to decide in the last resort, this resort must necessarily be deemed the last in relation to the authorities of the other departments of the government; not in relation to the rights of the parties to the constitutional compact, from which the judicial, as well as the other departments, hold their delegated trusts. On any other hypothesis, the delegation of judicial power would annul the authority delegating it; and the concurrence of this department with the others in usurped powers, might subvert forever, and beyond the possible reach of any rightful remedy, the very Constitution which all were instituted to preserve.*

        And so it has, with the federal government being the final judge of its own powers.

        • Brooks D. Simpson April 29, 2017 / 10:52 am

          Clearly Booth is a personal hero of yours.

          I enjoy how you continue to present your uninformed opinion as “fact.” Please continue.

          • Sarah Goodwich April 29, 2017 / 11:56 am

            There’s no need; you see, you’ve presented no cogent counter-arguments, when you had the opportunity to do so; thus it must be assumed that you don’t HAVE any, therefore you concede the point.

          • Brooks D. Simpson April 29, 2017 / 1:12 pm

            Yawn. I need to see a cogent argument from you first. I haven’t.

          • John Foskett April 30, 2017 / 7:43 am

            Get the CAPS key on your keyboard FIXED. And then READ Lee’s January, 1861 letter to his SON.

        • Kristoffer April 30, 2017 / 4:32 pm

          “but on the contrary, the People of New York REFUSED to ratify the Constitution, until given express assurances by Madison himself in Federalist 39, that the Constitution would NOT join the states into a single nation”

          Your myth is busted here:
          “Even in New York (Publius opened each essay with the salutation, “To the People of the State of New York”) we have no evidence that The Federalist was a game changer at the state’s ratification convention. Initially, the convention had a strong Anti-Federalist bent. Of the 65 delegates, 46 were “decidedly opposed to the constitution,” according to the election returns reported in the New York Journal. While we might like to imagine that last minute input from The Federalist converted Anti-Federalists, it was the arrival of late-breaking news that turned things around. On June 24, delegates learned that New Hampshire had voted for ratification, so the Constitution would take effect no matter what New York did. A week later they discovered that Virginia, the largest state in the union, had also signed on, so if New York failed to ratify it would be on its own. After that, the critical issue was no longer outright acceptance or rejection but whether to call for a second constitutional convention to consider amendments that would make the Constitution more palatable to the convention’s Anti-Federalist majority.”

          • M.D. Blough May 1, 2017 / 6:47 am

            The proposed (and defeated) Lansing amendment has often been misconstrued as providing for an absolute right of unilateral secession. It did not. What it proposed to do was reserve the right to rescind the ratification if certain proposed Constitutional amendments were not decided upon under the Constitution’s provisions for amendment within a set period of time. Hamilton wrote to Madison asking his opinion of a ratification resolution with such a caveat attached (Hamilton wanted unconditional ratification). Madison replied,

            >>To Alexander Hamilton from James Madison, [20 July 1788]
            From James Madison1
            N. York Sunday Evening [July 20, 1788]2My dear Sir
            Yours of yesterday is this instant come to hand & I have but a few minutes to answer it. I am sorry that your situation obliges you to listen to propositions of the nature you describe. My opinion is that a reservation of a right to withdraw if amendments be not decided on under the form of the Constitution within a certain time, is a conditional ratification, that it does not make N. York a member of the New Union, and consequently that she could not be received on that plan. Compacts must be reciprocal, this principle would not in such a case be preserved. The Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever. It has been so adopted by the other States. An adoption for a limited time would be as defective as an adoption of some of the articles only. In short any condition whatever must viciate the ratification. What the new Congress by virtue of the power to admit new States, may be able & disposed to do in such a case, I do not enquire as I suppose that is not the material point at present. I have not a moment to add more. Know my fervent wishes for your success & happiness.
            Js: Madison
            This idea of reserving right to withdraw was started at Richmd. & considered as a conditional ratification which was itself considered as worse than a rejection:<>All debts contracted and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

            This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

            The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.<<

            A comparison of the language of the Constitution to that of its predecessor, the Articles of Confederation ( is striking.

    • Ned May 1, 2017 / 12:00 am

      “the very phrase “constitutionality” displays a gross ignorance of the matter, since it implies that the Constitution had anything to do with secession”

      The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land and expressly discusses the limits of State powers, and the attempts at secession claimed to dissolve the relationship formed by the Constitution, thus the Constitution has everything to do with secession.

      • John Foskett May 2, 2017 / 6:32 am

        The deluded also blindly refuse to comprehend the meaning of the tern “rebellion” and its implications under the Constitution.

        • Jim Delaney October 6, 2018 / 10:13 am

          It wasn’t a “rebellion” or a “civil war”, it was an invasion by the North of a neighboring independent nation. Use of these misleading terms is nothing more than political correctness and a brazen misportrayal of what actually occurred. Secession is not prohibited by the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land, and IS permitted as a residual power of the States or the People per the 10th Amendment. So, at the root of all this academic wrangling is a lingering and useless argument over whether or not secession is a viable remedy left to the States. It was a viable, lawful remedy then and is so now. The War Between the States, aka War of Northern Aggression, was entirely and embarrassingly preventable. By violating the Constitution, Abe was needlessly destructive and turned the founders on their heads. From that point on, the doctrine of dual state-federal authority was summarily destroyed condemning our “republic” to the death spiral its been in ever since. Is it too late to restore constitutional order Lincoln destroyed? More than likely. Given the chasmic ideological divide in the country today, we could well be heading into our first REAL civil war or, preferably, secession which, of course, can be and should be peaceful. But, how peaceful secession is acted upon depends not upon the seceding State but the level of tyranny on the part of the ruling class in DC.

          • Jimmy Dick October 22, 2018 / 5:26 am

            Sure, keep on believing that crap. Unilateral secession is unconstitutional. The issue of secession was brought up and rejected in the Ratification Conventions. Study history instead of trying to change it.

          • MARGARET D BLOUGH October 24, 2018 / 5:00 pm

            Jimmy-I’ve always wondered about the “well, secession wasn’t expressly prohibited by the Constitution” argument. Do they actually believe that EVERYTHING not expressly prohibited by the Constitution is not only allowable but has the force and power of the Constitution supporting it? 🙂 In addition to the points you make, there’s also the point that the Constitution is very specific about how a state becomes part of the Union and the conditions under which an existing state can be divided to make two or more states. It is simply unbelievable that the Framers would intend to allow each state to unilaterally decide to leave the Union under the Constitution but say absolutely nothing about how dissolving the relationship was to be accomplished.

          • Christopher Shelley October 22, 2018 / 2:39 pm

            What are you smoking? But more to the point, have you not read anything on this blog? Are you arriving late and just popping off trying to sound smart?

          • jim delaney October 24, 2018 / 3:23 pm

            Well, if I “sound smart”, my apologies. Don’t want to rain on our super-sensitive parade.

    • Ned May 1, 2017 / 12:07 am

      “this Article only even permits assistance against domestic violence in any state, on application
      by the state government itself”

      While it is true that protection against domestic violence requires the application of the state government, the rest of the clause does not — the US can guarantee every State a ‘Republican Form of Government’ and protect each against invasion on its own authority; likewise it can execute the laws of the Union on its own authority.

      “This is quite basically the equivalent of a mugger saying, that “if he had given me his money,
      I wouldn’t have shot him,”

      The mugger in this case would be the CSA.

  12. Jim Delaney October 6, 2018 / 10:01 am

    I got as far as “without secession there would have been no war” before I got sick to my stomach. Skimmed the rest of this guy’s refutation of DiLorenzo’s viewpoint knowing that there would be–and there were–other incidents of nimble dodging and weaving and flights of illogic. Conveniently omitted in the refutation is the fact that secession was a widely accepted doctrine, embraced by much of the North as well as by our founders. So, by the South exercising is rightful act to secede and to defend its sovereign territory, we are to believe that the South started the war, not our deified Abe, the latter who refused to negotiate a resolution of Northern-Southern differences with CSA peace delegations and who rebuffed Napoleon III’s offer to mediate a settlement? OMG. Does that sound like the God of Peace that revisionist Lincoln apologists want us to believe? Insulting. PLEEEEEEEZ!! And, yes, I am a yankee–just not a deluded, brainwashed yankee. Which proves once again that it is the victor who writes the history of such conflicts. And, of course, we can always count on their “historical” accounts of that conflict to be brilliant paragons of objectivity. Sure….

  13. Jimmy Dick October 22, 2018 / 5:32 am

    Obviously the fact that over half the people in the South and over 75% of the people in the North rejected secession proves you don’t know what you’re talking about. Consider the support of the people of the North to go to war to reject secession and the break up of the Union. Then study history and stop supporting nonsense like DiLorenzo’s.

    • jim delaney October 24, 2018 / 3:22 pm

      For starters, I want you to carefully read “Free, Sovereign & Independent States”, “A Constitutional History of Secession”, “Is Secession Treason?”, and my own “A Patriot’s Call to Action: Resisting Progressive Tyranny & Restoring Constitutional Order”. Don’t be a slave to your biases. You along with millions of others have been duped big time. READ!

      • Jimmy Dick December 20, 2018 / 10:31 am

        You should start with the Constitution since your claims are incorrect. Stop being stupid and stop lying to people in order to support your fantasies.

  14. Jimmy Dick December 20, 2018 / 10:43 am


    As I’ve explained before, the Ratification process answered so many questions about the Constitution. Notice how those who want to interpret the Constitution in ways that have been rejected since its writing avoid discussing the Ratification of it? Secession was addressed and discarded in those conventions. Basically this whole thing boils down to people wanting the states to be sovereign over the federal government. They don’t want the Supremacy Clause to exist.

    They need to note that NO FEDERAL COURT has EVER overruled that clause.

    They miss the point that the Constitution was created partly because of the fear that states would leave the Confederation.

    The reality is these people just want to create a new country that would meet with their ideas which definitely would exclude people whom these people don’t want in their country. Basically, these people reject the very principles upon which this nation was founded. If they don’t like it, they can leave. But they cannot secede. They have to physically get up and leave.

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