Was Secession a Reasonable Response?

A comment left today on this blog causes me to raise what I think is an interesting question: was secession a reasonable act?

I say yes.

Why?  Simple.  Secessionists made it very clear that their primary purpose in seeking separation and independence was the protection of slavery.  They well understood that so long as they remained in the Union, history was turning against them.  They understood that Lincoln’s reassurances that he would not attack slavery had nothing to do with the fact that slavery as an institution was more vulnerable with the presidency in the hands of Republicans than of Democrats (and, after Stephen Douglas’s waffling on the issue of slavery’s expansion, they were none too sure about the reliability of northern Democrats, either, which explains the walkout of the fire-eaters at the 1860 Democratic convention).

Indeed, the only reason why secession makes sense is the protection of slavery.  It would make no sense at all to say the white southerners seceded simply to exercise state rights (for what purpose?), to protest the tariff (really?  REALLY? Come on, folks … abandon that nonsense … otherwise the tariff, and not slavery, would have been at the heart of compromise proposals in 1860-61), or simply because they resented Yankee domination (what would have made that a danger, I wonder?).

Many historians make much of the words of secessionists in 1860-61, which emphasize the preservation and protection of slavery.  Of equal importance is to look at what opponents of secession (including conditional unionists) said in opposing the secession movement.  They, too, seemed concerned about slavery, one way or another.  Some did not want to risk a war on behalf of slaveholder interests; others worried that the possibility of war would shake slavery loose (and they were right).

In short, the issue of slavery was central to the debate over secession … because all you have to do is to read what white southerners said at the time. Moreover, it is easy to understand secessionists and to see their fears as reasonable  once we acknowledge the centrality of slavery in their world view. To pretend otherwise is to engage in a psuedohistorical exercise that tells us more about the motives of present-day Confederate apologists and romantics than it does about real secessionists and their fellow white southerners.

70 thoughts on “Was Secession a Reasonable Response?

  1. Mark September 23, 2012 / 4:09 pm

    I agree. Secession was reasonable if slavery was as important as they thought.

    Independence failed because it was really a desire for independence over a single-issue, as you say. The military failures were the result of that: not being able to craft an identity unique from whom one claims to want to be independent.

    They had a moral right of revolution and a desire for independence. But they failed not on theoretical grounds, but rather on the merits of what they believed. The contents of their beliefs. They believed a) that slavery wasn’t immoral; b) a society based on the stratification slavery provided was a superior one; and c) that their culture produced men superior in character and ability to make war to the “shopkeepers and merchants” of a modernizing Northern society and would prevail in a struggle against them.

  2. Francis Gallo September 23, 2012 / 4:38 pm

    Well put. As I set out in my comment in Countdown, the inevitability of war seemed clear decades before April 12, 1861. I’ve read enough declarations from politicians in the Southern states to conclude that they knew that without slavery they were done. But the Southern response to increasing pressure from the North caused them to dig there heels in the harder, rather than prepare themselves for the inevitable.

    If the South had spent forty years preparing for emancipation rather than secession I think things would have worked out a little better for both sides. But they didn’t and 1858 brought Lincoln to the stage and Cooper Union (with a little help from Douglas) brought him to the White House. It must have been a jolt. Calhoun had been dead for ten years so he wasn’t going to be much help and, from what I understand, Hammond never could fill his shoes. So secession was the only way, I suppose, for the South to hang on to the slave economy they depended on and did nothing to change.

    But the war, according to the President, wasn’t about slavery. It was about preserving the Union. Another misconception? Many think so. Allow me to close with a quotation from Eric Foner’s ‘Reconstruction-America’s Unfinished Revolution’

    p.7………….a federal army officer in Tennessee flatly declared in 1863 “Slavery is dead; that is the first thing. That is what we all begin with here, who know the state of affairs.” In December 1861 Lincoln had admonished Congress that the Civil War must not degenerate into “a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.” The Emancipation Proclamation announced that this was precisely what it must become.

  3. wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 4:56 pm

    Slavery was central to the Southern economy, and their society. That doesn’t make the moral issue go away.

    I have always believed that if the Southern states were so set on separation, they should have pursued a legal path rather than kill over a half million people trying to do it extra-Constitutionally.

    I would suggest that perhaps there was enough sentiment in the rest of the country to at least allow Southern separation be put to a series of votes, if not in Congress, then perhaps in national referenda.

    I would also suggest that the reason they took the path they did was to allow for the option to invite other states in to their Confederacy once they established independence, and to get past northern objections to annexation of Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico.

    Presenting a de facto independent confederacy without benefit of Constitutional paths [that would likely have required an amendment to fully and expressly allow it] may have been the most expeditious method, but it was less than honorable.

    And the fact that the root cause was slavery further stains Southern honor.

    The Southern Framers agreed to the deals made in the Constitutional Convention, including the halt to the importation of slavery in 1808, which was aimed at the eventual extinguishing of slavery. Instead, slaves were imported illegally by smuggling, and the slave breeding industry arose, accompanied by the slave catching industry to go after runaways.

    The stench that clings to the Southern “culture” because of their financial investment in human “property” is nauseating. And no, that’s not presentism, as there were plenty of people who felt that way at the time. Unfortunately, they were not in the majority.

    For a nation that was created out of the whole cloth of the Humanist movement, slavery is a stain that will forever taint this nation, in spite of the fact that it was a legacy of British colonialism.

    • Mark September 23, 2012 / 6:36 pm

      >> I have always believed that if the Southern states were so set on separation, they should have pursued a legal path rather than kill over a half million people trying to do it extra-Constitutionally.

      But there is no legal path for independence, by definition. A state declares itself sovereign.

      >> For a nation that was created out of the whole cloth of the Humanist movement, slavery is a stain that will forever taint this nation, in spite of the fact that it was a legacy of British colonialism.

      It would only forever stain the nation if it were uniquely an American problem, and if it weren’t addressed. Is the evil getting better or worse, and it is a matter of policy to make it worse or is the evil punishable by law? Even for those who hold to “American exceptionalism”, such as myself, you don’t need to think (in fact I struggle to understand how one could) that Americans are morally better than others. It is the belief that the American set of political beliefs is better than the others and allows people to do exceptional things. Where evils occur, they will be rectified in a more satisfactory way than in other nations. If that is so then it shouldn’t be a “stain that fill forever taint the nation.” All nations have their tragic aspects.

      • wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 8:06 pm

        “Presenting a de facto independent confederacy without benefit of Constitutional paths [that would likely have required an amendment to fully and expressly allow it] may have been the most expeditious method, but it was less than honorable.”

        It is an American problem that we are discussing and we are discussing a uniquely American problem: American slavery in a country with a founding document that says,

        “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

        Those “humanist” sentiments put Americans on a higher moral plain.

        That these evils were not resolved via a path that was a satisfactory way leaves the stain to be permanent. A half million dead to resolve this issue was and is, wholly unsatisfactory.

        • Mark September 24, 2012 / 6:54 pm

          >> Those “humanist” sentiments put Americans on a higher moral plain.

          The put our aspirations higher, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be met at every point in time. Assumptions about that are grounded in philosophy and theology. The “second birth of freedom” idea isn’t exactly new. Why did we need a new one? Because the old one was incomplete and left for future generations to complete. This is new?

          • wgdavis September 25, 2012 / 9:45 am

            Thank you, you made my point. Those aspirations were not met. That was a failure.

    • wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 8:15 pm

      Jefferson Davis to Franklin Pierce on the eve of his resignation from the US Senate.

      “Washington D.C. Jany. 20. 1861
      My dear friend,
      I have often and sadly turned my thoughts to you during the troublous times through which we have been passing and now I come to the hard task of announcing to you that the hour is at hand which closes my connection with the United States, for the independence and Union of which my Father bled and in the service of which I have sought to emulate the example he set for my guidance. Mississippi not as a matter of choice but of necessity has resolved to enter on the trial of secession. Those who have driven her to this alternative threaten to deprive her of the right to require that her government shall rest on the consent of the governed, to substitute foreign force for domestic support, to reduce a state to the condition from which the colony rose. In the attempt to avoid the issue which had been joined by the country, the present Administration has complicated and precipitated the question. Even now if the duty “to preserve the public property” was rationally regarded the probable collision at Charleston would be avoided. Security far better than any which the federal troops can give might be obtained in consideration of the little garrison of Fort Sumpter. If the disavowal of any purpose to coerce So. Ca. be sincere the possession of a work to command the harbor is worse than useless.

      When Lincoln comes in he will have but to continue in the path of his predecessor to inaugurate a civil war and, leave a soi disant democratic administration responsible for the fact. Genl. Cushing was here last week and when we parted it seemed like taking a last leave of a Brother.

      I leave immediately for Missi. and know not what may devolve upon me after my return. Civil war has only horror for me, but whatever circumstances demand shall be met as a duty and I trust be so discharged that you will not be ashamed of our former connection or cease to be my friend…”

  4. bdhamp September 23, 2012 / 6:56 pm

    I tend to refer to it as a “rational” response merely for the potential connotative differences between “reasonable” and “rational,” but then I suppose “rational” has its own set of connotations that might make the two terms indistinguishable. Put simply, the difference, respectively, between “rational” and “reasonable” in my own head is the difference between choosing among a set of bad options to achieve your goal, in this case the preservation and expansion of the slave society, and choosing an option from a set of options that were developed after examining whether the goal itself is desirable. I don’t know that those responsible for secession ever truly questioned the goal.

    Perhaps this is an arbitrary division to which my mind has attached itself, and I should just let it go. I do think when we ask ourselves this question, we often get bogged down in questions of morality and what we ourselves believe would be the moral thing to do, which of course is not the question.

    In any case, I think it’s clear the decision was “reasonable,” as you put it, given their goals and the circumstances. One might reasonably ask, however, how pervasive the belief in ultimate success really was.

  5. Pat Young September 23, 2012 / 7:03 pm

    An old business school example of how to not envision the economic future is the case of the railroads. As my old professor used to say, “they thought they were in the business of choo-choos when they were really in the business of transportation.” Failure to understand that led many to bankruptcy, or so he said.

    A reasonable member of the Southern elite should have been more concerned with the preservation of wealth than with the preservation of slavery. The sucessful creation of a Confederacy would turn the United States into a haven for escaped slaves. As some Southern Unionists warned, if the South seceded, Canada would start at the Maryland border,

    The United States, even if it lost the war for the Union, could reasonably be expected to fund covert ops for decades to support Black liberation movements in the South that could ultimately prove more costly in lives and treasure than the Civil War itself. Since fire eaters were already claiming this was the Northerners’ goal as early as the 1850s this possibility was clearly in their contemplation.

    If wealth preservation was the goal, then secession was not reasonable.

    • Al Mackey September 23, 2012 / 7:44 pm

      Wealth preservation was one part of it, but preservation of white supremacy in a region with a significant number of African Americans was another reason. Slavery took care of both, so the goal really was preserving slavery.

      • Pat Young September 23, 2012 / 8:35 pm

        Al, White Supremacy was constructed as an ideology to facilitate the system of slave labor relations, not the other way around.

        Also, as we saw after the defeat of the Confederacy, White Supremacy could be preserved in a post-slavery society.

        • Al Mackey September 23, 2012 / 9:17 pm

          I agree with you on that, Pat, but my point is by 1860 the number of African Americans in the states that seceded was large enough that there were real concerns regarding what would happen with the end of slavery regarding social and political equality between the races. This is something addressed not only in the declarations of causes for secession but also in the speeches and letters of the secession commissioners. We know from looking backward that white supremacy could be preserved, but they didn’t know that in 1860 and 1861.

    • Mark September 24, 2012 / 7:04 pm

      >> The sucessful creation of a Confederacy would turn the United States into a haven for escaped slaves. As some Southern Unionists warned, if the South seceded, Canada would start at the Maryland border,

      And this is why the fugitive slave acts were of such central importance. The institution of slavery required the active participation of the North, and they weren’t willing. If the North doesn’t repatriate escaped slaves the whole things collapses. Those who pretend that it only required acceptance of the institution across the way are wrong. That is why the Berlin Wall fell without a shot. Once the Ease German guards stopped shooting those who wanted to cross it was over. If South Korea announced that it would make citizens of any North Koreans that could make it across then NK is done. There aren’t enough guards to keep people in.

  6. PalmettoPatriot September 23, 2012 / 7:19 pm

    BS, I commend you for admitting that secession was a reasonable act. And I don’t disagree that protecting slavery was central to the motivation of secessionists. The Secession Commissioners essentially all gave the same rationale for secession – that Northern Republican rule would either 1) lead to abolition and political/social equality and therefore, over time, an amalgamation of the races or 2) lead to an outside-instigated race war in the South (like John Brown’s massacre but on a much larger scale). Secession, they believed, was preferable to either alternative. I would agree with them. Had I lived then I would probably made the same arguments. I think history has shown that the worst fears of the secessionists were justified.

    Allow me to pose a follow up question: Was killing 21,000 South Carolinians (this is the number Dr Walter Edgar gives in his book ‘South Carolina: A History’ published by the University of SC Press) and looting and burning 21 SC towns and villages (again, this is Dr Edgar’s number) a reasonable US response to secession? Or, if that is too much of a loaded question, how about if I phrase it this way: Was invading the seceding States and making war on the Confederacy a reasonable response by the US to a Southern attempt at self-determination?

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 23, 2012 / 7:56 pm

      Let me rephrase your question: was the decision of Abraham Lincoln and the United States to go to war against the Confederacy to preserve the Union reasonable? Yes.

      • PalmettoPatriot September 23, 2012 / 8:26 pm

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I certainly don’t think the destruction of half a million lives and my country was worth it. Then again, I think that joining the Union was the worst mistake Southerners ever made. I often tell folks that my family was South Carolinian and Southern before the US existed – and hopefully we will survive to be so long after the US has been relegated to the trash heap of history where it belongs.

        I do think it’s positive you agree that Southern secession was reasonable though.

        I also think it’s ridiculous for the Rainbows to try to downplay the role of slavery in secession.

        BTW, if you aren’t familiar with Dr Edgar, whose book I mentioned in the above post, he has a show on NPR about Southern history and culture. He’s far more liberal than me, of course, but his show is excellent. You might enjoy it.

        • Brooks D. Simpson September 23, 2012 / 8:29 pm

          I think folks understand where we agree and where we disagree. I also think our positions on matters historical are fairly clear. And, having taught in South Carolina for three years, I’m well acquainted with Dr. Edgar. Of more interest to you, perhaps, is that Clyde Wilson’s daughter was a student where I taught.

        • wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 8:49 pm

          “…and hopefully we will survive to be so long after the US has been relegated to the trash heap of history where it belongs. ”

          Such gratuitous hubris must only come from a man who would be king…and there is no room for such on this continent. Perhaps another visit to the Palmetto State by Uncle Billy and his bummers is in order.

          • John Foskett September 24, 2012 / 7:16 am

            Yep – it appears that the lesson needs to be relearned. Although the thought of South Carolina going it alone in the 21st century might be good for a few laughs. Palmetto doesn’t get it. He thinks that our host is saying that secession was “reasonable” and leaves it at that. BS is saying it was reasonable given the deep South’s fears about what was going to happen to their beloved “institution” if they remained in the Union. In the end Palmetto, like the rest of the apologists, just refuses to take the Secession Commissioners and the rest of the spokesmen at their word. They seceded because of how they perceived the intentions of the “Black Republicans”. It’s really easy and these folks just keep trying to invent difficulties.

          • PalmettoPatriot September 24, 2012 / 8:03 am

            John, I do not refuse to take the Secession Commissioners at their word. I have read their speeches, often quote them on my site. They understood what the South faced. In my opinion the Commissioners were correct – equality is a disaster and will lead to the eradication of White Southerners and Western Civilisation in Dixie if allowed to continue indefinitely. That is why democracy, equality and universalism have to be over-thrown in the South (as they were in 1876) and never allowed to re-emerge here again.

            Also, because I said that your government should be relegated to the trash heap of history where it belongs, you and wgdavis not-so-cutely hint that another 21,000 South Carolinians need to be killed and 21 more of our cities need to be looted and burned to the ground. I suppose you also believe that numerous more South Carolinian women need to be raped, more churches need to be burned and more farms and home destroyed. These are the things that the US brought to us. Here is the great moral divide between us. I want independence and survival for my people. You endorse forcibly holding my people in your government (which I view as one of the worst and most destructive in all of history) no matter whether we want to be in it or not. Here is the crux of the matter. You are endorsing imperialism and genocide to back it up. I endorse self-determination and denounce imperialism. The Persians, Romans, Mongols and many other empires took a similar position to yours, in fact. They were willing to burn cities to the ground and kill many thousands of people rather than allow them to be independent. This really is a control issue. Many folks with this issue (and I don’t know you so I won’t so you are like this) seem to take it as an insult if others don’t want to be part of their government. Their attitude is either the others want to be part of their government or they deserve to be invaded and ‘taught a lesson’ (ie raped, looted and killed). This is imperialism.

            Do you deny that self-determination is a an inalienable right, Jefferson claimed it to be in the Declaration of Independence?

          • John Foskett September 24, 2012 / 11:33 am

            Palmetto, i will give you this. You, at least, are honest about the motivation for secession, unlike so many who support secession but then delude themselves and try to fool others by denying what is crystal clear on the face of those documents. We vehemently disagree on all of the related issues but there’s something to be said for admitting the facts and not playing games masquerading as “history”. The notion that Sherman’s March was nothing but a swath of rape, murder, and theft doesn;t stand up when you look into it but there’s no need to get into that here and we’re unlikely to agree.

          • wgdavis September 25, 2012 / 10:09 am

            “…equality is a disaster and will lead to the eradication of White Southerners and Western Civilisation in Dixie if allowed to continue indefinitely.”

            Well, since you limit it to the above of which you claim to be a part, I would think it may not necessarily be a bad thing.

            As for Jefferson’s declaration of self-determination as an inalienable right, using the Declaration to argue your points for secession is illogical. Totally different situation. Just in case you don’t grasp the differences, let me spell them out for you:

            First, the Americans had little say in their own governance, with any changes required to go before the King and Parliament. The South essentially ran Congress for the first 80+ years of the country’s existence.

            Second, the Brits were essentially absentee owners, collecting the rent, and providing minimal defense. The South was part and parcel to the United States from the time of the Declaration onward, having a full say in decisions made therein.

            Third, the Americans had never participated in the lawmaking process. The South certainly controlled the Federal government from 1776 until 1860.

            Let’s see:

            Georgia:
            Button Gwinnett
            Lyman Hall
            George Walton

            North Carolina:
            William Hooper
            Joseph Hewes
            John Penn

            South Carolina:
            Edward Rutledge
            Thomas Heyward, Jr.
            Thomas Lynch, Jr.
            Arthur Middleton

            Virginia:
            George Wythe
            Richard Henry Lee
            Thomas Jefferson
            Benjamin Harrison
            Thomas Nelson, Jr.
            Francis Lightfoot
            Lee Carter Braxton

            Those are the ‘good ole boys’ who signed that Declaration. Do you pretend to know better than they did?

        • wgdavis September 25, 2012 / 10:11 am

          [In the introduction to his magnificent book Arguing About Slavery, John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress, William Lee Miller writes:

          “In addition to these facts of enormous power — economic interest and racial fear, exclusion, and disdain — there were in the United States in the early days potent political facts in two forms. One form was the political power of the slaveholders. Slavery was an enormous present interest in the United States, not only in that millions of black slaves were a large part of the population, arousing racial fears, but also in that their owners were a major and very powerful part of the population, too, strategically located, already at the outset in the highest places. The Constitution had made its original compromises. In place of a king the nation had had as its first chief executive and symbol a hero-president who was a slaveholder; in the story to be told here, a Virginia congressman, in the midst of debate, will point triumphantly to George Washington’s picture hanging in front of the House of Representatives itself. There he is! A slaveholder! Five of the first seven presidents were slaveholders, for thirty-two of the nation’s first thirty-six years forty of its first forty-eight, fifty of its first sixty four, the nation’s president was a slaveholder. The powerful office of Speaker of the House was held by a slaveholder for twenty-eight of the nation’s first thirty-five years. The president pro tem of the Senate was virtually always a slaveholder. The majority of the cabinet members and — very important — of justices of the Supreme Court were slaveholders. The slaveholding Chief Justice Roger Taney, appointed by slaveholding President Andrew Jackson to succeed the slaveholding John Marshall, would serve all the way through the decades before the war into the years of the Civil War itself; it would be a radical change of the kind slaveholders feared when in 1863, President Lincoln would appoint the anti-slavery politician Salmon P. Chase of Ohio to succeed Taney. But by then, even having a President Lincoln had been the occasion for the slaveholders to rebel and secede, and to resort to arms.

          “One cites these facts about the formidable presence of the slave interest — to which, of course, dozens more could be added — not as later unhistorical moralizers sometimes do, as an indictment of the nation, but for almost the opposite purpose: to dramatize the immense power of the interest that the nation would nevertheless overcome.

          “In addition to the domination by slaveholders at the center of government, there was in the case of American slavery a further major difficulty that flowed from the original American political arrangements. It is important to remind ourselves how much more difficult it was to end slavery in the United States than in England or France. The emancipationists in England, who managed finally in 1833 to obtain a vote in Parliament ending slavery in the West Indies, just before the events in this book ( and as one cause of those events, England showing the way to its former colonies across the water), had two enormous advantages over their American counterparts: the slaves they emancipated were all safely outside the sceptered isle of England, and the decision to emancipate could unquestionably be made by one organ of government. So it had been also for the French revolutionaries of the eighteenth century, who on coming into power proclaimed the end of serfdom throughout France. That point is sometimes presented as evidence of the superiority of the French Revolution to the American, but before we agree we should look at the radically different circumstances.

          “In the United States the contrasting disadvantages were closely interwoven. The slaves to be freed were not to be found in some distant islands or colonies but were a very large reality very much present within the body politic — one-sixth of the population at the time of the Revolution, one-eighth at the time of the Civil War. Moreover, they were, as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural, “not distributed generally over the Union, but were localized in the Southern part of it.” And this American nation was no ancient unitary kingdom but a recently formed and still fragile “union” of former colonies, now states, in which the individual states could plausibly claim to be “sovereign.” They could claim to have pre-existed that union and to have formed it, and could claim to retain all powers not expressly given over to it. At the extreme they could claim even the right to “nullify” federal laws, or to “interpose” state sovereignty between the federal authority and the people, as South Carolina had done, in the Nullification Crisis, just a few years before the events to be told here.

          “The new nation had a written constitution composed by delegates from, and ratified in conventions in, those states; that constitution had in it fundamental compromises on slavery, fundamental protection of “property,” and fundamental protections of state authority and limitations on federal authority. States’ rights and strict construction of the Constitution were plausible arguments against any interference with slavery in the Southern states, and Northern politicians or citizens who wanted to steer clear of that explosive subject could justify doing so with constitutional scruples. Even citizens much distressed by slavery could believe they had to say: it’s in the bond. We agreed to a union with states in which slavery was an important existing institution. Interfering with slavery in the slaveholding states is constitutionally impermissible.

          “This federal aspect of the new nation could furnish Northerners both an excuse (what happens in South Carolina is not our responsibility in Massachusetts; we made an agreement) and also a threat (attacks on slavery will destroy the union). So for that reason, too, ending slavery in the United States was an enormously more difficult task than in England or France. It was a huge cancer that had been present already in the American body politic at its birth, intertwined throughout all its original origins.]”

          • wgdavis September 25, 2012 / 11:26 am

            It is facts like these on which I stand with the view that there was no reason for secession, that the South had had an enormous amount of power in the shaping of our government, and the laws it enacted for the first seven decades after the Constitution was ratified — an act the South fully collaborated on…both the construction of the Constitution and the ratification thereof — and had failed to achieve its political goals.

            Some may argue that the ratifications had conditions imposed upon them, to which I say, the question to ratify or not was the ONLY question asked of the state: Yes or No, and the Congress set things up that way — and of course, the South was a full partner in that Congress. So conditions placed on ratification were NOT binding.

            The South had the power for decades to do two things:

            Amend the constitution to set up the right of secession [and yes, it had been talked about for decades prior to 1860!], and

            Construct the laws of the nation and the rules for admission of the territories as new states favorably to the Southern slave interest in the three decades after the ratification of the Constitution.

            The Southern slave interests in power failed to accomplish either of these goals. By 1820 it was too late to do anything about the admission of the territories except continue to compromise. Indeed, shortly after that the US Senate ratified a treaty with Great Britain that added US Navy ships to the Atlantic slave patrol. The South no longer had the power to get its full desires after 1820.

            At that point, I think secession may have been option for the slave states, though it would lose them some future slave states. If secession was not an option at that point [and I do not believe it was], meaning if they were not prepared to secede and defend that act by 1820, then the only other legitimate option was to begin the gradual emancipation process like the rest of the states were doing, or had already done.

            Instead, they lost their moral compass and dug in their heels in a fight they had no hope of winning: their political power was already diminishing, and there was little they could do to stop that trend. Population growth in the North was outstripping the South. They were no longer legally allowed to import slaves so that meant that to carry on with slavery breeding was required, and that was a long term investment. The industrial revolution was in full swing in the North, and almost totally ignored in the South [if only…!] Their every avenue was blocked until they could build enough military strength in secret, and quietly establish foreign connections [the cotton trade helped with this, but that, too was going to see an eventual diminishment], while seeking to expand their territory where slavery was allowed.

            Their last gasp was extra-Constitutional separation, and that was far too late than if had they tried in 1818-1820. They had no justification in 1860. In 1820 they could have pleaded their case that “The structure and direction of the Nation was not to their liking .” and ask for a way out. They no longer had the standing to do that in 1860.

      • Charles Lovejoy September 24, 2012 / 9:34 am

        Yes , If they believed the Union was the nations destiny and it came down to no other choice than war.

    • Bob Huddleston September 23, 2012 / 8:20 pm

      “Was invading the seceding States and making war on the Confederacy a reasonable response by the US to a Southern attempt at self-determination?” I keep forgetting that Abraham Lincoln snuck into Charleston and opened fire on Fort Sumter.

      Those who start a war are in no position to complain when they reap the whirlwind. I might also point out that the 400,000 slaves who became free as a result of the Civil War might have thought that the 21,000 white South Carolinians who died to keep them slaves got what they deserved.

      • John Foskett September 24, 2012 / 7:17 am

        If you fire on a U.S. military installation, deal with the consequemces. Don’t play word games.

  7. wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 8:39 pm

    ” Secessionists made it very clear that their primary purpose in seeking separation and independence was the protection of slavery. They well understood that so long as they remained in the Union, history was turning against them. They understood that Lincoln’s reassurances that he would not attack slavery had nothing to do with the fact that slavery as an institution was more vulnerable with the presidency in the hands of Republicans than of Democrats (and, after Stephen Douglas’s waffling on the issue of slavery’s expansion, they were none too sure about the reliability of northern Democrats, either, which explains the walkout of the fire-eaters at the 1860 Democratic convention).

    So rejecting a legal and legitimate Constitutional election is reasonable? That is, in essence, what the South did…it was the hinge on which their decisions swung.

    I see secession as the conclusion of a 3/4 century-long conspiracy to effect a complete separation of a bond that was made necessary by the Revolution, required to be maintained by the phony war with France, and the War of 1812. When push came to shove after ‘defeating’ the British twice in 35 years, the nation inward to its own expansion and that brought the slavery issue slamming to the fore. I believe the Southern elites saw the growing abolition and emancipation movements and made an effort to hold things together and push their agenda through Congressional compromises, which worked for thirty years or so, but did nothing to resolve the differences. At some point they had to decide that separation of some kind was in the cards, but the when and how were still to be determined. When the fire-eaters came to the fore, the path most favored became secession and the convention walkout was simply the first act in the play. Looked at in retrospect, it should have been a warning that secession was inevitable no matter who was elected.

    Thus, I still have trouble fitting “reasonable ” to secession.

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 23, 2012 / 8:51 pm

      Yes, I think that secessionists, given how they viewed the situation, acted reasonably in rejecting the results of the election of 1860 and using those results as a spark to commence the process they had long envisioned. Indeed, what happened at the Charleston Convention shows that they were very much in favor of crippling a Douglas candidacy. Had Douglas won (highly unlikely), how would things have been all that different, at least from the viewpoint of the secessionists? It might have been harder for them to prevail.

      You have to understand the world as they understood it.

      • wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 9:26 pm

        Well, perhaps we don’t define “reasonable” the same way. It seems to me that the secessionists refused to accept reason and logic, as well as the law and the will of the people, when they moved to secession without the slightest inclination of an interest in negotiation. Yes, I understand they were essentially at the ‘end of their rope,’ but certainly the drastic step of breaking the Union apart should have dictated to a reasonable person that discussion and negotiation was in order. Pulled along by the fire-eaters, no one was looking past the actual act of secession to what the consequences might be, and everyone, it seemed, underestimated Lincoln. It just all adds up to one bad decision after another.

        I don’t recall ever seeing anything that predicted what life would be like in the seceded states after secession. Did anyone in the South…or the North for that matter…put anything out as to what it would be like, and did anyone pose any suggestions as to what the Unionist response would be to secession? Or did they simply not care [which would be irresponsible and reprehensible]?

      • Charles Lovejoy September 24, 2012 / 7:51 pm

        I agree with the world as they understood it being reasonable. But looking in the window with my 2012 point of view and knowing how things turned out , I think secession was not reasonable.. I tend to see those like Herschel Johnson and Alexander Stephens view of secession as reasonable and those as Robert Toombs and the fire eaters as un-reasonable. All the southern politicians were not is agreement on secession.

    • wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 8:53 pm

      What I mean by that comment about the convention is that I doubt the outcome would have been much different if Douglas had won the presidency.

  8. Hunter Wallace September 23, 2012 / 9:08 pm

    Absolutely.

    The South only had to look at the triumph of abolition in Haiti, the British West Indies, and the French West Indies to see the sort future awaiting the South in an abolitionized Northern-dominated Union under the thumb of the Republican Party. In order to avoid the fate of the subjugated and impoverished West Indies, secession was perfectly justified.

    Yankees invaded the South and killed 1 out of 5 White males of military age. In the process, they also maimed thousands of Southerners for life in order to “preserve the Union,” which ironically had been created to do things like “promote the general welfare” and to secure the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and to “insure domestic tranquility” and “provide for the common defense.”

    It seems inarguable that the North had perverted the Union into its exact opposite: an instrument which was used to justify destroying our prosperity, overthrowing our social institutions, disturbing the “domestic tranquility” of our society, harming our “general welfare,” taking away our right to self government, not to mention our lives, liberty, and happiness.

    When Yankees spoke of “preserving the Union,” their idea of the “Union” was the sort of Union that Rome had imposed on Carthage or Russia had imposed on Poland, not the voluntary “Union” by consent for the mutual benefit of all parties that had been created in 1789. The Union Army looted the Southern plantations as thoroughly as the Huns or the Mongols.

    The worst mistake in our entire history was creating the Union with Yankees in the first place. If South Carolina and Georgia had known at the Constitutional Convention that the “Union” they were joining was one which would give a Yankee-dominated central government the power to invade their states, abolish slavery, burn their cities to the ground, and kill hundreds of thousands of our people, it is unthinkable to imagine they would have joined the “Union.”

    King George III had been condemned for “inciting domestic insurrections amongst us” in the Declaration of Independence – that was John Brown’s agenda, the agenda of the Black Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens, and it was also Lincoln’s agenda, even though he denied it when he was assailed by Stephen Douglas for undermining the Union.

    By the 1850s, the Union was evolving toward its twentieth century trajectory of being a Yankee instrument for dominating and destroying other societies like Germany, Serbia, and Japan, and imposing Americanism on foreign countries like Vietnam, Iraq, and Libya.

    In 1861, Southerners saw the writing in the wall and wisely choose to jump off the Yankee bandwagon and correct the original mistakeade by the Founders of joining this “Union” on the basis of false advertising. We revolted as a final desperate act of self preservation, not like New England over a few taxes on tea and stamps. 🙂

    • wgdavis September 23, 2012 / 9:28 pm

      According to Bruce Catton, Stephen Douglas approved of Lincoln’s call for 75,000 trooops but recommended that it be for many more. He said, “You do not know the dishonest purposes of those men as well as I do.”

      This speaks volumes about the Southern elites, and the fire-eaters, coming from someone who was essentially one of their own, politically.

  9. Lyle Smith September 23, 2012 / 9:39 pm

    I agree with you Professor. Secession was a reasonable act. Otherwise the Civil War would have never happened.

  10. Margaret D. Blough September 23, 2012 / 11:04 pm

    Secession would have probably had a better chance of success in 1850 before the railroads had developed as much as they did in the North and Midwest. Think of CW troop movements among theaters and try to imagine them if the railroads weren’t available. It also increased links between the East and Midwest and made the UK far more dependent on US grains. However, the issue was never the more fanatical states leaving. The issue was to have as many other slave states join them to make a rebellion feasible. A Republican presidential candidate winning was definitely a tripwire for that (not Lincoln, per se. The same threat was made in 1856 when Fremont was the first Republican presidential candidate).

    Secessionists were terrified that they’d lose the moment. They couldn’t wait to see what happened. The last thing they wanted was to give Lincoln and the Republicans a chance to show that they were reasonable in office. They had to act when the rage and panic at the election was at its peak and they could spin all kinds of yarns as to the danger.

    • Noma September 25, 2012 / 9:24 pm

      “Secession would have probably had a better chance of success in 1850 before the railroads had developed as much as they did in the North and Midwest.”

      Fascinatingly, the U.S. Secretary of War submitted a report to Congress in December 1853, in which he laid out his perception that the development of the railroad was in the vital interest of national security:

      “Preconceived opinion or prejudice, personal interest, and sectional rivalry, must be held subject to the developments of instrumental survey, and subservient to the purpose of final success, or the result to be anticipated is failure. And when from the consideration of the magnitude of the difficulties to be overcome we pass to the importance of the effects to be produced, there is enough to sustain patriotism in the sacrifice of any personal or local interest which may be involved.

      Its commercial and agricultural advantage, its political and military necessity, have attracted the attention and excited the interest of our whole country. Congress has, by its appropriation, manifested the purpose to obtain such information as will secure a proper location of the road. The necessity for more rapid means of communication has been referred to in other parts of this report when treating of the defence of our southern boundary, the western territory, and the Pacific coast.”

      And clearly the Secretary of War was correct. As you point out, once the railroads were built, it would have been practically impossible, even for the President of the Confederacy, despite his considerable military background, to defeat the Union forces.

      The irony, of course, was that the two men were one and the same.

      http://cprr.org/Museum/PacRRSurvey_Secty_War_1853.html

  11. Michael C. Lucas September 24, 2012 / 4:54 am

    Slaves or not, the war was over greed of power, and the deciding factor was expansion period. The Republicans wanted domination at any cost, they succeeded because of the American industrialized system they adhered to. Look at the bigger picture of why and how the Americas were developed by the European Monarchies and Mercantilism for expansion of their power that was inherited by the founding fathers, and passed on over four score years later, and so on. Slavery was also a factor entwined within the larger picture. But it has been propagandized for over a 150 years, distorting the view and the senses as the cause of conflict, and that does not improve its condition, but it does not condone the Norths hypocrisy and necessity for war either. Take time and see the greater picture read more about expansion, visit Jamestown, Williamsburg, Roanoke Island, lost Colony, St. Augustine, Fort Caroline, and other Colonial sites.

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2012 / 7:10 am

      “Greed of power”? As in white southerners having finally lost the upper hand? After all, guess what white southerners wanted to expand? Why, slavery. Why did secessionists advocate secession? Because Republicans were united in opposing its expansion. which secessionists believed eventually threatened its existence. They knew what was at stake. You dishonor Confederate heritage by asserting that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Why are you ashamed of them?

      • Michael C. Lucas September 24, 2012 / 12:50 pm

        Why do you ignore the White majority of the Norths Expansionism and greed for power? They’re investment in Slavery and promulgation of Slavery for their own benefit. Denying the tyranny of murder, and subjugation by Northern Abolitionist and Free State Jay Hawkers in the occupation of the Kansas territory. You dishonor Union hypocrisy by denying them their day in judgement to be condemned thus. The South seceded because of the tyranny of Northern Aggression for greed of power over who controlled the nation, profited and expanded that power. It was the failure of a utopian compromise that really never existed.

          • Francis Gallo September 24, 2012 / 5:17 pm

            This has been a very interesting discussion. One thing that stands out very clearly is that there seems to exist an unwillingness on the part of many participants to sheath the sword. I am very new at this and haven’t the breadth of knowledge of this subject that so many of you share, but I do feel that this war was infinitely avoidable. The debate about the cause of the war is still going on. But I have a question I would like to posit, for my own edification, though it may be one that has been fleshed out already. This question developed in my tiny brain when I was reading about the early days of the abolitionist movement and the reaction to it of the 24th Congress (Arguing About Slavery- William Lee Miller, Knopf 1996). This I recall was in 1832, twenty eight years before Lincoln’s election. The question is this. If the North had recognized the chasm that threatened to divide the country as real, as Jefferson did in 1820, would an effort by the North to assist the South in developing a new economy to replace slavery have had a chance at succeeding?

            This question obviously elicits some reflection on whether the North was responsible for this effort, but they did have the opportunity. And plenty of time to act on it, in the same way that one might argue that the South had plenty of time to bend to the moral will of the North and abolish slavery on those grounds. In order to streamline this discussion it would be nice if we could draw the discussion away from these points if possible.

          • Michael C. Lucas September 25, 2012 / 1:43 pm

            For one thing the Southern economy was not a Slave based economy, it was an Agrarian based economy, which included Free, Indentured and Slave labor. Slavery was a commodity of the American economy North and South.

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 25, 2012 / 1:47 pm

            Could you name those indentured workers between 1789 and 1860? What was the status of indentured workers in the Confederacy?

          • Francis Gallo September 25, 2012 / 2:51 pm

            Which is why I worded my question the way I did. I suppose I could have said “that section of the economy which relied on slave labor….”. But, as a friend of mine once warned me “Why use one word when ten will do”

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 25, 2012 / 4:42 pm

            Let’s get this straight: the engine that drove the southern economy was plantation agriculture, which produced for market, not subsistence. What made plantation agriculture possible in the antebellum South was its reliance on enslaved laborers.

          • Francis Gallo September 25, 2012 / 4:52 pm

            I believe there is a at least a sentiment, if not an established fact, that the North in it’s turn relied on the South for cheap goods. If this is true than perhaps this reliance may have allowed the North to remain virtuous and at once prefer to leave well enough alone. If this is true that would make the North, at least by todays standards, equally culpable. We do protest against sweat shops now, yes?

          • Michael C. Lucas September 25, 2012 / 9:02 pm

            Let’s get this straight: The engine of the Southern economy was Agriculture period, it was not solely driven by Planters let alone totally relying on slave labor on their plantations. Slavery was certainly a factor which puportedly 4 million slaves (3,950,528) give or take. The PC interpretation has been a distortion for quite some time maintained by an anti-Planter bias among historians especially of the Stampp school. Free white, Free Blacks, Indentured and Apprenticed labor, and Slave labor were more complex and entwined together in the Southern Agrarian economy and society, than it has been presented. Especially during the last 70-80 years of anti-Planter anti-Confederate agendas to deny the south any plausibility for its existence or defense.

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 25, 2012 / 9:15 pm

            Still looking for those indentured workers, Michael? And let’s recall what happened to southern agriculture once emancipation happened.

          • Michael C. Lucas September 26, 2012 / 5:00 am

            What part about indentured workers do you not understand? What in your view happened to Southern Agriculture once the emancipation created a welfare state of the nation?

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 26, 2012 / 6:59 am

            Since you say there were indentured workers in the nineteenth century antebellum South, I am asking you to cite examples, as well as how they were treated under the Confederacy. Is that too difficult a task for you?

          • Ned B September 25, 2012 / 6:57 pm

            You ask “would an effort by the North to assist the South in developing a new economy to replace slavery have had a chance at succeeding”. One could argue that the North did assist the South from 1861 onward in replacing slavery with a new economy. But I suppose you mean without war in which case the answer is no.

          • Francis Gallo September 25, 2012 / 10:00 pm

            Thanks, Ned, for keeping on the track of my question. With all respect I would hardly describe the actions of the North as an “assistance”. What I am looking for is an opinion on whether or not the North, with a more powerful economy, was in fact in a position to assist the South to develop an economy which would decrease it’s reliance on slave labor and, in the end, avert the necessity of forcing the nation into the position it faced in 1860. I had written another reply which might have added something to my inquiry about the North actually benefiting from the system of slavery but I suppose Mr. Simpson, in his wisdom, chose to save me some embarrassment by excluding it from this discussion. I do feel, however, that it might be relevant.
            There is another issue of “assistance” which derives from this discussion and that has to do with the period of Reconstruction. This is another matter entirely, but worthy of discussion. However my only reference as of even date is Eric Foner’s work which, if reliable, hardly casts the North in a positive light.
            It may be that I am overestimating the capacity of this forum to address this issue, but I am not convinced of this yet. At the risk of further censorship, I again put forward the idea that the North was as reliant on the slave economy as the South for economic reasons and because of this shared equally in the responsibility finding a way to end it.

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 26, 2012 / 11:19 am

            I’ve published all the comments I have received from you on this topic, including the comment you claim was omitted. Check the comments … all of them.

          • Francis Gallo September 26, 2012 / 12:39 pm

            My apologies. I must have missed something.

  12. Caldwell September 25, 2012 / 5:13 pm

    Was it reasonable for a state to exercise the constitutional right of secession? United States District Attorney and Constitutional Scholar William Rawle certainly thought so:

    “… It depends on the state itself to retain or abolish the principle of representation, because it depends on itself whether it will continue a member of the Union. To deny this right would be inconsistent with the principle on which all our political systems are founded…The states, then, may wholly withdraw from the Union…”

    So that settles that. The real question seems to be whether or not it was reasonable for the slaveowners and slave-traders, in 1776, to violently, lawlessly, and treasonously secede from the British Union. I for one. think that it was not.

      • John Foskett September 26, 2012 / 7:13 am

        Maybe Caldwell can enlighten us as to Rawle’s thoughts on the definition of treason and an abolition powers. “What’s good for the goose….”

  13. Caldwell September 26, 2012 / 3:44 pm

    Secession is a constitutional right, and it is a farce to try and label it “treason”. Indeed, a State no more committs treason when it secedes than it does by building a road, school, or bridge. The only acts which constitutionally prohibited to the States are enumerated in Article, I, section 10, and secession is not among them. As for Rawle, he repeatedly, and emphatically, endorses the right of secession:

    ” …If a faction should attempt to subvert the government of a state for the purpose of destroying its republican form, the paternal power of the Union could thus be called forth to subdue it…Yet it is not to be understood, that its interposition would be justifiable, if the people of a state should determine to retire from the Union THE SECESSION OF A STATE FROM THE UNION DEPENDS ON THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE OF SUCH STATE…”

    • wgdavis September 27, 2012 / 4:52 pm

      Would you please provide a cite from the Copnstitution that allows secession?

      In fact, Section 10 of Article I of the Constitution states:

      “Section 10. No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emits Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

      “No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Control of the Congress.

      “No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”

      You must also remember that there were representatives of the Slave states sitting in the Constitutional Convention. And you must also remember that Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia all ratified the Constitution, and they were not the last of the Thirteen states to do so.

  14. Caldwell September 27, 2012 / 8:45 pm

    I think you misunderstand the fundamental nature of the constitution. The constitution grants specific and enumerated powers to the federal government, and the great mass of unenumerated powers are reserved to the states (there is, for example, no constitutional provision granting the states the power to build a school or bridge, but surely you do not suggest that the states may not do these things). Furthermore, this mass of unenumerated reserved powers is protected by the plain language of the tenth amendment, which reads as follows:

    “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.”

    Now then, because there is no power granted to the federal government allowing it to use military force against a state (it was voted down in convention), and because there is nothing prohibiting a state from seceding, secession remains a reserved power to be exercised at the discretion of the state (just as Rawle described).

    PS- Please remember that ALL the states were “slave states” at the time of the convention. Also please remember that both Virginia and New York explicitly reserved the right to secede in their ratifications. Also please remember that the U.S. was founded on the right of secession. And also please remember the the states illegally seceded from the Articles of Confederation (in plain violation of Article XIII) in order to form the U.S. under the Constitution.

    • wgdavis September 27, 2012 / 10:08 pm

      Enumerated? What is NOT enumerated here as a prohibited power of the states:

      “Section 10. No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emits Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

      “No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Control of the Congress.

      “No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”

      What is it about “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emits Bills of Credit;”, etc. that you don’t understand prohibits what the South did?

      The states attempting secession in 1860-61 violated just about every phrase in the entire section 10! And they did so violently.

      All states seceded to form the US under the Constitution? Really? I think reasonable people would describe it a a peaceful, consensual transition in the fundamental structure of our government. It fixed the many weaknesses of the AoC, which the ENTIRE Congress voted to move on, and the fix was the Constitution.

      Please get your history straight. There was no secession, just a ratification of the Constitution on an already agreed to plan of how and when it would go into effect. And all parties agreed to the plan.

  15. Francis Gallo September 27, 2012 / 9:36 pm

    Please help me clear something up here. I have somehow been under the impression that the right of secession lies firmly in the Declaration of Independence.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,

    Without dwelling on the obvious violation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted by the Declaration (which refutes slavery) , it does insist that the government derives its powers from the ‘consent of the governed’. After all we “seceded” from Britain and Texas seceded from Mexico. I live in Massachusetts and am the grandson of immigrants, so I don’t have a Southern agenda here, but it seems clear to me that while the Founding Fathers were certain in their quest to establish a definition for freedom, they were equally adamant in their quest for preventing despotism.

    While Caldwell may err in his citation, he is not wrong to suggest (according to the D. of I.) that any collaboration in these United State is free to exercise it’s independent will should it find itself irredeemably in opposition to the mandates of the central government. This is the very reason the wisdom of these founders included the clarification cited above. Without this we have simply recreated a monarchic if not a despotic archetype.

    To argue that the separation of the several states into two or more groups, the dissolution of the Union, is deleterious to the the principles of the American ideology is, in itself, contradictory. In fact to encourage the states to seek out their independence is the principle tenet apparent in D. of I..

    The subjugation of a fellow human aside, I find it specious to assume that the D. of I. or the Constitution prohibits the separation of states or the secession of states. To quote Chevy Chase (Caddy Shack-1980) “This isn’t Russia. Is this Russia, Danny….?)

    I eagerly await feedback.

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 27, 2012 / 10:18 pm

      The right of revolution is covered in the Declaration of Independence. The colonies were not equals within the British Empire, so the attempt to see the Revolution as an act of secession comes up short. The colonies had never consented to become part of the empire, and had no previous independent existence …

      Moreover, the empire treated the colonists as having committed treason (and the revolutionaries freely admitted that they would be treated as such if they failed). Yet advocates of a right of secession deny that the Confederates committed treason. Folks can’t have it both ways.

  16. Margaret D. Blough September 27, 2012 / 10:03 pm

    Let me introduce you to another rule of construction: the specific controls the general. The Constitution provides for the admission of a new state and the creation of a state by splitting an existing state into one or more. It makes NO provision for the most complex of undertakings, a state leaving the Union. By accepted rules of construction, that would indicate that secession was not allowed.

    You state a school of constitutional thought (Rawle was a legal scholar he was never a judge or a justice and he wasn’t a Framer) as if it were undisputed. It wasn’t. It was never adopted by the Supreme Court nor any president. I know of no such vote of which you speak. It’s certainly not reflected in the actual language of the Constitution.

    As for force to suppress an insurrection by a state or states, that issue was decided by the Supreme Court in the Prize Cases (1862). Prior to that, Madison and Jackson, two Southerners and slaveowners (one a Framer) were prepared to use force against states if threatened secessions materialized. Most importantly, George Washington led an army into Pennsylvania (without the invitation of the state government) to enforce federal law against the Whiskey Rebellion. At the side of the former presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention was one of the primary authors of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton. Later that was formalized in the Militia Act of 1795.

    Did you do any original research or just regurgitate DiLorenzo? All of the states weren’t slave states at the time of the Convention. By 1783, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had found slavery to violate the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution (primarily written by John Adams). Pennsylvania still had slavery but it had passed its first gradual emancipation law in 1780. Neither New York nor Virginia explicitly or unexplicitly retained a right of secession in their ratifications. The New York ratification convention voted down the Lansing Amendment which would have conditioned ratification on a series of amendments being submitted to a convention within a specified period of time (even this amendment didn’t provide for an open ended right of secession). Hamilton led the successful fight to defeat it relying in part on a letter from Madison that stated:

    >>To Alexander Hamilton

    [July 20, 1788]

    N. York Sunday Evening

    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 case, I do not enquire as I suppose that is not the material point at present. I have not a moment to add more than my fervent wishes for your success & happiness.

    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.<<

    Ultimately, New York ratified unconditionally but included a list of amendments that it recommended.

    As for the legality of the abandonment of the Articles of Confederation, eventually all of the original 13 states ratified the Constitution.

    It is you, sir, who misunderstand the fundamental nature of the US Constitution. It was created in order to form a more perfect union, not one to be held hostage to the whims of a single state or combination of states. It was called to address weaknesses in the Articles that, it was feared, would lead to disunion.

  17. Caldwell September 28, 2012 / 11:35 am

    wgdavis writes:

    “…What is it about “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emits Bills of Credit;”, etc. that you don’t understand prohibits what the South did?”

    Let’s go over this again. First of all “The South” did not secede, the individual states did. And each state that seceded acted only for itself, and thoproughly independently of the others. Once the secession had been promulgated and affected, the U.S. Constitution became irrelevant. So again, what you need to make your case is a constitutional provision prohibiting secession. And there is none (even Maragaret acknowledges this fact).

    “All states seceded to form the US under the Constitution? Really?”

    Really. Though it was most certainly a peaceful secession. Nevertheless, a secession it was, and in flagrant violation of Article XIII of the AoC, which required unanimous consent to alter any provision of the AoC. Rhode Island, of course, refused to participate in the convention, so when the ninth State ratified (New Hampshire), the constitution became binding, and the secession completed. Why, on earth, do you think a secession must be violent (like the illegal American Colonial secession from Great Britain?)

    “Please get your history straight. There was no secession..”

    Clearly, it is you who needs to get your history straight. And there absolutely, positively, and irrefutably was an unlawful secession from the AoC.

  18. Caldwell September 28, 2012 / 12:24 pm

    Maragret writes:

    “Let me introduce you to another rule of construction: the specific controls the general..”

    Actually, please don’t. Because we are discussing Constitutional Law, and not Contract Law, the rules of construction on which you rely are utterly meaningless. And quite frankly, it is almost bizzare that you think they have relevance.

    “Most importantly, George Washington led an army into Pennsylvania (without the invitation of the state government) to enforce federal law against the Whiskey Rebellion…”

    This is the second time you have falsely claimed that Pennsylvania resisted federal intervention. In fact, Washington was in direct consultation with Gov. Mifflin, and it was Mifflin himself who advised Washington that the Pennsylvania milita, by itself, would be insufficient to squash the rebellion. Also, it somehow seems lost on you that the Southern slaveowing traitorous secessionist (Washington) was himself putting down the rebellion.

    “Did you do any original research or just regurgitate DiLorenzo”

    Likewise, did you do any original research, or do you just regurgitate Jaffa?

    “Neither New York nor Virginia explicitly or unexplicitly retained a right of secession in their ratifications. ”

    They most certainly did. Here is New York’s ratification and its EXPLICIT reservation of the right of secession:

    “…That the Powers of Government MAY BE REASSUMED BY THE PEOPLE, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness…”

    and that of Virginia:

    “…the People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States MAY BE RESUMED by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression …”

    Margaret continues:

    “As for the legality of the abandonment of the Articles of Confederation, eventually all of the original 13 states ratified the Constitution.”

    As I mentioned, Article XIII of the AoC established an ironclad law and perpetutity and unanimity.; it required ALL thirteen states to alter it. And as I have explained, when New Hampshire ratified, Rhode Island had still not agreed to any alteration of the AoC, much less an entirely new constitution. In fact, Madison, and the other delegates openly acknowledged this, which is why Article VII of the Constitution provides for ratification by Convention.

    “All of the states weren’t slave states at the time of the Convention.”

    They most certainly were. Below is a list (the Southern State excluded for convenience, we all agree they were slave states) of the number of slaves in each state according to the 1790 United States Census:

    Connecticut: 2,764

    Rhode Island: 948 (plus this was a HUGE slave trading state)

    New York: 21,324 (another HUGE slave trading state)

    New Jersey: 11,423

    Pennsylvania: 3,737 (another slave trading state)

    New Hampshire: 158

    Delaware: 3,899

    Maryland: 8,043

    Massachusetts: 0- Nevertheless, THOUSANDS LEGALLY ENTERED THE STATE from the slave-trade .

    So, like I said, ALL the states were slave states at the time of the convention.

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