We Get Mail …

The following appeared in my inbox, and, rather than limit my audience to the recipient, I offer his message here:

Dear Mr. Simpson: I enjoy your blogs about the civil war. I have a couple of questions to ponder. How come the founding father never put it in writing that no state or states could leave the union? I am the kind of person that likes things in writing, that way; no one can assume or dispute anything.  And it would have been funny to let the seceding states secede and then later they would have came back to join the union. And nothing against black people but would have happened had they all died on the long voyage to America?

How come the founding father(s) never put it in writing that no states could leave the Union? I don’t know. Besides, various founders disagreed over this issue, and it’s my opinion that we have to stick to the framers of the Constitution on this one. They didn’t approve of secession, but they did not reduce that position to print in the document itself (nor did they put in print a constitutional right of secession, either). Sometimes the Constitution’s silences are telling.

Everyone has a different sense of humor: I admit I never thought of the scenario suggested, so I would have had no reason to laugh.

I have no idea what the last question means.

30 thoughts on “We Get Mail …

  1. Brad June 8, 2013 / 5:36 am

    When someone begins a sentence “And nothing against black people” or “with all due respect,” they mean the opposite of what they say they don’t.

  2. cc2001 June 8, 2013 / 5:57 am

    Translation: Dear Dr. Simpson, I have a couple questions to ponder. How come people can’t fly, like birds and butterflies? It would be funny if I could grow a set of fluffy wings and fly around the Food King. But then how would I push the cart? And nothing against history professors but what if they all had been accidentally electrocuted by their word processors while typing those long dissertations?

  3. Tony June 8, 2013 / 6:33 am

    Maybe there is an interesting question in that last sentence: if we never had slavery or a large population of African Americans (and thus, no more racial hatred than that directed towards Jewish or Chinese citizens), when and what would would have generated enough sectional dissension to have provoked a secession crisis?

  4. Jefferson Moon June 8, 2013 / 6:57 am

    I believe our founding fathers were to gutless to deal with secession or slavery,they left it for a future generation to slaughter it’s self over.No blacks,no slavery,no civil war…hence the wish to remove blacks to else where by many,including Lincoln.

  5. John Foskett June 8, 2013 / 7:33 am

    They didn’t deal with secession because they didn’t recognize it. Only marginally-functioning idiots set up an organization, fund it, etc. and authorize the members to bolt on any whim without a penalty clause. If the Pac 12 is smart enough to figure it out, these guys were. I’ve never thought of Larry Scott and James Madison as intellectually fungible before.

    • Jefferson Moon June 8, 2013 / 9:13 am

      Seems that they didn,t make that quit clear,resulting in our civil war..

    • M.D. Blough June 8, 2013 / 9:17 am

      I agree. They are quite specific about how the Constitution is to be ratified and become the governing charter of the US, about how new states are to be admitted (with particular attention to cases where there is an effort to form a new state within an existing state or by joining all or parts of two or more states,and about territories. It makes no sense whatsoever that, if even the remotest possibility of state(s) unilaterally deciding to break away was entertained by the Framers, that no provision was made for a process of severing the relationship. The Constitutional Convention occurred because of the belief held by many that the Articles of Confederate could not keep the nation together and, if its defects were not remedied, disunion would occur. The provisions regarding slavery became part of the Constitution, despite heated opposition, because the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia stated that their states would not ratify the Constitution without those provisions.

      What I find remarkable is that I know of no effort by slave states and their allies to amend the US Constitution to provide for a procedure for secession, even after the Nullification Crisis. That is the only way that unilateral secession could happen with its legality beyond question.

  6. Mark June 8, 2013 / 9:46 am

    They didn’t deal with secession NOT because they didn’t recognize it, but because you can’t deal with it in an intelligent and responsible way legally or even in writing. The idea that the Founders even could have done this is a naive over literalism. Sometimes the obvious escapes people. If legal documents could interpret themselves we’d have no need of judges.

    Ask any of these folks who think there should have been a clause in the founding documents to actually craft one for our inspection. They’ll never do it, because it would look either silly or dangerous. The Founders spoke of a right of revolution, and whether or not something is formally a rebellion or revolution is a distinction without a difference to the argument at hand since both have to be won by violence. You have to win the war. If the South had won we’d now be arguing about whether it was justified or not, but since they lost they think they only have to argue that the North should have been allowed to go legally, and therefore their rights were trampled in waging war to put whatever you want to call it down. After all these years it’s a pretty weak and whiny argument when you think about it.

    • Jefferson Moon June 8, 2013 / 2:01 pm

      I believe Canada has a legal means of secession,I recall the withdraw of Qubec failed by 1percent.

  7. Mark June 8, 2013 / 9:51 am

    In other words, a secession clause is the equivalent of a prenuptial agreement at a national level. So let’s see someone write one. Or what are the historical precedents for it that we or the Founders could or should draw from?

  8. Dennis June 8, 2013 / 12:43 pm

    Favorite quote on what the founders had wrought:

    We perceive, uneasily, that slavery somehow was there at the constitutional beginning, liken unbidden, malevolent spirit at a festive celebration; the fairy tale witch who was not invited to the christening but who came anyway, and in an act of spite left the curse on the child. William M. Wiecek.

  9. Ned June 8, 2013 / 12:43 pm

    Seems to me that the founders crafted language that was broad enough to cover various scenarios that might go under various labels. The Supremacy Clause states that the Constitution is supreme over State actions and that US Treaties are supreme over State actions and that federal law made in accordance with the Constitution is supreme over State actions. If one or more of these says that a State is within the US then that condition is supreme over State actions. So it seems to me that the founding father DID put in writing that no state or states could leave the union.

    • Mark June 8, 2013 / 1:53 pm

      Ned, I think that is right. Over-literalism seeks the phrase “secession is allowed” or “secession is not allowed” or some such, but this is very naive to think either would be found so crudely stated in any nations founding documents anywhere.

      Armed action against the government has to be formally classed underneath the rubric “revolution” for the sake of argument, whether it is sincerely believed to be so by its instigators or not. Either way, as U. S. Grant said, the matter has to be settled by the “highest tribunal: the force of arms”. Arguing that the Union should have allowed an uncontested revolution is silly.

      If there weren’t a natural unity between the sections, which there clearly was, then one could argue that a section of truly independent people should not have been joined together in the first place and the Union should have acknowledged this and let them have the independence they never should have been given up to begin with. But this was clearly not the case since both sides claimed to be exemplifying the true intentions of the Founders. So no matter how much they wail and moan after losing the war, the Union had no obligation whatever to let armed rebellion or revolution go unopposed, and indeed if it had it would have destroyed all legitimacy of the Union government, and thrown open the nation’s citizens to armed actions by foreign powers as they sought to exploit a disintegrating nation.

      • Mark June 8, 2013 / 1:58 pm

        By “unity between sections” I meant unity between peoples of the sections. In other words, Southerners did not have an independent political identity not deriving from slavery no matter what they say. If so, then what was it? Love of grits and mint julep?

  10. Jimmy Dick June 8, 2013 / 3:28 pm

    James Madison said many years later that secession was not constitutional. He did not advocate secession in the Virginia Resolution, was not listening to secessionist talk during the War of 1812. During his administration, the Supreme Court made two rulings which also rebuked the compact theory. Furthermore on two occasions the US government through its legally elected representatives voted to condemn secessionist ideas (Kentucky Resolutions, Nullification Crisis). There was a war fought which decided the issue later. Following that a Supreme Court ruling made it clear that secession was only possible if Congress gave its consent. Yet, here we are in 2013 arguing about it because childish people can’t handle it when they’re told they can’t do what they want when the majority of the country has decided something else.

  11. Michael Confoy June 8, 2013 / 8:18 pm

    Perhaps if the Constitution had started with “We the States” they would have included it.

    • M.D. Blough June 8, 2013 / 8:27 pm

      Actually, that’s pretty much what the beginning of the Articles of Confederate, which the Constitution and its “We the People of the United States” replaced, said: “To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.

      Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.


      The Stile of this Confederacy shall be

      “The United States of America”.

      Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.<<

  12. Jimmy Dick June 8, 2013 / 9:01 pm

    There are some very strong reasons behind the US Constitution and the way it was worded. The men who stayed at the convention wanted a strong central government. It was not 1776 any longer. The situation had changed. The Revolution was over as far as they were concerned. They had won their independence and now the question was about what kind of government were they going to have. The Articles reflected the nature of the rebellion itself where the colonies now states wanted to preserve what they had and thought that form of government would work the best. For 11 years it did not work well at all. Congress had no real power other than what the states allowed them to have. While the war was in progress the 13 states had a common goal and purpose albeit they sure didn’t work in concert.

    Once the war ended, that common goal was gone and it showed as they bickered over everything. The confederation was not working and it had to be changed or else the states would start fighting among themselves. This was a fear of many. There was also a desire to rein in democracy by the conservative element as well as rein in abusive state legislatures (what! state legislatures would trample the rights of their citizens? NO WAY says all the Lost Causers while they ignore the fact that state legislatures have constantly been the number one violators of their citizen’s rights!).

    The men at the Constitutional Convention deliberately avoided wording implying a confederation. They clearly sought to limit the power of the individual states and that was addressed explicitly in many ratifying conventions. They also deliberately left out references to God and went so far as to state that no religious tests would be required for office, something that was objected to as well in some ratifying conventions, especially in Massachusetts.

    There was a reason behind most of what the Constitution says. Unfortunately they had to make a few compromises which left things to be resolved later such as slavery and the 3/5ths compromise. They also had to toe a very fine line in making it strong enough and elastic enough for whatever may develop in the future while also getting it ratified. It was not ratified by overwhelming majorities in most states, but by some close votes in a few. However, once it was ratified, the men put aside their objections and went to work to make a new government. They adjusted it where it needed fixing and added to it when they had concerns such as the Bill of Rights.

    It would be nice if today’s Americans would do the same instead of trying to start a new civil war over some really ignorant reasons.

  13. rcocean June 10, 2013 / 5:35 pm

    “I believe our founding fathers were to gutless to deal with secession or slavery,they left it for a future generation to slaughter it’s self over.”

    No, the founding fathers completely underestimated the stupidity of those that followed them, and their willingness to slaughter each other over matters that could easily resolved politically. There’s no reason why in 1840, 1850, 1860 a constitutional convention couldn’t have been called and some of sort of compromise hammered out. Why wasn’t this done? Its because the Slaveholder elite wanted NO COMPROMISE. They wanted to control the Federal government and if they couldn’t they wanted to secede, and if the North any anyone else disagreed, they wanted war. It never occurred to them, that they would LOSE the war they started, or that there dreams of slave empire would turn into the nightmare of emancipation. Of course, after leading the South to disaster, they spent the next 100 years trying to convince everyone it was a noble LOST CAUSE, and the war was just a misunderstanding.

  14. rcocean June 10, 2013 / 5:39 pm

    The real tragedy of the Constitutional convention is that the Virginians and North Carolinians caved into the demands of Georgia and South Carolina. They should have told SC and Georgia – no slave trade, don’t like it? Take a walk. SC and GA would’ve come back on their hands and knees or they would’ve become British Colonies again. In any case, we would’ve been rid of them.

    • Jimmy Dick June 10, 2013 / 7:17 pm

      I think it is very likely that Georgia would have been either Spanish or British had it not joined the new country under the Constitution. However, had Georgia and South Carolina not ratified prior to Virginia and New York, then something might be different. North Carolina did not ratify the Constitution until later (November 1789). There was a possibility and actual speculation that Virginia would lead the southern states in a separate confederation during the ratification process, but saner heads prevailed.

  15. rcocean June 11, 2013 / 6:38 pm

    South Carolina would never have been Spanish. Ever.

  16. Xavier June 19, 2013 / 11:58 am

    Wasn’t George Mason one for secession? I remember reading somewhere that he’s been left out of the history books because of one huge disagreement over dividing powers between governing levels.

          • Xavier June 19, 2013 / 2:43 pm

            “Finally, there are the comments of George Mason of Virginia – author of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774 (that sought to clarify the relationship between Great Britain and the colonies and advocated a colonial congress in response to perceived British malfeasance), creator of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (the blueprint for the U.S. Bill of Rights), the primary author of the Virginia state constitution, and a leading Anti-Federalist at the Constitutional Convention. As per Stampp, “Most arresting is the contribution that George Mason made to the mechanics of secession, should it ever be attempted. Mason opposed referring the Constitution to state legislatures for ratification, ‘because succeeding Legislatures having equal authority could undo the acts of their predecessors; and the National Government would stand in each State on the weak and tottering foundation of an Act of Assembly.’” [Ibid. 14] In other words, Mason believed that as states could ratify the Constitution when seeking to join the Union, that very same statutory power allows them to undo that ratification and secede from the Union. It was for this reason that Mason preferred that the people of each of the several states elect delegates to a convention (as opposed to the sitting state legislature) for the sole purpose of debating and, if agreed upon, ratifying the proposed national constitution. States would retain their sovereignty, and the right of secession would still exist, but the power to do so would reside much closer to the people of each state. “Thus, delegates to the Philadelphia convention, in effect, explained both what proved to be the principal justification for secession (violations of the compact) and the method by which it might be accomplished (through a state convention).” [Ibid. 14-15] This is precisely the mechanism used by the eleven states of the Confederacy when they seceded from the Union.”


          • Brooks D. Simpson June 19, 2013 / 2:59 pm

            But that’s not advocating secession. In fact, it suggests that Mason objected to the procedure of ratification by state legislature because he believed it facilitated secession. The remainder is Stampp’s interpretation (as “in effect”). Mason is a framer, but he is not “the framers” or “the founders.”

            But as an example it’s more interesting than simply saying Mason supported state rights.

            By the way, if you read Stampp’s entire article, you would have to conclude that the author of the web page you cite did a little cherry-picking of his own.

          • John Foskett June 19, 2013 / 3:43 pm

            Did George sign the final document? Just asking……

          • Brooks D. Simpson June 19, 2013 / 4:30 pm

            No. In fact, he left Philadelphia and then opposed ratification. Much of his standing as a “framer” depends on his role in the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

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