Mistake at Monticello

As a graduate of the University of Virginia, I spent four years going to college in what was often called “Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village.” The shadow of the third president was ever-present, although in my case it increased my fondness for Alexander Hamilton.

During my years at UVa historians debated with more heat than light the issue of Thomas Jefferson’s private life, specifically his relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. That debate remains ongoing. But what’s different is how the folks up the little mountain at Monticello address that issue. When I first visited the site back in 1974, there was virtually no mention of slavery as an institution and a few mentions of “servants.” Sally Hemings was virtually invisible as a person or as part of a controversy. That’s no longer the case. Over the years the folks at Monticello have explored the world of Monticello as plantation and factory and as a place where many enslaved black people lived and worked. During my most recent tour several years ago the guide was quite explicit in discussing the current understanding of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship.

So it was with some surprise that I came across this item from Rob Baker concerning what appears on the monticello.org website concerning the Declaration of Independence:

America did not secede from the British Empire to be alone in the world.

Given that the word “secession” now has specific connotations, and that it is the word used by the site, not the quote of a contemporary, Rob believed it was only proper to say that a revolution for independence conducted by colonies against an imperial power wasn’t quite the same thing as a secession of member states from a larger union or confederation. After all, colonies are subordinate parts of an empire, right?

Apparently not at monticello.org. Here’s how someone replied to Rob Baker’s inquiry:

The justification of the word “secede” in the referenced essay is that the 18th century British Empire was a federal union.  Derived from the Latin word foedus meaning “treaty,” a federal union was an alliance or confederation of political entities created for mutual interest or benefit.  Thus, the British American colonies originally entered into this confederation as semi-sovereign polities who agreed to offer loyalty to the British crown in exchange for protection from the British king.  During the Imperial Crisis of the 1760s and 1770s, revolutionary patriots argued that Britain was no longer upholding its end of the bargain—it was neither protecting nor serving the interests of the American colonies.  Instead, British Americans believed that Parliament and King George were impinging on their “rights,” most specifically, property right.  These points became the justification for the colonies’ legitimate secession from the federal union that constituted the British Empire in 1776.  Patriots promptly created their own federal union by establishing and uniting the new American states—this union survived until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Really? The British Empire was a federated union created with the colonies and the empire treated as equal parties? Could we see that document, please? And that’s just the beginning of this travesty of historical explanation, one that betrays a total lack of understanding of the British Empire or English colonization. That the author of the comment has a Ph.D. from UVa makes this even more astonishing … although it reminds me of this.

It’s just as some people have always claimed: mere possession of a Ph.D. in itself does not guarantee sound historical practice. But then I never said it did.

61 thoughts on “Mistake at Monticello

  1. Rob Baker October 26, 2013 / 10:10 am

    I gotta say, I was rather surprised with the response I received. I just sort of scratched my head in bewilderment.

  2. Andy Hall October 26, 2013 / 10:17 am

    “The 18th century British Empire was a federal union.”

    What? [Checks Rob’s site.] Yep. Whoever wrote that is either an idiot or (more likely) is trying to justify something that wasn’t checked very carefully before. (I do disagree with Rob’s decision to redact the name of the person who wrote that who, after all, was speaking on behalf of Monticello’s public interpretation; he or she should own it.)

  3. M.D. Blough October 26, 2013 / 11:01 am

    I agree with Andy on not redacting the name of the person making this statement. This person is speaking on behalf of Monticello.org and making a statement that anyone having any knowledge of colonial history and the events leading up to the American Revolution knows to be total and complete bunk. OTOH, I am less charitable than Andy. Given everything that has been happening politically in the last few years, are we sure that the use of the term secede on the web site was due to negligence and not intent. I’ve heard that argument about trying to compare 1776 and 1860-61 more than a few times before. Jefferson was renowned for his writing ability, although, apparently with some justice, he did not consider himself to be a particularly effective speaker. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence; he was not the one who steered it through the Continental Congress. If the term secession had any meaning to any subject of H.M. King George III, Jefferson would have used it. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were under no illusions of the risks they were taking. The aftermath of the First and Second Jacobite Rebellions (BTW, the Scots had considerable more right to that argument about federations than the colonists (hmmm, wonder where they got THAT term? )) and that spared those who flocked to the Stuart banner nothing) should have given them full warning. The Signers were talking about a natural right of revolution in the face of wrongs so severe as to justify the dissolution of the allegiance that subjects bore to their King. A lot of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was directed at persuading Americans of this.

  4. John Foskett October 26, 2013 / 11:04 am

    Yawn. Looks like yet another nitwit fundamentally misunderstands the AWI. It was not “secession”. It was a “rebellion”. And, as mentioned numerous times, that destroys the AWI as a helpful analogue for the Lost Causers who advocate a “right” to secede, because it means either (1) the little 1860-61 frolic was not a repeat of what took place in 1776 and can make no “moral” claim to that legacy or (2) the Constitution addresses the illegality of their little frolic.

    • M.D. Blough October 26, 2013 / 11:36 am

      If there was even the most remote analogy between the relationship between colonies and Crown in the 18th Century and between a state or states and the government of the United States of America, I am reasonably sure that Mr. Madison would have noted it in his extensive comments on the claims for a Constitutional basis for claimed rights of nullification and/or secession during the Nullification Crisis. He not only did not. He rejected Calhoun’s claims of a constitutional basis for South Carolina’s actions.

      • Brooks D. Simpson October 26, 2013 / 11:50 am

        Well, Jefferson fans have always felt ambivalent about Madison. 🙂

        • M.D. Blough October 26, 2013 / 12:04 pm

          As have Madison fans about Jefferson. 🙂 I’ve always felt there were two Madisons. One when Jefferson was in the US and one when Jefferson was abroad. I’ve always felt that the greatest service that Jefferson gave to his country was being in France while the Constitution was being created. I assume that it’s no coincidence that it appears to have been the only extended period when Madison and Hamilton were not at each other’s throat.

  5. Jimmy Dick October 26, 2013 / 2:56 pm

    I use Monticello.org for my students to broaden their understanding of Jefferson beyond the textbook. I am very dismayed to see the idea that the American colonists were seceding or that the British Empire was a union where the parts agreed to be in it. As I said on Rob’s site, I see absolutely nothing I’ve read in secondary or primary source material to back up either of those concepts. In fact, I think that Edmund Morgan, probably the most influential historian of the 20th century, or at least one of the top five, would have remarked upon that in his extensive research efforts. There is absolutely nothing in American Slavery, American Freedom that even hints at Virginia being part of a union with England.

    Of course I seriously doubt many that allude to this idea have read that book or any others by Morgan. I just don’t see how anyone with a history Ph.D would even suggest that idea in the first place. I really would like to know the name of this person because I have a feeling there are some answers out there that would tell us why this came about.

  6. Rob Baker October 26, 2013 / 3:24 pm

    After much request, I’ve updated the post to include the name of the person that responded to my inquiry.

  7. M.D. Blough October 26, 2013 / 6:14 pm

    Rob-I tried to leave a comment on your blog but it wouldn’t let me. I added it as a like. Is there anything else I need to do?

    • Rob Baker October 27, 2013 / 6:34 am

      Not sure what happened. I got the “like”, but never anything like a comment.

      • M.D. Blough October 27, 2013 / 10:24 am

        I’ll try again and let you know if I have any problems. Thanks.

  8. Michael Confoy October 26, 2013 / 10:42 pm

    I guess this is the shame that so many of the president’s homes are ran by private organizations instead of the NPS.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 27, 2013 / 9:53 pm

      Given that the South’s theory of secession came after the founding of the republic, you’ll understand that to claim that what happened in 1776 in an imperial context and what happened in 1860-61 in a federated union was not the same thing. Even Light Horse Harry Lee’s son understood as much.

      • Tony October 28, 2013 / 7:54 am

        Approaching from a different angle, couldn’t one say that what happened in 1776 and 1860 were exactly the same: a rebellion based on the natural right of citizens to throw off the yoke of a government that has become hostile to its well being? Secession, after all, was a theory and only a theory, based upon unwritten read-between-the-lines supposition that had been debated with minimal success for almost 100 years.

        Secession would seem to be a formal legal process of withdrawing from a national body (a process unmentioned and undefined in the U.S. Constitution). At the point where the seceding entity takes up arms and storms federal facilities to enact “secession,” I would say the disagreement has crossed the line into open rebellion.

        Urgh … what a long-winded and unwieldy way to phrase the question: what’s the difference between rebellion and secession?

        • Brooks D. Simpson October 28, 2013 / 11:56 am

          You blur critical distinctions. People have natural rights: citizens derive their rights from a structure of government, and the center of the debate was whether Englishmen in America had the same rights as Englishmen in England.

          Secession is seen as a process provided for in institutional documents (thus the controversy about whether it was constitutional); rebellion need not seek that approval. That’s why Jefferson resorted to natural rights, whereas Calhoun and others offered institutional and structural justifications.

          • Tony October 28, 2013 / 1:16 pm

            Ok, I understand the irony of the natural rights argument here (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness … but only if you’re a white male in a slave-holding state), but it would seem the secessionists didn’t in 1860; didn’t they frequently use the language of 1776 to support their case? Maybe just a case of political spitballing, flinging arguments against the wall to see what sticks? Or am I making more of the arguments of a few outliers than is warranted?

            It just seems to me that “secession” should imply an explicitly defined legal path to separation, or at least a lack of resistance, because otherwise it’s just plain old rebellion and calling it secession is just a case of putting lipstick on a pig and expecting it to be pretty.

          • Brooks D. Simpson October 28, 2013 / 4:46 pm

            Of course they embraced the spirit of 1776, even if it was a selective embrace.

          • Tony October 29, 2013 / 12:02 pm

            I suppose I should have googled for a James Madison quote to begin with, since he obviously would be better able to phrase the question:

            I return my thanks for the copy of your late very powerful Speech in the Senate of the United S. It crushes “nullification” and must hasten the abandonment of “Secession”. But this dodges the blow by confounding the claim to secede at will, with the right of seceding from intolerable oppression. The former answers itself, being a violation, without cause, of a faith solemnly pledged. The latter is another name only for revolution, about which there is no theoretic controversy.

            (abjectly lifted from Wikipedia)

        • John Foskett October 28, 2013 / 1:20 pm

          One narrow but salient point is that the Constitution expressly refers to “rebellion” and permits/sanctions the federal government’s authority to crush it. “Secession” isn’t mentioned. That doesn’t make it lawful and ultimately doesn’t prevent the federal government from responding in the same manner, but it gives the Lost Causers a brief superficial toehold on their argument. The minute they acknowledge that it’s the same as “rebellion” even that toehold disappears.

    • Jimmy Dick October 28, 2013 / 3:57 pm

      It appears to be one word used early in the book. I find it weird that so many seem to key in on that and even weirder that Ellis used that word. He knows very well it wasn’t secession which makes me think the word is just a poor choice. He didn’t put anything into trying to prove it was secession. It isn’t backed up with a citation or reference either.

  9. nonromantic October 28, 2013 / 12:17 pm

    >> I just don’t see how anyone with a history Ph.D would even suggest that idea in the first place.

    I do. The U. S. adopted the German research model of education virtually wholesale, and the German way of education was based on research. So a Ph.D is a research degree, one of the implications of which is that a Ph.D requires original work, something never done before. Novelty. Get the connection? /end-cynicism

    • Jimmy Dick October 29, 2013 / 6:47 am

      The problem with trying to say the colonies seceded from the British Union is in their relationship with the British Empire. The Act of Union was between England and Scotland in 1707. The English colonies were part of England. They didn’t get a choice in deciding to be English. They were from the first moment of creation English or in some cases the act of conquest or territorial switches via treaties written in Europe. From 1707 onward the terminology changes to British.

      Where do we find any documentation on the colonies “joining” the British Empire? That would be crucial in this instance. We don’t find it anywhere that I know of. The problem with the word secession lays with the word itself. In its broad context I think it fits because either way it comes down to the colonies leaving the British Empire. Does it mean that the 1861 attempt by eleven states to leave the US is the exact same scenario? Absolutely not.

      The events of 1776 and 1861 are totally different events with different reasons that are practically polar opposites.

      What I object to the good doctor about is that she seems to be saying the colonies joined the British Empire voluntarily. They did not. The situations are not even close for the colonies and the Confederacy.

  10. Mark October 28, 2013 / 12:52 pm

    >> Secession is seen as a process provided for in institutional documents

    It would be if a secession clause were to actually exist there. I’m not sure that there are any. But if one did contain a secession clause I think it would not be what constitutions are supposed to be. In that case, I think such documents would be a treaty or at least what is formed by them a society of some sort, and not a nation.

    IMHO that is the difficulty facing those who argue that secession was provided for in the Constitution. I mean despite the apparent lack of out such a clause. 🙂 I don’t think they wish to own up to the implications of what Calhoun’s interpretation would mean. That is why he went through his tortured “concurrent majority” thesis, which I think is incoherent and problematic if there were any sort of attempt to found a nation on such concepts. All these questions involve the nature of a union, any union. How would a national divorce be done? Who would adjudicate between parts of a sovereign state, who both claim the same title of the true fulfillment of the Founders intention? Grant called the decision had been “settled by the force of arms” the “highest tribunal”. Just so, and this terse phrase is the only solution to the paradox of disputes national unions, civil wars, and it doesn’t imply that “might makes right” as it clearly does not.

    The both sides should just own up to the fact that Secession was *arguably* a revolution, and the Confederates just lost it. I think arguing over the distinction between a revolution and a rebellion is a pointless matter of semantics. I think it is clear that many thought it was, and many still today think it was on both sides. If it is considered a revolution they lost, and you have to win those. If it was a constitutional dispute over secession … well, they still lost. But if it was the latter the losers are in a better position to complain and impugn the character of the winners. And that is the entire point of those making the claim. But we needn’t fall for it and argue on their terms and avoid the heart of the matter.

    To be clear, I’m not in any way saying Brooks or anyone here is doing that. Far from it. I don’t think that. I’m just bouncing off a comment to make a related point. But I think many on our side do in fact do this, and every time they do and avoid the real issue it seems to me they’re tacitly accepting a bogus part of the Confederate Romantic argument.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 28, 2013 / 4:49 pm

      My argument is that secessionists repeatedly asserted that the right to secession was constitutional (and thus institutional). That claim rested upon a particular interpretation of some clauses in the document. Revolution is based on a claim to natural rights. Jefferson’s claim was based on natural rights refracted through Locke … but not through an understanding of the structure of the British Empire.

      • Mark October 28, 2013 / 7:01 pm

        Right. I wasn’t intending to dispute anything you said.

  11. Tara Pell October 28, 2013 / 2:15 pm

    Below is the definition of “secede”:

    “To withdraw formally from membership in a federal union, an alliance, or a political or religious organization”

    And below is the Resolution on Independence adopted by the Second Continental Congress, on July 2, 1776:

    “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved”

    So it is obvious, clear, and irrefutable that the American Colonies were members of the British Empire, and that they withdrew their membership from the British Empire. Arguing that the colonies did not secede is very much like arguing that water is not wet.

    PS- For goodness sake, even Jimmy Dick agrees that the colonies seceded. Here is what he wrote in the Fall 2012 edition of the Saber and Scroll Journal:

    “…The United States was created through the Declaration of Independence in 1776 during the American Revolution. The revolution was in itself an act of secession from Great Britain…”

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 28, 2013 / 4:44 pm

      A colony is not a state. A colony is not equal to the core country. That’s how an empire’s organized.

    • Jimmy Dick October 29, 2013 / 5:41 am

      I used a poor choice of words in trying to make a point about the legitimacy of secession in that paper which was actually written two years ago. This is the original paragraph that appeared in. “To begin with we must first understand that the United States was created through the Declaration of Independence in 1776 during the American Revolution. The revolution was in itself an act of secession from Great Britain. One of the leading reasons for the concept of secession from the United States is found in this sentence of the Declaration, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The question which is still a matter of debate today revolves around the understanding of just what constitutes despotism.”

      The goal was to link the act of revolution in 1776 with the lack of representation the colonists were confronted with. The colonists also were like many in Great Britain, the majority being controlled by a political minority. In 1861 the slave owners were a minority controlling a majority and enjoying plenty of representation. It was the exact opposite situation of the American Revolution. The slave owners tried to give their view legitimacy by linking themselves with the Revolution, but that was utterly preposterous (kind of like the Tea Party today). The slave owners were the despots of their time.

      Also note what Thomas Jefferson said about the rule of the majority which the slave owners were resisting. On multiple occasions Jefferson wrote about the rule of the majority being essential to republican government. Yet, in 1861 the slave owners opposed the rule of the majority even when that rule was not going to remove slavery in any state. It was the idea that the majority rule could tell them what to do that they opposed. So basically they opposed one of the tenets of republicanism which Jefferson envisioned.

      Also, let’s not forget the last paragraph of that paper I wrote in 2011. Secession was not justified in 1861.

      “While the most serious attempt at secession was by the Southern states during the Civil War, it failed after a devastating war. The issue of secession should be resolved by the Supreme Court decision in Texas v. White, but several groups keep the idea alive to further their own political agenda. The most glaring problem is how these groups bring up the causation of the Civil War as justification for secession while ignoring the issue of slavery which was the root cause of the war. The idea that secession was legal was actually part of the South’s reaction to Lincoln’s election and was only promoted by the oligarchs in order to protect their rights to own slaves. The Confederate constitution was an attempt to codify and legalize their version of a government which would guarantee those rights. Their constitution was a contradiction to their own statements concerning state’s rights in several places and revealed slavery to be the real motivation for their secession.”

    • John Foskett October 29, 2013 / 7:31 am

      Reading for comprehension: the quote you set forth refers to “alleigance” and “political connexion”. You simply twist those into some sort of voluntary “membership” and then move on into the realm of secession. Let’s be more precise with the English language. The British Empire was never a “federal union” or an “alliance”. Just ask the denizens of 19th century India or Kenya. The colonies were in the same status All of them had a “political connexion” with England and as subjects of the Crown owed it “alleigance”. They weren’t “members” who had voluntarily signed up and now decided to withdraw. What each, to one degree or another, did was indulge in “rebellion”. Welcome to the United States Constitution – and deal with the putative “hypocrisy” of a federal union which was born in “rebellion” but which proscribed the same.

  12. John Randolph October 28, 2013 / 3:30 pm

    Perceived British oppression and exploitation were fundamental causes of the 1837 rebellions in Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario). Keep in mind that many Empire Loyalists had fled the American revolution a half century earlier to find sanctuary in these British colonies. The fact that some of their decedents took up arms against the Empire, just as the Americans did 50 years earlier, does not support the notion that any of the colonies of Britain had anything approaching equal political rights and economic fairness vis a vis the Mother country. Although the 1837 rebellions were defeated by the British, they did lay the groundwork for what thirty years later would become the Articles of Confedration and the creation of Canada as we now know it.

    • M.D. Blough October 28, 2013 / 5:26 pm

      Look at the relationship between England and the other ostensible parties to the United Kingdom. Unhappiness with England has led to violence, particularly in Ireland, but it’s only been recently that there has been any return of some power over internal affairs to Scotland. Even though Scotland came into the whole relationship when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, I don’t think England ever saw Scotland as a true partner, much less an equal one.

  13. Mark October 28, 2013 / 7:24 pm

    It is true that secession does not apply to an empire, but let’s say Confederate Romantics repeat it so often that Merriam Webster modifies the definition based on common usage. I’d say something like this.

    If folks want to say “SC seceded from the Union …”, as opposed to “they attempted to secede”, which strictly speaking is what happened and were rejected by folks who considered it a rebellion.

    If folks want to say that the American Revolution was a secession, then I’d say that whatever it was it was a successful attempt at separation made good by force.

    The decisive thing in both was the legitimate and successful use of force. Note I didn’t say “legal”, because war is extra-legal by definition. Both were decided by the “highest tribunal” since those claiming sovereignty have to make it so by force. One did, and one didn’t. Of course I reject any attempts to redefine terms in a self-serving way. I just get tired of arguing over semantics over and over and over.

    • M.D. Blough October 28, 2013 / 9:59 pm

      I was involved in a hearing once in which one side argued that the legal issue should be determined by the casual use of a term, that can be a term of art, by some rank and file of the other side. The referee let them have their say and finally asked them, in a faintly exasperated tone, “If I call an elephant a giraffe often enough, does that make it a giraffe?” This was a rhetorical question. The referee applied the law to the evidence and found, in effect, that the giraffe had indeed remained a giraffe and ruled in favor of the other side.

      • M.D. Blough October 28, 2013 / 10:00 pm

        That last sentence should read that the elephant had indeed remained an elephant. I shouldn’t type when I’m tired.

      • Mark October 29, 2013 / 3:31 pm

        But M. D., a giraffe or any living species is not much like a technical term, which is defined by common usage. I agree with you on what the common usage is and was, but my my point is simply that the heart of the matter in my opinion does not depend on the definition of secession. Moreover, if people are uncomfortable with anything but arguing over this point rather than deeper and more fundamental parts of it, what does it matter if you win the argument? What will you have won by avoiding the more sure point of what a nation is? Win the battle, lose the war.

  14. Tarri Pell October 28, 2013 / 9:41 pm

    No one asserted that a colony is a state. That simple fact however, does not alter the definition of “secede” (which I have given and you have deliberately ignored-presumably becasue it directly contradicts your incorrect definition). In order to secede, all that is needed is a formal withdrawal from an organization or alliance. And when the Second Continental Congress adopted Virginia’s Resolution on Independence, they formally withdrew from the British Empire. It really is a very simple concept.

    PS- Enter “the seceders” into the google search engine and you will see links that describe the 18th century secession of the Church of Scotland. The obvious point is, again, that “secede” simply means to formally withdraw from an alliance or organization. There is absolutely no requirement whatsoever that the seceding entity be “a state equal to the core country”. That is a definition you have manufactured to serve your own agenda.


    • Brooks D. Simpson October 29, 2013 / 11:35 am

      Please don’t engage in self-serving speculation about my motives unless you wish to be treated the same way. After all, I could argue that you are selecting (on manufacturing) evidence to serve your own agenda.

      What dictionaries say today about the use of the word is irrelevant to the discussion. What the word meant then–and whether the theory of secession cited by secessionists to justify the events of 1860-61 is the same as what happened in 1775-76–is under discussion.

      The colonies did not voluntarily join an empire: they were created by that empire. They are products of that empire. The situation in 1775 was different in significant ways, as most people recognize.

      • M.D. Blough October 29, 2013 / 11:59 am

        In addition, there is absolutely nothing in British history or law that ever indicated that even Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (now, just Northern Ireland) have a legally recognized right to unilaterally withdraw without the consent of the Crown/Parliament. Even in the case of the American colonies, ultimately, the United Kingdom entered into a treaty with its problem child, recognizing its independence. As Madison wrote to Nicholas Trist on December 23, 1832, during the Nullification Crisis:

        >>It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.<<

        • Mark October 29, 2013 / 8:08 pm

          >> and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact

          Exactly. The reason it was not necessary to find a right was the same reason the authors didn’t specify one. The very act of doing specifying it would undermine the legitimacy of the compact.

    • John Foskett October 30, 2013 / 8:46 am

      You seem to desperately want to duck the word “rebellion”. I’m sure there’s an explanation. Ben Franklin was less reluctant to use it in 1776 when describing what the 13 colonies were engaged in: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

      • M.D. Blough October 30, 2013 / 1:13 pm

        Franklin was not indulging in a rhetorical flourish when he said after the signing of the Declaration of Independence “We must hang together or we shall surely hang separately.” Neither was the Declaration itself when it stated in its final sentence, right over the signatures, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The fate of the Jacobite rebels was not that far in the past. The Americans were under no illusions that the Crown and Parliament would not do everything in their power to ruthlessly suppress the rebellion so as not to give colonials or the many disenfranchised (or unenfranchised) at home any ideas.

  15. Pullman October 30, 2013 / 10:38 am

    It has already been demonstrated that the definition and meaning of “secede” was the same in1776 as it is today, so posting the precise definition is not merely persuasive, but it is absolutely dispositive. And not that it matters insofar as the meaning of “secede” is concerned, but the colonies most assuredly joined the British Empire voluntarily. The Colonies were settled by those voluntarily seeking new opportunities and a new way of life, not by Royal dictate. The Colonial Charters prove this obvious point beyond dispute. But again, none of that has anything to do with the definition of “secede”. If one argues that the colonies did not “secede”, then one argues, quite impossibly, that the colonies never left the British Empire.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 30, 2013 / 12:42 pm

      “It has already been demonstrated that the definition and meaning of “secede” was the same in 1776 as it is today, so posting the precise definition is not merely persuasive, but it is absolutely dispositive.”

      So you assert.

      The fact is that if it’s all the same thing, why did Calhoun and others spend so much time devising a theory of secession? What did they know that you do not?

      “the colonies most assuredly joined the British Empire voluntarily.”

      Really? Where is the document where these colonies (which were creatures of the empire) united to join the British Empire? You would think that it that was so obvious, all you would have to do is to cite the document.

      “The Colonies were settled by those voluntarily seeking new opportunities and a new way of life, not by Royal dictate. The Colonial Charters prove this obvious point beyond dispute.”

      Apparently the meaning of “colonial” escapes you. But we’re waiting for all of this proof. For example, who from New York was elected to Parliament? Please name names. Thank you.

    • John Foskett October 30, 2013 / 4:00 pm

      Maybe you’d like to weigh in on whether the AWI was a “rebellion” and what that means for the alleged analogue in 1860-61. Hint: it’s a problem and that’s why some avoid answering this question as if it were anthrax. And the colonies “joined” nothing. That’s why they were “colonies”. The fact that individuals chose to “settle” in the colonies which already existed by unilateral royal act didn’t change what the colonies were. It just meant that they ended up with a population of folks who ultimately decided to “rebel” against the Crown.

  16. Pullman October 30, 2013 / 4:17 pm

    1.Calhoun’s theory of secession was the natural and inevitable result of the logic of the constitution.

    2. The Colonial Charters were the documents which established the colonies as members within the British Empire. Indeed, if the colonies were in the Empire by Royal fiat, no such Charters would have been necessary.

    3. The fact that New York, or any other colony for that matter, had no representative in Parliament is largely irrelevant. In point of fact, all it means is that the scheme of representation under the British Constitution is very different from the scheme of representation under the U.S. Constitution. That fact has no bearing on the meaning of secession.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 30, 2013 / 4:21 pm

      In other words, you have nothing to support your argument. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rob Baker October 30, 2013 / 6:23 pm

      What a stupid argument. If the colony of, I don’t know, Virginia entered the “British” Empire, then how did King James I approve a proprietary charter to two competing companies, thus making the Virginia Company, and allowing that joint stock company to establish a colony. And then, in 1624, legally revoke the Virginia Company’s charter and transfer the colony to royal authority? What an incredibly ignorant and baseless argument; the absolute rankest of revisionists quasi-history perpetuating the Lost Cause mentality of morons.

      • M.D. Blough October 31, 2013 / 9:58 am

        This are the opening paragraphs from the Charter of Privileges Granted by William Penn”

        >>Charter of Privileges Granted by William Penn, esq.
        to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Territories, October 28, 1701 (1)
        WILLIAM PENN, Proprietary and Governor of the Province of Pensilvania and Territories thereunto belonging, To all to whom these Presents shall come, sendeth Greeting. WHEREAS King CHARLES the Second, by His Letters Patents, under the Great Seal of England, bearing Date the Fourth Day of March in the Year One Thousand Six Hundred and Eighty-one, was graciously pleased to give and grant unto me, and my Heirs and Assigns for ever, this Province of Pennsilvania, with divers great Powers and Jurisdictions for the well Government thereof.

        AND WHEREAS the King’s dearest Brother, JAMES Duke of YORK and ALBANY, &c. by his Deeds of Feoffment, under his Hand and Seal duly perfected, bearing Date the Twenty-Fourth Day of August, One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty and Two, did grant unto me, my Heirs and Assigns, all that Tract of Land, now called the Territories of Pensilvania, together with Powers and Jurisdictions for the good Government thereof.<< http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/pa07.asp

  17. Pullman October 30, 2013 / 4:53 pm

    you are such a little asshole

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 30, 2013 / 5:32 pm

      My, my, but you seem frustrated when someone asks for actual evidence.

      Nice to see you finally reveal your true nature. Take care.

      (That was easy.)

      • John Foskett October 31, 2013 / 7:02 am

        Such a shame. I really was looking forward to the analysis of “rebellion”, which seems not to have made it into the last two posts. The dirty “R” word. Kind of like showing the Cross to Dracula.

  18. Al Mackey October 31, 2013 / 5:43 am

    If the American Revolution was a secession as the term was understood in 1860, and if as alleged the term had not changed, then it seems to me the first step of those asserting it was a secession would be to provide a sampling of what must be the innumerable instances of the Founding Fathers referring to it as a secession at the time it was happening or even shortly thereafter.

    One might, for example, peruse the writings of James Madison for his references to the American Secession of 1776. It seems he freely used the term “Revolution” to describe what happened, but I fail to see him use the term “secession.” Perhaps I missed it and others can find it.


    Since we’re talking about Monticello here, perhaps they can provide the relevant quotations from Thomas Jefferson in which he referred to the American Secession of 1776. Alas, in looking at his Papers in the Library of Congress, I can find no such reference, although he writes to Washington in 1792, “Your being at the helm, will be more than an answer to every argument which can be used to alarm & lead the people in any quarter into violence or secession. North & South will hang together, if they have you to hang on; and, if the first correction of a numerous representation should fail in it’s effect, your presence will give time for trying others not inconsistent with the union & peace of the states.”


    • John Foskett October 31, 2013 / 7:04 am

      You will, however, find references to “revolt”, “rebellion”, “revolution”, ‘overthrow”, etc. Those words seem not to make much appearance in the 1860-61 materials, however. Odd.

      • M.D. Blough October 31, 2013 / 8:10 am

        As I’ve said, they were under no illusions, once it was clear that the King and Parliament had rejected all attempts to address the colonists’ complaints, that, if they took the step of declaring independence that the King and Parliament would use military force to keep the erstwhile colonies in line.

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