“Surrender means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the War; will be impressed by all the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit subjects for derision.” -General Pat Cleburne, CSA
As the last traces of American history are being removed from history books and public grounds, with the latest being the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, it is time to look at the real history.
“The American people, North and South, went into the [Civil] war as citizens of their respective states, they came out as subjects … what they thus lost they have never got back.” – H.L. Mencken, 1880-1956
SECESSION: IT’S CONSTITUTIONAL
by Walter E. Williams Ph.D.,
The John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Union University and Grove City College, Doctor of Laws from Washington and Jefferson College and Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Sociales from Universidad Francisco Marroquin, in Guatemala, where he is also Professor Honorario.
Each state was a sovereign nation by law. That was always their intent, and they remained sovereign nations under a voluntary Constitution; and each state was likewise supremely owned and ruled by its respective People.
For decades, it has been obvious that there are irreconcilable differences between Americans who want to control the lives of others and those who wish to be left alone. Which is the more peaceful solution: Americans using the brute force of government to beat liberty-minded people into submission, or simply parting company? In a marriage, where vows are ignored and broken, divorce is the most peaceful solution. Similarly, our constitutional and human rights have been increasingly violated by a government instituted to protect them. Americans who support constitutional abrogation have no intention of mending their ways.
Since Barack Obama’s election, hundreds of thousands of petitioners for secession have reached the White House. Some people have argued that secession is unconstitutional, but there’s absolutely nothing in the Constitution that prohibits it. What stops secession is the prospect of brute force by a mighty federal government, as witnessed by the costly War of 1861. Let’s look at the secession issue.
At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a proposal was made to allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. James Madison, the acknowledged father of our Constitution, rejected it, saying: “A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
On March 2, 1861, after seven states had seceded and two days before Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, Sen. James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin proposed a constitutional amendment that said, “No State or any part thereof, heretofore admitted or hereafter admitted into the Union, shall have the power to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United States.”
Several months earlier, Reps. Daniel E. Sickles of New York, Thomas B. Florence of Pennsylvania and Otis S. Ferry of Connecticut proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit secession.
They were all rejected. Here’s my no-brainer question: Would there have been any point to offering these amendments if secession were already unconstitutional?
Of course not. They had every legal right to leave the union.
On the eve of the War of 1861, even unionist politicians saw secession as a right of states. Rep. Jacob M. Kunkel of Maryland said, “Any attempt to preserve the Union between the States of this Confederacy by force would be impractical, and destructive of republican liberty.”
Secession was a clear right of states. That is why it was called, “The War of Northern Aggression” by Southerners.
The Northern Democratic and Republican parties even favored allowing the South to secede in peace. Just about every major Northern newspaper editorialized in favor of the South’s right to secede.
New York Tribune (Feb. 5, 1860): “If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southerners from the Federal Union in 1861.”
Detroit Free Press (Feb. 19, 1861): “An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil – evil unmitigated in character and appalling in content.” The New York Times (March 21, 1861): “There is growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go.”
There’s more evidence seen at the time our Constitution was ratified. The ratification documents of Virginia, New York and Rhode Island explicitly said that they held the right to resume powers delegated, should the federal government become abusive of those powers. The Constitution never would have been ratified if states thought that they could not maintain their sovereignty.
The War of 1861 redefined the issue of secession through tyranny and brute force that cost 600,000 American lives. Americans celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but H.L. Mencken correctly evaluated the speech:
“It is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense.” Lincoln said that the soldiers sacrificed their lives “to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth.” Mencken says: “It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of people to govern themselves.”
“I tried all in my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, for twelve years I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize the musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our Constitutional right to self government. We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence, and that, or extermination.” – President Jefferson Davis, Confederate States of America
“Nothing fills me with deeper sadness than to see a Southern man apologizing for the defense we made of our inheritance. Our cause was so just, so sacred, that had I known all that has come to pass, had I known what was to be inflicted upon me, all that my country was to suffer, all that our posterity was to endure, I would do it all over again.” – President Jefferson Davis, Confederate States of America
“The North is about to wage a brutal and unholy war on a people who have done them no wrong, in violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of the government…We propose no invasion of the North, no attack on them, and only ask to be let alone.” -General Pat Cleburne, CSA
“Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this as of many many other evils … the quarrel between North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel, nothing else.” – Charles Dickens, as editor of All the Year Round, a British periodical in 1862
“For 134 years the American people have been led to believe that the right of secession had been overturned by a “verdict of arms,” but that isn’t true … It is true the shot fired at Fort Sumter provided the pretext for the Southland to be invaded by foreign troops, but the right of secession realized through the ballot box remains an essential part of our constitutional order.” – George Kalas, Chairman Emeritus, The Southern Party