“Civil War” Sesquicentennial – A War To Prevent Southern Secession

       We have entered into an historic period that cycles through the  decades only once every fifty years and we are witness to the anniversary of its third cycle. How times have changed since 1911 and 1961. Though systems have supposedly advanced and improved, I contend that we, mere man, are still  contending with the same basic issues in the same imperfect yet human way. Birth and death remain our companions as they were 150 years ago. Love,  kindness and  civility continue to grace though less frequently and a certain  brutish and selfish coarseness permeates the culture, yet those who enjoy the sacrifice of others seem content to believe the here and now without regard to the how and why. Yet “Nothing in the past is dead to the man who would learn how the present came to be what it is.”

     As a student of history, merchant of historic texts and patriot of the Commonwealth I must admit that I am not looking forward to the next four years. Not that those who gave their lives in defense of the Constitution  shouldn’t be honored; not that the multitude of innocents who suffered  unimaginable deprivation, cruelty and wanton destruction shouldn’t be  remembered or that the issues involved are not worthy of discussion, but that for the next four years we will have none of that.

     The maleducation (the prefix mal meaning defective or evil) of our citizens began during reconstruction and has proceeded unhindered these many years. I should like to offer in evidence quotes from men who  were highly esteemed in antiquity as well as evidence from first person witnesses and documents. This evidence is presented in defense of Constitutional principles which have been so flagrantly cast aside in modern time. This evidence is offered toward the forgotten yet critical principle of secession, its legality and its  Constitutionality.

     The Virginia Resolutions were written by James Madison and the Kentucky Resolutions by Thomas Jefferson. Both Virginians, one authored the Constitution of the United States the other the Declaration of Independence. These resolutions were passed by their respective State Legislatures in 1798, just 8 years after the ratification of the Constitution by the 13th Sovereign State, Rhode Island. These resolutions were identical in intent; that being that the Sovereign States who had entered into a compact with a Federated Government must be the final arbiters of just laws for their compact in case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of power not delegated. Virginians rightly        believed the words of the Declaration of Independence that we are governed by the consent of the governed, and to quote from the Virginia Resolutions, we are to “interpose for the arresting of the progress of evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.” It is the task of the citizenry and the States to keep the Federal Government from falling into error, not the task of that government to keep itself from error. Does not  Amendment X of the Constitution state: “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.” ?

     The peace treaty our fathers obtained from the King of England on September 3, 1783 was to 13 Sovereign Nations who were, “…to be free, sovereign, and  independent states.” This was seven years after the Declaration of Independence and five years before a Constitution would bind the States into a federated  compact. That Union came  into existence on June 21, 1788 when the New Hampshire  Legislature by a vote of 57 to 47 voted to ratify the Constitution thus becoming the 9th State to do so. The Union was born. Not present in the Union at that time was Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.  I imagine the Federated Union would have functioned fine without them but the familial ties of a shared war and hardship caused every State to desire to pull together for their mutual benefit. Rhode Island was last to ratify on May 29, 1790 by a vote of 34 to 32. Thus began our Constitutional Republic, the greatest experiment of mankind, whose duties were limited and required the vigilant oversight of virtuous men.  Indeed, so      important a component was virtue that Samuel Adams remarked, “A general    dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberty of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue then they will be ready to surrender their liberty to the first  internal or external invader.” and all the founders expressed similar views. You see, the primary component for the experiment to work was the Rule of Law administered justly in word and spirit to all men equally regardless of station.

     It was not long before fractures began to appear. In 1803, Thomas Pickering, a Senator from Massachusetts and Secretary of State in the Cabinet of John Adams, said, in speaking of state rights, “I will not despair, I will rather anticipate a new  confederacy. This can be accomplished without spilling one drop of blood, I have little doubt. It must begin with Massachusetts.”  He then continued on how all of New England would follow. Josia Quincy, also of Massachusetts, emancipated the same doctrine in 1811 in opposing the bill for the admission of Orleans Territory (Louisiana) when he said that if the bill passed and that territory was admitted the act would be; “subversive to the Union, and that several States would be freed from their Federal bonds and obligations, and that, as it will be the right of all the States, so it will be the duty of some, to prepare definitely for a separation.

     The Hartford Convention was called in 1814, in consequence of the opposition of New England to the War of 1812. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and several counties and towns of New England sent delegates to this convention. They deliberated behind closed doors upon the propriety of withdrawing States from the Union then issued an address in which they stated: “If the Union be destined to  dissolution, it should, if possible, be the work of peaceful times and deliberate consent.”

     In 1803 there were 17 States participating in the Federated Union and by 1812 there were 18. Several States choosing to exit was not going to dissolve the Union   it was only going to dissolve their participation. The Union , with its limited and specific responsibilities was perfectly capable of function minus some participants, and they knew that. Again in 1844 the Legislature of Massachusetts issued a  declaration:  ” The project of the Annexation of Texas unless arrested on the threshold, may tend to drive these States (New England) into dissolution of the Union.”  Texas became the 28th State to join the compact.

     The Southern States involved in the compact provided 87% of the revenue into the Federal treasury while Federal expenditures  to New England amounted to over 80%. Thus, 54 years after the ratification of the Constitution, Massachusetts for the fourth time  acknowledged their sovereign right to no longer participate; and never was that right denied them and neither did they exercise that right. There was too much money involved for them to leave.

     William Rawle, LL.D. of Pennsylvania published in 1825 his treatise on the  Constitution to be used as a law text and was thus utilized by the U.S. Military    Academy at West Point. In his work, A View of the Constitution he says, “It depends on the State itself to restrain or abolish the principles 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 principles on which all our political systems are founded, which is that the people have in all cases a right to determine how they will be governed.” Rawle was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and President Washington’s choice as U.S. Attorney for  Pennsylvania.

     The Constitution which was ratified that caused the States to become participants of the Federated system was done by the Legislatures of the various States. New York, Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island and many more inserted language into their acts preserving their sovereignty for posterity. Virginia stated in her ratification act: “The delegates do, in the name of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the people may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and their will.”

     With regard to the War of 1812 with Great Britain, it must be remembered that it was the impress of American (New England) seamen by the British Navy that precipitated events that led to war. As a neutral, America was not to provide shipping to belligerents while England and France were at war; but since all American shipping was provided by New England shippers, they ignored protocols and shipped to both until the British Navy intervened. Once found out, England and America went to war, New England refused to provide troops and resources to prosecute the war and rather provided intelligence to British operatives. It was this that brought about the Hartford Convention. It was the South who met the picked battalions of the enemy at New Orleans under command of the Tennessean Andrew Jackson who with courageous resolve laid low the British Flag to establish the prestige of the United States.

     Alexander Stephens was a native of Georgia, a State Legislator, State Representative to the U.S. Congress and Vice-President of the Confederacy. He stated that: “No Southern State ever did, intentionally or otherwise, fail to perform her obligations under the Constitution,   according to the letter and spirit of its stipulated   covenants, and they never asked of Congress any action or invoked its powers  upon any subject which did not lie clearly within the provisions of the Articles of the Union.”

     It is next appropriate to insert a portion of a speech delivered in 1903 by Judge John H. Rogers, soldier, Congressman and Jurist  of Fort Smith, Arkansas: “I  affirm, therefore, if odium is to attach to the South for the act of secession, it must also  attach to the North and East, where it was, for political, economic, and industrial reasons, sedulously agitated and inculcated up to the Mexican War, and the right distinctly  recognized by its leading Statesmen up to 1860. History ought not to allow them to slip this odium, if odium it be, from their shoulders to the shoulders of the South.”

     “Our children should know that the Confederate States, by the act of secession, made no war on the United States…It was the result of an effort by the United States to coerce States against their will to remain in the Union, a power not to be found in the Constitution, a power which all the earlier fathers believed did not exist.”

     “If the Southern States had the power, notwithstanding the Constitution, to withdraw from the Union in 1803, 1811, 1814 and 1844 as New England Statesman then affirmed, they had the same power in 1861. No change of the Constitution had been made…I affirm that if at any time in all our history secession was ever justifiable it was in 1861.”

     Robert E. Lee remarked, “All that the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved, and that the government as originally organized, should be administered in truth and purity.”

     The founding, conquest and settlement of this continent have at their deepest roots, Southern men. It was Southern virtue which caused them to adhere to the rule of law while others pilfered our National Treasury. It was Southern virtue that caused them to exercise their Constitutional prerogative to leave the Union and institute a new government that suited them better and it was Southern virtue that enabled them to defend themselves against invasion. Facing a foe with odds of 4 to 1 in men, arms and material they exhausted themselves winning battles to loose the war. Yes, the fact that their flag went down before overwhelming   numbers settled the question in controversy, but it proved no moral or legal fact. They fought for the Rule of Law and were defeated by the rule of man. Until  virtuous men can settle these issues by the Rule of Law we are all most miserable while at the mercy of an over-sized and tyrannical Federal Government and their reconstructed history.

Crossroads Country Store, Harrisonburg, VA                          © 2011, Rex Miller