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What Keeps the States United?

The American polity is beset by seemingly intractable problems: widespread, long-term unemployment; stagnating income; wealth increasingly concentrated among the few; trillion-dollar annual deficits; interminable wars.

Constitutional liberties, dating back in some instances to Magna Carta, are being jettisoned, ostensibly to protect against terrorism. Through the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress has empowered the president to imprison without charges or trial any American whom he decides, based on secret evidence, is a threat to national security. Barack Obama and his attorney general claim the president has the right to execute summarily anyone in the world—not excluding Americans—without due process of law. The Pentagon has been lending unmanned drones to local and state law enforcement agencies to spy on citizens without search warrants.

The 2008 election was viewed by many as a repudiation of torture and other dangers to civil liberties supported by George W. Bush. Five years later Obama seemingly has doubled down on policies that he had condemned. Despite voter angst, America’s political institutions keep serving up more of the same. Public disapproval of Congress has lately been as high as 90-95 percent. The system is widely seen as “broken.”

According to Rethinking American Union for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Donald Livingston, those seeking a cure for America’s political dysfunction should consider a rarely mentioned topic, that of size and scale. The thesis of this collection of essays is that American government has grown too large and too centralized to be compatible with free, effective, or truly representative politics. The authors agree on the unacceptability of top-down government as practiced in this country: having 435 House members, 100 senators, nine Supreme Court justices, and one president rule more than 300 million people in one-size-fits-all fashion. The authors share the belief, dating back to ancient Greece, that, to be genuinely self-governing, republics must be small in population and territory, i.e., wholly unlike America. They consider ways to devolve political power to smaller, more manageable units of government. With varying degrees of persuasiveness, the authors address philosophical, political, moral, and constitutional issues bearing on such a task.


Livingston, in a thoughtful essay, presents several possibilities. One, suggested as a starting point for debate by the late George Kennan, architect of the U.S. policy to contain the Soviet Union, is to divide the Union into “a dozen constituent republics”: New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the Middle West, the Northwest, the Southwest, Texas, the Old South, Florida, Alaska, and three self-governing urban regions, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Livingston concedes that Kennan’s idea “will cause some to panic,” but he insists that the idea of dividing America into several allied federations was shared by numerous early American leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Henry Clay, and possibly James Madison.

Another scenario, which is perhaps closest to Livingston’s heart, would be to reconfigure the United States along the lines of David Hume’s notion [1] of an ideal republic. Livingston points out that for Hume a small commonwealth is “the happiest government in the world” but “may be subdued by great force from without.” The solution is a large republic with “all the advantages both of a great and a little commonwealth.”

As summarized by Livingston, Hume imagined a large republic the size of Britain or France divided into 100 small republics, each of those divided into 100 parishes. The members of each parish meet annually to elect one representative, yielding 100 representatives in each small republic’s legislature. The legislature selects from among its members 10 magistrates to perform the executive and judicial functions of the republic and one senator to be its representative at the national capital. That yields 100 senators, from among which 10 are chosen to serve as the national executive and judiciary. Laws are normally proposed by the national senate and sent to the provincial republics for ratification. Each republic has one vote regardless of population.

In the United States a government modeled on Hume’s large republic would, writes Livingston, require abolishing the U.S. House of Representatives and transforming the state legislatures into a joint national legislature. The Senate would propose legislation to be ratified by a majority of states, each state having one vote. Unpopular legislation adopted in Washington, such as Obamacare, would not have any chance if sent for approval to the legislatures of Iowa, South Carolina, Wyoming, etc. It would also be much harder for special interests to influence a national legislature consisting of 5,000 or more members dispersed among 50 state capitals.

A third possible model of government discussed by Livingston would be to return, in actual practice, to the Constitution of 1787. Under that Constitution, writes Livingston, the American polity was not itself a republic but “a federation of republics…  . Each American State could be viewed as a large Humean republic, but a federation of such states could not be.” The central government could rule over individuals only under the powers delegated to it by the sovereign states.

“Given this framework,” Livingston writes, “the final safeguard for republicanism in America was and could only be some form of lawful State interposition, nullification, or secession.” Livingston, joined by fellow essayists Kent Masterson Brown and Marshall DeRosa, presents evidence that these remedies were once widely regarded as constitutional in every part of the country. They were also regularly invoked in antebellum public discourse and greatly constrained the central government.

According to the authors, since 1865, after Lincoln denied that the states were or had ever been sovereign political societies, the states have not enjoyed the republican form of government guaranteed in Article IV. And they contend that constitutional restrictions on the central government will not be taken seriously unless nullification and secession are again considered lawfully available to the states. Issues of practicality are addressed in essays by Yuri Maltsev on the example provided for America by the peaceful separation of fifteen states from the Soviet Union, Kirkpatrick Sale on questions of optimum size and scale for republican government, and Rob Williams on the secession movement in Vermont.

Large parts of the book are devoted to debunking the nationalist theory advanced by Lincoln, Daniel Webster, and Joseph Story, who deny the right of the states to secede.  In contrast to their ideas, Madison explained in Federalist 39 [2] that the Constitution was to be ratified by Americans “not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong.” Article VII explicitly states that the Constitution, as drafted and ratified, was a “constitution between the states so ratifying the same.” Three states—including the two largest, Virginia and New York—made their resolutions of ratification expressly subject to the right of their people to rescind.

The authors make less than the strongest possible case for some of their positions. In a chapter on the 10th Amendment, for example, DeRosa notes that, when Lincoln on April 15, 1861, called for 75,000 militiamen to put down an insurrection in the Southern states, he based his authority to do so on being the commander in chief (Article II, section 2) and on the 1792 Militia Act, amended in 1795. “Both the constitutional and statutory authority to call up the militia was predicated on the unconstitutionality of secession,” DeRosa argues. “If secession was unconstitutional, then the States were part of the Union and under the jurisdiction of the federal government. If not, the seceded States were outside that jurisdiction…” In fact, the Constitution (Article IV [3], section 4) flatly forbids the general government to put down a rebellion in a state without the invitation of state authorities, regardless of the state’s membership in the Union.

The distinction in the Militia Act that required the state government’s permission for the federal government to suppress “an insurrection in any state, against the government thereof,” but did not require state government permission to send troops into a state to put down a rebellion directed against “the laws of the United States” lacks constitutional authority. In his Notes on the Federal Convention, Madison reports that efforts to allow the introduction of federal troops into a state in such instances without the permission of its government repeatedly failed to garner the necessary support of a majority of state delegations. Prevailing instead was the position of delegate Luther Martin of Maryland, who declared that, at least so far as domestic violence is concerned, “The consent of the State ought to precede the introduction of any extraneous force whatever.”

In other places, the authors paint with a heavier brush than seems necessary to achieve their larger purpose. In a chapter entitled “The Founding Fathers of Constitutional Subversion,” Thomas DiLorenzo writes that after Alexander Hamilton failed at the federal convention to achieve his goal of a “monopolistic, monarchical government,” he and such “political heirs” as John Marshall and Joseph Story deliberately set out to subvert virtually all limits on the central government. No one would dispute that by the standards of the time these men favored an energetic general government, but it does not follow that they worked consistently or dishonestly to undermine the states’ legitimate powers. Their “nationalism” was limited and qualified.

Chief Justice Marshall’s landmark rulings enhancing federal power are justly famous. Not as widely known are his opinions upholding the states’ reserved powers. In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), Marshall emphasized that Congress’s power to regulate commerce among the states does not apply to “that commerce, which is completely internal, which is carried on between man and man in a State, or between different parts of the same State… . The completely internal commerce … may be considered as reserved for the State itself.” Marshall further held that, because manufacturing was not part of commerce, in no instance did the federal government’s commerce power extend to manufacturing or related issues of safety or quality. The latter functions, Marshall wrote,

form a portion of that immense mass of legislation, which embraces everything within the territory of a State, not surrendered to the general government: all which can be most advantageously exercised by the States themselves. Inspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws of every description … are component parts of this mass.

Justice Story, in marked contrast to the current majority of the Supreme Court, held in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842) that “the police power belonging to the States in virtue of their general sovereignty” entitled them “to arrest and restrain … and remove … from their borders” idlers, vagabonds, paupers, and other non-citizens of the United States. In the same opinion, Story struck down state laws that were in violation of the constitutionally authorized Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, but he opened the door to future “personal liberty” laws in Pennsylvania and other states with the suggestion that state magistrates did not have to enforce the federal fugitive slave law if forbidden to do so by state legislation. That is, in response to Story’s implied invitation in Prigg, several states enacted laws that served as a form of nullification or interposition against the federal law promoting the capture of fugitive slaves.

Of Hamilton himself, DiLorenzo writes that he

invented the notion of ‘implied powers’ of the Constitution, which allowed him … to argue that the Constitution is not a set of limitations on governmental powers, as Jefferson believed it was, but rather a potential stamp of approval on anything the government ever wanted to do…

DiLorenzo adds that Hamilton “invented the myth” of implied powers during his 1791 debate with Jefferson on the constitutionality of a national bank. This might imply that Hamilton had waited until after the Constitution was safely ratified to spring the concept of implied powers on an unsuspecting public. But Hamilton had argued in Federalist 33 [4] that if the Constitution gives government a specific power the means that prudence requires to execute the power are also conferred unless explicitly prohibited. Hamilton asks: “What is a power, but the ability of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a thing, but the power of employing the means necessary to its execution?”

In any case, there is a world of difference, as Michael P. Federici points out in his new book The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton [5], between Hamilton’s concept of implied powers and that of progressives who advocate “living constitutionalism.” As advocated by Hamilton, implied powers are tethered to their antecedent enumerated powers. In contrast, progressives have argued that not just the means but the fundamental powers themselves are flexible and not limited by the text of the Constitution.

Not explicitly addressed in the Livingston volume, but central to its subject matter, is the conflict between two fundamentally opposed conceptions of popular self-rule. One view has been called representative or constitutional democracy. It coincides with the thinking behind the Constitution. Based on recognition that man is torn between higher and lower inclinations, this approach to popular government holds that the will of the people should be reflected in public policy not directly but as filtered through the deliberative processes of institutions representing potentially competing interests and should be subjected to yet other self-imposed restraints. Deferring to the “deliberate sense of the people” rather than to mass opinion of the moment, constitutional democracy fosters consensus, respects sound traditions, and safeguards minorities from majority passions. A very different view—identified with Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau—has been called direct or plebiscitary democracy. Based on a belief in the natural goodness of man, this form of rule gives the uninhibited will of the mass of the people decisive influence over government. This kind of democracy tends to resent institutional obstacles to the full and immediate enactment of the will of the majority.

Ironically, DiLorenzo, who is an unstinting admirer of Jefferson, accuses Hamilton of sharing the Rousseau-inspired Jacobin philosophy that became the driving force behind the French Revolution. Yet biographer Ron Chernow has written: “No American was to expend more prophetic verbiage in denouncing the French Revolution than Alexander Hamilton.” By contrast, Jefferson was an ardent supporter of the Jacobins’ efforts in France, writing in a January 1793 letter: “The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood? … rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated.”

This book examines issues that should not be ignored at a time when pat political formulas have ceased working. It is correct that, under the original Constitution, secession and nullification were considered legitimate, if extreme, remedies for serious provocations. What once was true could, in theory, become true again. Yet the book fails to explain why Americans who habitually accept lawless government would suddenly elect state leaders prepared to use extreme measures.

Like many conservatives, the book’s authors seem to think that the principles of the U.S. Constitution could be revived if only more people could be persuaded of its correct interpretation. But the original Constitution and its liberties presupposed Americans with certain character traits and cultural habits. The moral, religious, and social practices prevalent in America in the 1780s were grounded in a Christian and British tradition. Only a society with that kind of public ethos would pay more than lip service to a Constitution of checks and balances.

Returning to the Constitution of the Framers would require nothing less than a revival of the kind of civilization and character type from which it is indistinguishable. This cannot be accomplished quickly, through political speeches or decisions. It would require protracted moral-cultural regeneration of Americans, one person at a time.

Joseph Baldacchino is president of the National Humanities Institute and co-director of the institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

82 Comments (Open | Close)

82 Comments To "What Keeps the States United?"

#1 Comment By J.D. On April 24, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

From the Recollections of Alexander Stephens, written shortly after the war:

“Slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession; out of it rose the breach of compact, for instance, on the part of several Northern States in refusing to comply with Constitutional obligations as to rendition of fugitives from service, a course betraying total disregard for all constitutional barriers and guarantees.”

#2 Comment By c matt On April 24, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

Within about 10 years enough old white Americans will have died for the current culture-political majority to become supermajority and the obstruction to get broken down.

Really? You think that a “supermajority” will exist among the various minorities? Like middle easterners, latin americans (of various stripes), asians (of various stripes), black, and any other group I may have omitted will somehow bind together and agree on every political/cultural decision?

Let me know how it turns out. In about ten years, the only thing that will have broken down will be the US economy. On the bright side, we will still feel rich compared to everyone else. Who says relativism isn’t real?

#3 Comment By Orthodox On April 25, 2013 @ 3:10 am

Read Tainter. A breakup of the U.S. would enrich everyone paying into the system. When Rome collapsed, people in the countryside saw their standard of living increase because their grain wasn’t being taxed away by the center.

The U.S. government is propping up the NY and Washington, D.C. economies and transferring about 20% of the nation’s wealth, directly and indirectly, and that’s only what can be measured. If you use estimates on unseen regulatory costs, costs of global police work and resultant blow back, it would not be surprising to see disposable income jump as much as 30 or 40% in many parts of the country as the parasitic Washington and NY economies collapsed.

#4 Comment By Michael N Moore On April 25, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

EliteCommInc said: “I grant the south’s right to cecede. Explain, how a democracy justifies enslaving a people who had not engaged them in warfare.”

This was the South’s greatest weakness. The industral counterwight to the North, Great Britain, outlawed slavery in 1833 making it a politically difficult alternative partner to the industrializing North.

Great Britain, unlike the US, compensated owners for the lost slaves. This could have been a basis for a settlement with the North, but, as I said before, I believe the Northern elite’s primary motivation was the capture of the South’s raw materials and markets.

#5 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 25, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

I don’t believe I saw any comment that indicates anyone really understood the reason the southern states left the union. The political climate for the slave holding states became very antagonistic. Understandably so since the abolitionist movement had taken hold of the politics of the day, and I believe was the opinion held by most Northern and Western state politicians. Don’t get me wrong, no one today, including yours truly, things slavery is a good thing. But think about it. Regardless of the reason for the antagonism displayed against your state, or more precisely the minority of citizens within said state, why would a state stay in a union of states where they have become a minority in the political body (both in the House and Senate) and that they had no way to stop or mitigate legislation that would have been injurious to their political or economic interests?

In other words, if I belong in a club, and the mood of it’s members became antagonistic toward me for whatever reason, I am free to leave that club. I am also free to try and change the hearts and minds of its member too. But failing in that venture, I would be free to leave.

But the biggest question of all is this: What does it say of the Union (or my fictional club) if member states are under the threat of force to keep them from leaving freely?

The states joined the Union freely. They were equally as free to leave in 1861, and they still are today. And if states did decide to leave, it just means they are tired of the federal leviathan and wish to go there own way.

#6 Comment By Morzer On April 25, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

It’s fascinating to see so many of the tired, failed Confederate arguments and analogies trotted out by conservatives whenever they think the nation has turned against them. Maybe they should ask why conservatism has failed so badly over the last 40 years – and reform themselves, rather than seeking to wreck America.

#7 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 26, 2013 @ 11:34 am

Morzer, so what you are saying is that once you join this ‘union’, you are in it ‘in perpetuity’? Great. Land of ‘free,’ right?

Why do you call people who call for, at the very least, an open discussion on the question of secession, a Confederate? Would you call the people of South Sudan confederates, too? They seceded, finally, from the north of the country. Not to mention the peaceful secession of the states of former Soviet Union. But no, in this country, if so much as whisper the word, you are a ‘confederate.’ Way to foster honest debate, Morzer.

It is not so much that conservatism has failed. My belief is that conservatives are a minority, and that most of the citizens want to be taken care of instead making their own way in this life. They want security and they think they can have it through government. The mobocracy has spoken; we want government and they outnumber true conservatives. Lastly, I believe most true conservatives are ‘live and let live’ kind of people. Those who want government to do everything are more politically active, so we have a majority of politicians (in both parties) who are for ‘big brother’ type of government.

#8 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 26, 2013 @ 11:51 am

Michael N. Moore, I just saw your comment, and I agree. If the slave holding states had followed a similar course as GB did, the War of Northern Aggression could have been avoided altogether. The tariffs imposed starting in 1828 economically hurt the southern states pretty badly, and where were those revenues applied? In the northern states.

Wars are fought for economic reasons, primarily. And when the states seceded, the North lost their tariff-paying base. Assume the states had compensated the slave owners and eliminated the institution. The southern states were still a minority in the general government and had no remedy to eliminate the tariffs that hurt their economy. What if they decided it wasn’t worth staying in the union? What if they still had chosen secession. Would the North still have attacked? It’s an interesting question.

#9 Comment By Tim D. On April 26, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

@EliteCommInc. The dirty little secret is that the Democratic Party isn’t very liberal anymore. Indeed the Party of Obama is even more rightward than the Party of Clinton. The Democratic Party still retains a left-wing, but the truth is that ~60% of the party is composed of self-identified moderates and conservatives. The current incarnation of the Democratic Party is about where the Republicans were up until the 1970s.

What many people don’t know is that people such as Obama have noted this trend. In a little known Spanish interview, Obama describes that his policies would make him a moderate Republican if it were the 1980s. We don’t have a center-left and center-right party, we have a center-right party, the Democratic Party, and a far-right party, the Republican Party.

Republicans don’t have a stewardship on fiscal policies. Clinton left Bush a surplus and his successor squandered it on budget-busting tax cuts, a Medicare expansion, and two wars all funded on a credit card. The Democrats are trying to rectify a tax system decimated by Republicans, which in hindsight is where tax rates are at their absolute lowest since WWII.

Yes, social attitudes change with the times, but it’s irrefutable that the Democratic Party is more in sync with the public than Republicans. An upraising number of voters support expanded restrictions on guns, gay marriage, rising the minimum wage, etc. The Republicans? They oppose these policies.

It’s the general craziness of the Republican Party along with them being at odds with a changing America is why they are losing among a good chunk of the electorate, such as moderates. What doesn’t help either is that the party doesn’t stand for anything. They obstruct for the sake of being obstructive. They have no solutions to the current problems Americans face, a good chunk of which is the result of Republican policies, such as not enforcing antitrust laws.

What started the Civil War is the southern attack on Fort Sumter. At the time, much of the North perceived the South as sore losers because they lost the 1860 presidential election, putting an end to the winning streak they had amassed since Washington. The South feared they would no longer dominate Washington and steer the country they way they wanted to do.

It was for this reason, along with other factors (e.g. slavery), that led the bulk of southern states to succeed after losing the presidential election. Much of the North, and a fair share in the South, thought the process of secession was illegal since the majority of the Union disagreed with the manner in which it was done.

But the threat of succession was nothing new at the time. Andrew Jackson, for example, confronted the threat of succession in 1833, ~30 years before the Civil War, when South Carolina attempted to nullify federal law. Jackson was a staunch Democrat, but he believed secession was illegal, as did the majority of the rest of the country at that time.

Back in the day the Democrats were the crazy party, with the Republicans now taking their place when the two parties switched in constituents following the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement.

#10 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 26, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

Tim D. Your understanding of the antebellum period is mistaken. Jackson did oppose SC’s nullification and began raising an army to oppose them, but Virginia said they can not march an army against a member state and told Jackson to back off, which he did. But doesn’t that beg the question, what sort of union are you involved with if the ones running the general govt feel they are well within their rights to take up arms against a member state? Seriously.

The threat of secession was around as early as the War of 1812. New England states threatened it. Nullification was a right held by all states, not just SC. Wisconsin and others nullified the Fugitive Slave Act by not enforcing it. Also look at the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

States did not believe secession was illegal. When ratifying the Constitution, Virginia and New York were explicit in stating in their ratifying documents that they reserved the right to secede. Everyone understood the Constitution was a compact between the states, AND that withdrawal from the compact was a valid remedy in the case of a breach of said compact. But those two states wanted to be extremely clear in reserving the right to withdrawal from the compact.

South Carolina tried to actively communicate with the Lincoln administration to have Fort Sumter cleared out, but the administration did not deal honestly with the southern envoys. See The Civil War, a Narrative, by Shelby Foote. I think that book is an excellent reference and was published about 50 years ago, if I am not mistaken. Basically, Lincoln was warned to not send warships, but he did anyway. Ask yourself this question: Why were all other Army forts in all 11 southern states peacefully surrendered (troops were not jailed; they were allowed to return home) except Fort Sumter?

Lastly, George Washington warned against political parties. Political parties are only interested in winning elections and their own agenda. The will of the people are of no consequence. The birth of the Republican party was clearly one which was formed ‘against the South,’ and was primarily an anti-slavery party. Can you really say the southern states were sore losers? The southern states did NOT have a majority in Congress, ever. And with the 1860 election results, the original 5-7 states that left, left knowing they had no political voice in DC.

Political parties give rise to factions, and factions have no place in a peaceful union of states. The anti-slavery faction led directly to the conflict and the resulting policies issues by the Radical Republicans in the post war era. In the presence of factions in control of a government, how can the interests of a minority stand a chance.

The balance of power shifted drastically against the slave-holding states. The severe imbalance was the primary reason the states left. And, it was Republicans who provoked the war. Not unlike what they do today.

#11 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 26, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

One other thing, Morzer. I don’t consider myself a conservative. I am [r]epublican. That is little ‘r,’ republican. As in, the Jeffersonian tradition. Political parties are anathema to liberty. Period.

#12 Comment By Michael N Moore On April 26, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

Todd Chaddon said:Ask yourself this question: Why were all other Army forts in all 11 southern states peacefully surrendered (troops were not jailed; they were allowed to return home) except Fort Sumter?

Can anyone answer this question?

I was just in Charleston. While there I was told that the Yankee commander of Fort Sumter held meetings with the SC shore batteries. The official word was that they could not reach an agreement. However, the resulting SC bombardment produced no casualties. This looks a little like a gentlemen’s agreement.
There was one casualty at the surrender party where someone was killed in an accident.

#13 Comment By J.D. On April 26, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

“The southern states did NOT have a majority in Congress, ever.”

Wrong. The Democrats — who overwhelmingly represented the interests of the South — had majorities in both houses of Congress until 1859. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: the South had essentially dictated the terms of American politics — no internal improvements, no restrictions on slavery, and an imperial foreign policy — for a generation.

“Ask yourself this question: Why were all other Army forts in all 11 southern states peacefully surrendered (troops were not jailed; they were allowed to return home) except Fort Sumter?”

Wrong again. Fort Pickens, in Florida, was never surrendered.

“Basically, Lincoln was warned to not send warships, but he did anyway.”

No, Lincoln sent provisions to Sumter. He made it clear that no weapons would be sent into the fort. If the Confederacy had ignored the reprovisioning of the fort, no attack would have been made and there would have been no war.

#14 Comment By R Cook On April 26, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

The “revival” of character necessary to return to our original governing ideals is simply not possible. It won’t happen and it can’t happen. Brace yourselves for a long, frightening ride downhill. It’s not going to get better. Ever.

#15 Comment By David Naas On April 26, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

Pardon me, but I DO have a hard time believing that the Neo-confederates are serious.
The elaboration of argument defending The Lost Cause is about as specious today as it was then.
The South was holding human beings as slaves, not even with the same regard as was granted to Roman slaves (for whom freedom was at least Possible). The South regarded Negro slaves as chattel. It was not about to let them go. The North would have settled for far less than Emancipation many times, but the pigheaded Rebels refused anything but total moral capitulation from the North.
Secondly, the South started the War of Southern Rebellion. It was not a true Civil War, it was specific as to geography, and cause — the desire of slaveowners to keep on slaving.
Thirdly, the Constitution begins, “We, the People”, not “We, the States”.
Please, people, grow up! Get over it.
Far better effort would be spend on finding ways to implement the concept of Federalism than on defending the indefensible.

#16 Comment By Michael N Moore On April 27, 2013 @ 6:29 am


There were also slaves in the North and New England shipping wealth was derived from the slave trade. They invested that wealth in factory production run by water power. Their new interest was in controlling natural resources and markets for finished goods.

I am sure that for most Northerners the War was about slavery, but the Northeast power elite had their own agenda. I suspect that slavery was their version of “weapons of mass destruction”.

I am not a Southerner or a Neo-Confederate and I had no ancestors on either side in the War. I just think it is important to look hard at events that cause so much misery.

#17 Comment By Michael N Moore On April 27, 2013 @ 9:21 am

Despite our endless self-congratulations about ending slavery in 1865 it appears to have continued on a de facto basis well into the Twentieth Century.
See: [6]

Our crops continue to be picked and our homes serviced by disenfranchised people who are brown rather than black.

#18 Comment By David Caskey On April 27, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

As I read the comments in this section, I am astonished at the ignorance that is on display. It is not your fault for the most part you are just spewing out the propaganda that is what we call education.

The South was under constant assault by the North from the time the ink was dry on the Constitution. This took many forms over the years, finally culminating in the issue of slavery as one, I repeat one, issue that divided the two sections. And then, it was only in the aspect of extension of slavery to the territories that caused problems. Lincoln did not want to eliminate slavery, in fact, like most people of the North, he hated the black man. You have to remember that the North was actively supporting terrorist activity in the South and was attempting to do anything possible to bring down the political structure of the South. Why? Same reasons as today, in fact, this is an interesting period to live in as we see the same issues at the forefront of discussion. Funny how slavery is not one of them. The fact is that there is a clear difference in the two regions as to how we wish to live our lives and the type of government that we want. Those in the North want the tyranny that is current, those in the South desire freedom and always have.

Now for the slavery issue, are you aware that slavery in the South was much different from any practiced in other countries? I was far more benevolent. This is is contrast to the extreme racism of the North that passed laws expelling blacks. Are you aware that there were over 5000 slave owners in the South that were black? Did you know that blacks formed military units in the South to defend themselves and their property? I my area, one of the largest plantations was black owned and is a National Park. Are you aware that the cities of the North were the recipients of the slave from Africa, less so places like New Orleans? Then consider this, during the War of Northern Aggression, the North held slaves and continued to advocate for slavery, just as the South did? So how does a slave holding nation fight another slave holding nation to eliminate slavery. Finally, slavery is part of the human condition, the only thing strange about the history of slavery is that it is not as common now as it used to be. That will change when our tech world begins to decline, as Obama is doing currently.

Now on the Sumter. The South wanted self-determination. This is something that the US advocates, unless you are from the South, Indian, from the Philippines or any of the other areas we have snuffed out freedom. In making its bid for freedom the South began taking over those areas that were held in joint possession by State and Federal governments. Sumter was one of these areas. The commander of the post refused to surrender initially. Yet the people of the city continued to feed and care for the soldiers. A compromise was worked out for surrender of the fort, Lincoln reneged on this compromise and sent warships to invade the harbor. It has been said that these only had provisions, but the fact is that Lincoln crafted the start of hostilities. As Lincoln started the war, and this is confirmed by European and American observers. It is even confirmed by Charles Dickens. Lincoln then gave a speech confirming his hostile intent and the reason was for tax collection.

The fact is that 1860 ended the great American experiment. We are subjects of a growing tyrannical government with little to be gained by our election process. So what do we do now?

#19 Comment By J.D. On April 27, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

The amount of ignorance on display here is indeed startling.

There were no “slaves in the North” by 1860, and there hadn’t been for decades. There were still slaves in the border states (which weren’t “the North”), and the Confederacy desperately wanted them. Again, there were NO slaves in the North. Here’s a map you might find useful: [7]

The idea that slavery was “far more benevolent” in the United States than in other countries is risible. For one thing, slaves in most other countries weren’t always slaves for a lifetime, and their children usually weren’t condemned to slavery by the fact of their parenthood. Other countries had laws protecting slaves from being abused by their owners; even when such laws existed in the U.S., they weren’t followed. There’s a reason they call it “chattel slavery.” American slaves had absolutely no chance of being recognized as human beings; even if they obtained their freedom through some miracle, they could easily be kidnapped and sold back into slavery.

And yes, the North was every bit as complicit as the South in maintaining slavery, even the states that didn’t actually own slaves — and yes, as Tocqueville pointed out, Northerners were often far more racist than Southerners. This isn’t about blaming the Southerners of today. Even Lincoln said that Southerners had not created the slavery problem and should not be condemned.

Confederate apologists are always desperate to insist that slavery was just “one issue” among many issue. The funny thing is that slavery was so much THE issue by the Civil War that it’s hard to convince people how little any other issues mattered. Read the official statements justifying secession, read the newspaper reports from the time, read the letters and diary entries of politicians from North and South. There’s nary a mention of tariffs or taxes. All that they talk about is slavery. Imagine a single issue as volatile as immigration, abortion, and entitlement reform rolled into one, and you’ll have an idea of how absolutely divisive and all-consuming the slavery question had become by 1860.

Read some real history books — James McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom,” David Potter’s “The Impending Crisis.” You’d be surprised how much there is to learn, and how few of the popular myths about the Civil War turn out to be true.

#20 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 28, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

“Even Lincoln said that Southerners had not created the slavery problem and should not be condemned. ”

Well, lincoln was not about slavery. He was about Union. And he was flat wrong. The south built, maintained and extended the institution/practice of slavery. The North did engage in the trade — a filthy business and Wall Street certainly profitted from the trade — but the finely tuned brutal craft of slavery was perfected by the South.

#21 Comment By Michael N Moore On April 28, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

Edgar McManus, the historian of Northern slavery commented on the beginnings of the abolitionist movement: “abolitionists of the 1780’s belonged to the business elite which thirty years before had reaped handsome profits from the slave trade. The precipitous decline of the trade after 1770 apparently sharpened the moral sensibilities of those who had formerly profited. … The leaders of the abolition movement were honorable men who sincerely regarded slavery as a great moral wrong. But it is also true that they embraced antislavery at a time when it entailed no economic hardship for their class.”

#22 Comment By David Caskey On April 28, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

That is amazing. The border states were not the North. The fact is that the “border” states were part of the US and under control of the government in Washington. All Lincoln had to do was push through a law to eliminate slavery in the US Congress and he would have granted the wishes of the anti-slave crowd. But he didn’t. Instead he did the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery in the South, not under control by the Washington government. This is the same as our passing a law that only effect Mexico or Canada. The the anti-slave crowd only constituted 10% of the political agenda.

Now, I really don’t care if the division of opinions was over slavery. When it boils down to it, the government that was created in the 1700’s was not intended to enter into people’s lives and business. The government we currently have does nothing but do that. Slavery might be bad today, though it is still alive and well and we don’t do anything about it, but in the 1860’s, it was an acceptable economic system and if the US wanted to rid the country of it, they just adjust the Constitution. Instead, the original 13th amendment, supported by Lincoln, would have assured slavery to this day.

Short version, the fact that the US accepted slavery in its borders and promoted the institution makes it a slave nation. I saw this first hand with integration in the 60’s. The Federal government came down here to make it the rule of thumb. This despite the fact that the people in the South were not breaking any laws and the fact that the people in the North were far more racist and segregated than we ever thought of being.

I don’t know were you get this idea on “slavery for life”. There were some various laws passed in different regions but the fact is that many blacks could and would purchase their freedom. Then they would enslave their fellow blacks.

If you are so insulted with slavery, why don’t you go to Africa and work to eliminate the system that is still present now? But I do not appoligize for my forefathers using a system that was legal and accepted by the rest of the world, and for that matter those in the North.

#23 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 29, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

David Naas, no one is advocating the Lost Cause.

At the time of the Constitution, all states had legal slavery. But over time the northern states abolished the practice on their own accord. The southern states didn’t because of the extensive use in large scale agriculture.

I have said it before, the reason for secession was for states to maintain self determination. The Constitution was supposed to “guarantee a republican form of government.” States making their choices as to which unions to form to dissolve is a key characteristic of republicanism.

Side note: Recall our Declaration of Independence. The colonies seceded from the British Empire in case you were not aware.

As to ‘preserving the union?’ No one that I have seen has addressed the question of ‘why stay in a union if you are under the threat of force?’

What sort of ‘union’ do we have? One that is held together with a gun to our heads. “Land of free” indeed.

#24 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 29, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

Clarification: States making their own choices as to which unions to form and which to dissolve is a key characteristic to republicanism.

My mistake for not being more clear in my post.

#25 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 29, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

J.D. You are right. By 1860 there was not much mention of tariffs at all. But the tariffs beginning in 1828 was a direct attack on southern states. The tariff rates were reduced over the next 7-8 years, but I believe they were still in place by 1860.

What you were hearing by 1860 was all about ‘the peculiar institution.’ By then, the abolitionists had their political party and they were dominating the Press. There had been increasing rhetoric, so it was common place to see it everywhere even for the common citizen.

If one looks hard enough, one can find evidence of some soldiers writing home about the glorious crusade of ending slavery and punishing the South. Preserving the union was the easy sell to the common soldier who had never even left his own county in his whole life.

Based on the responses I have read (those de-crying the Neo-Confederates), the northern soldiers were on a great crusade to end slavery. If that is true, that generation paid an awful cost to end it. Over 600,000 men died. It also cost us the right to self government. That war killed the Constitution and everything the Founders held dear, and you have the GOP to thank for that.

I can’t believe I saw a post above regarding American slavery as being more beneficent. Slavery of any kind is abominable. But we still have the slavery of paying taxes to an ever-increasingly tyrannical and war-like central government. We also have debt slavery our kids and grandkids will have to pay. That tyranny began in 1865.

#26 Comment By J.D. On April 29, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

“I have said it before, the reason for secession was for states to maintain self determination.”

This interpretation does not gibe with the extensive evidence provided by numerous historians that most Southerners were not pro-secession until the outbreak of war forced them to choose sides.

“At no time during the winter of 1860-1861 was secession desired by a majority of the people of the slave states. . . . Furthermore, secession was not basically desired even by a majority in the lower South, and the secessionists succeeded less because of the intrinsic popularity of their program than because of the extreme skill with which they utilized an emergency psychology, the promptness by which they invoked unilateral action by individual states, and the firmness with which they refused to submit the question of secession to popular referenda.” — David Potter, “Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis”

“(Jefferson Davis ordered the attack on Sumter because) he was afraid that if he did not demonstrate the strength of the Confederacy it would disintegrate.” — William C. Wright, “The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States”

#27 Comment By Douglas On April 29, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

Only real federalism… with states that have a level of real sovereignty… could make a big country work. But what we have isn’t really federalism anymore. It’s unitary national government cloaked in federalist clothing. States aren’t really states anymore, just glorified administrative districts of Mother Washington DC with very, very limited levels of home rule. Real federalism takes a level of character from a people that, frankly, Americans don’t have any more. And so, as large and disparate as we are… we really have nothing in common but a language anymore… peacefully breaking off into like-minded pieces would be the most workable solution all the way around.

#28 Comment By William Dalton On April 30, 2013 @ 3:52 am

I wonder why arguments over American secession, now or in the past, always devolve into arguments over slavery – whether it was the issue that prompted the secession of 1860-61, whether champions of secession are seeking to defend slavery today. Whether of not the states of the Confederacy had the right to leave the Union was and is a question independent of the reasons they had for leaving. The reasons may be good or may be bad, it makes no difference. If the states have a right to leave the Union, they don’t need to give a reason, and if they don’t, no reason they give could then give rise to such a right.

A State may have chosen to leave the Union at any time in our nation’s history, and prior to the Civil War many northern states contemplated precisely that. A State might have chosen to leave after the passage of any amendment to the Constitution. It could have been over women’s suffrage, or the passage of the Income Tax Amendment, or Prohibition. If a majority, even a super majority, choose to amend the document which defines our Union, upon which basis every State chose to enter the Union, then any State which dissents, which can not abide the change, has the right to leave. There is not a citizen of the United States, not lawfully held in confinement, who doesn’t have the right to leave if he or she can’t abide the laws of our country. The same holds true for our states, the elemental building blocks of the Union.

North Carolina, for one, would not join the Union until the Bill of Rights had been added to the Constitution, although most other states had already ratified the Constitution without it. A government formed under that Constitution which failed to observe and abide by the restrictions contained in the Bill of Rights would forfeit any authority to compel it to remain within the Union. Today, North Carolina’s own Constitution has a provision which forbids the General Assembly from voting again to secede. Like its recently adopted amendment forbidding our legislators to pass laws giving recognition to same sex marriages, these provisions cannot be repealed without a vote of the people to do so. Popular sovereignty is to reign. This is as it should be with respect to any political compact, not excepting the United States Constitution.

#29 Comment By Todd Chaddon On April 30, 2013 @ 11:55 am

To Douglas and William Dalton: here, here, gentlemen. Well said.

To J.D. you are correct in saying most did not favor secession in the southern states. But they ultimately did. I would not rest my laurels on pro-Lincoln authors, but to the original texts themselves from the secession conventions. It is important to note that the states not comprising the Deep South left the union after Lincoln’s call to arms to suppress the rebellion. These states left to oppose what they saw as tyranny on the rise.

The quote on Jeff Davis may be true; the decision to fire upon Sumter was not an easy one and there were many factors. I don’t know how much direct control he actually had in that situation at the time. I do know that a line had been drawn by South Carolina with respect to the fort, and Lincoln knowingly crossed it. At the end of the day, Lincoln knowingly crossed the line. I would ask again the question why ALL other army forts were peacefully surrendered to the several states of the South, but not Fort Sumter.

J.D. you bring up important points, but I don’t agree with your conclusions.

#30 Comment By Charles Luke On April 30, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

That is it exactly EliteComminc, you think that the northeastern industrial magnates had a right to use the moral issue of slavery as their excuse to destroy and occupy the South. This is what New England liberalism is all about as far as foreign policy goes; the Civil War set the standard of using liberation jargon to justify mass killing and occupation. This is why there are so many blacks in America’s private prison system, because they were so liberated. The Ivy League schools specialize in generating justifications for the ongoing reign of murder and mayhem by American forces, and now that six of the eight have had Jewish presidents in the last fifteen years, they use that experience and expertise to provide moralistic legitimation for this war against Islam. Now that the same money runs the South, Yankee and Southern congresspersons outdo themselves in support for the occupation of any country that can be construed as a threat to Israel. At every stage of this all the wars are really just a feeding frenzy for careers and corporations, and now those careers include jobs in academia and the aid industry, as well as the military and the manufacturers of weapons, trailers, and body armour.

#31 Comment By Charles Luke On April 30, 2013 @ 11:44 pm

It is amusing that the photograph above is of Washington, who was after all the single wealthiest American at the time of the Revolution and one of the largest slaveholders. Funny that the Americans managed to hold on to Washington and Jefferson as heroes while continuing to damn the South. Americans are so fundamentally anti-intellectual that they think they can be conservative Christians and still buy into all the “Enlightenment” jargon where individual freedom is an end in itself. They think they can still be a part of the Western religious tradition while sporting priestesses of both genders, and this really does not fly.

When their rape of a continent plays out and the usury bubble that has been constructed for them by professionals bursts, America is going to be such a hopeless backwater for centuries. The easiest thing that states can do with the debt is to withdraw, after the Army charges about for a generation trying to hold it all together. Trying to imagine rosy revival scenario for America is pretty difficult to do if you have driven there in the last twenty years. They have built endless suburbia and sport palaces that cannot possibly be serviced without an endless flow of cheap energy energy, and their young with their piercings and endless tattoos are hardly preparing for a golden age of culture. This flame out promises to be one neat spectacle to watch from a distance though.

#32 Comment By Patrick Devine On May 4, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

I think a great way to strengthen this country is to let all of you who like seccession leave. I actually encourage it. This would bring about an even stronger USA. The whing from those who have greatly benefited from this country and now consistently whine because thibgs aren’t going their way is blocking any productive improvement as we are now in the middle of a globalized planet. Either take your marbles and leave, or wuit crying and do something of substance to correct these major problems.