Secession Wasn’t Treason. It Still Isn’t

by Al Benson Jr.

Secession and the knee-jerk reactions to it have been of interest to me ever since I started doing historical research. Yankee/Marxist politicians, in 1861, sought to portray secession by the Southern states as the most monstrous of crimes ever perpetrated on the human race. The fact that some Northern states had threatened secession and actually sent delegates to Hartford, Connecticut in 1814 to consider the issue was a historical fact that was lost on them, and they hoped on everyone else too. Somehow, when the Northern states considered it, it was not treason. That was only the case when Southern states did it.

Between 1814 and 1860, secession went from being a favored possibility to a horrendous crime, most notably if the South did it. Even, and especially, in our day, many of our crop of “historians” absolutely howl about how secession was treason and how the Confederate States were seeking to overthrow the United States government–all of which is complete bovine fertilizer–and don’t think they don’t know it. All the Southern states wanted were to be able to go in peace. They had no interest whatever in overthrowing the federal government in Washington; they just wanted to depart and set up their own government. However, Mr. Lincoln and his erstwhile collectivist friends couldn’t allow that, as the Southern states paid the lion’s share of the tariff for the whole country and if they were allowed to depart, why the Northern states might have to start ponying up their share of the tariff because the South would no longer be there to pay over 80% of it.

When the shooting part of the War of Northern Aggression was over and the Confederate States, which never officially surrendered, by the way, were in ruins, the benevolent Yankee/Marxist government took Jeff Davis, who, with his cabinet, had fled rather than surrender, and they tossed him into prison at Fortress Monroe in Virginia for two years, planning at the outset to bring him to trial for treason and secession, which they claimed were one in the same. After two years of prisoner abuse and political horseplay, the Union government finally decided, rather reluctantly, that it could not afford to bring Davis to trial because, should that event transpire, it might well be proven in court that Davis and the South had been right–secession was not at all illegal, nor was it unconstitutional. After all, what did they think the Declaration of Independence was other than a secession document?

Several years back now, 1995 I think it was, I wrote a short 26 page booklet on secession. It has since become one of the booklets I offer in my home school mini-history course. In that booklet I quoted an author, James Street, who had written a book entitled simply “The Civil War.” Mr. Street had a few comments about what happened to Jeff Davis at the end of the War. He said: “The North didn’t dare give him a trial, knowing that a trial would establish that secession was not unconstitutional, that there had been no ‘rebellion’ and that the South had got a raw deal.” You can’t say it much plainer than that.

Later, I picked up another book, written by Burke Davis (no relative to Jeff that I know of), entitled “The Long Surrender.” It dealt with much of what happened with the people involved during the final days of the Confederacy, when Richmond fell, and Jeff Davis and the Confederate government fled the city and tried to set up somewhere else in order that they might carry on the struggle.

After Jeff Davis was captured, the vindictive and radical Yankee/Marxist Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, (who many feel may have known more about the Lincoln assassination than is admitted) wanted to implicate Davis both as a co-conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination and as a traitor for being the head of the secessionist government in Richmond, even though secession had not been original with Davis. Try as they might, the radical leftist Republicans in Washington couldn’t quite bring it off. Burke Davis noted, on page 204 of his book, a quote by Chief Justice Salmon P Chase, telling Stanton “If you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion…His (Jeff Davis’) capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason. Secession is settled. Let it stay settled.” Only it wasn’t–and isn’t. Burke Davis continued on page 214 of his book, noting that a congressional committee proposed a special court for Davis’ trial, headed by Franz Lieber. Again, Davis noted: “After studying more than 270,000 Confederate documents seeking evidence against Davis, this court discouraged the War Department: ‘Davis will be found not guilty,’ Lieber reported, ‘and we shall stand there completely beaten’.”

What the radical, Yankee/Marxist politicians were admitting among themselves (they’d never say it anywhere else) was that they had just fought a “civil war” that had taken or maimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans, both North and South, and that they had no constitutional justification whatever for having done so, nor had they any constitutional right to have impeded the Southern states when they chose to withdraw from the constitutional compact. They had fought solely for the right to keep an empire together. Call is “Manifest Destiny” or whatever noble-sounding euphemism you want to tack onto it, either way, they had been wrong. Now they could ill afford to let Jeff Davis go to trial, else their grievous crime would become public knowledge and beget them even more problems in the future, and that would have given them problems as they sought to redistribute among their friends whatever wealth remained in the South.

Needless to say, you probably have not read about any of this in what passes for “history” books in the last 150 years. As the narrator at the beginning of the movie “Braveheart” so correctly stated: “History is written by those who’ve hanged heroes.”

Real human rights in both North and South had been trampled on, and have continued to be up until and including today. What the Lincoln administration and early Marxist Republicans started and kept up during “reconstruction” has finally come to full fruition in our day, with such legislation as the “Patriot Act” and Obamacare, which effectively cancel out much of the Bill of Rights–as was intended and still is.

The War of Northern Aggression started the trend in this country in which leftist politicians have ever sought to usurp the rights of individual Americans, and to rule over us rather than to represent us as they were originally delegated to do. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. And now, with secessionist sentiment running rampant all over the world, the politicians are getting a bit nervous.

If you want some of the real history of that period in this country I would recommend James and Walter Kennedy’s book “The South Was Right,” Frank Conner’s book “The South Under Siege–1830-2000,” and Walter Kennedy’s and my book “Lincoln’s Marxists.”

10 thoughts on “Secession Wasn’t Treason. It Still Isn’t

  1. You’re leaving out the most important evidence that secession isn’t treason: The 13 American colonies seceded from Great Britain. Our Declaration of Independence was nothing but a declaration of secession. For secession is nothing but declaring oneself independent. It is, in fact, self-determination, which is a God-given right of every human being. Rights are never established by wars – more often, wars suppress rights. As it surely did in the case of the War Between the States. As the govt. of Great Britain noted during the War, it was the height of hypocrisy for a nation founded on secession to deny that right to anyone.

    • If you noticed in the article I mentioned that the Declaration of Independence was really a secession document. The booklet on secession that I mentioned in the article went into the fact that we seceded from England.

  2. Actually, the Federalists who instigated the Hartford Convention and threatened secession WERE considered traitorous. They were discredited, and It is one of the main reasons the Federalist Party died out.

    After the War of 1812, it was only radical Southern slaveholders who proposed secession, which they did from time to time, whenever they felt slavery was threatened.

    The reason secession was considered “overthrowing the government” was because Lincoln (and millions of others) felt that if a minority could reject a legal election and withdraw from the Union, there was no such thing as democratic government.

    I have not read your book, so I can’t comment on your assertion that Lincoln was a Marxist. I will need to see your evidence.

    • Many people who have read or heard about some of what I have written have said that I said Lincoln was a Marxist. What we actually said in the book was that Lincoln was influenced heavily by socialists and Marxists. If you want to see evidence of that you will probably need to read the book, or you can check out a batch of sites on the Internet that deal with this subject. The fact that he had a goodly number of socialists and communists in his armies, many of whom were Major Generals and Brigadier Generals is a fact that is beyond dispute. Personally I think Lincoln had a socialist mindset which is not quite the same as saying he was a Marxist–not that he was unsympathetic to Marxism.

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  4. The Hartford Secessionists were considered “traitors” by whom? I have read nothing that would support that charge. The right of secession was understood from the beginning. It was taught at West Point as such. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and others wrote that any state could secede, and no combination of states had any Constitutional right to prevent it by force. President James Buchanan said as much when the Southern states began to secede. As for the overused Yankee argument that the only reason the South would ever want to secede was slavery, that is false. Most wanted to secede over the ruinous Morrill Tariff. There was no ultimatums ever given to the South on ending slavery, and no Northern plan of any kind on how to end slavery peacefully and responsibly.

    I find it incredible that anyone would want to make any state part of an empire that it no longer wanted, and the need for secession may appear once more — like if Bernie Sanders is elected. I for one do not want to be trapped in an increasingly totalitarian, once-free country with no means of escape. The right of secession was and is legal and necessary.

    • “Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and others wrote that any state could secede…”

      Please cite your evidence for this assertion. That would have contradicted everything they stood for–including their own words at the ratifying conventions and in personal correspondence.

  5. Oh Christopher, by the way, you are wrong about why the Hartford secession movement died out. Only eleven after the Hartford Convention (which was held in December 1914 and January 1815), the War of 1812 came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, in December 1815. It ended not because the members had been “discredited,” but because their major complaint became moot, and there was no longer a reason t secede. Please refrain from writing history on the fly.

    • No. The Treaty of Ghent was signed in December of 1814–virtually the same moment in history as the Hartford Convention.

      These are all readily available facts. I recommend _What Hath God Wrought_ from the Oxford Series of American History. It will clear up this timeline issue you have.

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