Part 2–More About Secession the “History” Books Haven’t Told Us

by Al Benson Jr.

It has been accurately asserted by author Gene H. Kizer Jr. that: “The arguments for the right of secession are unequivocal. There is the constitutional right based on the Compact Theory, and the revolutionary right based on the idea that a free people have a right to change their government anytime they see fit. The Compact Theory views the Constitution as a legal agreement between the states–a compact–and if any one state violates the compact, then the entire agreement becomes null and void. Northern states unquestionably violated the Constitution on a number of grounds including Personal Liberty Laws on their books, as well as by deliberately harboring fugitives from justice by protecting the sons of John Brown who were wanted by Virginia for murder at Harpers Ferry. Northern states also made a mockery of the Constitution’s Preamble which states clearly that the Constitution was established to ‘insure domestic tranquility’ and ‘promote the general Welfare.’ Certain prominent Northern leaders with the acquiescence of states like Massachusetts were utterly at war with the South and doing everything they could to destroy the domestic tranquility of the Southern states by encouraging slaves to murder white people, poison wells, destroy property and commit other acts of rapine. John Brown himself had been encouraged and financed by the North.”

I have, in the past, written about a group called The Secret Six, which financed Brown’s terrorist activities in both Kansas and Virginia. Of this group all, save one, was from New England and that one was from New York. An excellent book to read regarding this dismal period in our history is Otto Scott’s The Secret Six–The Fool as Martyr which is a biography of John Brown, and therefore deals with those that financed him in some detail. Another good work in this area worth reading, if you can find it is The Road to Harpers Ferry by J. C. Furnas. A couple years ago in my little newsletter The Copperhead Chronicle I did a series of biographical sketches on the Secret Six. Quite an interesting little group. One of them, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Unitarian minister made the statement “I am always ready to invest money in treason…” I mention all this to demonstrate that the North had indeed broken the Constitutional Compact.

Walter Williams, a distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University has written on the secession question on a number of occasions. In his understanding secession is indeed legal. He noted at one point that before the War Between the States a constitutional amendment was proposed by some Northern congressman that would prohibit secession. He then points out that there would have been no point in offering such an amendment if secession had already been unconstitutional. You do have to admit that he has a point.

A few years ago the late Joe Sobran, (whom I assume that most people who read have heard of), wrote an article that appeared on http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org in which he noted that: “Our ultimate defense against the federal government is the right of secession. Yes, most people assume that the Civil War settled that. But superior force proves nothing. If there was a right of secession before that war, it should be just as valid now. It wasn’t negated become Northern munitions factories were more efficient than Southern ones.” And Sobran further observed, and I have to agree with him, that: “The original 13 states formed a ‘Confederation’ under which each state retained its ‘sovereignty, freedom and independence’.” The Constitution didn’t change this; each sovereign state was free to reject the Constitution. The new powers of the federal government were ‘granted’ and ‘delegated’ by the states, which implies that the states were prior and superior to the federal government. Even in The Federalist, the brilliant propaganda papers for ratification of the Constitution…the United States are constantly referred to as ‘the Confederacy’ and a ‘confederate republic,’ as opposed to a single ‘consolidated’ or monolithic state. Members of ‘a confederacy’ are by definition free to withdraw from it.”

Sobran noted that while Hamilton and Madison sincerely hoped secession would never happen, they didn’t deny that it was a possibility, and even if Madison didn’t like or agree with it, that doesn’t make it illegal.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816: “If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation…to continuance in union…I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate’.” Donald W. Livingston, a professor of philosophy at Emory University, and president of the Abbeville Institute, wrote in an article published in Chronicles magazine in October, 2010, that: “A state cannot retain sovereignty unless it has it, and in joining the Union no state renounced sovereignty. What motivates the nationalist theory is not an honest look at the historical founding of America, but political ambition legitimated by the philosophical theory of the modern unitary state. This ambition appears forcefully in Hamilton, who argued at the Philadelphia Convention for a president for life, a senate with members for life, appointed by the president, and state governors appointed by the president–in other words, monarchy by another name.” You have to wonder if any of those “you can’t get out of the Union no matter what” folks have something of this sort in mind. Those that seek to deny people their rights usually do have an agenda.

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20 thoughts on “Part 2–More About Secession the “History” Books Haven’t Told Us

  1. “It has been accurately asserted by author Gene H. Kizer Jr. that: “The arguments for the right of secession are unequivocal. There is the constitutional right based on the Compact Theory, and the revolutionary right based on the idea that a free people have a right to change their government anytime they see fit.”

    Well, no, actually. The assertion is totally wrong. As I’ve shown–and no one has refuted was solid evidence–the ratification of the Constitution created a sovereign United States. And a sovereign cannot be divided against its will. This is Madison’s theory: the man who designed the Constitution, and who understood exactly what the Founders were creating.

    The “Compact Theory” was only created by slaveholders after they feared that the federal government might have the power to abolish slavery at some point. Madison has much to say about the “compact here: http://www.constitution.org/jm/18341200_nullification.htm , where he says:

    “But is not the Constn. itself necessarily the offspring of a sovn. authy.? What but the highest pol: authy. a sovereign authy., could make such a Constn.? a constn. wch. makes a Govt.; a Govt. which makes laws; laws which operate like the laws of all other govts. by a penal & physical force, on the individuals subject to the laws; and finally laws declared to be the Supreme law of the land; anything in the Constn. or laws of the individual State notwithstanding.

    And where does the sovy. which makes such a Constn. reside. It resides not in a single state but in the people of each of the several states, uniting with those of the others in the express & solemn compact which forms the Constn. To the extent of that compact or Constitution therefore, the people of the several States must be a sovereign as they are a united people.”

    This makes crystal clear that James Madison–the architect of the United States Constitution–understood his creation to be a sovereign entity. One can try to argue “Madison was wrong,” but that flies in the face of basic logic. And so it stands: a sovereign entity by definition cannot be dissolved against its will. Therefore, secession was–is–unconstitutional. And so Kizer, Livingston, et al, either don’t understand the Constitution, or are misrepresenting the Constitution to achieve a prearranged result.

    • As I said in an earlier post, you and I will never agree on this issue. We come from two entirely different worldviews which can never be reconciled. Dr. Livingston, whom I know personally, has a very firm grasp of the Constitution. He is not necessarily wrong just because your view does not agree with his. You have the same view as Lincoln and from the research I have done over the years I can not at all agree with that. It seems that all you and I are doing is talking past one another and either of us trying to convince the other is fruitless.

      • Well, my goal is not to “talk past” anyone. What I am trying to do is engage your argument with a counter argument by bringing facts. Here, you’ve presented evidence, and I have dealt with that evidence, and provided a counter. In an exchange of ideas, I would expect to have my evidence countered with more evidence, as opposed to “We don’t agree.”

        And I don’t feel this is a matter of “worldviews,” but one of good history. Good history comes from viewing ALL the sources material and providing a compelling interpretation. Dr. Livingston’s interpretation is NOT compelling because he ignores key pieces of evidence. That is bad history.

        If my “worldview” was not supported by the facts, I would abandon that worldview; I would not retreat to ideology. That kind of reductionism is not interesting.

    • Christopher Shelley wrote:

      “The assertion is totally wrong. As I’ve shown–and no one has refuted was solid evidence–the ratification of the Constitution created a sovereign United States. And a sovereign cannot be divided against its will.”

      Ever heard of the “Declaration of Independence?” I believe it demonstrates that a Sovereign can most definitely be divided against it’s will.

      • This is another common misconception. Your premise is that the constituent parts of the British Empire–in this case, the American colonies–were each sovereign or somehow had sovereignty of their own. This premise is inaccurate. The fact is that the American colonies were not equal members of the empire–rather they were subjects of the empire. By definition (in the eighteenth century) the King was the sovereign. Moreover, the colonists themselves didn’t believe they were “seceding” from the Empire.

        By contrast, the American states after the Revolution were all equal, were all sovereign. But they partially submitted that sovereignty to the United States when they ratified. Even Patrick Henry understood that, as he argued in the Virginia ratifying convention.

        The American colonies were not actually sovereign, nor shared any sovereignty with the Empire. But that turned out to be the problem, right? They broke away in rebellion in order to become self-governing–to assert the true definition of sovereign.

  2. “The original 13 states formed a ‘Confederation’ under which each state retained its ‘sovereignty, freedom and independence’.” The Constitution didn’t change this; each sovereign state was free to reject the Constitution. The new powers of the federal government were ‘granted’ and ‘delegated’ by the states, which implies that the states were prior and superior to the federal government. Even in The Federalist, the brilliant propaganda papers for ratification of the Constitution…the United States are constantly referred to as ‘the Confederacy’ and a ‘confederate republic,’ as opposed to a single ‘consolidated’ or monolithic state. Members of ‘a confederacy’ are by definition free to withdraw from it.”

    Two things here: first, “Publius”, the author of the Federalist Papers (Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay), used the words “federal” and “confederate” in a very interchangeable way. So it is not wise to put too much stock in that.

    Second (and more important), the Constitution did indeed change the states’ sovereignty. That’s why the conventions that ratified the Constitution were NOT the states themselves, but rather the people of the states. The members were free to ratify and join the United States, or not–certainly, Rhode Island did not join at first. But once in, each state accepted that its sovereignty was diminished, and that it became an organic part of a larger whole. None of the writers you have cited seem to understand this basic point.

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  4. Joseph Sobran wrote:
    The original 13 states formed a “Confederation,” under which each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The Constitution didn’t change this; each sovereign state was free to reject the Constitution. The new powers of the federal government were “granted” and “delegated” by the states, which implies that the states were prior and superior to the federal government.

    

Even in The Federalist, the brilliant propaganda papers for ratification of the Constitution (largely written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison), the United States are constantly referred to as “the Confederacy” and “a confederate republic,” as opposed to a single “consolidated” or monolithic state. Members of a “confederacy” are by definition free to withdraw from it.”

    I’m not interested in hair-splitting arguments but I will just say, if the states could join the Union but could never be allowed to leave, what kind of ”freedom” would that represent?
    The Founding Fathers were very mindful of the fact that a government could cease to be legitimate when it no longer had the consent of the governed, and Jefferson and others mentioned the right and the duty to change the government.
    I write not to convince the above anti-secession commenter, but in case some neutral party is reading this. Read what the Founding Fathers said as well as what Southron leaders wrote. Both sides should be heard, not just one pro-Unionist ‘scholar.’

  5. Well, I did actually put up a link to Madison’s reflections on the Constitution and sovereignty above — http://www.constitution.org/jm/18341200_nullification.htm — and since he did draft the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, I would argue that he is the foremost of the Founders who was at the Convention in Philadelphia. So yes, by all means, read the Founders! But don’t stop with Madison; read Washington’s letters to Madison before the Convention, stating that they needed a truly sovereign gov’t that was NOT a creature of the states. Read Hamilton at the New York Ratifying Convention. And read the Supreme Court decisions that emphasize the sovereignty of the United States, and that the sovereignty of the states was altered the instant they joined the Union by ratifying. Do please. Just ask and I will be happy to provide you the links to read these amazing documents.

    And I write not to convince neo-Confederates who hate the North, the Union, Lincoln, and all that; I write for the neutral party who might read this and believe it is an accurate representation of history. With all due respect, it is not. My interpretation (which is not at all unique with me) is based on the facts, understood in context. In other words, I am anti-secession because that’s what the facts demonstrate, not because I want that to be so.

    Because that’s the bottom line: if Madison & Co. did create a sovereign gov’t, then there’s no debate, because by definition a sovereign can’t be chopped up against its will. If one does NOT agree with this, then they need to prove that the ratification did NOT create a sovereign U.S. And, put simply, they cannot.

    Now, did many Southerners believe they had a right to secede? Sure, absolutely, you bet, many of them did. But believing they did is very different from actually having that right.

  6. So based on Mr. Shelley’s argument, a people wishing to determine their own future and path, electing legislators who met in convention over secession and the will of the people (as the Southern States did) have no rights under the US Constitution. That makes the latter sound more like a Soviet style government production than a liberty protecting document. The 13 colonies seceded successfully from the Crown and during the WTBS, Lincoln allowed western Virginia to secede from Virginia or when Texas seceded from Mexico. Secession is a right of people’s who are determined to be self governed and break away from tyranny. It has happened for hundreds of years and most of time the US government supports it as was the recent successful secession of Southern Sudan- a Christian nation- from the Muslim northern Sudan. The US opposed Scottish independence because it differed with their “world view”. So the US government has always taken the side of secession when that is in its interests and all this theory regarding the intentions of the founders can be debated ad nausea-um. The founders had no idea or could never have imagined what the centralist Marxist driven minds would warp their creation into. Had they had the foresight to ponder what they would have laughed off as un-thinkable, they would have surely put in a clear exist clause for the Sovereign States lest many of them would not have signed up. The whole sales job of the constitution was to enable free commerce between the sovereigns and mutual protection from the British. I am sure none of those founders could have imagined the Leviathan that they were creating after just throwing off the yoke of British subjugation. It doesn’t pass the logic test that the founders would create exactly the same thing after they had just successfully seceded from via revolt which was a true civil war-a war between two sides to determine the form of their government. The War between the States does not pass the Civil War test as the South had left the compact and did not fight to change the way Washington’s government was to run. Surely the right of secession- being a inherent right of people- was so obvious to all it need not be spelled out in the constitution at all. Now centuries later we wish it had so folks like Mr. Shelley would not waste time trying to convince liberty minded Americans that the right of self determination is a waste of our time.

    • “So based on Mr. Shelley’s argument, a people wishing to determine their own future and path, electing legislators who met in convention over secession and the will of the people (as the Southern States did) have no rights under the US Constitution.”

      How do you figure? The Founders felt just the opposite when they created a sovereign United States. They understood that republican liberty could only be guaranteed with a strong federal government. It’s in all their writings, especially during the turbulent period between 1781 and 1787.

      “The 13 colonies seceded successfully from the Crown…”

      No, they did not secede, but rather invoked their natural rights (as per Locke) to the right of revolution. The Southern states did not invoke the right to revolution, because that would have meant invoking other natural rights, like the right to liberty. Slaveholders were too reactionary to do that.

      “Secession is a right of people’s who are determined to be self governed and break away from tyranny.”

      Again, you confuse secession in 1860 with the right to revolution in 1776. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right. That begs the question: What “tyranny” did Southern slaveholders face in 1860? How were they being oppressed in a way that would legitimize their revolutionary actions? Which of their sacred rights was being taken away by Lincoln? Answer: none. Therefore, their attempt at “revolution” was illegitimate under natural law (as well as the Constitution).

      “The founders had no idea or could never have imagined what the centralist Marxist driven minds would warp their creation into. Had they had the foresight to ponder what they would have laughed off as un-thinkable, they would have surely put in a clear exist clause for the Sovereign States lest many of them would not have signed up.”

      Perhaps, but they didn’t. They instead created a sovereign government. What happens after is a robust sovereign nation composed of smaller sovereign states that became the envy of the world. I’d say they did pretty well. The whole “Marxist” thing is a red herring. (Get it?)

      “Surely the right of secession- being a inherent right of people- was so obvious to all it need not be spelled out in the constitution at all.”

      No, that’s the whole point of the Constitution–it DID spell how to be self-governing. But secession means the opposite: once the losers of the election decide they don’t like the result, they can leave. That’s just not what democracy is. Notice I don’t pretend to speak for other nations’ secessionist issues (Scotland or Catalonia, for example). That’s not my topic.The creation of Great Britain or Spain is a completely different animal. My only point here is that the U.S. Constitution created an indissoluble, sovereign nation. And as such, it cannot be divided against its will. And that’s what Southern slaveholders attempted to do in 1860. And they were wrong.

      I’ve noticed that you manage to disparage my arguments with slurs like “Soviet” and “Marxist” without actually bringing any real evidence to dispel them.

      • An indissoluble, sovereign nation made up of smaller sovereign states? One or the other can be sovereign, but not both. You can argue that the Constitution removed the sovereignty of the states and union, once accepted, is perpetual or that the states remained sovereign and the union is voluntary, but you can’t have sovereign states held involuntarily in a union.

        ‘How were they being oppressed in a way that would legitimize their revolutionary actions? Which of their sacred rights was being taken away by Lincoln? ‘
        The same question could be put to the Revolution. What oppression or sacred rights were outlined in the Declaration of Independence as being violated? Taxes too high, not enough self government. I think the Confederate complaints measure up if that’s the yard stick.

  7. “An indissoluble, sovereign nation made up of smaller sovereign states? One or the other can be sovereign, but not both.”

    Yes, you can. That’s one of Madison’s contributions to modern political science. He expresses this idea of “divided sovereignty” (sometimes called “dual sovereignty”) in many places, including the link I’ve provided above. If rogerunited does not agree with the idea of divided sovereignty, his beef is with James Madison (aka, the Godfather of the Constitution), not with me.

    The complaints of the American Revolutionaries were that they were being tyrannized. That’s how they justified rebellion. The Southern slaveholding states’ chief complaint was that the newly-elected Republicans were hostile to slavery. That does not begin to approach “tyranny.”

  8. based on Mr. Shelly’s argument the collective controls the minority. We could suggest California pass 80% of the nations tax to relieve the rest of the nation that burden. That is what the northern States had done to the Southern States before the war. Southern States invoked their “natural rights” as did the colonists during the actual civil war against England. I do use the term Marxist because that was where Lincoln got his influence from and Mr. Shelly, you appear to allow that into your thought process. The US is no longer a Republic, it is a Socialist democracy now. We threw out the republic after the WBTS when they passed the 14th and finally the 17th amendment.

  9. “based on Mr. Shelly’s argument the collective controls the minority.”

    I don’t know what Mr. Carol means by “collective.” Small-d “democracy” does mean majority rule, minority rights. But no-one here has offered any hard evidence of what minority rights were threatened by Lincoln’s election. Your comment, “We could suggest California pass 80% of the nations tax to relieve the rest of the nation that burden. That is what the northern States had done to the Southern States before the war” is a mere assertion without a scrap of evidence.

    If you are referring to tariffs, that is a mere canard that has been dispelled many a time. Here is a cool graphic that shows the amount of tariff revenues collected at the nation’s major ports in 1859:

    Tariff01

    The data this graphic shows is readily available.

    In addition, the tariff issue barely came up during the secession debates. All one need do is look at the Declarations of Secession that South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, etc., to see that the #1 issue was slavery. Any mention of tariffs is is way down the line.

    Here’s South Carolina’s Declaration, for example: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp

    One of my favorite parts is this line:

    “This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.”

    In other words, Secessionists weren’t just mad at Northerners for saying bad things about slavery; they were furious that some Northern states had allowed free blacks the right to vote! So much for states’ rights.

    There nary a mention of tariffs here. One must assume that they understood why they were doing this thing, and chose to be clear about those reasons. To argue that the tariff was the reason for secession is to call the secessionists of SC liars.

  10. The following was written by Dr. Livingston who is an expert on these matters. I would advise Mr. Shelly to read his works. Donald W. Livingston, “The Secession Tradition in America,” in David Gordon, ed., Secession, State and Liberty, Transaction Publishers, 1998.

    First, the government of the United States in 1861 was not the government of a modern state. Rather, it was a central government of a federative union of states. It was endowed with only enumerated powers and these were delegated to it by sovereign states. The central government was the agent of those states, and the states were the principals in the federative compact. The states themselves were modern states; they had asserted this status in the Declaration of Independence, and had been recognized by the world as such. As modern states, they contained the usual legal prohibition against secession. A county cannot legally secede from an American state, but there is no such prohibition against a state exercising its federative power and withdrawing from the Union.

    To describe, as Lincoln did, Virginia and the other southern states as “domestic foes” threatening self-government and to be suppressed by war is not only a spectacular absurdity, it also reveals a hubristic impiety and moral blindness. The first self-governing assembly in the western hemisphere was founded in Virginia. More great statesmen and jurists had come from Virginia than any other state. The leadership of Virginia was crucial in winning the war with Britain, during the period of the Articles of Confederation, and in forming the Union. In her ordinance of ratification, Virginia as a sovereign state, asserted the right to secede, and affirmed this right for every other state. The man often called the “father of the Constitution,” James Madison, always described the Constitution as being a compact between sovereign states. In 1830, Madison could say that it was still not certain that the Union would work. By 1861, it was clear that the Union, as a voluntary association of independent political societies, had failed.

    What would the great Virginians, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, John Randolph, John Taylor, and “Lighthorse” Harry Lee have done? They all supported the Union, believed the Constitution was a compact between the states, and were Virginians first. So when the states of the deep South discussed secession, Virginia called a convention of the people to decide the question, and the convention voted firmly to stay in the Union. It was only after Lincoln had decided on war and called for troops that the convention reconvened and voted to secede. Madison had said in the Federalist that the central government could not coerce a state. To be sure that the will of the people was expressed, the judgment of the convention was put to the people of Virginia, who supported secession by a margin of five to one. Tennessee was also pro-Union, but, in a referendum of the voters, decided to secede by a margin of two to one after Lincoln’s decision to wage war. The pro-Union states of North Carolina and Arkansas seceded for the same reason.

    To treat, as Lincoln did, the peoples of entire states who had engaged in deliberate and legal acts of self-government as common criminals and as “domestic foes” aroused deep emotions of resentment and injustice that could be felt only by an American who had received with his mother’s milk the principle, framed in the Declaration of Independence, of the self-government of independent moral and political societies. As the case of Robert E. Lee makes clear, this feeling of resentment had nothing to do with slavery, an institution he thought was on its way to oblivion. It was this deeply felt American resentment that enabled the entire South, 85 percent of whom did not own slaves, to mobilize and to make spectacular sacrifices to keep out an invading army, the government of which was intent on destroying, and did destroy, the corporate liberty of their political societies. It was this sense of state honor that Hamilton had in mind when he said in the Federalist that the central government could never make war against an American state, and which he again asserted again before the New York State convention: “To coerce a state would be one of the maddest projects ever devised. No state would ever suffer itself to be used as the instrument of coercing another.” One cannot imagine the great Virginians of his time disagreeing.

    Now if “slavery” were the only issue, why bother to secede at all? It was legal! Furthermore, the Corwin amendment allowed it to continue into perpetuity, why not sign that? Or, during Hampton Roads in Feb 1865 2 months before the surrender, why not take Lincoln’s offer to keep slaves in return to re-joining the Union? Slavery is the real red herring in the debate and liberals often roll that out when backed up into a corner. While were at it, why didn’t the Confederate government ever surrender? Why was no-one therefore tried for treason? Because they would have lost in court what they won on the battlefield, that is according to Salmon Chase, the Supreme Court justice who had advised dis-honest Abe not to go after the Confederate leaders after the war was won.

  11. Kevin Carroll writes: The following was written by Dr. Livingston who is an expert on these matters. I would advise Mr. Shelly to read his works. Donald W. Livingston, “The Secession Tradition in America,” in David Gordon, ed., Secession, State and Liberty, Transaction Publishers, 1998.

    First, the government of the United States in 1861 was not the government of a modern state. Rather, it was a central government of a federative union of states. It was endowed with only enumerated powers and these were delegated to it by sovereign states. The central government was the agent of those states, and the states were the principals in the federative compact. The states themselves were modern states; they had asserted this status in the Declaration of Independence, and had been recognized by the world as such. As modern states, they contained the usual legal prohibition against secession. A county cannot legally secede from an American state, but there is no such prohibition against a state exercising its federative power and withdrawing from the Union.

    We have gone over this. I made an assertion— that the Constitution established a sovereign government—and then provided actual evidence. Madison’s quotes seem more than enough, but I could provide many other sources. Livingston makes assertions, but he provides no evidence at all. Insisting a thing is so does not make a thing so. The instant someone can show me that a sovereign entity can be divided against its will, I will concede and shut up. But no-one has.

    To describe, as Lincoln did, Virginia and the other southern states as “domestic foes” threatening self-government and to be suppressed by war is not only a spectacular absurdity, it also reveals a hubristic impiety and moral blindness.

    Simply put, Lincoln did not refer to Virginia, or any of the states, as “domestic foes.” Livingston pulls the quote out of context to achieve the result he desires. Here is the full quote, from Lincoln’s message to Congress in July of 1961:

    And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy—a government of the people by the same people—can or can not maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration according to organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask, Is there in all republics this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence? [My emphasis]

    The sentence immediately following “domestic foes” show clearly Lincoln is referring to individuals who are trying to break up the government. This is the sort of distortion I find in almost all of Livingston’s writing on Lincoln. When anyone does this kind of thing consistently, it destroys their credibility.

    In her ordinance of ratification, Virginia as a sovereign state, asserted the right to secede, and affirmed this right for every other state.

    No. This is demonstrably false. None of the state conventions reserved a right to secede. The historical record makes this crystal clear.

    The man often called the “father of the Constitution,” James Madison, always described the Constitution as being a compact between sovereign states.

    Yes, but he also referred to the compact as between the people of the states. The word “compact” was picked up by John C. Calhoun who defined it for his own purposes. But just the notion of posing James Madison as favoring a right of secession is ludicrous. Anyone who asserts that simply hasn’t spent enough time reading Madison, and is guilty of parsing JM’s words to get the desired result.

    What would the great Virginians, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, John Randolph, John Taylor, and “Lighthorse” Harry Lee have done? They all supported the Union, believed the Constitution was a compact between the states, and were Virginians first.

    Yet another completely unsubstantiated claim. Washington, most of all, wanted a strong national government.

    I fear I don’t have time to deconstruct the rest of Livingston here. But I thank you for reminding me of his mendacious work. His article http://mises.org/daily/6374/Lincoln's-Inversion-of-the-American-Union that you pulled these quotes from will make an excellent fodder for several posts on my own blog, True Blue Federalist http://junehog.com. But here is the bit about slavery:

    Now if “slavery” were the only issue, why bother to secede at all? It was legal! Furthermore, the Corwin amendment allowed it to continue into perpetuity, why not sign that? Or, during Hampton Roads in Feb 1865 2 months before the surrender, why not take Lincoln’s offer to keep slaves in return to re-joining the Union? Slavery is the real red herring in the debate and liberals often roll that out when backed up into a corner.

    “Slavery was legal” misses the entire point, and ignores all of the politics and rhetoric of the 1850s and the secessionist conventions and declarations of 1860 and ’61. Here is the short version of why slavery caused the Civil War:

    The Southern slaveholding states felt that Lincoln’s election in 1860 was a threat to slavery. They felt this because of the Republican platform which stated that slavery would be restricted from the territories. Lincoln never claimed to have any power or jurisdiction over slavery where it existed, but he did claim that the nation could and should keep slavery from spreading into the territories. Southern slaveholders understood that if slavery didn’t expand, it would die. Because of this perceived threat, seven states of the Deep South seceded from the Union. After this new “Confederates States of America” fired on Ft. Sumter, Lincoln called for volunteers to put down what he (rightly) saw as an insurrection. This provoked four more states to join the new Confederacy.

    These Southern slaveholding states asserted an alleged right to peacefully secede from the United States, while Lincoln maintained that the Union was perpetual and no state could unilaterally secede. Thus, both sides could technically claim that the war was not over slavery.

    So you see the Corwin amendment didn’t matter. The Corwin amendment stated that slavery could never be touched where it existed by the federal government—which, again, was Lincoln’s avowed position. But the real issue was slavery’s expansion. That is why Southern slaveholders refused to find the Corwin amendment an acceptable solution.

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