One might be asking why I spend so much time ranting and raving over an event that happened over 150 years ago. Why does Neal care so much about whether people believe the Civil War was fought over slavery or whether they believe it was fought over the price of chewing gum in China? There are a couple of reasons; first and foremost is the fact that I think the truth is important. Unfortunately, I seem to be among a small minority who care about the truth.
Secondly, I am sick and tired of people gallivanting about proclaiming that something offends them, and use their being offended as justification for silencing those who hold a differing belief on any number of subjects. If you silence the voice of one individual, or prevent one person from expressing their beliefs you have violated the very premise for which the 1st Amendment was written; the complete and absolute freedom of speech and expression.
So, although slavery itself was an abomination and a crime against humanity, it is important that people realize that slavery itself was not the cause which led the North and South to go to war against each other. Had Lincoln just said, “Go in peace. We wish you well” and left the Confederacy alone there would have been no war and more than half a million people would not have perished; not to mention the cost of the devastation wrought upon the South both during and after that war.
Although those two things alone ought to be sufficient to justify my incessant harping on the Civil War, there is one other thing which makes it imperative that I attempt to set the record straight with facts; that being that the outcome of the Civil War forever altered the relationship between State and federal authority.
This is why an understanding, not only the history of the Civil War, but the history of our nation’s founding is so vitally important. You cannot understand the cost of Lincoln’s war against secession without also understanding the initial arguments against the ratification of our Constitution; as the two are inexorably linked.
To understand what the defeat of the Confederacy meant to the nation as a whole you must first understand the idea of sovereignty and where it truly resides in America. Sovereignty is the supreme political authority in a body politic; it is the source of all political authority in a nation or a State.
In America that authority has but one source, the people who inhabit this country. Whatever political power which exists in government is only due to the fact that the people have ceded a portion of their sovereignty; and by express grant, (i.e. a written Constitution), given government the power to act on behalf of those it represents.
In one of the earliest Supreme Court cases, Chief Justice John Jay ruled, “…at the Revolution, the sovereignty devolved on the people, and they are truly the sovereigns of the country…” Prior to the War for Independence the sovereignty belonged to the King of England. Once we obtained our independence that sovereignty was restored to the people, and it is from that sovereignty that men, acting together, constitute systems of government to act on their behalf.
As men created government in America, men also defined the shape that government shall take and the specific powers it shall wield.
Even Alexander Hamilton, who believed in a much stronger government than did men like Jefferson and Madison, stated, “There is no position which depends on clearer principles than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this would be to affirm that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves.” (Source: Federalist 78)
The obvious question then is this: In founding our system of government did the drafters of the Constitution perpetuate a Confederacy of sovereign States with a centralized form of government, or did they create a Consolidation of the States into a single entity, (a Union) which was governed by a centralized government?
This question was of such concern to Patrick Henry that he voiced his concern over it by saying, “I rose yesterday to ask a question which arose in my own mind. When I asked that question, I thought the meaning of my interrogation was obvious: The fate of this question and of America may depend on this: Have they said, we, the States? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation: It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, Sir, on that poor little thing-the expression, We, the people, instead of the States, of America.”
In a confederation the States retain all power and authority which is not expressly granted the central government by a written Constitution. Evidence would lead one to conclude that this country was to retain some semblance of a Confederation with the States retaining much of their independence and sovereignty; with the powers given the central government being few and defined, while those remaining with the States were wide ranging and more directly applicable to the lives of the people.
This argument is supported by the fact that before our Constitution was agreed to by some the promise of a Bill of Rights was given to ensure its ratification. The tenth of these amendments to the Constitution states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
This argument was also affirmed by Madison in Federalist 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.
The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”
In a confederation the bodies which make up that confederation are the sources of all political authority; the sovereigns. If a body of government created by those sovereigns becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, those sovereigns have every right to either sever their ties to the Confederation, or to join together with the other sovereigns and alter or abolish that form of government.
In talking about the Civil War one must ask, by what right did Abraham Lincoln use force to compel the Southern States into adhering to the Union? Lincoln had no more right to demand that the South remain in the Union than would Costco or Sam’s Club demand that someone remain a member of their store. Lincoln served as the President of a government created by an act of the true sovereigns in this country, and nothing more. He could not tell the sovereigns that they must continue to submit to the will of the government of which he was at the head of; it simply was not within his authority to do so.
Secession was considered by many, if not all, to be a right of each State to exercise should it deem the actions of the central government harmful to their internal security or peace. Many State Constitutions had clauses written into them which declared that if the federal government overstepped its just authority the States had the right to sever their ties to the Union.
During the War of 1812 there was talk in some Northern States of secession over the policies of the Madison administration. Even though they did not actually pass any declarations of secession, the fact is that the idea of secession was widely held to be within the authority of a State to exercise should they deem it necessary for their peace and security.
After the Civil War ended why were none of the leaders of the Confederacy brought to trial if secession was indeed a crime? Could it be because the fact that their having seceded would have been found to be based upon accepted legal principles; thereby condemning the North? In 1867 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon Chase, basically stated that to be the case, “If you bring these [Confederate] leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion.”
Apart from the horrific loss of life caused by the Civil War, and the complete and utter destruction of entire segments of the South, the Civil War caused lasting damage to the idea that our federal government can be restrained by the States. The defeat of the Confederacy was the last remaining obstacle in freeing the shackles which had, for so long, bound the government to the limits imposed upon it by the framers of the Constitution.
An argument could be made that the day the South lost the Civil War America ceased being a republic and became a democracy. Instead of the rule of law, (i.e. the Constitution), being the deciding factor in what powers the federal government has in regards to what laws it passes, now the only thing needed was the support of a majority of the people, or of the States to pass any and all manner of laws which violate the rights of the minority.
The federal government, under Abraham Lincoln, basically told the States, and the people for that matter, “We are the sovereigns in this country. You will do as we say or we will use force to compel your obedience.”
Look at our government today and how it bullies both the people and the States. If a State chooses not to obey federal mandates the government simply threatens them by saying, “Obey us or we will cut off all federal funds to your State.” If the people believe a federal law to be unjust and they resist it, all manner of federal ‘law enforcers’ descend upon them to force their obedience to federal dictates. Sadly, more often than not local law enforcement also join forces with these federal enforcers; giving the people little hope of defending their rights or their property against all manner of oppression.
The loss of the Confederacy also saw the unconstitutional ratification of the 14th Amendment; as the seceded Southern States were forced to ratify it before their constitutionally guaranteed right of representation in Congress was restored to them. Under the umbrella of the 14th Amendment all manner of federal law now applies to the States; further diminishing State Sovereignty.
On June 5, 1788 Patrick Henry warned of the danger of accepting the, at that time, proposed Constitution, “Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case?”
On April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, our nation saw Patrick Henry’s worst fears come to pass; the sovereignty of the States died along with the Confederacy. Yet that spirit still lives on in some, and you can’t take that from us lest you take our lives.
The Civil War was, for all intents and purposes, America’s second war for independence. The history books teach our children that it was fought to end the evil institution of slavery, and the people believe it in droves; but that is not the case. As Woodrow Wilson wrote in his book A History of the American People, “It was necessary to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery…and the world, it might be hoped, would see it as a moral war, not a political; and the sympathy of nations would begin to run for the North, not for the South.”
That is why I endlessly harp over the Civil War and the lies you have been taught in regards to it. It was with the defeat of the Confederacy which ushered in a complete reversal of roles; with our the States and people losing their positions as sovereigns and surrendering that position to the federal government; forever becoming slaves to that government.
It has all been downhill ever since; and this is true whether government is run by a Republican or a Democratic majority; the people and the States still lose.
The legacy of Abraham Lincoln should not be that he abolished slavery; rather Lincoln should be looked upon as the president who killed State’s Rights and forever ended the concept of a free American Republic based upon the rule of law.