“Might does not make right! Right makes right!”
We are taught in school that due to the fact that the North won the Civil War, keeping the Union intact, that the question of whether a State had the right to withdraw, or secede, from the Union was settled once and for all. Let me ask you something: If someone bigger and stronger than you comes along and beats you to within an inch of your life, are they justified in doing so simply because you lost the fight?
So, to begin our discussion I think it best we start by asking ourselves what a ‘union’ is. Most of the definition’s you’ll find state that a union is the joining, or consolidating of things into a single entity. For instance, a marriage is a form of a union; two single people becoming a family. But to keep this simple, let’s see how Merriam Webster’s defines the word union, as it applies to political entities:
2: something that is made one : something formed by a combining or coalition of parts or members: such as
a : a confederation of independent individuals (such as nations or persons) for some common purpose
b (1): a political unit constituting an organic whole formed usually from units which were previously governed separately (such as England and Scotland in 1707) and which have surrendered or delegated their principal powers to the government of the whole or to a newly created government (such as the U.S. in 1789)
It may not seem important, but this begs the question of what was the United States prior to, and then after the adoption of the Constitution? It’s interesting that, prior to the adoption of the Constitution we were considered to be a ‘union’ but we were not consolidated into a single political entity; the full title of the Articles of Confederation was, The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
The thing about the Articles of Confederation is, that even though we were considered a ‘union’ each State was still sovereign and independent, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” (Article II)
So since they were sovereign and independent, the only way this ‘union’ they were speaking of could come about was if the independent States agreed to form it. Think about it, if the Articles of Confederation established our first system of government, someone had to create that system of government; it didn’t just up and create itself. It’s as Thomas Paine explains in his book, The Rights of Man, “The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.”
Now this may not have crossed your minds, but that’s probably because my mind works differently than the minds of a lot of other people; but the fact that we may, or may not be a perpetual union does not necessarily mean that the government has anything to do with that. What I mean by that is that this so-called Union was something the States created to mutually assist and benefit each other, and the government was merely the entity they created to perform that function.
So, when the Constitution came along and created a more perfect union, (heavy dose of sarcasm required when reading that), what exactly where they talking about? By that I mean were they talking about making a more perfect union between the States, or were they talking about making a more perfect system of government for the union of States; and that last part is highly questionable.
In opposing the proposed Constitution many of those we call Anti-Federalists questioned whether the proposed document left the States independent and sovereign, or if it consolidated them into a single entity under a centralized form of government. Patrick Henry based his query on the matter as follows: 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.
The thing about it is, regardless of whether our existing system of government was created by an act of the States, or by an act of the people in general, it was a creation of one or the other; therefore it is subordinate to the will of its creators. As such, the government cannot tell those who created it that they must submit for all eternity to its authority; since whatever authority it has was delegated to it by those who created it. To believe otherwise is like saying you might choose to hire a yard cleaning service, and when you decide you no longer want to utilize their services they can use force against you to make you keep using those services; it’s ludicrous.
To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of government is to secure the blessings of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and whenever government no longer serves that purpose it is the right of the people to get rid of their existing form of government and create a new one, a better one, that will serve that purpose. Now by now I would hope that most of the people reading these commentaries are aware that Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Why do I mention that? Well it’s simple, because when Jefferson was elected to be our 3rd President under the Constitution he said, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” (Source: Jefferson’s 1st Inaugural Address)
Why would the author of the Declaration of Independence mention, let alone support the idea that the Union could, or should be dissolved? To answer that one must understand that the election that saw Jefferson become president was highly contested; one of the most contested in our country’s history.
By the time the election of 1800 rolled around the two-party paradigm, although they went by different names back then, had become pretty firmly entrenched. There were those who aligned themselves under the philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, who believed that the constitution should be loosely construed so as to allow government to interpret its own powers. Both George Washington and John Adams were proponents of that philosophy, and when Jefferson began gaining support for the presidency, all that they had worked for was suddenly threatened by the Jeffersonian.
So, in that period when the beliefs and philosophy of the Federalists were threatened by a Jefferson presidency, Timothy Pickering, of Massachusetts, led a movement calling for secession from the Union; simply because he did not agree with the policies of Thomas Jefferson.
Even before all that happened, 3 U.S. Senators met in a committee room away from the floor of the Senate, with the topic of discussion being a peaceful division of the Union into two separate and distinct political entities.
In 1794, Senator John Taylor, of Caroline, was accosted by Senator Rufus King and asked if he could have a moment to discuss an issue of great importance. After retiring to the committee room they were soon joined by Oliver Ellsworth. King and Ellsworth were Northerners, and Taylor was from the South; and it was King and Ellsworth who proposed that the Union be divided in two; even giving Taylor the option of choosing the division line demarking the split.
King and Ellsworth both felt that a peaceful division of the Union was preferable to the other option; a violent split between the two segments that held differing beliefs as to what powers government should be allowed to exercise. King’s exact wording was, “…that a dissolution of the Union was the only cure for the present irreconcilable political dissensions.”
So here we have two instances where Northerners had broached the topic of seceding, or dissolving the Union. Although nothing became of these talks, it proves that the idea that the Union was to remain perpetual is, at best, absurd. Yet when the South actually did what others had only spoken of before, the government, more specifically, Abraham Lincoln said, “Wait a minute there, what do you Southerners think you’re doing, dissolving the Union? You can’t do that, and if you try I’m gonna invade you and force you to remain in the Union against your will.”
If the Union truly was a voluntary compact between either the people, or the States, then by what authority did Lincoln, (as head of the government created to SERVE the people and the States) to tell them that they cannot withdraw from a compact made amongst each other?
Does it matter whether the reason the Southern States chose to secede was slavery, tariffs, or the price of a can of beer for that matter? No, it doesn’t, for even Jefferson said that the right of the people to dissolve the Union may be based upon the error of opinions. So, even if they were wrong in their reasons for doing so, (which I don’t believe they were), they had the right to separate from the Union and form one of their own.
In the early years of the Civil War Lincoln repeatedly mentioned that he was not fighting to end slavery; a fact that no matter how much evidence one provides, people seem unwilling to accept. Lincoln said so in his Inaugural Address in 1861, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He then reiterated that sentiment in an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”
However there is a key passage in that letter that people might skip over, so I’d like to take a moment to draw your attention to it. Lincoln states, “The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” So, was Lincoln seeking to preserve the Union for the benefit of its component parts, or was he seeking to preserve the Union so that the federal government could maintain authority and jurisdiction OVER its component parts? That is what we should truly be asking ourselves when we discuss the Civil War.
My position, or thoughts on this are reinforced by the words of Abraham Lincoln himself, taken from his Inaugural Address, “In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”
Lincoln clearly states that his reason for using force against the seceded States was to preserve the national authority; to possess those things BELONGING to the GOVERNMENT of the United States; and to collect the duties and imposts owed to the GOVERNMENT of the United States. Lincoln was basically saying, “You guys may have created the federal government 70 some odd years ago, but once you did you became OUR possession; you belong to us; all your property, your income, and your people; and you cannot EVER sever that bond.”
Off the top of my head I can’t recall where I read it, but I know for a fact that at some point during his presidency Lincoln said that the South, if it were allowed to secede, would destroy the federal government; or words to that effect. That simply is not true; the federal government would have continued to exist had the South been allowed to peacefully secede. The only thing that would have changed is that its source of income, or revenue would have dried up overnight and Lincoln would have had to begin imposing taxes upon those who elected him to office; instead of plundering the South of its wealth.
Secession is a lot like divorce, it can either be peaceful or it can be highly fought over, but in both instances the parties involved go on existing; neither one threatens to destroy the other; which is what Lincoln claimed would happen should the South be allowed to secede.
Twenty years before the outbreak of the Civil War a Supreme Court Justice, Abel Upshur wrote a book on the Constitution in which he stated, “The Seceder asserts only that a State is competent to withdraw from the union whenever it pleases; but it does not assert that in doing so it can repeal, or abrogate or suspend the Constitution, as to the other states. Secession would, indeed, utterly destroy the compact as to the seceding party; but would not necessarily affect its obligation as to the rest.”
Even Lincoln himself declared that any segment of a country could separate from its system of government, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, most sacred right- a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to excercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own, of so much territory as the inhabit.” (Source: Lincoln’s War With Mexico Speech, Congress, 1848)
I guess old ‘Honest’ Abe swallowed his words and did what most politicians do, flip flopped on their position, when political need, or expediency called for it; meaning that he lied and changed his opinion when holding to his previous position would have caused him problems in his new job as president.
The ‘union’ was created by either the will of the people, or that of the States, and it is not the place, or within the power of the government to tell us that the union must remain for all time. This document we call the Constitution was written and ratified by men who lived over 200 years ago; can their will bind us forever to a system that we have not given our explicit consent to?
Jefferson felt that the will of one generation could not bind another, let alone people yet to be born, “The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. … I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, “that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;” that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.” (Source: Letter to James Madison, Sept. 6, 1789)
Thomas Paine said something similar, “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the “end of time,” or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore all such clauses, acts or declarations by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void. Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the age and generations which preceded it.” (Source: The Rights of Man, 1791)
Lysander Spooner said basically the same thing AFTER the Civil War had been fought, “And yet we have what purports, or professes, or is claimed, to be a contract—the Constitution—made eighty years ago, by men who are now all dead, and who never had any power to bind us, but which (it is claimed) has nevertheless bound three generations of men, consisting of many millions, and which (it is claimed) will be binding upon all the millions that are to come; but which nobody ever signed, sealed, delivered, witnessed, or acknowledged; and which few persons, compared with the whole number that are claimed to be bound by it, have ever read, or even seen, or ever will read, or see.” (Source: No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, 1870)
When you have a government that was originally established by the will of either the people, or the States, that then later tells its creators that they cannot abolish it, or sever the bonds that tie them to it, you have a tyranny. Anyone, be it a government or a playground bully who seeks to use force against others to get their way, is a tyrant. Hell, the definition for terrorism quite clearly proves that our government, not some guys living in caves, or herding goats, fits the description. Here, see for yourself, this is how terrorism is defined: the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.
If our government, or your government, for I don’t claim it as MY government, enacts a law which exceeds its constitutionally delegated authority; if it enacts a law that violates my rights; if it imposes taxes upon me for the purpose of giving my money to others, or to fund programs that are constitutionally null and void from the get-go, and if I resist, they will use force against me; which makes your government a terrorist organization by definition.
Americans are very good at pointing out human rights violations in other countries, by other systems of government against their people. Yet they suddenly become blind when it comes to the violations of their rights by their system of government. Even worse, they bitch and moan when those belonging to the ‘other’ party do things they believe violate their rights, or are unconstitutional; yet when their party does the same things, or worse, they remain silent about it.
The point I’m trying to make with all this has nothing to do with the Civil War. What I’m trying to get across is that we created our government, we created the Union and the government was established to serve those who created it, not make slaves out of them.
So you have a choice; you can either remain subjects of a system of government that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about securing and defending your liberty, or you can pull your heads out of your ass, stop supporting it, and start reasserting your liberty. If enough people did that we wouldn’t need a revolution; government couldn’t arrest or kill all of us; who would pay the bills if it did?
In closing I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts from Thomas Paine’s American Crisis Letters, I hope that you’ll find them as inspiring as I do:
‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to “bind me in all cases whatsoever” to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man.