Was/Is Secession Constitutional?

Please don’t hold your breath for an answer to this question.  To be honest, I don’t really have any interest in debating it nor do I really care whether secession was/is constitutional.  I suspect that apart from law school classes our answers to this question as both a historical and present proposition is largely determined by whether one believes that secession is necessary to correct some social or political problem.  While I certainly see plenty of social and political problems that need to be dealt with, at this point it seems to me that they can be best addressed within our present constitutional framework.

I’ve always found the passionate identification with those white southerners who advocated Southern nationalism and secession in the years leading up to the Civil War to be disingenuous or at least open to scrutiny on a number of counts.  In certain circles the question is debated in the abstract, but what I find troubling about the way I see many people play this game is the tendency to place themselves in a direct line to specific historical actors.  They play the role of rightful inheritors of a certain argument or movement and in the process blur the distinction between the present and the past: In short, “What was their fight is our fight.”

Of course, the cost of such a close identification is almost always an understanding of the complexity of the relevant past.  In this case we lose sight of southern unionism. We often mistakenly equate the Confederacy with the South and Southern nationalism is understood as an all or nothing proposition.  The list goes on.  The bigger problem as I see it, however, is the tendency to treat the arguments for secession in 1860-61 in a vacuum.  We end up embracing what we assume was inevitable without having to concern ourselves with the fact that these ideas/beliefs/ideology were part of a lived history filled with doubt and conflict.

Paul Quigley brilliantly explores this in his new book, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865:

Throughout the 1850s, and into the secession winter of 1860-61, the majority of white southerners clung to the Union.  They were proud American nationalists who regularly and easily enumerated the benefits of belonging to what they saw as the best country in the world.  Yet maintaining their attachment to the Union became increasingly difficult, beginning with the sectional discord of 1846-51 and continuing through the Kansas affair,  John Brown’s Raid, and finally the secession crisis of 1860-61.  Nationalism became problematic for white southerners.  It provoked increasing debate and uncertainty, not only in the formal politics of Washington, D.C., and the various state capitals, but also within local communities, families and even individuals. (p. 88)

Of course, the difficulties of maintaining those bonds of affection for the nation centered around the debates on the expansion of slavery as well as the future of the institution in the places where it already existed.  It’s no surprise that those who identify most closely with white southerners during the secession crisis continue to insist that slavery was not the central issue on which these debates turned.  Yancey, Rhett, and the rest of the gang would be the first to disagree, but that is not the only element of the debate that is lost and it may not even be the most important:

Southerners actively engaged with these issues, thinking carefully and arguing passionately about the underlying concepts of nationalism, citizenship, union, and disunion.  They wove these concepts into the fabric of their lives and personal identities, employing the language of affection and the metaphor of romance, for instance, to contemplate their shifting attachments to the Union, to their northern compatriots, to their region, and to their states.  For many southerners, the bonds of sympathy and affection that were supposed to join them to northerners in a harmonious national community were disintegrating, jeopardizing the value of American nationalism itself. (p. 88)

I agree with the popular narrative that suggests that one of the things Americans inherited from the Civil War generation is the question of the proper relationship between the federal government and the individual states, but that is an abstract question that can be explored in relationship to any number of events in American history.  What Quigley reminds us of is that the substance of this specific debate in all of its manifestations on the personal, local, and national levels is not ours.  We are not living their personal and collective narratives.  Here is what I take to be Quigley’s crucial observation:

In the years preceding secession, white southerners felt the “pinch” of the Union as membership in the United States came to be seen more of a liability than a benefit.  This was not a straight road, and the final outcome of an independent Southern Confederacy was by no means preordainedNor was it an easy journey: reevaluating their connections to northerners and to the United States generated no small measure of sorrow, ambivalence, and friction among white southerners.  Nationalism, citizenship, allegiance–these were becoming ever more important, ever more complicated, ever more painful issues in the antebellum South. (p. 88)

What I like about this passage is that while we may have a deep need to know and identify with our past it is also important to observe and attempt to understand it from a healthy distance.  Failure to do so runs the risk of embracing the outcome without any understanding of the broad spectrum of stories of how specific individuals arrived at their positions, why their beliefs changed over time, and an appreciation for the uncertainty and fear that was present throughout.  We are unlikely to get any closer to these answers or an appreciation of the times in which they lived as long as we approach the study of history in a way that simply satisfies our own needs and agendas.

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

145 comments… add one
  • Tom Logue Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:38

    Did the people in our country think secession was legal? I think they did, but it was close and confusing to them. One final fact: no one who seceded was ever prosecuted. Even President Davis and Vice President Stevens, who were arrested, and who obviously broke their oath to the U.S.A. as senator and congressman respectively, were never prosecuted.

    This makes me think that most people at the time had some doubts about whether what they did was actually that illegal. I think most people thought it was wrong. But not really illegal, because of our own manner of gaining independence and because of the popular support of how Texas gained its independence.

    • Tom Logue Jan 2, 2012 @ 16:25

      Opps. I meant to say that the majority felt that secession was illegal, but that people were conflicted on this point. Most certainly thought it was wrong to lose an election and then secede.

    • Ray O'Hara Jan 2, 2012 @ 17:37

      The Union did not prosecute after the war not because they feared any adverse court result, but because they wanted to put the war behind them and move on. It irks me to no end that the fact the Union chose to show mercy and magnanimity is routinely used as an excuse that maybe the South had a case.
      There was a case that addressed secession, Texas v White which found secession illegal. it was post war though and not available for cite prewar.

      • Michael C. Lucas Jan 3, 2012 @ 4:49

        What Mercy?

        • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2012 @ 4:57

          I will leave it to the two of you to answer the question in the abstract. That said, it is safe to say that Frederick Douglass believed that the former Confederate states were shown a great deal of mercy.

        • Ray O'Hara Jan 3, 2012 @ 7:34

          What mercy? Oh I’d say the complete lack of trials for treason followed by hangings. The fact Whites got to keep their land and social position, the only lost “property” was the slave..
          quick rehabilitation of former rebels such as ex-Confederates being allowed to assume political office, John B Gordon was made Senator in 1873 and he was Governor of Ga by 1879. and he was hardly unique nor was he an apostate who joined the Republican Party such as Longstreet or Mosby.

        • Margaret D. Blough Jan 3, 2012 @ 12:41

          If Robert E. Lee had been a British officer who, although he had sworn allegiance to the Hanoverian kings of the UK, had gone over to the Jacobites in either of the two Jacobite rebellions and then led a Jacobite army against the Hanoverian forces, mercy, if he had surrendered, would have been beheading rather than one of the more gruesome forms of execution. If he had been lucky, he might have had the opportunity to flee and live in exile in a foreign land for the rest of his life. In reality, he didn’t spend a minute in prison. He was allowed to live a dignified and honorable life as a college president.

  • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 10:18

    “Please don’t hold your breath for an answer to this question. To be honest, I don’t really have any interest in debating it nor do I really care whether secession was/is constitutional.” If you don’t have any interest who cares what you think? You contradicted yourself which is a constant. Your additional post proves that! If you didn’t want a debate you wouldn’t have created a Blog. The real intent is to perpetuate hate against Confederate Americans, to perpetuate the ideology that secession was wrong, if it was wrong so was the Revolution. If it was wrong then so is U.S. support of other nations who have gone through the same sociopolitical changes. Its hypocritical to pronounce it was wrong for the Confederate States and support it for other nations. Freedom is a Natural Right, well it was natural right for the Confederacy to seek its independence. Since their freedom to share in the life, liberty, and pursuits of happiness, which they had thus shared in creating, were being disenfranchised from them sharing equally in. Oh and yes history repeats itself because,“What was their fight is our fight.” The issues may change but the cause is the same, conflict of interests over the power to decide ones fate vs. another to dictate it. That is what secession was over, that was the cause of the war, that is what it remains to be.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 10:25

      Mr Lucas,

      I find it funny that you would assume to speak for me on all of these issues, but I guess that is reflective of someone who is both insecure and not fully in command of the facts.

      The Americans in 1776 did not engage in secession; rather they waged a Revolution against the King and the British government. Finally, thanks for providing the perfect case study for this post.

    • Roger E Watson Jan 2, 2012 @ 10:31

      “Freedom is a Natural Right, ….” Ah, yes Mr. Lucas but not for the slaves the confederacy attempted to keep in chains !

      • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 11:29

        A slaves natural right was to be a slave until either they were manumitted by law, by the owner, or by their own will or means. Not by people who presumed to believe they should be because they dictated it, who willingly went to war to subjugate others for their own self interest. The Republican and Abolitionists ideology, in that sense makes them no less guilty of the inhumanity of subjugation. Slavery would and could not have been maintained as it had been. Their were thousands of free blacks in the south. If 4 million had wanted to be free they could have determined that fate for themselves, thousands did, but millions had not. We cannot apply western thought to understanding African Slavery it is a complex inherent human issue, one that humanity has to accept as inherent as war, as our needs dictate for humanity to survive. A study of your life would acknowledge you have been both master and slave within your own existence. Slavery still exist though for the most part it has been made illegal, the black market trade continues. It even exist legally bound through contracts as well as other means even in the United States. Humanities inhumanity to others, as we know it has not ceased to exist, that war is perpetual.

        • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 11:37

          This is so incredibly confused I don’t really know where to begin. OK, how about the first sentence:

          A slaves natural right was to be a slave until either they were manumitted by law, by the owner, or by their own will or means.

          Now that is convenient. So Davis, Stephens and the rest of the gang had a natural right to engage in Revolution or secession (you are apparently confused by the difference) but a slave must wait for the good graces of his owner or some law.

          Slavery would and could not have been maintained as it had been.

          If you bothered to read anything at all you would see that this claim is simply false.

          We cannot apply western thought to understanding African Slavery it is a complex inherent human issue, one that humanity has to accept as inherent as war, as our needs dictate for humanity to survive.

          I assume we are talking about antebellum slavery, which by then had evolved into a specifically American institution. How many slaves living in 1860 remembered Africa?

          Look, I am sure that you are well liked and even respected at the SHPG, but I suspect it is because of the way you handle people who disagree with you or who actually demonstrate some understanding of the relevant history. While that may help to win you fans on that site I doubt it’s going to impress anyone here. With all due respect, do some reading.

          • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 11:57

            Kevin you left out “by their own will or means”. Sorry your confused!

            History is filled with documentation where war was unnecessary during in the emancipation of African Slaves.

            “We cannot apply western thought to understanding African Slavery it is a complex inherent human issue, one that humanity has to accept as inherent as war, as our needs dictate for humanity to survive.” This is in regards to African Slavery period. But, knowing you don’t understand it substantiates your lack of reasoning.

            If I need fans, all I have to do is disagree with you!

            As for reading you should heed your own advice, be open minded that not everything is as it appears to you.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:01

              What African slaves are you talking about? By 1860 the vast majority had been born in the United States. They were American slaves.

              If I need fans, all I have to do is disagree with you!

              That is probably the most accurate point you’ve made today. LOL

              • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:39

                Actually I can’t say for sure where the largest population of African Slaves were, logically most likely still in Africa. Consider that African Slavery was born of its own institution and wasn’t solely a phenomenon in the West indies and Americas. The semantics that they were “American Slaves” is only a small portion of their existence. Slaves in the Caribbean or South America were no less American it was a triangle trade. African Slavery was spread throughout the very continent, across North Africa and as far as Asia. Slavery itself, particularly African slavery, human trafficking, was and remains a world issue. When I speak of it as “We cannot apply western thought to understanding African Slavery it is a complex inherent human issue, one that humanity has to accept as inherent as war, as our needs dictate for humanity to survive.” I am referring to it overall, read “African Slavery” by Miers & Kopytoff. That’s a start, which is where part of my quote came from.

                • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:43

                  Actually I can’t say for sure where the largest population of African Slaves were, logically most likely still in Africa.

                  I really have no idea where you are going with this. What is relevant is the institution of slavery as it was practiced in the United States. Of course, slavery has existed at other times and in other places.

                  • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 13:05

                    What is relevant? Its all relevant, directly impacting the institution in the United States, and the world we live in.

            • Ray O'Hara Jan 5, 2012 @ 17:55

              So you are admitting that if the slaves just left the Plantation the “slave owner” was in violation of natural law in stopping them and you also admit that things like the fugitive slave law are violations of natural rights.

          • Tom Logue Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:41


            I am going to leave this part to you. You have a hard job, but you do it well and this is a fun blog. It is amazing how much raw emotion the civil war still generates!

            • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:42

              Thanks, Tom. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and I hope you will continue to do so. This thread is quite interesting.

        • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 13:05

          Have you ever actual read any natural rights philosopher? Natural rights included everyone, which played a major role in why the western world started turning against slavery when it did. It was a critical change in orientation in holding that human beings had certain basic rights just by their humanity that previously had been deemed to be privileges granted by the king, It’s very explicitly why northern states started ending slavery very early The clearly natural rights language of the 1780 Massachusetts state constitution (still in effect) was the basis for the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruling in 1783 that slavery violated the state constitution. It is why Vermont, even before it was formally recognized as a separate state, banned slavery in its state constitution. Natural rights philosophy did not necessarily mean social or even political equality but it did include what the Declaration of Independence listed as unalienable rights: life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness. Adherents of slavery as a positive good certainly accepted that. Many, in fact, explicitly rejected natural rights philosophy and disavowed Jefferson as a traitor to his race and class for having written it in the first place.

    • Andy Hall Jan 2, 2012 @ 10:48

      Hey, Michael. Is anyone over there going to take up Kevin’s challenge on the Silas Chandler story? There’s been lots of whinging about Kevin’s bias or slant and even talk of boycotting the CWT and its publisher, but I haven’t seen anyone so far refute (with documentation) specific claims made in the article, or point out specifically where his and Ms. Sampson’s conclusions were incorrect.

      • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 10:51

        I think they can better organize themselves around a protest rather than an honest attempt at doing history. 🙂

      • Rob Baker Jan 2, 2012 @ 14:19

        Andy your post is spot on. They put this up on their group’s wall. What has been the response, more accusations of bias or slant. Not one single interpretation or analyzation.

    • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 11:32

      Mr. Lucas,

      Kevin is right. You couldn’t have come up with a worst comparison if you’d tried. Once the American Patriots realized that the Crown and Parliament would never give them what they sought in terms of Parliamentary representation in London and self-government at home, they were under no illusions that H.M. government would not fight and fight vigorously to retain its colonies. They certainly were aware of the Crown’s brutal suppression of the two Jacobite rebellions, the second of which occurred within the lifetimes of some of the Patriots even though James and Charles Edward had formidable claims to the Crowns of England and Scotland and Scotland had been an independent nation for centuries before the Act of Union.
      The signers of the Declaration of Independence were not engaging in empty rhetoric when they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

      The core of the initial resistance in the colonies was Oates’ “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” The slave states had representation, indeed disproportionately high representation because of the Federal ratio counting a fraction of slaves in the census for purpose of apportioning Congressional seats which also determined +2, the number of Presidential electors each state had. Of the first 15 presidents of the US before Lincoln, only two were neither slaveowners nor dependent on slave state support for their election. They were both named Adams and they were both one-term presidents. They dominated Congress through most of antebellum history. In a representative government, one is not deprived of the franchise merely because one doesn’t always get one’s own way.

      One natural right you fail to mention, a nation’s right to defend itself. As Madison wrote Nicholas Trist, President Jackson’s private secretary, in December 1832, “It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.”

      • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:12

        Sorry but actually Kevin is mistaken about a great many things. The documentation vs. the rhetoric proves this. There is no difference in the Civil War vs the Revolution, both were wars intent on the domination of one over another regardless of the issues. The South wanted independence to face its issues on its own terms, the North could not accept that politically, but even more so economically. Had the south not seceded how much longer would slavery legally endured? It could have just as easily continued well into the twentieth century. But that is unlikely, so why did the south secede because of Northern Aggression, to dominate the economical, and political power expansion over the nation. Had the Southern States shared in that expansion we would not be having this discussion.

        • Jim Dick Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:24

          So far you haven’t presented anything but an opinion about this issue. That’s why the Lost Cause and Southern Heritage folks fail to win any debates. There was no Northern Aggression. The documents from the past show what went on. The South attempted to secede to keep political control in the hands of a select few oligarchs in order to maintain their domination over the people of the South. They refused to implement public education knowingly in order to keep their people uninformed and at their mercy. Almost all of the newspapers in the South were owned by the oligarchs as well as other sources of information. The mail was censored illegally. The southern states violated the rights of their people by censoring those mails, the news, and the literature they had available. The real tyranny was from the South, not the North.
          Until you can come up with some facts to support your opinions, you will continue to lose your arguments and in the end be ignored. The Lost Cause is going into the dustbin of historical rhetoric because it fails to live up to the facts.

          • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:45

            Off topic, Jim Dick, is that short for James Davis? I had and Uncle called that.

            • Jim Dick Jan 2, 2012 @ 13:55

              Actual name.

          • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:51

            Excellent points. One of the points most lost to general knowledge is the extent to which the antebellum South had become a closed society. Anything other than enthusiastic support of the slavery as a positive good doctrine was seen as apostasy. Anyone who was perceived, regardless of accuracy, as being Northern or less than enthusiastic risked injury, death, or expulsion. Cassius Clay was one of the few critics of slavery to keep publishing and that was mainly because, in an era of fearsome duelers and fighters, he was one of the toughest. Hinton Helper was driven out for questioning the economic benefits of slavery even though Helper was a vicious racist whose major objections to slavery included the fact that it brought blacks into the country.

            • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:46

              Where do you figure Antebellum South had become a closed Society? We have a tradition called Southern Hospitality, so that doesn’t wash. I believe the bible, as well as the historical facts resulting from it support that Slavery, was quote accepted as a “good thing,” as it is well documented this nation would not be what it is today without the contribution of African Slavery. What is overlooked is the natural evolution of it, I do not propose that the act was a good thing, but the results have been monumental. Do you think African Slaves had any objection to being brought to this country? Is it possible that some Africans actually ventured to be brought here by any means even if to be slaves? Do you think it’s entirely the Southern White populations responsibility for it? Another fact grossly overlooked is how the North profited from the commodity!

              • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:51

                Do you think African Slaves had any objection to being brought to this country? Is it possible that some Africans actually ventured to be brought here by any means even if to be slaves?

                Hmmm…I always thought that the definition of slave precluded choice. LOL

                • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 16:03

                  Read the King James Bible. In fact you might also consider the fact you happen to be married, ask yourself how that equates? Beside, that documentation abounds where people willingly put themselves into slavery for one reason or another. Survival, being the key reasoning.

                  • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 16:06

                    What kind of claim are you making here? Do you have any scholarly sources that show that Africans willingly entered the slave trade for any reason? If we are talking about history we need to rely on relevant primary and/or secondary sources.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 16:20

                      Here are some for your reading pleasure including the bible,

                      Adams, Nehemiah D.D. The South-side View of Slavery. Boston: T.R. Marvin and B.B. Mussey & CO, 1854. Print
                      “Angela, Brought to Virginia 1619.” The Jamestown Chronicles. History Is Fun. 2007. Web. 16 Nov 2011.
                      Blackburn,Robin. The Making of New World Slavery: from the Baroque to the Creole. Verso London and New York, 1997. Print
                      Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009.
                      “Does Slavery Still Exist.” Fighting Slavery Today. Anti-Slavery Society, 2003. Web. 15 Nov 2011.
                      “File: Slaveshipposter.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Oct. 2004. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.
                      Miers, Suzanne and Igor Kopytoff. Slavery in Africa, Historical and Anthropological Perspectives. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Wisconsin. 1977. Print
                      Rawley, James A. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1981. Print.
                      Schama, Simon. Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution. New York: Harper Collins, 2006. Print
                      “Slavery in Africa.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation. 2000. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.
                      “Slave Ships.” Spartacus Educational. Spartacus. n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
                      “Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” Spartacus Educational. Spartacus. n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
                      Virginia Slave Trade Statistics 1698-1775. ed. Walter Minchinton, Celia King, and Peter Waite. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1984. Print

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 16:27

                      Thanks for the reading list. I taught with Alan Brinkley’s book, but I don’t remember reading about Africans who volunteered to become slaves and/or enter the “Middle Passage.” I also don’t remember reading about it in Schama’s book and while I have not read The Transatlantic Slave Trade I am familiar with some of Rawley’s other published work I can’t say that I’ve ever come across such reference.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 2, 2012 @ 17:39

                      It seems to me that there is confusion between Whites being indentured and Africans being enslaved, Being indentured was voluntary and it had an expiration date but it was very close to slavery in the power the contract holder had over the servant.

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 17:41

                      No, there doesn’t seem to be any confusion. The reference made was to slaves and not to indentured servants.

                    • Margaret D. Blough Jan 3, 2012 @ 12:44

                      I certainly came across no such reference in Hugh Thomas’s magisterial work, “The Slave Trade” . Yes, I read it cover to cover, all 900 pages of it. It was worth it.

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2012 @ 12:45

                      I think he just threw out a bunch of titles.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 3, 2012 @ 13:21

                      Keep thinking that!

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2012 @ 13:27

                      We certainly will given that as far as we can tell you haven’t provided any evidence for the claim. I would love to see a primary source that shows African willingly entering into slavery.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 3, 2012 @ 15:24

                      What is the quandary in your understanding that Africans could not have indentured themselves as willingly as Europeans? Your champing at the bit with denial surely so have at it. If its sources, I gave you one direct source which has multiple references to cite from. African Slavery by Miers & Kopytoff, but note that it focuses on the Internal trade, but which absolutely supported the exportation of it. As I stated earlier in my posts, we cannot presume to consider Slavery solely by our views from western civilization. What establishes that it is impossible for Africans to have willingly given themselves into slavery? Any differently than in any other society? I reiterate one answer, “survival.” That does not detract the forced coercion by the African Slave trade, but there are elements to the equation which have been proven which impacts our understanding of it. In regards to secession it is key because it is a general consensus by those here that slavery was the reason for seceding and the cause of the war. The south seceded because of the real threat of Northern Aggression period. From those controlling the Industrial growth and the Republicans intent in dominating the economical and political expansion of their power over the nation. Attacking slavery and its purported expansion as being the great elephant threatening the nation, was the best way for the Republicans politically to consolidate Northern politics and gain their objectives. Slavery was not a threat it profited the country for four score years and had been the considerable substance of the nations economical success from its formation. The moral plight was absolutely a plague on the country, even though it was an inherited burden, changes had improved its condition from its inception internally within the institution. Southern society had evolved greatly in its growing disdain of it, even with the cotton boom. Even with that being said, we must consider that no one whether Northern Industrialist or Southern Planter would willingly accept a loss over their profit gain. Which greed is still an issue our nation presently is facing between Wall Street, the Government and the welfare of the people, and the nation.

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2012 @ 15:37

                      In your previous comment you said:

                      Beside, that documentation abounds where people willingly put themselves into slavery for one reason or another. Survival, being the key reasoning.

                      You need to do a better job of distinguishing between indentured servitude and slavery. I suggest that you first get straight on what point you are trying to make. Now, I asked you to provide references to support this particular claim. Nothing in this comment seems to do that so we are back to where we started.

                    • Margaret D. Blough Jan 3, 2012 @ 20:37

                      Mr. Lucas-

                      One could get into a discussion of whether Martian spaceships transported slaves to the New World and it would only be slightly more speculative than what you have above. There is no evidence that any form of voluntary servitude was ever offered to Africans in terms of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Whatever you might or might not have found on the internal African slave trade is simply not relevant. Slavery took many forms in different cultures. I hope you are not seriously suggesting that people volunteered to be worked to death in the Caribbean sugar plantations?

                      As for your tale of why the Civil War came about, it is your fantasy, fueled by Lost Cause revisionism. .It is completely ahistorical. New York City, for instance, with its financial district, was a hotbed of Southern sympathy to the point that, just before Mississippi announced it was seceding, NYC Mayor Fernando Wood formally proposed to the City Council that the city secede and set its self up as a free city with Long Island and Staten Island. Try reading anything in the primary sources from the antebellum period, especially in the 1850s and during presidential election campaign of 1860 and the secession winter after Lincoln’s election. It supports what Lawrence Keitt had to say about it during the South Carolina secession convention (Keitt was a leading fire-eater who put his body where his rhetoric was and joined the Confederate Army. He was KIA at Cold Harbor.)

                      >>Mr. KEITT. I agree with the gentleman from Richland, that the power of taxation is the central power of all governments. Put that power into my hands, and I care very little what the form of government it is; I will control your people through it. That is the question in this address. We have instructed the Committee to present a summary of the reasons which influenced us in the action we have now taken. My friend from Richland said that the violation of the Fugitive Slave Laws are not sufficient, and he calls up the Tariff. Is that one of the causes at this time? What is that cause? Your late Senators, and every one of your members of the House of Representatives, voted for the present tariff. [Mr. Miles. I did not.] Well, those who were there at the time voted for it, and I have no doubt you would, if you were in it. The question of the tariff did agitate us in 1832, and it did array this State against the Federal Government.
                      But the Tariff is not the question which brought the people up to their present attitude. We are to give a summary of our causes to the world, but mainly to the other Southern States, whose co-action we wish, and we must not make a fight on the Tariff question.


                      It is name, and when we come to more practicability we must consult names. Our people have come to this on the question of slavery. I am willing, in that address to rest it upon that question. I think it is the great central point from which we are now proceeding, and I am not willing to divert the public attention from it.<<

                      I would suggest that you refer to Charles Dew's "Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War" or "Southern Pamphlets on Secession: November 1860-April 1861" Jon L. Wakelyn (ed.

                    • Pat Young Jan 4, 2012 @ 4:58

                      When I read this thread, I was reminded of Lincoln’s question-If slavery was so good, why weren’t white people offering to be slaves?

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 4, 2012 @ 4:59


                    • Jim Dick Jan 4, 2012 @ 7:28

                      The south seceded because of the real threat of Northern Aggression period. From those controlling the Industrial growth and the Republicans intent in dominating the economical and political expansion of their power over the nation. Attacking slavery and its purported expansion as being the great elephant threatening the nation, was the best way for the Republicans politically to consolidate Northern politics and gain their objectives.
                      I think a list of points that need some facts to explain them are greatly needed here.
                      1. What was the Northern Aggression?
                      2. How did Republicans, a party that had been in existence for a few short years and didn’t even get half the votes in the country in 1860 control industrial growth?
                      3. How did Republicans, who had just won their first presidential election, dominate the economical and political expansion of the United States?
                      I wonder if you are aware that your reasoning concerning slavery as the great elephant threatening the nation is actually justifying slavery as the reason behind the attempted secession? You make the case that it was slavery that caused the South to secede.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 5, 2012 @ 9:54

                      Jim Dick

                      1. What was the Northern Aggression?

                      Since before the Revolution, the Northern States (Colonies) perpetuated their pious social views and authority, was more righteously ordained than the Southern States(Colonies). All one has to do is consider the documentation vs. concise politically correct propaganda published today, to reveal this conflict from the founding of our nation. The social differences remained an issue between the two regions during the revolution, the norths piousness, was jealousy over the conflict to control the political and economic power in forming the confederacy against Britain. The debates between the Continental Congress, conflict over the forming of Articles of confederation, the constitution, etc… Hamilton and Jefferson are a clear example of the continuation of it after the war, particularly over concerns of centralization, and a Federal bank. What would Jefferson say today about the Fed? Likely told you so! The point is Northern aggression for control of the nation, and the reason to attack slavery as the rallying point at every opportunity to impugn the honor of Southern Agrarians over theirs, for their own agenda.

                      2. How did Republicans, a party that had been in existence for a few short years and didn’t even get half the votes in the country in 1860 control industrial growth?

                      Here you are mistaken, look up the 1860 voting returns Lincoln overwhelmingly carried the Electoral and Popular vote skillfully manipulated by the Republican party. The Republicans were supported by wealthy industrialist growth in the Midwest, they were able to rally support in industrial powers of Pennsylvania, New England behind the Republican party. The polarization with the industrialists supporting them intensified with the secession, because it threatened them.

                      3. How did Republicans, who had just won their first presidential election, dominate the economic and political expansion of the United States?

                      Their rise was meteoric. Republicans skillfully rallied the free state factions. Any view of the development of the United States clearly demonstrates the control by the North to dominate the authority over the nation’s expansion, and the resentment between the states was built one against the other. Slavery is absolutely a political pawn, it is no different from issues today whether concerning gay rights or health care, and it is particularly similar to immigration issues we currently face.

                      4. I wonder if you are aware that your reasoning concerning slavery as the great elephant threatening the nation is actually justifying slavery as the reason behind the attempted secession? You make the case that it was slavery that caused the South to secede.

                      To elaborate on my earlier quote again, attacking slavery and its purported expansion as the issue, as being the great elephant threatening the nation. Here, the key words are “purported,” and “as being,” Which in no way directs that I support slavery as the cause, but it was an issue and the moral excuse used against the South.

                      Attacking slavery was the best way politically to exploit and polarize the North against the South. It was used in order for the Republicans to politically consolidate Northern politics and gain their objectives. Again, Slavery expansion was not a threat for it profited the country for four score years and had been a considerable substance of the nation’s economical success from its formation.

                      The expansion of POWER of the Southern (slave) states was the threat to Northern expansion, NOT slavery itself. The Northern Industrial oligarchy had come to dominate expansion throughout the East and Mid-west by political and forced coercion, Kansas was made a free state through forced coercion. The Northern oligarchy also viewed the war with Mexico as a threat to its dominance, resenting the cost of its citizens’ lives for the Southern oligarchy to be enabled to expand greater than the North’s.

                      The war was over the greed for control of the nation’s wealth of expansion. The Northern Free States, by 1860, overwhelmingly dominated the weight of politics of the nation by the Northern oligarchy. The Republicans, rallied together the political factions of the North, being the party, which would unify to control the nation against the South’s expansion and development. The oligarchy of Northern industrialists and their politicians, were intent on having absolute dominance over the nation and accepted war as the means to do it.

                      All one has to do is critically look at the documents in the history of our nation’s development, from the 1773 to 1860 to see the resentment jealousy. How the need for political dominance supports that greed of power, was the cause of conflict between the two American oligarchies. It is ignored because it does not promote the Northern agenda, their pious view of slavery and the politically correct propaganda, which is being used to control societies view of it today.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 5, 2012 @ 10:37

                      Do you actually believe that hooey.
                      that is the most amazing rant based on fantasy I’ve ever seen
                      and instead of “looking at documentation” none of which you bothered to cite
                      it is clear you are just posting postbellum Lost Cause propaganda and trying to muddy the facts of what happened.

                    • Rob Baker Jan 5, 2012 @ 10:55

                      “All one has to do is critically look at the documents in the history of our nation’s development, from the 1773 to 1860 to see the resentment jealousy”

                      Interesting statement considering what you typed above it.

                      1.) “Hamilton and Jefferson are a clear example of the continuation of it after the war, particularly over concerns of centralization, and a Federal bank”

                      Southerners were in favor of a government that used its power to protect slavery (centralization). As long as it did not infringe on that social order, they were fine with the system. The South never followed Jefferson’s ideals of government, especially today. A huge example of that would be the separation of Church and State.

                      “The point is Northern aggression for control of the nation”

                      Which is the exact same thing the South was trying to do. It advocated counting all slaves towards population and Congressional Representation in order to achieve higher political power. The North Countered. Ultimately it did not matter with the bicameral legislature that was put in place. This is also not counting that Southerners controlled the Oval Office for years. Virginia, New England, Virginia, Virginia etc. etc.

                      2.) “Here you are mistaken, look up the 1860 voting returns Lincoln overwhelmingly carried the Electoral and Popular vote skillfully manipulated by the Republican party.”

                      Here you are mistaken. Look up those records and you can see that Lincoln although winning the election was a plurality president and not a majority president. In both elections, less than 50% of the country chose him. He won the entire North. The midwest was also at this time agrarian. It chose the free labor industrial capitalism and sided with Lincoln. The Democratic party would have won had Southern Democratic delegates not walked out over platform disputes. The split the Democratic Party and essentially defeated themselves. However all that aside, you defeated your own answer. You said:

                      …were supported by wealthy industrialist growth…..with the industrialists supporting them intensified

                      The question was about control. The Republicans stood on a platform halting the extension of slavery so that Industrialists were in favor. There was no control, just support.

                      3.) You constantly switch back and forth between Northerners and Republicans. The two are not interchangeable as not everyone in the North was a Republican. We cannot know if anyone in the South was Republican because most states did not have Lincoln on the ballot. The Republican party did not exist before the the 1850’s. Expansion was not an issue on the Civil War but what to do with those new lands. Namely, slavery or no slavery. You are also only claiming the Northern dominance because it got its way in the end. The south exhibited that same dominance. That is why there was such a disagreement over slavery in the new territory. That is what the dominance was in fact over. Slavery or no slavery. Claiming that the North wanted dominance (or no slavery) is sort of a silly argument considering the compromises passed to allow slavery to expand.

                      4.) Slavery was more than a moral excuse. The North and most Northern states have been ridding themselves of slavery for years. It was behind nearly every issue save tariffs maybe. Hardly a tool of political propaganda. But if it justifies you being able to sleep at night, have at it.

                      “Attacking slavery was the best way politically to exploit and polarize the North against the South. It was used in order for the Republicans to politically consolidate Northern politics and gain their objectives. Again, Slavery expansion was not a threat for it profited the country for four score years and had been a considerable substance of the nation’s economical success from its formation.”

                      Actually is was the next step in political party evolution. Given that the Republicans came out of numerous parties at the time that mostly advocated abolitionism, it was not a method of polarization. This also did not completely separate out the two as many many southerners did not advocaed leaving the Union.

                    • Jim Dick Jan 5, 2012 @ 20:17

                      The fact that the Democratic Party was the only national party in the United States and it divided over the issue of slavery thus resulting in the Republican victory in 1860 totally escapes you doesn’t it?
                      That split revealed a major fault between slave owning oligarchs in the South and non slave owners in the North ONLY within the Democratic Party. Since the Southern oligarchs no longer had control of the national party and thus no longer had control over the national government they decided to secede.
                      Basically they behaved like little children and got over 600,000 people killed to in an attempt to keep the reins of power.
                      Also, stop trying to drag the Civil War into today’s politics. The situations are not the same. The rants and raves of the far right about national power may echo the past, but that’s all they do. They cherry pick the past for tidbits to attempt to justify their views while ignoring anything that disagrees with their opinions.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 6, 2012 @ 4:02

                      Jim Dick,
                      Only the dead know the end of war, the game only changes in equipment, time, place, and name. Society and politics are the same, the formula does not change except in the way man reinvents it over and over again. Which is largely do to lack of co-operation vs. self interest.

                    • Jim Dick Jan 6, 2012 @ 5:46

                      Basically you don’t know jack about war. Yes, there is a similiarity here. The people that want to secede today and want to play the neo-Confederate rhetoric don’t know anything about war just like the planter class in 1860. Almost all of the modern day secessionists have never spent one day in a military uniform. None of the ones I’ve met ever have.
                      There’s a big difference between talking it and walking it to put it so politely. You can’t back up your beliefs with facts because they don’t exist and then you lamely try to make comparisons to contemporary issues when the comparisons do not match up. Secession was illegal in 1860. It is illegal today. You can try to twist words all you want just like they did in 1860 and the result will still be the same. Also, the South is not going to secede today because there is no support for the idea. The Lost Cause is fading away because people are more intelligent because they have the ability to think for themselves due to the wealth of information that is available to them.

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 6, 2012 @ 5:50

                      Secession was illegal in 1860.

                      Would it have been illegal if the Confederacy had proven successful in its bid for independence? Clearly there was a debate about this issue at the time that we are not engaged in today given the outcome of the war.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 9, 2012 @ 3:36

                      One secession is not illegal, it is optional dependent on the will of the people to decide, agree with it or not. People may disagree about it, but to insists that it is not a right, is hypocritical with the natural sense of free will of the people to peacefully direct their fate. It is also hypocritical to disagree with it considering the founding of the United States was based on that principle as well as in conjunction with its foreign policies to let the will of the people decide, and not to be usurped, subjugated, pillaged, raped, murdered, etc… Clearly the majority of Southerners agreed with it, those who suggests that is not clear are not weighing the overwhelming support of facts which demonstrate that. Secession was peacefully assumed, the Oppression of it by the United States was not peaceful. A minority of Southerners did not agree with secession, a minority of Northerners however did agree with secession. In the end we are subject to the will of those who succeed to power. If we disagree it is dependent upon us to find a means to succeed for ourselves to overcome it.

                    • Rob Baker Jan 9, 2012 @ 3:51

                      The state of Tennessee would probably disagree.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 9, 2012 @ 4:51

                      You can say what you want, but the CONUS is quite clear. Every state is bound to obey Federal Law, secession violates that.

                      a “right to revolution” is matched by the establishments equal right to maintain itself.
                      England didn’t roll over for the Colonies so the CSA has no right to expect trhe USA to roll over for it.

                      Every point you make about “freedom{the irony of a slave society appealing to freedom as it’s cause} applies to the slaves, so you are justifying a slave revolt and in doing so you should be an admirer of John Brown as he was working for freedom.

                      The founding Fathers were creating a country not an anarchy, they did break away from England but that does not mean they believed that secession from the USA was legal.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 9, 2012 @ 6:09

                      “You can say what you want, but the CONUS is quite clear. Every state is bound to obey Federal Law, secession violates that.”

                      Yes, the CONUS is clear and secession is not considered within the CONUS! Secession is not illegal. A state can propose it whether the government recognizes it or not.

                      “a “right to revolution” is matched by the establishments equal right to maintain itself.
                      England didn’t roll over for the Colonies so the CSA has no right to expect trhe USA to roll over for it.”

                      Then the ideology which the USA is founded upon, is abstract sitting upon shifting sands of hypocrisy.

                      “Every point you make about “freedom{the irony of a slave society appealing to freedom as it’s cause} applies to the slaves, so you are justifying a slave revolt and in doing so you should be an admirer of John Brown as he was working for freedom.”
                      I accept that a Slave’s decision, as is his master’s, is his own. Even in submission, each situation is dependent upon those in question. The idea that slaves made no decisions regarding their lives is another dichotomy within society. There were thousands of free blacks because they achieved freedom through peaceable means, manumission, their own purchase or indenture. It is inherent through the institution that they accepted their condition, which is also inherently human to do for anyone, until for some they no longer accept it. “To be or not to be is the question” Subsequently what follows is how a slave or master, citizen or government chooses to confront the situation, and so, on.

                      NO! unlike Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner, John Brown was terrorists. He envisioned a state of his own authority, in fact he was guilty of rebellion against the United States as well as inciting servile insurrection.

                      “The founding Fathers were creating a country not an anarchy, they did break away from England but that does not mean they believed that secession from the USA was legal.”

                      The Confederate States formed a country, because of anarchy supported by Radical Republicans, Abolitionists and Free-States which were non-compliant with the CONUS.

                    • Jim Dick Jan 9, 2012 @ 7:48

                      No, the oligarchs of the South illegally formed a slave government that would be completely controlled by them in order to maintain their power over the people when the people of the United States legitimately empowered a government the oligarchs refused to support. They got over 620,000 people killed and untold dollars of property destroyed in an attempt to appease their vain attempts to manipulate power.
                      It is not going to happen again. If you can’t read the text from Texas v. White, then you need to have someone read it to you so you can get it through your head that secession is illegal. You do not have a right to it. You never have had a right to it because it was thoroughly explained in 1788.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 9, 2012 @ 8:29

                      Jim Dick,
                      No, the seceding states formed a Confederacy the Governments were the same, except in the determination of who’s authority directed them. Slavery was not illegal, had the Republicans not been so radical and the South had not seceded the issue of slavery would have remained and lasted longer anyway. The issue wasn’t slavery it was the issue of power to determine the political and economic control of the nation vs. sharing that power.

                    • Jim Dick Jan 9, 2012 @ 9:34

                      Mike, secession was an illegal act done by men unwilling to share power. They had no justification other than their vanity in trying to retain power that they had legally failed to maintain via the elections of 1860. Look at the Federalist and Anti-Federalist arguments in 1788 to see why secession was known to be illegal. Just because you want it to be legal does not make it so. The oligarchs basically got 620,000 people killed to in an attempt to satisfy their illegal desire to maintain their power over the federal government.

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2012 @ 9:55

                      I think this thread has just about run its course. How about the two of you call a truce since you are now repeating the same arguments.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 9, 2012 @ 10:04

                      Mike, you make a very specious argument.
                      States are bound to the Constitution Article VI so stares that.
                      Their just declaring they aren’t so it no longer binds them is laughable, the CONUS is not a treaty like NATO. It is a federal constitution.
                      For a State to be able to secede would be nothing more than land theft, the territories were owned by the United States People as a whole, What you are claiming is a group could occupy a territory, whose boundaries were set by the U.S.Congress, could meet the requirements to gain Statehood, again set by Congress, and upon being granted Statehood could then immediately declare they were no longer bound by the very laws that created them. that is absurd, No country would ever allow that.

                      Nate Turner and John Brown are terrorists for trying to gain the freedom of slave through violence, but slavers who took the Africans from their homeland and then held them in lifelong bondage and forced to hard labor by the application of violence aren’t? That again is laughable.

                      Slaves had a choice? are you seriously suggesting that they could just leave ?
                      When they tried to exercise that choice they were hunted by an armed posse and hounds, some choice. Some states had laws banning manumission, so so much for that part of your argument.

                      ” It is inherent through the institution that they accepted their condition, which is also inherently human to do for anyone, until for some they no longer accept it”

                      Being held in bondage by the threat of violence is not acceptence and “until they no longer accept it” is again justification for those you deem terrorists.

                      You give to Whites privileges you deny the Blacks. The Whites also agreed to follow the CONUS through the ratification process, the Blacks never agreed to be slaves nor to be taken across a vast ocean never to see home and family again.

                      The binding of States to the Union has a basis in law, the binding of Blacks to their “owner” was nothing more than terrorism and a black mark upon our countries history.

                    • Jim Dick Jan 9, 2012 @ 5:56

                      Secession is and always has been totally illegal. It is not a right under the US Constitution. Some people in the past may have thought it was a right, but rest assured it most certainly was not. The entire issue was made abundantly clear during the 1788 ratification debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists as well as the response to Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions. The fact that seven of the first eight presidents of the US specifically pointed out that secession was illegal and that one of those presidents was the principal designer of the Constitution with another being the president of the Constitutional Convention seems to escape those who advocate secession as being legal.
                      The 1869 Supreme Court case Texas v. White specifically states secession is and was completely illegal without consent by the federal government. So that right there ends your argument for secession. There is no oppression by the federal government nor was there any in 1860. The fact is the same as it was then. Certain groups of people just don’t like the way things are and instead of following the law they want to change the laws to reflect the way they want things to be. That is a violation of the principles that were behind the founding of this country. Margaret brought up the issue very clearly earlier. The oligarchs of the South refused to allow the peaceful transfer of power when they lost an election. They attempted secession illegally and lost the decision at the point of the bayonet.
                      The fact that they weren’t hung shows the compassion of Americans both North and South because the Confederacy ruthlessly forced everyone in the South to follow their dictates by suppressing freedom of speech or dissension by force of arms.
                      I served this country for twenty years and I did not do so for anyone to advocate secession. It is not a right. It is not a privilege and I will take up arms to keep this country intact. If there are fellow veterans out there that feel secession is a right, I strongly suggest they stop reading neo-Confederate garbage and start thinking for themselves. At no point was anyone in the South in 1860 being threatened by the North. There was no rape, no usurpation of power, no subjugation, no pillaging, and no murdering. That is complete post war Lost Cause rhetoric that is nothing more than a complete fabrication and outright collection of lies.
                      You’re making the same mistake that the oligarchs made in 1860. You don’t like the current government of the United States. Well, too bad. It is a legally elected government. If you want change you must work within the framework of the Constitution to effect that change. You do not have any right of secession. Of course, unlike 1860 you don’t even have a majority that agrees with you about secession then or now so the argument is pointless. The only way to attempt secession today would be by illegally overthrowing the legitimate government of a state which would be treason.
                      That’s what you are advocating by the way. Nothing more than treason against the United States. As long as it’s just talk, it’s freedom of speech. The minute you arm yourselves and begin to use force to support your position on secession it becomes treason. It would be a violation of any veteran’s or any current service member’s oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 9, 2012 @ 4:54

                      Yes secession would have been illegal had the CSA succeeded, just as bank robbery is illegal even if the robbers get away and are never brought to justice..

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2012 @ 4:59

                      All I am suggesting is that a Confederate victory is likely to have influenced how the courts interpreted this issue. This is a poor analogy.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 9, 2012 @ 5:08

                      Explain please why you consider it to be a poor analogy?

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2012 @ 5:09

                      One is based on how we interpret the Constitution (legal question) and the other is more strictly understood as a moral question.

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 9, 2012 @ 4:09

                      I do not know where you served, if at all, but I do know you were not with me, and I’m glad to have defended your right to have bellicose bigoted opinion. If you would like I can introduce you to more than a few Veterans, who can vouch that you are quite mistaken. In regards to secession arguments today, I hear a lot of Americans discuss secession throughout the country so its not just a neo-Confederate thing, its a we’re tired of poor leadership thing! The debate of causes will not go away, it is perpetual each generation has to contend with it. Its crucial that it does, because it continues to make people consider and value our freedom.

                    • Rob Baker Jan 9, 2012 @ 4:36

                      Is every differing opinion to you is bigoted?

                  • Jim Dick Jan 2, 2012 @ 17:46

                    Using the Bible to defend slavery is not a good idea. Since Paul exhorted in his letter to the Ephesians 6:9, “Masters, act in the same way twoard them, and stop bullying, knowing that both they and you have a Master in Heaven and that with him there is no partiality,” one has to wonder why so many slaves were whipped leaving scar marks on their backs, why families were broken up on the auction block, and why black women were forced into sexual servitude to white male masters.
                    I’m well acquainted with how the Bible is misused to justify a lot of actions. Remember that Christ said several things in the Gospels that get ignored in contemporary society as well as in the past. Divorce is just one of them. When you bring the Bible into the picture you’re bringing up Old Testamont issues for the most part. So if you’re going to justify slavery with the Bible, I want my multiple wives (as if I’m that freaking crazy to want more than one woman telling me what to do!) as well as the patrimonies (another thing the Revolution explicity wanted to end).
                    Debt slavery and Chattel slavery are two entirely different situations as well. I get the feeling you’re falling into the idea that there is a moral condition to the issue of slavery and the Civil War by which the South is judged. We can’t judge the past by our attitudes of today. The past existed in its own context.
                    Historians aren’t judging the South and slavery. It’s the Lost Cause mentality that keeps trying to justify secession for the last 148 years that’s the problem here.
                    When we say stuff like, “This was a mistake,” or “This was wrong,” we mean it because it was an error in judgement for multiple reasons usually, not because of morality. Attempting to justify slavery will never justify secession. The Declarations of the delegates at the state secession conventions tell us what the reason for the attempted secession was. The facts are clear.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 2, 2012 @ 18:38

                      A part of the South’s complaint was Northern Abolitionist groups were attacking slavery as a morality issue. Many in the South seriously resented being called immoral
                      here is an excerpt from John Brown’s last speech to the court that condemned him “…This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments,—I submit; so let it be done!…”

                • Ray O'Hara Jan 2, 2012 @ 17:45

                  How likely was some West African living in a stone age culture knowing about the Americas and the joys of working in a Caribbean cane field or an American plantation.

                  but here is a “slave recruiting song As Randy Newman put it

                  In America you’ll get food to eat
                  Won’t have to run through the jungle
                  And scuff up your feet
                  You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
                  It’s great to be an American

                  Ain’t no lions or tigers ain’t no mamba snake
                  Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake
                  Ev’rybody is as happy as a man can be
                  Climb aboard little wog sail away with me

                  Sail away sail away
                  We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay
                  Sail away-sail away
                  We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay

                  In America every man is free
                  To take care of his home and his family
                  You’ll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree
                  You’re all gonna be an American

                  here is him singing it

              • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 20:30

                Mr. Lucas-I suggest you read David Grimsted’s “American Mobbing” (yes, he did cover northern mob action as well), any biographical essay on the original Cassius Clay or Hinton Helper, or the very recent “Texas Terror” by Donald E. Reynolds (about the “arson” panic that swept Texas in 1860) regarding the antebellum South as a closed society regarding anything other than fervent support of slavery. It would have been interesting to ask the Rev. Anthony Bewley, whose fate is discussed in the Reynolds work, his opinion of the Southern hospitality you brag about. Rev. Bewley solely was murdered because, after the schism in the Methodist Episcopal Church over support of slavery, he refused to affiliate with the southern, pro-slavery segment. That was enough to make him a marked man, condemned as an abolitionist conspirator without even the semblance of due process (although his assassins and their supporters attempted to manufacture a case against him in the press) As the hysteria in Texas about alleged abolitionist conspiracies grew, he recognized the danger he was in and tried to flee the state. He was tracked down by a posse (there was a $1,000 reward on his head) and, ultimately, lynched while in the custody of the posse. His corpse was removed from a shallow grave and desecrated. He was 56 years old and there is considerable doubt as to whether he was particularly anti-slavery much less involved in an abolitionist conspiracy.

                As for the alleged general acceptance of slavery as a good thing, do you generally do your research by watching “Gone With the Wind?” The first documented religious-based remonstrance against slavery was the 1688 Germantown (PA) Quaker protest against slavery. Benjamin Franklin was president of the Pennsylvania anti-slavery society and, even before he wrote Common Sense and The Crisis, Tom Paine wrote and had published an anti-slavery petition. Madison’s Notes on the Federal Convention of 1787 includes vigorous debate on all issues involving slavery and includes Madison’s statement in the debate on August 25, 1787 “Mr. MADISON thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.” It came shortly after this exchange regarding the 20 year moratorium in the Constitution before Congress could take any action to restrict or ban the African slave trade,

                >>r. Govr. MORRIS was for making the clause read at once, ” importation of slaves into N. Carolina, S. Carolina & Georgia shall not be prohibited &c.” This he said would be most fair and would avoid the ambiguity by which, under the power with regard to naturalization, the liberty reserved to the States might be defeated. He wished it to be known also that this part of the Constitution was a compliance with those States. If the change of language however should be objected to by the members from those States, he should not urge it.

                Col: MASON was not against using the term “slaves” but agst. naming N. C. S. C. & Georgia, lest it should give offence to the people of those States.

                Mr. SHERMAN liked a description better than the terms proposed, which had been declined by the old Congs. & were not pleasing to some people.

                Mr. CLYMER concurred with Mr. Sherman

                Mr. WILLIAMSON said that both in opinion & practice he was against slavery; but thought it more in favor of humanity, from a view of all circumstances, to let in S. C. & Georgia on those terms, than to exclude them from the Union.

                Mr. Govr. MORRIS withdrew his motion.<> Do you think it’s entirely the Southern White populations responsibility for it? Another fact grossly overlooked is how the North profited from the commodity!<<

                That's a straw man and totally bogus. It has hardly been overlooked that the North profited from slavery and it has never been accepted that Southern white populations were entirely responsible for it.or even close to being entirely responsible. (See, Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address regarding Northern responsibilities for slavery.) I would note that no Northerner ever put a gun to a Southern white's head and forced him to buy a slave, either African or American born, against the Southern white's will. It was Southern states that made the ban against Congress acting against slavery for the first 20 years of the Constitution a condition for their support of Constitutional ratification.

                • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 20:33

                  Somehow, a piece got left out in the printing or my editing of the reply. After the quote from the Constitutional Convention debates end with Mr. G. Morris withdrawing his motion, there should be a new paragraph beginning with the line. “You (Mr. Lucas) stated, <<Do you think…"

                • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2012 @ 3:24

                  I would also throw Clarence Mohr’s On the Threshold of Freedom into the mix. Mohr also explores the post-Brown hysteria in Georgia. He provides a number of examples of northerners being harassed, but more interesting is his discussion of how the free black population was perceived. I briefly commented on this in a previous post: http://cwmemory.com/2011/09/03/choosing-to-become-a-slave/

                  • Margaret D. Blough Jan 3, 2012 @ 4:39

                    Thanks. Excellent post. Ira Berlin in “Slaves Without Masters” on free blacks in the antebellum South has an excellent discussion on the white movement for the enslavement/reenslavement of free/freed blacks. Being a free black in the Deep South, particularly as the Civil War loomed, was a dangerous and difficult place.

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 3, 2012 @ 4:42

                      Another good one indeed.

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 3, 2012 @ 7:24

                      All this shows that the economic aspect of slavery might have been secondary to the social aspect of it.
                      While the Planters might have feared emancipation because of the specter of a lost labor pool. It seems the specter of free Blacks able to roam about freely scared the majority of the Southern Whites.

        • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:37

          What Northern aggression? Secession began in December of 1860. Lincoln was not inaugurated until March 4, 1861. The months between are replete with acts of violence and thievery (even accepting their reasoning, there was no reasoning that would support keeping all the money seized at the Custom Houses, which the rebels did). Other than the indisputably constitutional and legal election of Abraham Lincoln as president (an event the Fire-eaters did a great deal to bring about in their sabotage of Stephen Douglas’s candidacy) what action did the federal government take prior to South Carolina’s secession declaration that could possibly be seen as hostile (be careful, Major Anderson did not transfer his garrison to Ft. Sumter until 6 days AFTER South Carolina formally claimed to be independent)

          Slave states most certainly did participate in the expansion of the United States. Slavery hugged the Eastern seaboard when the US became independent. Slavery extended beyond the Mississippi in 1860. Much of the expansion actually brought in, intentionally or incidentally, territory where slavery was already established. One of the primary reasons for American settlers in Texas to declare independence from Mexico was because they refused to comply with Mexican law abolishing slavery. Texas was annexed as a slave state. To the extent that the free states had advantages, it was advantages inherent in encouraging free immigration, technological innovation, and a diverse economy. The slave states managed to prevent passage of legislation such as the Homestead Act that would have encouraged free settlement of the territories.

          • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 12:46

            Not only did the southern states take part in the expansion of the United States they framed it within their own understanding of nationalism and American Exceptionalism. They helped to generate great amounts of wealth through the expansion of slavery, the railroads, and even in the expansion of their industrial capacity.

            • Michael C. Lucas Jan 2, 2012 @ 13:02

              Yes! the South did but not as freely as the North, and developed no where as fast as Northern Industry would. Here is where the debate over expansion will implode conflicting with slavery. It will economically and politically come to a head over the ability to share in the development and expansion of the country.

              • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2012 @ 13:07

                This is where your lack of reading comes through quite clearly. Recent scholarship suggests that Southerners had very little difficulty adapting slavery to a modern economy:

                Peter Carmichael, The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War and Reunion
                John Majewski, Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation
                William Thomas, The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America

                You will find these to be quite interesting.

              • Jim Dick Jan 2, 2012 @ 14:10

                The fact that slavery was economically profitable was often overlooked. When we understand that it was and multiple exercises using quantification have shown us that it was, the issue of slavery being at the core of the issues becomes much clearer. When you add in the kinship factor plus the low amount of labor available to work for wages, the importance of slavery to the South becomes a much greater concern. Slaves did almost everything in the South and that included the industrial aspect as well. Slaves built the factories and railroads and then worked in them.
                Slave owners hired out their slaves to factories as well as to their relatives. Slaves would be found clearing land, improving land, and building roads, bridges, railroads, etc.
                There will always remain a huge what if question regarding slavery. What if the South had not attempted secession? It was not going to die out. The fact that the South went to war proves that beyond a doubt. International pressure might have forced some changes, but please realize we are in speculation as to what might or could have happened. It would have been very interesting to see Virginia build an industrial base using slave labor and competing with other industrial sections of the country. Again, it’s a huge what if idea. But recall that there was no way an amendment was going to pass that would have overturned the Dred Scot decision. If slavery had continued to be profitable and there is no real reason to think it wouldn’t have been, would slavery have moved into the industrial North?

                • Ray O'Hara Jan 2, 2012 @ 17:22

                  Slavery was barely maintaining profitability and it was becoming obsolete . As for Slaves and public works like rail roads and the like, the South was noted for it’s distinct lack of public works, Rail roads were rare because the South had navigable rivers to move product to ports for shipping , Steamboating was a distinctive Southern thing.
                  the intercontinental RR was built by “free” labor, Irish from the East and Chinese from the West. Most factories and industry was in the North again because of rivers, while the northern rivers were bad for navigation they were excellent for water power, I’ve read the Blackstone river in Massachusetts is the 3rd most powerful in America and it and the Merrimac were the cradle of American industry for that reason.,
                  Slavery had pretty much expanded to where it was viable, Free Soil settlers moving west wanted nothing to do with slavery, not for any moral reasons, but because they didn’t want to competion from large planters not their economic domination of politics.

                  • Jim Dick Jan 3, 2012 @ 7:41

                    Ray, I disagree with your statement that slavery was barely profitable. It was as profitable if not more so as investing in industrial capital like a factory in the North for a point of comparison. There are several studies on the subject in the last half century that used quantification to show that slavery was indeed quite profitable. Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross is a pretty good work on the subject although it still remains a bit controversial. The idea was common in Civil War historiography that slavery wasn’t profitable and that slavery would have faded away whether there was a civil war or not.
                    That idea was literally blown out of the water by statistical quantification. If slavery wasn’t profitable why were the slaveowners joining forces with the radical secessionists? It couldn’t be to protect an uneconomical system that was losing them money. If that was so then why wouldn’t they jump at some of the ideas tossed around before the war about compensating slave owners or to implement gradual emancipation? No, it was very profitable and the slaveowners wanted to protect that system because it made them a lot of money and was the source of their power in the South. Simple logic from that point shows why they wanted to secede…to protect their “property.”
                    Remember, slavery pervaded all aspects of Southern life including the economy. Slaves did everything. If there was manual labor to be done in the South, slaves were there doing it. Granted, the vast majority were on the plantations, but many were hired out when the work on the plantations was light. If slaves weren’t working they weren’t making money. As for railroads, yes, slaves built them in the South. They did the same in every industry in the South. Whether slavery in the factories would have continued versus free labor is something we will never know obviously (hopefully), but it was part of the antebellum South.

        • Rob Baker Jan 2, 2012 @ 14:33

          You’re showing a fundamental lack of historical understanding.

          “There is no difference in the Civil War vs the Revolution, both were wars intent on the domination of one over another regardless of the issues.”

          Incorrect statement. History does not repeat, this is due to differences in the contingencies of the studied human phenomenon (historical event).

          “Had the Southern States shared in that expansion we would not be having this discussion.

          They actually did. Their expansion ideal played into the economic rolls of agriculture which meant more slavery. This is displayed by the violence in Missouri and Kansas. This same mode of expansion came into play in the West. Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850, Wilmot Provisio are all examples of the struggles between North and South centered around the issue of slavery within the context of expansion.

          I also invite you to look up the intended goals of the KGC in connection with filibustering in Mexico and Nicaragua. The intent simply was to advance and extend the slave empire into the sugar cane plantations in order to increase profits.

  • Margaret D. Blough Jan 1, 2012 @ 15:34

    I understand the Southern position, but, IMHO, it has to be judged against what Southerners were asking of the free states and people who wanted territories to be free. It’s often pointed out by modern Confederate sympathizers that “northerners” were racist, disinterested in doing anything about slavery, and even, in many instances, profiting from slavery. While not as universal as they claim, to a significant extent it is true. Abolitionists were a distinct minority, often harassed, abused, and even killed in free states (Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by an Illinois mob.) If the marriage/domestic model is used, the South had become an abusive spouse who sought to control every aspect of the other spouse’s existence, thoughts, and association. Every time the free states made concessions, the ante was increased on what the South required of the North to show its loyalty. Ultimately, the test was that, if Northerners voted for Lincoln and Lincoln won, secession would ensue. If one looks at the declarations of causes for secession, it is remarkable how often the conduct of free states, not the federal government, is listed. It is quite clear that nothing short of suppression by free states of any comment unsupportive of slavery would be satisfactory to the secessionists.

    Dear Abby, IIRR, always asked women considering leaving their husband for misconduct, to ask themselves, “Am I better off with him or without him?” There were a few brave pro-slavery souls who published pamphlets warning their brethren that the western world had become hostile to slavery and, however inadequate the protections that the Constitution and the Union gave slavery, they were far better than an independent South would face. They also warned that, if war resulted, slavery would be destroyed. Like Cassandra, they were right and they were ignored.

    I think a question that needs to be asked, along with Mr. Quigley’s, is why, after decades of Northerners, in order to prevent disunion, giving in to escalating southern demands for increasing protections of slavery, did so many Northerners finally say, enough already? Why did Stephen Douglas draw the wrath of the Buchanan administration and kill his chances of getting elected President by rejecting the blatantly fraudulent Lecompton Constitution for Kansas and Kansas’s admission as a slave state? Why did voters who cast their ballot for electors pledged to Lincoln do so in the face of the Southern threat to secede if Lincoln won? I think Lincoln provided the answer in his Cooper Union speech.

    • Jim Dick Jan 1, 2012 @ 17:17

      I think part of the answer lies in the differences between the way the state governments work today and the way they worked then. The southern states were not shining examples of democracy. Those state legislatures were controlled by a small group of people that are classified as oligarchs. They controlled up to 50% of the wealth in a few of the states. Since real wealth in the South was measured in land and slaves, it is pretty easy to see that the oligarchs were the main slaveowners of the states. Toss in the extended kinships and the way that slaves were used in the South and you can then see just how far slavery penetrated every aspect of Southern life.
      The secessionists were able to force their will upon the South long enough to use the anger and resentment over Lincoln’s election to get secession conventions called for and delegates elected to. Once the delegates were elected, the Lower South was gone. The Upper South’s response is of course well known.
      There was no way the North could have ended slavery if the South had not attempted secession. I question whether the North could have passed an amendment to overturn the Dred Scot decision. When you look at that, I believe that makes you question the reasoning behind secession. There was no reason for the South to secede. However, the election of Lincoln showed that the South had lost political control of the federal government, i.e., the oligarchs had lost control of the federal government.
      I think there was a strong reaction by those oligarchs over that loss of power that prompted them to join forces with the secessionists. The election of delegates to the secession conventions was not an overwhelming vote for secessionist supporters. The secessionist faction just struck fast and while the sentiment for secession was high. Once secession was voted upon, the secessionists were mostly shut out of the new Confederate government following the ratification of the permanent constitution. That reveals a shift by the oligarchs away from the more radical plans of the secessionists to a moderate faction once slavery was guaranteed legally throughout the Confederacy.

      • Tom Logue Jan 1, 2012 @ 18:35

        Any person thinking about secession in 1861 had to address the fact that the founders broke with Britain and that the Texans broke with Mexico. I think the best Northern thinking concluded that there was no legal right to secede, but there is a ultra-legal right to revolution. The later could only be established by force.

        Lincoln spent a lot of time on this issue. The preamble to the Constitution, he noted, states that it was adopted to form “a more perfect union” — in other words, the union preexisted the Constitution and dated back at least to the Declaration of Independence, when the States were not separate entities. So there was no right of any State that preexisted the union. Anyway, that was his argument.

        Neither side’s argument was pure. There is a quote from the young Lincoln supporting the Texan revolution. The young John C. Calhoun threatening the New Englanders who flirted with secession during Jefferson’s shut-down of the maritime trade with Britain. As previous commentators noted, the great Southerner and American, A. Jackson had no problem putting down South Carolina’s attempt at nullification.

        And, even during the war itself, the C.S.A. opposed West Virginia’s “secession” from Virginia, sending Lee himself to suppress it. Meanwhile, the U.S.A. embraced West Virginia’s right to secede, although it used a wacky legal fiction to justify it (by convening a “loyal” Virginia legislature to approve it).

        On a practical note, it was the great Southerner and American, T. Jefferson who entered into the Louisiana Purchase, an step that he worried was unconstitutional and outside his understanding of a limited federal government, but which he felt compelled to take, because he recognized that the U.S.A. could never let a foreign government control the mouth of the Mississippi — that any such government would always be a natural enemy of the U.S.A. Which leads me to believe that if the South had won the war initially because of U.S.A. war-weariness, there would have been another war within 10 years.

        • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 9:05

          The Louisiana Purchase has an incredibly important role in the chain of events/decisions that culminated in the Civil War. A very common accusation by white Southerners, especially secessionists, was that the free states had somehow or other changed/violated the balancing of interests created in the Constitution. However, IMHO, it was the inclusion of a massive territory in which slavery was firmly established that irretrievably altered the balance. The Constitution had given the slave states the federal ratio on representation but the first Congress under the Constitution ratified the Northwest Ordinance, passed by the Articles of Confederation Congress, banning slavery from the old NW territory. There were clearly free states, states starting the road to emancipation, and potential free states (Vermont) waiting in the wings when the Constitution was draftey.d and ratified. The first truly major crisis over slavery occurred over the creation and admission of states out of the territories brought into the US by the Louisiana Purchase and resulted in the Missouri Compromise. It was the trashing of the Missouri Compromise by the Compromise of 1850 creating the potential for slavery to expand into territories previously closed to it that and resulting in the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the new Fugitive Slave Law that heated up matters considerabl

      • Margaret D. Blough Jan 1, 2012 @ 23:01

        IMHO, the critical error that pro-slavery forces made was in misjudging how far they could push Northern whites. Most northern whites did not appear to like slavery all that much, but, so long as it did not impinge on their lives in any significant way, they were quite happy to leave the whole issue to God, fate, whatever. However, beginning with the overturning of the Missouri Compromise and the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law arising out of it that made it possible to force ordinary Northern whites to become slave catchers and denied free state courts the right to intervene on the issue of whether someone was a runaway slave or a free citizen of the state, then it started occurring to many Northern whites that Southern demands for the protection of slavery increasingly were impinging on Northern whites’ rights and, soon, might make it impossible for free labor to exclude slave labor.

        You make a point that is deeply ironic. Although, states’ rights was not a novel concept, the fervor for secession gained fervor as the slave states saw themselves losing control of the federal government. They had no objections to the coercive use of federal power when it was used to enforce federal excise taxes in Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion, to suppress the Petition Clause of the Constitution during the Gag Rule Crisis, to condone the destruction of US mail (abolitionist material sent to WHITES) by federal postmasters, to retrieve runaway slaves against local resistance in Boston, etc.

        I think one thing that does need to be asked is what more the free states could have done to assuage the feelings of the Southern whites?

        • Tom Logue Jan 2, 2012 @ 5:45


          What the Southerns who lead the secession movement wanted from the North was a trustworthy and believable assurance that slavery have a safe future in the Union. After all, they felt, the Constitution itself protected slavery. And the Supreme Court in Dred Scott had just reiterated that point.

          But the South could not get a trustworthy commitment that slavery was safe in the Union. Abolitionists like Seward and Chase wanted slavery terminated as soon as practicabe. Lincoln, who was a moderate, wanted to place slavery in a course towards ultimate extinction (which is what he argued the founders wanted), although he was vague and very flexible about how and when this would be accomplished, hinting at compensated emancipation extending into the 20th century.

          But talk of “ultimate extinction” scared the hell out of the South. First, the right in property in slaves constituted a gigantic investment of capital. And slaves were an integral part of the cotton-export industry which was at that time still the biggest export money-maker America had ever known. Anything that hinted at ultimate extinction immediately hit the value of those assets.

          Second, and I think this fact is often overlooked, slavery was a social system that ordered the relationships between whites and blacks. In this regard, it is important to remember that, back in 1861, almost all of the blacks in the U.S.A. lived in the South. In some Southern states such as South Carolina and Mississippi, blacks constituted a majority. In others, like Florida, they were 50%. In some of the riches counties, with the biggest plantations, blacks were 80% of the population. Given these population figures, the South truly was holding on to the ears of the wolf because any movement to recognize black civil or political rights could very well mean that the richest, most educated, most powerful Southern whites would constitute an isolated and threatened minority in their own territory. Southerners were very aware of what happened in Haiti. Because of these circumstances, by the way, John Brown’s raid was a turning point in Southern mistrust of the North.

          Truth be told, few Americans, north or south, had a workable vision of how blacks and whites could live together in large numbers, except for the social order provided by slavery. I think this was the core problem that the political system of that day failed to solve.

          Alas, as terrible as it is to say, I suspect that if the South would have been told that, when slavery was abolished, a “Jim Crow” state would replace it, that would legally segregate and subordinate blacks, crush outspoken black leaders by public and private violence, and otherwise uphold and maintain white supremacy, as ultimately occurred, the Southerners who wanted to secede might have been persuaded to remain in the Union. But that would have been quite a betrayal of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

          • Margaret D. Blough Jan 2, 2012 @ 9:52

            Tom-I’m sorry but I think the “safe assurance” argument, at least with the inference that this presented a reasonable basis for resolution, won’t hold water. The Southern reaction, total rejection, to the Crittenden compromise proposals shows that their concept of a safe assurance was the suppression of any discussion that slavery might end at some point, no matter how safely and gradually. This was never part of the original deal of the Constitution. There was considerable criticism of slavery in the debates at the Constitutional Convention to the point that Madison predicted, during the debates, that this would be the issue with the greatest risk of inciting disunion. There was at least one free state when the Constitution was ratified and others that were on their way to ending slavery. The Northwest Ordinance, ratified by the first Congress under the Constitution, prohibited slavery in the covered territory. The slave states demanding assurances in the Constitution as the price for ratification assured the other states that slavery was on the road to gradual extinction.

            As for Dred Scott, it totally eliminated the basis for territorial compromise. If Congress could not restrict slavery entering a territory, what ground for compromise could there be? It even invaded states’ rights in terms of implying that states could not give voting rights in state and local elections to free blacks since they couldn’t be citizens according to the Court. Lemmon v. NY was about to reach the same Supreme Court that decided Dred Scott. Free states feared that SCOTUS would force free states to allow slaveowners to keep their slaves with them in transit or sojourn without any ability to limit this, effectively allowing them to be turned into slave states against their wills. Southern whites even rejected Stephen Douglas’s Popular Sovereignty and the Freeport Doctrine. The slave states refused to even discuss any option that involved ending slavery, ever.. Congress did provide for compensation for DC slaveowners when it ended slavery there in 1862, but, even when offered federal financial support to compensate slave owners in 1862, loyal slave states refused to pass even gradual emancipation laws. The result was that, along with the former rebel states, they lost their slaves without compensation with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

            No one overlooked the economic and social implications of ending slavery. The slave revolts of the Caribbean in the late 18th-early 19th century, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, had burned themselves in the national consciousness, not just the South. It actually undermines the argument that the slave states had anything to fear but criticism from a minority. As for John Brown, while he had support in the North, the US government forcibly and promptly reacted against him. For the most part, free state white residents really didn’t want to deal with the issue. They certainly didn’t want a large influx of free blacks competing for jobs. They really didn’t want to think about or deal with slavery at all. It was when it became increasingly clear that white Southern demands for reassurance would impinge on Northern whites’ lives, including being able to live where free labor did not have to compete with slave labor that resistance to Southern demands started gaining traction. Northerners resented Southern whites trying to coerce them as to whose electors they would vote for for President. This is shown in the states Lincoln won that Fremont lost. Without the Civil War, there is no evidence that there was any chance, in the foreseeable future, that any kind of Constitutional amendment could be ratified regarding the ending of or restricting slavery.

            As for your final paragraph, are you aware that there was a serious movement in slave states to pass legislation that would require free blacks to either leave the state or be enslaved. The only concession was to give them an opportunity to chose their master. Arkansas actually passed such a statute before the Civil War and, by its effective date, only a few hundred elderly or ill free blacks remained in the state. Beginning with 1820, the slavery as a positive good position of Calhoun and his followers almost completely replaced the earlier slavery as a necessary evil defense. The very existence of free blacks, no matter how restricted, challenged slavery as a positive good for both blacks and whites at its foundation.

            • Tom Logue Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:33


              Well said. Then let me ask you your own question: what assurances could the North have given to stop the first wave of Southern states from seceding? (And remember the Crittenden Compromise was never passed and the Lincoln had vetoed any retreat on his promise to keep slavery out of the territories).

              (By the way, you need to drop “IMHO.” The last thing is sounds like is humble. We lawyers are told never to say “with all due respect to the court” because inevitably the next statement is an insult to the court!)

              I guess part of my questions is: why did the first wave of Southern States secede? Were they just crazy and lacking in love of the U.S.A.? That answer to too simplistic, it seems to me.

              • Margaret D. Blough Jan 3, 2012 @ 11:41

                Sorry I didn’t get to this earlier.

                IMHO is simply a standard term to indicate that an opinion is being given as opposed to a statement of hard fact. It is no more meant to be taken literally than Your Obedient Servant obligates one to provide any actual service to the recipient. It is entirely different, therefore, than the example you give which is obvious sarcasm, and, as such, should never be used in addressing a court.

                Why the first wave seceded is clear. A candidate from the Republican Party was elected president. Fire-eaters had made it clear since 1856, when the party first presented a national ticket, that this would be a casus belli. It was not any action of Lincoln’s. He would not be inaugurated for another 2 1/2 months when South Carolina announced its secession. I don’t think there was any assurance that could have been given that would have stopped the first wave. The decision had been made that the election of a Republican would, at some point, imperil slavery and that in order to protect slavery, secession was essential.

                Lincoln made it clear, repeatedly, that he would take no action against slavery where it was and that he would enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. This wasn’t because of any love of slavery but the fact that he felt that there was no constitutional authority, in peacetime, for any federal action to be taken against slavery where it was. He hated the Fugitive Slave Law but it was expressly authorized in the Constitution. He was clear, however, in not compromising on stopping the expansion of slavery. That was such a critical part of the Republican platform that he felt that it would be betraying those who voted for his ticket to go back on that.

                The secessionists weren’t crazy. They made have made the horrific mistake of believing their own propaganda about the US government and free state citizens but the actions were very deliberate.

                • Michael C. Lucas Jan 5, 2012 @ 15:30

                  Tom, it was not slavery itself, but the assurance of their invested interests in slavery which naturally should be protected. Its no different than your interests in your stocks, property, etc… which our current economy has deflated. Its about the money, which keeps them in power. The issue of power and wealth is a key factor in Lincolns train of thought, he held the Planter Class with disdain because the owners did not labor for their wealth, as he and the working class did. But by the labor of men, women and children who gained nothing but survival.

                  • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2012 @ 15:41

                    Tom, it was not slavery itself, but the assurance of their invested interests in slavery which naturally should be protected.

                    Sounds like another distinction without a difference.

                    The issue of power and wealth is a key factor in Lincolns train of thought, he held the Planter Class with disdain because the owners did not labor for their wealth, as he and the working class did.

                    I can find examples that would fit Andrew Johnson, but can you provide an example of Lincoln’s “disdain”? Thanks

                    • Michael C. Lucas Jan 5, 2012 @ 17:32

                      Kevin, to the contrary, their interests and power are a distinction which is hidden by the pious view of the slavery issue. Without slavery to hide behind, its just another war struggling over power. That is the reality. The end of slavery has become the only redeeming factor to support the war, as you yourself have reiterated that the war was caused by slavery. In truth it is not the cause but an issue, used as propaganda even today to vilify the South alone and perpetuate the self-righteous, pious Union for defeating the Confederacy.

                      The following is taken from; http://www.mrlincolnandfreedom.org/inside.asp?ID=5&subjectID=2

                      In “Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements about Abraham Lincoln.”Authors, Douglas Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, also note Lincolns disdain with the planter class.

                      “Mr. Lincoln’s attitudes toward slavery were closely connected to his ideas about work, wealth and justice. Friend and political colleague Joseph Gillespie wrote: ‘Mr. Lincolns sense of justice was intensely strong. It was to this mainly that his hatred of slavery may be attributed. He abhorred the institution. It was about the only public question on which he would become excited. I recollect meeting with him once at Shelbyville when he remarked that something must be done or slavery would overrun the whole country. He said there were about 600,000 non slave holding whites in Kentucky to about 33,000 slave holders. That in the convention then recently held it was expected that the delegates would represent these classes about in proportion to their respective numbers but when the convention assembled there was not a single representative of the non slaveholding class. Every one was in the interest of the slaveholders and said he this thing is spreading like wild fire over the Country. In a few years we will be ready to accept the institution in Illinois and the whole country will adopt it. I asked him to what he attributed the change that was going on in public opinion. He said he had put that question to a Kentuckian shortly before who answered by saying — you might have any amount of land, money in your pocket or bank stock and while travelling around no body would be any the wiser but if you had a darkey trudging at your heels every body would see him & know that you owned slaves — It is the most glittering ostentatious & displaying property in the world and now says he if a young man goes courting the only inquiry is how many negroes he or she owns and not what other property they may have. The love for Slavery property was swallowing up every other mercenary passion. Its ownership betokened not only the possession of wealth but indicated the gentleman of leisure who as was above and scorned labour. These things Mr. Lincoln regarded as highly seductive to the thoughtless and giddy headed young men who looked upon work as vulgar and ungentlemanly. Mr Lincoln was really excited and said with great earnestness that this spirit ought to be met and if possible checked. That slavery was a great & crying injustice an enormous national crime and that we could not expect to escape punishment for it.”

                      Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 183 (Letter from Joseph Gillespie to William H. Herndon, January 31, 1866).

                    • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2012 @ 17:43

                      First, I fail to see how this supports your contention that Lincoln had “disdain” for the planter class. Lincoln clearly had moral problems with slavery and like most Republicans hoped to see the western territories remain open to free labor.

                      Other than that I really don’t understand what point you are trying to make. As I’ve said, white Southerners were crystal clear on the importance that slavery played in how it shaped their attitudes toward the Union and an independent Confederate nation. How this plays into an attempt to “vilify the South is beyond me.

  • CBrinton Jan 1, 2012 @ 11:27

    An item rarely mentioned in these discussions is the Mississippi Resolutions of 1851, from a convention called in response to the controversies of 1850. The resolutions adopted are somewhat surprising in retrospect:

    “The people of Mississippi in Convention assembled, as expressive of their deliberate judgment on the great questions involved in the sectional controversy between the slave holding and non-slave holding States of the American Union, adopt the following resolutions: [. . . .]

    “4th. Resolved, further, That, in the opinion of this Convention, the asserted right of secession from the Union on the part of a State or States is utterly unsanctioned by the Federal Constitution, which was framed to “establish” and not to destroy the Union of the States, and that no secession, can, in fact, take place without a subversion of the Union established, and which will not virtually amount in its effects and consequences to a civil revolution.” [This resolution was adopted by a vote of 73-17; see p. 33] [. . . .]

    [Source: Journal of the Convention of the State of Mississippi, and the Act Calling the Same, with the Constitution of the United States and Washington’s Farewell Address. (Jackson, MS: Thomas Palmer, Convention Printer, 1851). The preamble and resolutions are printed on pp. 47-48. The book is available online through Google Books, at the following link: http://books.google.com/books?id=zTAMAQAAMAAJ ]

    • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2012 @ 12:01

      Thanks so much for passing along this reference. Quigley does an excellent job of tracing the growing embrace of secession in the Deep South, but maintains that throughout much of the 1850s it was embraced by a select few, who as you know were concentrated in South Carolina.

      Getting back to the focus of my post your point sheds light on the extent to which white southerners remained committed to the Union. We are so preoccupied with reducing the political worldview of antebellum white southerners to secession that we lose sight of the extent to which they remained committed to the preservation of the Union.

      • Michael C. Lucas Jan 4, 2012 @ 2:48

        What is key about CBrinton’s post?

        “that no secession, can, in fact, take place ‘without’ a subversion of the Union established” There is a reason this is stated, it is evident they considered subversion as a threat in 1851 and for seceding in 1860, that the Union had been subverted as they saw it. If we question how they were wrong, we must absolutely question why they were right.

        • Kevin Levin Jan 4, 2012 @ 2:53

          There is a reason this is stated, it is evident they considered subversion as a threat in 1851 and for seceding in 1860…

          I don’t really understand what point you are making, but I agree that white Southerners made themselves clear throughout the 1850s about how they viewed the Union.

          • Michael C. Lucas Jan 5, 2012 @ 13:18

            The point is they considered the Centralization under the control of the Free-States, unequal, as a subversive threat, further disenfranchising them of their ability to defend themselves against mob rule legislation. A majority is not always right and those who concur with a majority generally do so because it is to their benefit vs. the higher road to defend freedom and stand against tyranny.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2012 @ 13:21

              The point is they considered the Centralization under the control of the Free-States, unequal, as a subversive threat, further disenfranchising them of their ability to defend themselves against mob rule legislation.

              I am not sure what this even means. Why is centralization capitalized? I agree that the southern states believed that Lincoln and the Republican Party constituted a threat to their “way of life” by 1860. They said so themselves. As to what they were concerned about I suggest you pick up a copy of Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion. I have no idea what you mean by “mob rule legislation.”

            • Andy Hall Jan 5, 2012 @ 13:36

              You’re very close, Michael. The clearer way to state that is, “slaveholding states saw their political leverage in Washington gradually eroded by burgeoning populations in the North and the addition of new, free territories. That, coupled with increasing intolerance in the North for the future expansion of slavery, resulted in support for secession and forming a new republic where the institution of slavery could be protected and expanded, without interference from a Northern population increasingly hostile that institution.”


              • Ray O'Hara Jan 5, 2012 @ 14:12

                The irony being that by rejecting the CONUS and removing themselves from the Union they gave away their only protection of slavery from the Abolitionists, that being the CONUS.

                • Margaret D. Blough Jan 5, 2012 @ 22:05


                  You are so right. There were a few pro-slavery writers who argued against secession for exactly that reason. These writers noted that the Western world had turned against the institution. They warned secessionists that ,rather than secession securing protection for slavery, it removed the only real, however imperfect, protection that Southern slavery had, the Constitution. The secessionists ignored them

              • Michael C. Lucas Jan 5, 2012 @ 14:54

                Andy, the point is the control of the expansion of power, it didn’t matter they were slaveholders. It mattered what power that slaveholders had and that was what was intolerable. Which is what Thomas Jefferson understood was the issue at hand when he wrote his letter to John Holmes, referring to the Missouri Compromise. That it was the power being made unequal rather equally shared between the two regions, because it drew a line between the two regions. Jefferson understood, that by allowing the freedom of expansion to all, slavery would disappear integrating, absorbed, within the nations development.

                • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2012 @ 15:20

                  Andy, the point is the control of the expansion of power, it didn’t matter they were slaveholders. It mattered what power that slaveholders had and that was what was intolerable.

                  This is basically a distinction without a difference.

                • Margaret D. Blough Jan 5, 2012 @ 16:08

                  Jefferson, from anything I have been able to find, was virtually the only person who at least purported to believe that. Both Republicans and slavery advocates believed that expansion was essential to the survival of slavery. It was the Louisiana Purchase that tipped the power balance between slave states and free further toward slave by adding a massive territory in which slavery was long established, thus, with the 3/5 compromise adding even more to slave state power in the federal government. The crisis that resulted in the Missouri Compromise occurred in large part because the issue of admitting new slave states carved out of the Purchase had come to a head.

                  Power as an abstract concept is meaningless. It is what those who have power propose to do with it that produces resistance.

                • Andy Hall Jan 5, 2012 @ 16:13

                  The early secession conventions did not describe it in terms of abstract “power.” They justified the actions specifically in term of protecting their rights as slaveholders. The used that explicitly to define themselves and their cause.

                  • Michael C. Lucas Jan 5, 2012 @ 18:18

                    The following excerpts of secession ordinances, are very clear regarding the issue of power. Defending their rights as sovereign states from the usurpation by the United States and the subjugation of their power. Yes, slavery is inclusive within their rights.


                    “SECTION 1.– We, the people of the State of Texas, by delegates in convention assembled, do declare and ordain that the ordinance adopted by our convention of delegates on the 4th day of July, A.D. 1845, and afterwards ratified by us, under which the Republic of Texas was admitted into the Union with other States, and became a party to the compact styled “The Constitution of the United States of America,” be, and is hereby, repealed and annulled; that all the powers which, by the said compact, were delegated by Texas to the Federal Government are revoked and resumed; that Texas is of right absolved from all restraints and obligations incurred by said compact, and is a separate sovereign State, and that her citizens and people are absolved from all allegiance to the United States or the government thereof.”


                    We do further declare and ordain, That the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government; and that she is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.


                    Sec 2. Be it further declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled, That all powers over the Territory of said State, and over the people thereof, heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America, be and they are hereby withdrawn from said Government, and are hereby resumed and vested in the people of the State of Alabama.


                    AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of Mississippi and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”
                    The people of the State of Mississippi, in convention assembled, do ordain and declare, and it is hereby ordained and declared, as follows, to wit:
                    Section 1. That all the laws and ordinances by which the said State of Mississippi became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America be, and the same are hereby, repealed, and that all obligations on the part of the said State or the people thereof to observe the same be withdrawn, and that the said State doth hereby resume all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws or ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the said United States, and is absolved from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred to the said Federal Union, and shall from henceforth be a free, sovereign, and independent State.”


                    Whereas, the Federal Constitution, which created the Government of the United States, was declared by the framers thereof to be the supreme law of the land, and was intended to limit and did expressly limit the powers of said Government to certain general specified purposes, and did expressly reserve to the States and people all other powers whatever, and the President and Congress have treated this supreme law of the Union with contempt and usurped to themselves the power to interfere with the rights and liberties of the States and the people against the expressed provisions of the Constitution, and have thus substituted for the highest forms of national liberty and constitutional government a central despotism founded upon the ignorant prejudices of the masses of Northern society, and instead of giving protection with the Constitution to the people of fifteen States of this Union have turned loose upon them the unrestrained and raging passions of mobs and fanatics, and because we now seek to hold our liberties, our property, our homes, and our families under the protection of the reserved powers of the States, have blockaded our ports, invaded our soil, and waged war upon our people for the purpose of subjugating us to their will;”


                    DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND ORDINANCE dissolving the federal relations between the State of Tennessee and the United States of America.
                    First. We, the people of the State of Tennessee, waiving any expression of opinion as to the abstract doctrine of secession, but asserting the right, as a free and independent people, to alter, reform, or abolish our form of government in such manner as we think proper, do ordain and declare that all the laws and ordinances by which the State of Tennessee became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America are hereby abrogated and annulled, and that all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws and ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the United States, and to absolve ourselves from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred thereto; and do hereby henceforth become a free, sovereign, and independent State.”


                    AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union now existing between the State of Arkansas and the other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”
                    Whereas, in addition to the well-founded causes of complaint set forth by this convention, in resolutions adopted on the 11th of March, A.D. 1861, against the sectional party now in power in Washington City, headed by Abraham Lincoln, he has, in the face of resolutions passed by this convention pledging the State of Arkansas to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas:


                    “AN ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution.

                    The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitition were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States:”

                    Confederate April 29th 1861 (Ratification of the Constitution)
                    “In order to guard against any misconstruction of their compact, the several States made explicit declaration in a distinct article – that “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.”

                    • Ray O'Hara Jan 5, 2012 @ 18:30

                      From the Constitution of the United States
                      Article VI {2nd clause}

                      “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

                      every one of those ordinances violates that clause as they are in contradiction to the CONUS being the supreme law of the land.

                    • Andy Hall Jan 5, 2012 @ 19:23

                      Come, on, Michael, do you not think I’ve read these?

                      With respect to Texas, at least, you do understand that you’re quoting the Ordinance of Secession, rather than the Declaration of Causes, the complimentary document that actually explains why they seceded, right? You understand that the former is the act itself, and the latter is the document that the secession convention prepared for their fellow citizens and future generations to explain their actions, right?

                      You say that “slavery is inclusive in their rights.” You’d better believe it; the Texas Declaration of Causes mentions some variation of the word “slave” twenty-two times.

                    • Jim Dick Jan 5, 2012 @ 20:01

                      Isn’t that amazing? You left out any mention of slavery in those.
                      South Carolina
                      We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

                      Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

                      The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.
                      The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States.

                      Forget the crap about a compact. That was nothing more than an attempt by the seceding states to give legitimatcy to their counter revolution. They were protecting the institution of slavery and their power over a government which they had lost.

                  • Margaret D. Blough Jan 5, 2012 @ 18:50

                    Andy-That is what is so fascinating about all of this Lost Cause mythologizing. Contrary to the Lost Cause-21st Century edition insistence that those who insist on the role of slavery are guilty of “presentism”, the fact is that the secessionists and the pro-slavery forces that preceded them in the decades preceding the Civil War left an extensive record of what they were doing and why.

  • Rob Baker Jan 1, 2012 @ 10:00

    Good analysis. Our modern schema does not have the same context as the schema of those on the verge of secession. I’ll have to check out quigley’s book

  • Jim Dick Jan 1, 2012 @ 7:44

    The concept of a united South is a post Civil War invention. Southern nationalism was at best a fledgling concept in 1861 and with the exception of a few individuals or die hard secessionists non-existent right up to the election of Lincoln. David Potter’s Impending Crisis is a good study in this area as well as the early chapters of William C. Davis’s Look Away!.
    I have finished an article on the issue of secession and I’m looking to get it published. My research shows that secession was not legal nor is it legal today. Most pro-secessionists will argue that secession was justified and use many of the arguments we’ve seen over the years, but for the most part they overlook the issue of legality. The interesting part is how they look to the Declaration of Independence and various quotes of Thomas Jefferson for their views. When they use the Declaration they say they had the right to leave the union, but the reasoning they give is very, very weak.

    The best answer to whether it was legal or not is to look at the debate over the ratification of the Constitution.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2012 @ 8:41

      Like I said, I am not so interested in whether secession was/is legal as I am in the question of how/why it became more accepted throughout the South by 1860. Quigley actually spends quite a bit of time on how the pro-secession community came to interpret the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Era as a whole. I highly recommend it.

      Admittedly, this is a muddled post. What I was trying to suggest is that regardless of how much emotion and analytical rigor we put into the question of secession today it does not in any significant way mirror the debate that Americans engaged in on the eve of the Civil War.

      • Peter Jan 1, 2012 @ 11:12

        I think you are stacking the deck a bit by even asking “how/why [secession] became more accepted throughout the South by 1860.” Arguably, secession had only become a bit more accepted throughout the Deep South. As you know, even within most of the first wave of secessions, we must be careful when assessing how well the conventions reflected the (white) population of the state. Dan Crofts, Russell McClintock, et. al., demonstrate that the Upper South only endorsed secession after it they perceived that federal government was willing to use military force upon the Deep South. I would have to agree, then, that our modern discussion over the legalities of secession often pales in comparison to the debates of the actors themselves.

        But, I do think that by setting aside the question of “legality” you are missing something. Most secessionists would have said that secession is legal because it is not expressly prohibited by the Constitution. Many times people will glibly equate “states’ rights” with the right to hold slaves, which does miss some of the dual nature of the term “states’ rights.” Many times, secessionists are using the term to refer not to what are enumerated in the Constitution, but to refer to the generally understood rights of nation-states (roughly in synch with the compact theory of the Constitution). Under this view, the states did not give up their sovereignty and rights as nation-states when they joined the Union. I think this sheds a bit more light on the final Quigley quotation, because the Southern states had a recourse if the pinch or liability became too much (and that this recourse had already been built into the Constitution).

        • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2012 @ 11:49

          Hi Peter,

          It’s really nice to hear from you and congratulations on your new book: http://www.kentstateuniversitypress.com/2011/the-story-of-a-thousand/

          Thanks for giving this a careful read even though it probably doesn’t merit such attention. First, I completely agree with you re: the difference between the Upper and Lower South. If I had taken more time I would have acknowledged that distinction. You also make a good point re: the salience of secession’s legal basis. Again, I should have been clearer. The question of how southerners understood these crucial concepts ought to take center stage in any analysis of the coming of secession. I was simply trying to point out that I am not preoccupied with the question of whether secession is constitutional. Hope that addresses your concern.

          • Peter Jan 1, 2012 @ 12:07

            I suppose the overall point of your post, is that when talking about secession, we need to do so in a historical manner that reflects upon how the people at the time grappled with the legality of secession as one among many.

            I think it is also worth pointing out that the question of secession, nationalism, and constitutionality is often framed in terms of the South alone. This subtly slants us towards an interpretation that the North is the norm/correct/right in even the approach. To interrogate the final Quigley quotation just a bit; who was “pinching” the South and for what purpose? This just enlarges on your point, I think, that while the South was not us, the North was not us, either. Because the general nation-state we live in today possesses a direct link to the North, I think the tendency is to accept that we are somehow akin to the North.

            I highly recommend David Potter’s classic essays, “The Historian’s Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa” for a splendid discussion of the topic.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2012 @ 12:14

              That’s exactly my point. Admittedly, there is nothing surprising about such a suggestion, but it has been on my mind since finishing the book and because of some of the online sites that I find interesting.

              Your point about how we relate to the North is also well taken. It reminds me of Robert Penn Warren’s famous reference to a “treasury of virtue” that many northerners embrace as their own. I read Potter’s essay years ago, but perhaps I need to go back and read it again. Thanks.

              • Peter Jan 1, 2012 @ 16:55

                I agree about the “treasury of virtue,” most especially in discussions regarding the North and emancipation. But I meant something a little bit more along the lines of how even the way we frame our questions places an emphasis on the South as active and the North as passive/normative. What changed in the North that encouraged the growth of a southern nationalism, and so forth. I have a very high opinion of Marc Egnal’s “Clash of Extremes” precisely because he does attempt to show move/countermove in the economic arena between different subsections of the North and the South. Likewise, Peter Onuf and Nicholas Onuf’s “Nations, Markets, and War” makes the argument that according to the prevailing theories of political economy and political theory at the time, that secession made sense. Southerners weren’t deviating from the norm of the global-historical perspective (as understood at the time), but rather it was the North. All of this is just to agree that we need to approach the Civil War with a broad spectrum of approaches, conscious of the fact that the meanings of nation, North, and South were very much in flux.

        • Margaret D. Blough Jan 1, 2012 @ 15:37

          I think Madison rather demolished that line of reasoning regarding secession, not that the Calhounites ever admitted it, in his letters during the Nullification Crisis.

          • Peter Jan 1, 2012 @ 17:01

            I think you’ve fallen into the trap that Kevin has described. Madison appears to have demolished that line of reasoning only because the federal government prevailed during the Civil War. Stephen Neff’s “Justice in Blue and Gray,” and Harold Hyman’s “A More Perfect Union” both go into some depth the legal understandings of states’ rights and the vibrancy of compact theory on the eve of the Civil War.

            • Margaret D. Blough Jan 1, 2012 @ 17:40

              Don’t be condescending. I’ll stack my reading of issues involving secession against yours any day. I’m aware of and have considered the arguments you state. I find them unpersuasive and not following the accepted canons of constitutional and statutory construction. Calhoun and his followers recognized the danger Madison represented to them. Madison’s reasoning is reflected in President Jackson’s proclamation to the people of South Carolina. Madison, as president, had prepared to use military force if the Hartford Convention had resulted in an attempt by one or more New England states to secede.

              No one doubts that there were those who argued for constitutionality of secession, but it makes little sense that a Constitution that set about to provide a more perfect union would created an institution that could be demolished at the unilateral whim of each state. It makes even less sense that the Constitution would specify how the Constitution can be amended, how states can enter the union and how states can be divided but, if the Framers intended for secession to be constitutional, is stunningly silent on HOW this is to be done. Even under contract theory, it’s a very poor contract in which one party can unilaterally declare the contract null and void without the other party having any forum to attempt to compel enforcement of the terms of the contract. No matter how “vibrant” the secessionists’ view of the constitutionality of secession was, it was never the prevailing view, it was never recognized by any government of the United States, and, as Ray pointed out, they never tried legal channels to enforce this alleged constitutional right. Personally, I think if South Carolina had tried to get the Constitution amended to let it go, it just might have gotten it.

              • Jim Dick Jan 1, 2012 @ 18:11

                This is often an area that is overlooked. Madison wrote the Virginia Resolution and he purposely avoided using the terms nullify or seceded. Later during the Nullification crisis Madison denied that any state had the right to secede or nullify a federal action except through judicial review. We also have to remember that every state repudiated Virginia and Kentucky’s Resolutions. Jefferson and Madison didn’t see eye to eye on everything, especially on the Constitution and the wording in these two resolutions shows that.
                What I always find interesting in this debate is that the issue was resolved in 1788 by the Anti-Federalists. They stated that if the Constitution was ratified the Union was indissolvable and permanent. Jefferson hated the idea and wrote otherwise, but Jefferson was not part of the debate. Unfortunately, his compact idea was revived by the South Carolina secessionists.
                That’s where the problem is. The Founders except for Jefferson knew secession as illegal and that the Constitution was not a compact.

                • Margaret D. Blough Jan 1, 2012 @ 23:08

                  To put the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions into perspective, two critical events had not yet taken place when they were passed (1) the election of 1800. This was the great watershed where one party peacefully handed over the reigns of power to a party that held a diametrically opposed set of principles after losing an election, especially a truly vicious election. The transfer was grudging and it wasn’t pretty, but it happened. (2) The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison that established the US Supreme Court as the reviewer of the constitutionality of federal laws.

                  • Ken Noe Jan 2, 2012 @ 9:20

                    As an aside, Marbury v. Madison established Judicial Review in the eyes of the court and its supporters, but decades would pass before it was accepted across the board as precedent. Andrew Jackson, for example, disputed the notion in the 1830s, claiming that power for himself, while almost everyone but the white south attacked the court’s second attempt at judicial review in Dred Scott.

                    • Margaret D. Blough Jan 4, 2012 @ 16:33

                      Ken-I understand that. The point is that, when the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were issued, things were even more in the air. There are things that we take for granted now that were not givens for early citizens of the US: peaceful transfer of power, how the constitutionality of federal executive or legislative action was to be reviewed, etc.

                      That’s why I think the enormity of what secessionists did in 1860-1861 has been nearly obliterated by the Lost Causers. The ONLY action involving the US government that preceded the beginning of secession was a presidential campaign that resulted in the constitutionally valid, legally sound election of a candidate from the Republican Party as President of the United States and an increase in the number of Republicans in Congress. Trying to destroy the Union because of this went to the very heart of the covenant on which representative government is based. In a representative government, the losing side in such an election is supposed to accept the result and concentrate on prevailing in the next contest.

            • Ray O'Hara Jan 1, 2012 @ 21:42

              What possible right to secede did a state created out of the La Purchase, or from land taken from Mexico have? They owed their entire existence to Congress. Would Congress and the People of the USA bother to spend money and/or blood to acquire land, turn it into a state just to let that state declare itself independent and no longer bound to the CONUS at the whim of a small group?

              Would there be a waiting period or could the new state upon being granted statehood secede the very next day after it was approved?

              to think these states had such a right is absurd.

              • Tom Logue Jan 2, 2012 @ 15:22

                Seceding states, like Florida, which were formed out of federal territories had a response to that argument. They noted that they were admitted into the Union with all of the powers and prerogatives of the other States. Because (as they believed) the original states had the right to secede, so did they.

                • Margaret D. Blough Jan 4, 2012 @ 16:39

                  Florida’s argument is lame. The argument for the original states was that, when they entered into the Constitution, they were independent, sovereign states. States admitted afterwards were creatures of Congress. I find it fascinating, though, that the Framers of the Confederate Constitution declined the opportunity to enshrine the alleged right of secession in that document and that the Confederacy brutally suppressed Unionists in East Tennessee, which had been attempting to get recognized as a separate state (Franklin) since the time of the Articles of Confederation.

                • Ray O'Hara Jan 4, 2012 @ 17:52

                  Tom. U.S.Grant summed it up here in this except from his Memoirs
                  Chapter XVI

                  “Doubtless the founders of our government, the majority of them at least, regarded the confederation of the colonies as an experiment. Each colony considered itself a separate government; that the confederation was for mutual protection against a foreign foe, and the prevention of strife and war among themselves. If there had been a desire on the part of any single State to withdraw from the compact at any time while the number of States was limited to the original thirteen, I do not suppose there would have been any to contest the right, no matter how much the determination might have been regretted. The problem changed on the ratification of the Constitution by all the colonies; it changed still more when amendments were added; and if the right of any one State to withdraw continued to exist at all after the ratification of the Constitution, it certainly ceased on the formation of new States, at least so far as the new States themselves were concerned. It was never possessed at all by Florida or the States west of the Mississippi, all of which were purchased by the treasury of the entire nation. Texas and the territory brought into the Union in consequence of annexation, were purchased with both blood and treasure; and Texas, with a domain greater than that of any European state except Russia, was permitted to retain as state property all the public lands within its borders. It would have been ingratitude and injustice of the most flagrant sort for this State to withdraw from the Union after all that had been spent and done to introduce her; yet, if separation had actually occurred, Texas must necessarily have gone with the South, both on account of her institutions and her geographical position. Secession was illogical as well as impracticable; it was revolution.”

      • Ray O'Hara Jan 1, 2012 @ 11:13

        I think the question is why didn’t the secessionist try “legal” means.
        Why did they just go unilaterally with a “just try to stop us” attitude without first trying to go through Congress.. With the national strength of the Democratic Party and a “just let them go” attutude among many in the North I think they might have succeeded in getting their way.
        Why choose the most belligerent method possible?
        If they had failed in Congress the unilateral/war option was still there but once they played the screw you card they opened the door toa differing Constitutional interpretation and left themselves with no back up plan.

        • Margaret D. Blough Jan 1, 2012 @ 17:47

          Ray- The secessionists were counting on a wave of hysteria during the presidential election contest and following Lincoln’s election to increase support in the slave states. I’m reading Adam Goodheart’s “1861”. One hears a lot about Republican rejection of Crittenden’s attempts at compromise, but not nearly so much about the fact that the secessionists, including senators from states joining in the rebellion, rejected them out of hand as well. The last thing the secessionists wanted to do was give Lincoln a chance to prove that he could be reasonable. The secessionists did not want to lose their momentum.

    • DEO VINDICE Oct 31, 2012 @ 8:20

      Session is perfectly legal not just here to this day but as other countries are still trying to do as well such as Ireland who been at a political war of session against Britain for 100 of years as the same with Scotland and so forth, even the Baltic states.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 31, 2012 @ 8:27

        Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to clarify the complex constitutional questions that frame this issue.

      • Andy Hall Oct 31, 2012 @ 8:53

        “Session is perfectly legal. . . .”

        That’s interesting, because under U.S. law, that issue was was decided by the Supreme Court in 1869 in Texas v. White. That ruling has never been overturned, so strictly speaking, secession has not been legal for almost 150 years now, if it ever was in the first place. I’m sure you are not happy with that decision, but in the strict legal sense, this matter was decided long ago; you ignore that legal reality at the peril of your credibility.

        Would secession pass muster today with the Supremes? Almost certainly not; even the most “originalist” member of the court, Associate Justice Scalia, has plainly said so.

        No doubt you and others will continue to argue that secession is a “natural law” or some such, and that’s fine. And you can also argue that the law itself is wrong in how it views secession, that secession should be legal. But it’s not, hasn’t been for well over a century, and to insist otherwise is simply to demonstrate a profound ignorance of what the law actually is.

        Oh, wait — you said “session is perfectly legal.” I agree completely about that. In fact, I’ve been to many, many sessions myself. Sorry, I thought you meant “secession.” My bad. Please carry on.

  • Wallace Hettle Jan 1, 2012 @ 7:19

    I don’t mean to be pedantic, especially since I enjoy this blog. But Kevin, in the first line you ask readers not to hold their “breadth.” Is there a double meaning here?

    I can only speak for myself, but the holiday food has greatly expanded my breadth, in my waist-line if not my scholarship.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2012 @ 7:21

      Thanks, Wallace. That’s what happens when you write a post first thing in the morning. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *