During the period in which the Constitution was adopted, “it was taken for granted that any State becoming dissatisfied might withdraw from the compact, for cause of which she was to be her own judge.” One of the loudest voices during ratification concerning the encroachment of the federal agent upon the authority of the States was Massachusetts.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
South Sinned Following Massachusetts Example
“I shall endeavor to entertain you for a brief space with the ideas and observations of occurrence as they appeared to a Southern man concerning the great civil war. It is proper that you should hear the inscription read upon the other side of the shield.
This generation is yet too near the great struggle to deal with it in true historic spirit. Yet it is well for you to remember that the South is quite as far removed from it as is the North; and the North has industriously undertaken from the beginning to write the history of that contest between the sections, to set forth its causes and to justify its results – and naturally in the interest of the victorious side.
It is both wise and considerate of you to let the losing side be heard in your midst. If you should refuse to do so it will nevertheless be heard in time, before that great bar, the public opinion of the world, whose jurisdiction you cannot avoid, and whose verdict you cannot unduly influence. Neither side acts wisely in attempting to forestall that verdict!
It is well to remember, too, that epithets and hard names, which assume the guilt that is to be proven, will not serve for arguments for [future historians] of the Republic, except for the purpose of warning them against the intemperate partiality of their authors. The modest action of the common law should be imitated in the treatment of historic questions, which considers every accused person as innocent until his guilt is proven. Murder is treated as simply homicide until there is proof that the killing was felonious.
In treating, for example, of all questions pertaining to the war, you assume the guilt of your adversaries at the outset. You speak of the secession movement as a rebellion , and you characterize all who participated in it as “rebels and traitors.” Your daily literature, as well as your daily conversation, teems with it. Your school histories and books of elementary instruction impress it in almost every page upon the young. Your laws, State and Federal, have enacted the terms. Yet every lawyer and intelligent citizen among you must be well aware that in a technical and legal sense there was no rebellion, and there were no rebels!
In attempting to withdraw herself from the Union of the States by repealing, on the 20th of May, 1861, the ordinance by the adoption of which she had entered the Union on the 21st of November 1789, against whom and what did North Carolina rebel?
To whom had she sworn allegiance? Certainly to nobody; to no government; to nothing but the constitution of the United States. Was she violating that oath when she thus withdrew?
When Virginia and New York reserved, upon their accession to the constitution, their right to withdraw from the same, and declared that the powers granted might be resumed whenever the same shall be perverted to “their injury or oppression,” did those States reserve the right to commit treason?
When Massachusetts openly threatened to separate from the union upon the admission of Louisiana as a State, was she conscious that she was threatening treason and rebellion? When her Legislature, in 1803, “resolved that the annexation of Louisiana to the Union transcends the constitutional power of the United States,” and that it “formed a new Confederacy to which the States united by the former compact are not bound to adhere,” was that not a declaration that secession was a constitutional remedy?
Again, the same principle was proclaimed by the authority of Massachusetts in the Hartford Convention, where it was declared “that when emergencies occur which are either beyond the reach of judicial tribunals or too pressing to admit of delay incident to their forms, States which have no common umpire must be their own judges and execute their own decisions.”
With such a record, to which might be added page after page of corroborating quotation from her statesmen and her archives, should not the ancient Commonwealth of Massachusetts be a little modest in denouncing as “traitors” those whose sin consisted in following her example?”
(Life of Zebulon B. Vance, Clement Dowd, Observer Publishing, 1897, pp. 431-433)