Clearly defined in the United States Constitution is this: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of Levying war against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort . . .” Note the word “them” – not the United States collectively, and that John Brown was convicted of treason against Virginia. Though Lincoln’s predecessor did not agree with secession, he saw no constitutional authority to coerce a State, and knew that to wage war against a State was treason. Lincoln had no such inhibitions. The following is excerpted from a letter from Jefferson Davis to Mississippi newspaper publisher and war veteran J.L. Power, dated June 19, 1884.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
A Palpable Violation of the Constitution
[From] the statement in regard to Fort Sumter, a child might suppose that a foreign army had attacked the United States – certainly could not learn that the State of South Carolina was merely seeking possession of a fort on her own soil, and claiming that her grant of the site had become void.
The tyrant’s plea of necessity to excuse despotic usurpation is offered for the unconstitutional act of emancipation, and the poor resort to prejudice is invoked in the use of the epithet “rebellion” – a word inapplicable to States generally, and most especially so to the sovereign members of a voluntary union. But, alas for their ancient prestige, [the States] have even lost the plural reference they had in the Constitution . . . Such language would be appropriate to an imperial Government, which in absorbing territories required the subject inhabitants to swear allegiance to it.
Ignorance and artifice have combined so to misrepresent the matter of official oaths in the United States that it may be well to give the question more than a passing notice. When the “sovereign, independent States of America,” formed a constitutional compact of union it was provided in the sixth article thereof that the officers “of the United States and of the several States shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution . . .”
That was the oath. The obligation was to support the Constitution. It created no new obligation, for the citizen already owed allegiance to his respective State, and through her to the Union of which she was a member.
The conclusion is unavoidable that those who did not support, but did not violate the Constitution, were they who broke their official oaths.
The General Government had only the powers delegated to it by the States. The power to coerce a State was not given, but emphatically refused.
Therefore, to invade a State, to overthrow its government by force of arms, was a palpable violation of the Constitution, which officers had sworn to support, and thus to levy war against States which the Federal officers claimed to be, notwithstanding their ordinances of secession, still in the Union, was the treason defined in the third section of the third article of the Constitution, the only treason recognized by the fundamental law of the United States.
By all that is revered in the memory of our Revolutionary sires, and sacred in the principles they established, let not the children of the United States be taught that our Federal Government is sovereign; that our sires, after having, by a long and bloody war, won community independence, used the power, not for the end sought, but to transfer their allegiance, and by oath or otherwise bind their posterity to be the subjects of another government, from which they could only free themselves by force of arms.”
Respectfully, Jefferson Davis”
(Jefferson Davis, the Essential Writings, William J. Cooper, Jr., editor, Modern Library, 2003, excerpts, pp. 431-432)