Browsing "Bringing on the War"

Lincoln’s New Frame of Mind

Allan Ramsey was a court painter to George III as well as a published political theorist, who argued, regarding the American revolutionists, that “should the people remain obstinate, their scorched and impoverished land could be occupied by loyal immigrants.” As he saw the inhabitants of British America as bidding defiance to the Crown and in a state of war with the King’s forces, they should expect no mercy and total war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s New Frame of Mind

“We have here the germ of the twentieth-century rationale for total war: war aimed at the people of a nation, scorched-earth strategy, the bombing of civilian populations, massive deportations of people, and the enslavement of the vanquished. Total war is not unique to the twentieth century, nor is it due to “technology,” which has merely made its implementation more practicable and terrible.

Modern total war is possible only among “civilized” nations. It is shaped and legitimated by an act of reflection, a way of thinking about the world whereby an entire people become the enemy. This requires a prior act of total criticism, which is the characteristic mark of the philosophical act.

The concept of civilized warfare is unique to Europe and lasted about two centuries, roughly from the beginning of the eighteenth century until World War I. Civilized war was to be between combatants only and could not be directed against civilians as part of a strategy for victory.

The most important part of this system consisted of the rules for ending a war and establishing and equitable peace. The vanquished were to be treated with respect. Compensation to the victor was not to be conceived as punishment but as the cost of defeat in an honorable contest of arms. The idea of demanding unconditional surrender was out of the question. Such a demand denies the nation the right to exist and so would destroy the principle of the comity of nations.

The distinguished military historian B.H. Liddell Hart judged that the first break in the system came not from Europe but from America, when Lincoln shocked European opinion by directing war against the civilian population of the eleven American States that in State conventions (the same legal instrument that had authorized the State’s entrance into the union) had voted to withdraw from the federation and form a union of their own.

Lincoln’s scorched-earth policy and demand for unconditional surrender exhibited a new frame of mind that only eighty years later would reveal itself in the terror-bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima . . . it has been estimated that more than 135,000 perished in the British and American bombing of Dresden, carried out within three months of the end of the war, when the defeat of Germany was certain.

Dresden was a city of no military value and known to be packed with refugees, mostly women and children fleeing from the Soviet armies in the east.

[America entered World War I in 1917] and rather than [seek] a negotiated settlement . . . Social progressives now spiritualized the war into a holy crusade to restructure all of Europe, to abolish autocracy, and to establish universal democracy. The war was transformed by the language of totality. It was now the war to make the world safe for democracy, and the war to end all wars. The concept of the final war, the philosophically reflexive war, is perhaps the ultimate in the barbarism of refinement.”

(Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium, Hume’s Pathology of Philosophy, Donald W. Livingston, University of Chicago Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 297-299)

 

America’s Crisis of Nationalism

John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902) was an English historian, politician and writer who was sympathetic toward the American Confederacy as he saw its constituent States defending themselves against an oppressive centralized government under Lincoln. He noted that though the United States had begun as a federated republic of sovereign States, it was fast becoming a centralized democracy operating on simple majority rule – “the tyrannical principle of the French Revolution.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

America’s Crisis of Nationalism

“The French Revolution constitutes a dividing line in history, before which the concept of nationality did not exist. “In the old European system, the rights of nationalities were neither recognized by governments not asserted by the people.” Frontiers were determined by the interests of ruling families. Absolutists cared only for the state and liberals only for the individual. The idea of nationality in Europe was awakened by the partition of Poland.

This event left, for the first time, a nation desiring to be united as a state – a soul wandering in search of a body, as [Lord] Acton put it. The absolutist governments which had divided up Poland – Russia, Prussia, and Austria – were to encounter two hostile forces, the English spirit of liberty and the doctrines of the French Revolution. These two forces supported the nascent idea of nationality, but they did so along different paths.

When the absolutist government of France was overthrown, the people needed a new principle of unity. Without this, the theory of popular will could have broken the country into as many republics as there were communes.

At this point the theory of the sovereignty of the people was used to create an idea of nationality independent of the course of history. France became a Republic One and Indivisible. This signified that no part could speak for whole. The central power simply obeyed the whole. There was a power supreme over the state, distinct from and independent of its members. Hence there developed a concept of nationality free from all influence of history.

The revolution of 1848, though unsuccessful, promoted the idea of nationality in two ways.

[Lord] Acton brought [the theory of nationality versus the right of nationality] to bear upon the American crisis of 1861. He . . . took the story of the American sectional conflict and [placed] it in the wider frame of the French revolutionary nationalism and the ensuing movements toward unification.

For Acton therefore the great debate over the nature of the American union and the Civil War was not a unique event, but part of that political spasm . . . which was then affecting Europe and erupting in military struggles.

Acton addressed himself to the problem in a long essay on “The Political Causes of the American Revolution” [in May 1861] . . . By “American Revolution” Acton meant the Civil War, then on the verge of breaking out. His essay was a causal exposition of the forces which had made this a crisis of nationalism.

His approval of [John C.] Calhoun centers really on one point: Calhoun had seen that the real essence of a constitution lies in its negative aspect, not in its positive one. It is more important for a constitution in a democracy to prohibit than to provide.

The will of the majority would always be reaching out for more power, unless this could be checked by some organic law, the end of liberty would come when the federal authority became the institute of the popular will instead of its barrier.”

(Lord Acton: The Historian as Thinker; In Defense of Tradition, Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, Liberty Fund, 2000, excerpts pp. 624-628)

 

 

Bombarding Americans for Amusement

North Carolina’s coast Fort Hatteras was an early and easy target of the Northern navy, and which capitulated after furious bombardment on 29 August 1861. Two of the enemy warships carried 44 guns each, while Fort Hatteras mounted only ten small-caliber cannon. Though the attack was badly-managed and accomplished little, it was successful and the US Navy Department “dared not criticize [the expedition’s commander] in the face of both public praise for him and the Navy.” The troops invading North /Carolina were from New Yorkers, many of them recent immigrants unfamiliar with the American system of government.

An irony of this affair is an American warship named after Jefferson’s home firing salvos at a fort which defends a State declaring its independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Bombarding Americans for Amusement

“With ill-conceived boats badly managed, the landing through the surf was a matter of no little difficulty and danger. And what with bad appliances, and still worse management, but about 280 men were landed, including 50 Marines . . . 60 Regulars of the [2nd] artillery, the balance being composed of a miserable, thieving set of rascals, terming themselves “Coast Guard” or Naval Brigade,” without officers or organization of any kind and a promiscuous crowd of about 150 of Max Weber’s regiment of Germans who were but little better than their confreres, the “Brigands.”

These men landed and, scattered about the beach, were useless for any practical purpose and in the event of our bombardment proving unsuccessful, they were merely a present to the enemy of so much bone and sinew, arms and accoutrements.

The Monticello by this time had crawled out of her hot berth, like a wounded bird; one boat dangling at the davit, her topsail yard shivered and the sail hanging in tatters, and numerous holes in her sides testified to the nature of the amusement she had indulged in.

Soon the roar of guns, the rushing of shell, proclaimed the recommencement of the fun. The Minnesota and Susquehanna joined company and for one hour we kept up a continued and unremitting fire with, I am ashamed to say, no effect whatever except making a great noise and smoke.

Night was coming on . . . we all retired leaving things just as they were . . . On shore was a small party of our troops, such as they were [and including] a mob of thieving wretches without leader or commander, calling themselves “Naval Brigadiers,” and a miscellaneous lot of Dutchmen under the command of Col. Weber, in all about 250 souls.

No attempt was made either to relieve or reinforce them, but they were left to the chance of the enemy letting them alone through the night, and the weather coming calm, than which nothing was more unlikely.”

(Early Blockade and the Capture of the Hatteras Forts; John D. Hays & John S. Barnes, editors, The New York Historical Society Quarterly, Volume XLVI, Number 1, January 1962, excerpts pp. 80-82)

 

Preferring Compromise to War

Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois addressed the United States Senate on January 3, 1861 (below), after the Committee of Thirteen was unable to agree on a plan to remedy the escalating sectional crisis between North and South. He promoted several constitutional amendments to peacefully reestablish the Union on the basis of sectional integrity and national prosperity. The new Republican Party refused several attempts at compromise, and invaded the American South after provoking a conflict at Charleston harbor.  It should be remembered that Article 3, Section 3 or the Constitution defines treason as waging war against “them,” the united States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Preferring Compromise to War

“In my opinion, the Constitution was intended as a bond of perpetual Union. It was intended to last [forever], and was so understood when ratified by the people of the several States. New York and Virginia have been referred to as having ratified with the reserved right to withdraw or secede at pleasure. This was a mistake. [Their intention was] that they had not surrendered the right to resume the delegated powers, [and] must be understood as referring to the right of revolution, which nobody acknowledges more freely than I do, and not the right of secession.

Nor do I sympathize at all in all the apprehensions and misgivings I hear expressed about coercion. We are told that inasmuch as our Government is founded upon the will of the people, or the consent of the governed, therefore coercion is incompatible with republicanism. Sir, the word government means coercion. There can be no Government without coercion.

But coercion must always be used in the mode prescribed in the Constitution and laws. But the proposition to subvert the de facto government of South Carolina, and reduce the people of that State into subjection to our Federal authority, no longer involves the question of enforcing the laws in a country within our possession; but does involve a question whether we will make war on a State which has withdrawn her allegiance and expelled our authorities, with the view of subjecting her to our possession for the purpose of enforcing our laws within her limits.

I desire to know from my Union-loving friends on the other side of the Chamber how they intend to enforce the laws in the seceding States, except by making war, conquering them first, and administering the laws in them afterwards.

In my opinion, we have reached a point where dissolution is inevitable, unless some compromise, founded upon mutual concession, can be made. I prefer compromise to war. The preservation of this Union, the integrity of this Republic, is of more importance than party platforms or individual records.

Why not allow the people to pass [judgment] on these questions? All we have to do is to submit [the constitutional compromises] to the States. If the people reject them, theirs will be the responsibility . . . if they accept them, the country will be safe, and at peace.

The political party which shall refuse to allow [the] people do determine for themselves at the ballot-box the issue between revolution and war on the one side, and obstinate adherence to a party platform on the other, will assume a fearful responsibility.

A war upon a political issue, waged by a people of eighteen States against a people of fifteen States, is a fearful and revolting thought. The South will be a unit, and desperate, under the belief that your object in waging war is their destruction, and not the preservation of the Union; that you meditate servile insurrection . . . by fire and sword, in the name and under the pretext of enforcing the laws and vindicating the authority of the Government.

You know that such is the prevailing opinion at the South; and that ten million people are preparing for the conflict under that conviction.”

(The Politics of Dissolution: the Quest for a National Identity & the American Civil War, Marshall L. DeRosa, editor, Transaction Publishers, 1998, excerpts, pp. 194-196; 201-202)

 

“On Whom Rests the Blame for the Civil War”

The Republican defeat of the Crittenden Compromise and subsequent thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, which Lincoln endorsed, opened the path to war prosecuted by the North. Lincoln let it be known to Republicans that no compromise or peaceful settlement of issues dividing the country would be tolerated before his inauguration, as he put his party above the safety and continuance of the Founders’ Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

“On Whom Rests the Blame for the Civil War”

“From Buffalo, on January 18, 1861, [Horatio Seymour] wrote Senator [John J.] Crittenden of Kentucky in support of his scheme of compromise. It was in his opinion that this “great measure of reconciliation” struck “the popular heart.” James Ford Rhodes fortified one’s belief in the good judgment of Seymour when he studied the defeat of Senator Crittenden’s proposals. In view of the appalling consequences the responsibility of both Lincoln and [William] Seward for that defeat is heavy, if not dark – in spite of all that historians of the inevitable have written of “this best of all possible worlds.”

The committee to which Crittenden’s bill for compromise was referred consisted of thirteen men. Crittenden himself was the most prominent of the three representatives from the Border States. Of three Northern Democrats, [Stephen] Douglas of Illinois, was the leader; of five Republicans, Seward was the moving spirit. Only two men sat from the Cotton States, [Jefferson] Davis and [Robert] Toombs. Commenting on the fateful vote of the committee, Rhodes observed:

“No fact is more clear than that the Republicans in December [1860] defeated the Crittenden compromise; a few historic probabilities have better evidence to support them than the one which asserts that the adoption of this measure would have prevented the secession of the cotton States, other than South Carolina, and the beginning of the civil war in 1861 . . . It is unquestionable, as I have previously shown, that in December the Republicans defeated the Crittenden proposition; and it seems to me likewise clear that, of all the influences tending to this result, the influence of Lincoln was the most potent.”

Two-thirds of each House . . . recommended to the States a compromise thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, as follows: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” Conservative Republicans voted with the Democrats to carry this measure of which Lincoln approved in his inaugural address.

“As bearing on the question on whom rests the blame for the Civil War,” observes Rhodes, this proposed thirteenth amendment and its fate is of the “highest importance.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 223-224)

Newspapers Fuel the War

As the secession crisis increased in intensity, the Fredericksburg Herald editor wrote in early January 1860: “Newspapers and Telegraphs have ruined the country. Suppress both and the country could be saved now.” The Northern press influenced vast numbers, including newly-landed immigrants; in New York alone the circulation of newspapers and periodicals was triple that in the entire South. And Massachusetts could claim about the same. As those newspapers counseled war against the South, they could also have sought compromise and a peaceful settlement of the issues dividing the country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Newspapers Fuel the War

“In mid-April 1860, virtually all newspapers of the future Confederate States believed in preserving the Union, provided that Southern “rights,” as they conceived them, could be protected. One year later all but a handful of the same journals had endorsed the Confederacy. During most of the intervening twelve months, the Southern press was divided on the question of secession.

Papers which believed that the Union was salvageable held the upper hand in the pre-election period. But a combination of events – notably the alleged abolitionist conspiracy in Texas, the election of Lincoln, the secession of South Carolina and the lower South, and the failure of compromise – shifted the initiative to the disunion publicists and led to a gradual breakdown of Unionist journalism, until, with few exceptions, the press in eleven States became a unit in favor of withdrawal.

Like their Southern-rights counterparts, Unionist editors feared a Republican administration, though some failed to realize the depth of their fears until after the election. In the days following Lincoln’s triumph at the polls, as some Northern journals taunted and threatened the South and as the States of the lower South took firm, irrevocable steps preparatory to leaving the Union, Southern Unionist papers increasingly found it necessary to decide between the Confederacy and the Union.

Most Southerners regarded the election of a Republican president by Northern votes as a direct, calculated insult to their section. With the South’s honor allegedly at stake, most Southern Unionist editors soon forgot their earlier quarrel with secessionists over the legality of secession.  Moreover, Southerners were convinced that abolition would be but the first in a chain of events that would spell disaster for the South.

A Tennessee journal showed exceptional insight when, at the height of the sectional crisis, it blamed the alienation of the sections upon the newspapers. “. . . [E]ach indulges in constant crimination and labors incessantly to mislead and prejudice the people of the respective sections. And even now, when the country is trembling on the verge of dissolution, the warfare of misrepresentation and abuse is carried on with redoubled violence by the vultures who thrive and fatten on popular prejudice. We would rather be the lowest thing that crawls the earth than rear our children on bread obtained by such means.”

(Editors Make War, Southern Newspapers in the Secession Crisis, Donald E. Reynolds, Vanderbilt University Press, 1966, excerpts pp. 210-217)

Mass Market Sensationalism and Kansas

Early New York newspapermen James Gordon Bennett and Moses Beach both recognized the power of the telegraph on news they could sell in their Herald and Sun, respectively, and both sought that “mass market” which was shortly to become the Holy Grail of American industry. The revolutionary-minded reporters they sent to Kansas in 1856 greatly helped light the fuse for the coming war; the election of a purely sectional president in 1860 finished their work.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Mass Market Sensationalism and Kansas

“The appearance of the telegraph [in 1835] unlocked the door to the entire country for the newspaperman. Until it came, current news was the property only of the city room . . . while the steam locomotive sliced helpfully into the mailbag’s travel time, it could not keep up with the dots and dashes.

“This agency,” wrote James Gordon Bennett at the time, “will be productive of the most extraordinary effects on society, government, commerce and the progress of civilization.”

The Herald . . . [was] soon blooming with police-court reports, details of murders and offenses against morality of an interesting nature, blow-by-blow write-ups of bare-knuckle prize fights, stock market reports, gossip, and the most up-to-date news that money could procure.

In 1841, Bennett wrote to Henry Clay, asking for the distinguished Senator’s help in removing [a rule barring non-Washington reporters from House and Senate galleries]. Clay, a master politician, perhaps guessed that already the Herald was useful to have on one’s side. He went to work and the rule fell . . . [soon] the solons rapidly accustomed themselves to orating for a national audience.

National elections came in 1856 – automatically a year ripe for trouble. At the very beginning of it, ominous stories were appearing from the territory of Kansas, opened to settlement since 1854. There had been elections for a legislature, bad blood between factions divided on the inescapable issue of slavery, angry claims of fraud, and then shootings.

Editors swung around in their chairs and scribbled notes; reporters boarded trains and steamboats and headed West to cover Kansas.

They wrote as actors, not spectators, and many believed that truth could be put to flight in a free and open encounter unless it received at least some assistance [from them].

They sallied forth to depict a contest between freedom and tyranny in the impressive arena “beyond the Mississippi.” The results boded ill for the caving Union.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 17-18; 20; 22-23)

The Impassable Breach in 1850

The idea of States withdrawing from the Union was not new in 1860, the first being New England’s desire for independence once the Louisiana Purchase was contemplated, and afterward during the War of 1812, and as other territories were added. It is said that John C. Calhoun learned his concept of secession from the New Englanders. In 1850, as described below, the withdrawal of the South from the Union was well along and only a matter of time.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Impassable Breach in 1850

“[Silver Bluff], 17 March 1850

“The Session of Congress has been stormy and thus far nothing has been done but to debate Slavery and the Union. The South has threatened dissolution through many Representatives, in doing which [Robert] Toombs of [Georgia] and [Thomas] Clingman of [North Carolina], both Whigs, have taken the lead. [South Carolina] rather silent.

In the Senate [Jeremiah] Clemens of [Alabama], [Solomon] Downs of [Louisiana], [Henry] Foote and [Jefferson] Davis of [Mississippi have been the most violent. Many calculations have been paraded showing the advantage of disunion to the South. On the other hand threats of coercion have been made freely by minor men. There have been some terrible scenes in the House.

The North has given up the Wilmot proviso for the present, on the avowed ground that that Slavery is naturally excluded from the newly acquired Territories. The main question is on the admission of California as a State – the adventurers there having without any of the usual forms, made a Constitution, excluding Slavery, and asked for admission into the Union.

[Henry] Clay has brought in a long string of what he calls compromise resolutions, which surrender everything in issue to the North. He has denounced the South bitterly and prophesied, if not threatened, Civil war and coercion.

The South contends that the admission of California [as a free State] destroys her equality in the Senate – already merely nominal there, for Delaware belongs to the North. That deprived of equality there [in the number of slave vs. free States] and already in a vast minority in the House and Electoral College, she will be undone.

Mr. [John C.] Calhoun has made an admirable speech, showing that the equilibrium between the North and South is utterly annihilated, and must be restored or we must separate. As such a restoration is well known to be an impossibility – his proposition is plainly – Disunion.

Webster followed with a most eloquent speech, denouncing the free-soil and anti-fugitive [slave] movements, but denouncing slavery and yielding nothing. At this moment, however, my impression is that they will enter into another fatal truce and stave off the difficulty for the present.

I have had drawn up for a month . . . many resolutions which I had intended to proposed there, if I could get backing. They are short and to the effect that Conventions should be immediately called in the Slave States to send Delegates to a General Congress, empowered to dissolve the Union, form a new Constitution, and organize a new Government, and in the meantime appoint a Provisional Government until the Constitution could go into operation.”

(Secret and Sacred, the Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder; Carol Bleser, editor, Oxford University Press, 1988, excerpts pp. 197-198)

Imagine a Different Result at Gettysburg

 

It is early July, 1863 and Lee’s barefoot and ragged Army of Northern Virginia has moved northward into Pennsylvania to acquire needed supplies, food and fodder, plus allow the countryside of Virginia time to heal from two years of unrelenting warfare upon her soil. With Lee is “Stonewall” Jackson, who earlier enveloped the enemy flank at Chancellorsville and drove them in disarray and confusion from the field.

Lee meets the newest savior of the North, Gen. George Meade, at Gettysburg.  While Lee feints with a massed frontal attack, Jackson has penetrated the enemy left flank with full force after which Meade’s invincible army flees in headlong retreat, and then total surrender. The entire North is now seized with mortal fear of invasion, defeat and occupation by Southern armies.

At the same time in the Western Theater, Vicksburg has held valiantly against enemy assault despite its civilian population reduced to eating rats and dogs for survival. General Joseph E. Johnston successfully repulsed costly enemy assaults while Southern cavalry harassed and destroyed Northern supply lines to the South.

Poised to move northward at President Jefferson Davis’s command, Johnston eyes the railroad junction of Chicago after liberating Tennessee and Kentucky from enemy rule, releasing Confederate prisoners, and enlisting many of the Midwest Copperhead faction into his growing force. In the East, Lee threatens the northern capital of Washington and will move toward New York City next.

Lee dispatches Jackson with 35,000 men to capture Harrisburg while he encircles and captures Washington; General JEB Stuart’s cavalry has destroyed enemy communications and supply trains, and Lee intends to split their army in classic Napoleonic style — defeating them in detail.

Washington is soon overwhelmed and occupied – Stuart has captured and imprisoned numerous Northern leaders to include Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, William Seward, Benjamin Wade, Simon Cameron, Salmon Chase, Stanton, Halleck and Lincoln. Lee himself had to intervene lest his soldiers summarily hang Lincoln and his conspirators for the crime of igniting the conflict and warring upon Southern civilians.

Fear of the scaffold has sent the radical abolitionists fleeing to Europe for asylum.

With the Northern government imprisoned, President Davis has commanded the armies in blue to immediately lay down their weapons, return to their homes to lead peaceful lives, and take an ironclad oath to never again take up arms against the Confederate States of America.

The Confederate Congress creates several military districts overseen by Southern general officers, who preside over State governments writing new constitutions. These will prohibit anyone who had taken up arms against the Confederate States of America, or was an officer in the United States Army 1861-1865, or was a member of the Republican Party, from voting and holding political office.

The Confederate Congress has determined that it will consider the former United States as a conquered territory, with former individual Northern States, which had committed suicide, admitted to the Confederate States of America at the pleasure of Congress.

Congress directs that each Northern State which contributed troops to the Lincoln regime are required to pay financial reparations to those Southern States suffering depredations and destruction by those troops.

Further, all former officers of the Northern military who engaged in terror and atrocities against civilians during the war will be tried for war crimes along with Lincoln. Lincoln and his conspirators will be tried for treason as they waged war against the States, in violation of Article 3, Section 3, of the United States Constitution.

To set a proper example to follow, the Confederate Congress requires all Northern mill and factory owners to provide adequate food, medical and old age care for their employees, who previously were turned out to starve when unable to work. They and other Northern industries are directed to hire black freedmen who emigrate northward in search of employment, which will spur emancipation in the South.

And finally, Southern authors will write the history of the war against the South, and the causes of it.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Accommodating Secession Way Up North

Though James Buchanan did little to stem the drift toward confrontation in 1860, and helped light the fuse of war by refusing to order Major Anderson out of Fort Sumter, he did understand the constitutional limits of a president’s authority. He was an experienced diplomat who preferred negotiation, and was perhaps misled by his successor that a constitutional convention of the States would be soon called to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Accommodating Secession Way Up North

“Quebec secession was the subject of an historic judgement handed down by the supreme court of Canada on August 20, 1998. This question reached the court by a “reference” or “renvoi” initiated by the governor general, in effect a request by the Prime Minister and his cabinet for an advisory opinion.

The judgement is not binding or enforceable by writs as in ordinary litigation, but is judicial advice given to the government of Canada.

The court held, while the government of Quebec has no constitutional right to work a unilateral secession of the province from Canada, the people of Quebec enjoy a constitutional right to have a referendum at public expense and without interference, and that, if the people of Quebec clearly vote for independence, the government of Canada has a constitutional duty to negotiate in good faith to accommodate their expressed desire.

The people of Quebec refused to be absorbed [into the dominant Anglo-Canada] and they intend to remain a distinct society – be constitutional accommodation with Anglo-Canada if possible, by independence if necessary. At the moment, separatism is an active force in Quebec, mainly because of a new constitution (the Canada Act of 1982) was imposed upon Quebec over the protest of her government.

In their recent judgment, the supreme court of Canada [was] right insofar as [the Constitution Acts of 1867-1982] include no express right of constitutional mechanism for secession. Yet by implication, the court wholly repudiated the course taken by Abraham Lincoln against the South in 1861-1865.

The justices understand the truth stated by President James Buchanan on the occasion of Lincoln’s election in 1860” “Our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in a civil war. If it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hands to preserve it.”

(Cultural Revolutions, John Remington Graham, Chronicles, November 1998, excerpts pg. 7)

 

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