Browsing "Jeffersonian America"

Becoming a Great National Consolidated Democracy

On February 19, 1847, Senator John C. Calhoun stated that “the day that the [political] equilibrium between the two sections of the country . . . is destroyed is a day that will not be far removed from political revolution, anarchy, civil war, and widespread disaster.” On the next day he said: “We know what we are about, we foresee what is coming, and move with no other purpose but to protect our portion of the Union from the greatest of calamities . . . ”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Becoming a Great National Consolidated Democracy

“But while [territorial acquisition, immigration and political representation] measures were destroying the equilibrium between the two sections, the action of the government was leading to a radical change in its character, by concentrating all the power of the system in itself.

[It] would not be difficult to show that the process commenced at an early period of the government, and that it proceeded, almost without interruption, step by step, until it absorbed virtually its entire powers . . . That the government claims, and practically maintains, the right to decide in the last resort, as to the extent of its powers, will scarcely be denied by any one conversant with the political history of the country.

That it also claims the right to resort to force to maintain whatever power it claims, against all opposition, is equally certain. Indeed, it is apparent, from what we daily hear, that this has become the prevailing and fixed opinion of a great majority of the community. Now, I ask, what limitation can possibly be placed upon the powers of a government claiming and exercising such rights?

And, if none can be, how can the separate governments of the States maintain and protect the powers reserved to them by the Constitution, or the people of the several States maintain those which are reserved to them, and, among others, the sovereign powers by which they ordained and established not only their separate State Constitutions and governments, but also the Constitution and government of the United States?

But, if they have no constitutional means of maintaining them against the right claimed by this government, it necessarily follows that they hold them at its pleasure and discretion, and that all the powers of the system are in reality concentrated in it. It also follows that the character of the government has been changed in consequence from a federal republic, as it originally came from the hands of the framers, into a great national consolidated democracy.

It has indeed, at present, all the characteristics of the latter, and not one of the former, although it still retains its outward form.”

(The Life of John C. Calhoun, Gustavus M. Pinckney, Walker, Evans & Cogswell, 1903, pp. 178-179)

Jefferson's Debatable Equality

Jefferson’s idealistic preamble passage regarding “all men are created equal” has been problemmatic though most agree that creation is where the equality ends — subsequent political equality is established by men.  Regarding the status of blacks at the time of the Constitution being ratifed, Chief Justice Taney found in his Dred Scott decision that Africans were indeed persons but not included in “the political people” of the United States and without standing as citizens. New York’s 1821 suffrage requirement for blacks mentioned below is considered by many to be the origin of “Jim Crow Laws.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Jefferson’s Debatable Equality

“In one matter [of antebellum views of democracy] there was a definite reactionary movement. This was the issue of free Negro suffrage. Virginia and North Carolina joined Maryland and Kentucky in taking from the free Negro the ballot he had theretofore possessed. In like manner, all new States of the period, North as well as South, denied suffrage to free Negroes.

The action of the old Southern States was paralleled by that of the Northern States. Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania took the ballot from the Negro. And New York in 1821 limited Negro suffrage by requiring that he possess a freehold valued at two hundred and fifty dollars over and above all indebtedness. Hence only five of the Northern States granted equal suffrage to Negroes.

Whether or not Jefferson, Mason, and other Revolutionary proponents of natural rights philosophy intended to include Negroes in the statement “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights” is a debatable question, but in actual practice the American people had decided by their constitutional provisions that Negroes were not included in the political people. From the very day of the Declaration of Independence the race problem had caused the American people to make an exception to the doctrine that “all men are created equal.”

(Fletcher M. Green, Democracy in the Old South, paper written for the 1945 Southern Historical Association presidential address. The Pursuit of Southern History, George Brown Tindall, editor, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 186-187)

A More Perfect Union Formed in 1861

A More Perfect Union Formed in 1861

“The congress of delegates from the seceding States convened at Montgomery, Alabama, according to appointment, on February 4, 1861. Their first work was to prepare a provisional constitution for the new confederacy, to be formed of the States which had withdrawn from the Union, for which the style “Confederate States of America” was adopted.

The constitution was adopted on February 8, to continue if force for one year, unless superseded at an earlier date by a permanent organization. On the next day [February 9] an election was held for the chief executive offices, resulting, as I afterward learned, in my election to the Presidency, with the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as Vice President.

President Jefferson Davis’s Inaugural Address [excerpt]:

“Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established. The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the United States, and which has been solemnly affirmed and reaffirmed in the Bill of Rights of the States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government.

Thus the sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained; so that the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent through which they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations.

We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of government. The Constitution framed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States. In their exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its true meaning. Reverently let us invoke the God of our Fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by his blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity.”

(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Jefferson Davis, DaCapo, 1990, pp. 197-203)

The Old and New Republican Party

The first disputed presidential election occurred in 1796 with John Adams elected only “by the whim of two Southern electors” — one from Virginia and one in North Carolina – and both voted for Jefferson as Vice President. This electoral result and victory for the monarchical Adams spurred Jefferson and Madison to formulate the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, whose spirit was that State governments were the foundation of the American political system, and their power unlimited except for strictly delegated and enumerated functions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Old and New Republican Party

“The Democratic-Republican Party . . . was the political party whose theory was aimed at the increase of direct popular control over the Government, the widening of the right of suffrage, the limitation of the powers of the Federal Government, and the conservation of the powers reserved to the State governments by the Constitution. It is therefore a strict construction party and has always operated as a check upon the nationalization of the United States.

It at first (1792-3) took the name of the Republican party, which more properly belongs to its present possessors, and was generally known by that name until about 1828-30. Upon its absorption of the French or Democratic faction, in 1793-6, it took the official title of the Democratic-Republican party.

About 1828-30 its nationalizing portion having broken off and taken the name of “National Republican,” the particularist residue assumed the name of “Democrats,” which had been accepted since about 1810 as equivalent to “Republicans,” and by which the have since been known. Some little confusion therefore, has always been occasioned by the similarity in name between the strict construction Republican party of 1793 and the broad construction Republican party of 1856.

[During the formative period, 1789-93 period, the forces] which have always tended to the complete nationalization of the American Union were in operation at the adoption of the Constitution, [and their] influence was as yet by no means general. The mass of the people was thoroughly particularist, interested mainly in the fortunes of their State governments, and disposed to look at the new Federal Government as a creature of convenience only, to be accepted under protest until the exercise of its functions should prove burdensome or unpleasant.

The planters of the South, and particularly of Virginia, had generally supported the change in government [from the Articles of Confederation] and the early measures of the Federal party, induced partly by the influence of Madison and partly by the compromises by which the Constitution had been made acceptable to them.

When Hamilton, early in 1790, finally, and almost from sheer necessity, fell back upon commercial interest as the stock upon which to graft his nationalizing measures, he necessarily alienated the whole South, which was not only particularist but exclusively agricultural, except in a few isolated spots on the seaboard. The difference between the two sections was as yet only in degree, not in kind.

Both were mainly agricultural; both were particularist; neither possessed manufactures; but the South, which had far less banking and commerce than the North, and therefore in Jefferson’s words, “owed the debt while the North owned it,” first felt repulsion to the Hamiltonian policy.

The opposition to his plan for settling the public debt was mainly to its commercial aspect; the opposition to his project of a national bank in the following year was of a distinct party nature, and was based upon that strict construction of the Constitution which was always afterward to be the party’s established theory.

In 1791-2, therefore, we may consider the Anti-Federal party, which had so warmly opposed the adoption of the Constitution, as rehabilitated into a party, as yet without a name, which was to maintain the binding force of the exact and literal language of the Constitution, and to oppose any enlargement of the Federal Government’s powers by interpretation.

The first authoritative claim of the party name occurs in Jefferson’s letter of May 13, 1792, to Washington, in which he says:

“The Republican party, who wish to preserve the government in its present form, are fewer in number [than the monarchical Federalists]. They are fewer even when joined by the two, three or half-dozen Anti-Federalists, who, though they dare not avow it, are still opposed to any general government; but being less so to a republican to a monarchical one, they naturally join those whom they think pursuing the lesser evil.”

Before the close of the year 1792 we must regard the Republican party as fairly formed. Its general basis was a dislike to the control exercised by any government not directly affected by the vote of the citizen on whom the laws operated; a disposition to regard the Federal Government . . . as possibly a second avatar of royalty; and an opposition to the Federalist, or Hamiltonian, measures of a national bank, a national excise [tax], a protective tariff, a funding system for the debt, and to all measures in general tending to benefit the commercial or creditor classes.”

(American Political History, 1763-1876, Alexander Johnston, Volume I, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905, pp. 208-212)

 

Davis on Government Border Police

In December 1860, Senator James S. Green of Missouri proposed that the Committee of the Judiciary be instructed to inquire into the propriety of a law to establish an armed police force between North and South, in order to maintain peace between those sections. Below is Senator Jefferson Davis’ reply.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Davis on Government Border Police

“Do we wish to erect a central Colossus, wielding at discretion the military arm, and exercising military force over the people and the States? This is not the Union to which we were invited; and so carefully was this guarded, when our fathers provided for using force to put down insurrection, they required that the fact of the insurrection should be communicated by the authorities of the State before the President could interpose.

When it was proposed to give Congress power to execute the laws against a delinquent State, it was refused on the ground that that would be making war on the States; and, though I know the good purpose of my honorable friend from Missouri is only to give protection to constitutional rights, I fear his proposition is to rear a monster, which will break the feeble chain provided, and destroy rights it was intended to guard.

That military Government which he is about to institute, by passing into hostile hands, becomes a weapon for his destruction, not for his protection. All dangers which may be called upon to confront as independent communities are light, in my estimation, compared with that which would hang over us if this Federal Government had such physical force; if its character was changed from a representative agent of States to a central Government, with a military used at discretion against the States.

To-day it may be the idea that it will be used against some State which nullifies the Constitution and the laws; some State which passes laws to obstruct or repeal the laws of the United States . . . But how long might it be before that same military force would be turned against the minority section which had sought its protection; and that minority thus become mere subjugated provinces under the great military government that it had thus contributed to establish?

The minority, incapable of aggression, is, of necessity, always on the defensive, and often the victim of the desertion of its followers and the faithlessness of its allies. It therefore must maintain, not destroy, barriers.

[To confer on this Federal Government a power to coerce a State, a power it does not possess], . . . then, in the language of Mr. Madison, he is providing, not for a union of States, but for the destruction of States; he is providing, under the name of the union, to carry on a war against States; and I care not whether it be against Massachusetts or Missouri, it is equally objectionable to me; and I will resist it alike in the one case and in the other, as subversive of the great principle on which our Government rests; as a heresy to be confronted at its first presentation, and put down there, lest it grow into proportions which will render us powerless before it.

The theory of our Constitution, Mr. President, is one of peace, of equality of sovereign States. It was made by States and made for States; and for greater assurance they passed an amendment, doing that which was necessarily implied by the nature of the instrument, as it was a mere instrument of grants. But, in the abundance of caution, they declared that everything which had not been delegated was reserved to the States, or to the people – that is, to the State governments as instituted by the people of each State, or to the people in their sovereign capacity.

Upon you of the majority section it depends to restore peace and perpetuate the Union of equal States; upon us of the minority section rests the duty to maintain our equality and community rights; and the means in one case or the other must be such as each can control.”

(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume I, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, pp. 66-67)

Casting Out Yankeeism

The author below predicted that had the American Confederacy won its independence, “it would have undoubtedly developed more toward a conservative aristocracy” and more like the Founders’ intended republic. The aversion to the mob-rule democracy of the North was a fundamental reason the South left the Union, and with the Founders’ Constitution firmly in hand.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Casting Out Yankeeism

“There was a growing opinion among Southerners that a proper concept of eternal law was the bulwark of all liberty. Universal suffrage would never be able to discover and conserve this law. Universal suffrage in the North was “organized confiscation, legalized violence and corruption . . . a moral disease of the body politic.”

It was mob government, radical democracy, “the willing instrument of consolidation in the hands of an abolition oligarchy,” which had perverted the old Union. It was this the South was fighting against. The individual must be buried in the institution. The mob did not know what it was voting for, except to obtain money for doing it or to get a drink of whiskey. [John C.] Calhoun had recognized the tyranny of majorities and had sought remedies against them.

The South had never believed in democracy; it had worked with the Democrats in the North only to secure a place of power in the government. Most [government] positions should be appointive and not remunerative. Officers would serve without pay, if they were patriots. Now every petty sheriff, whiskey-drinking constable, and justice of the peace must be elected and get a fee. All of this is Yankeeism, which the South should cast out – all this universal suffrage – elective Judges – biennial Legislatures – and many other features of policy – all tending to degrade government and corrupt the people.”

In line with its conservatism, the Confederacy debated much the abolition of the naturalization laws which it had inherited from the old Union and which made possible the infiltration of masses of foreigners with their “dangerous European radical ideas.” Especially they would exclude Yankees. Representative John B. Clark of Missouri declared that he would “as soon admit to citizenship a devil from hell.” He advocated a law banishing any Southerner who should marry a Yankee. “

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, pp. 64-67)

 

Calhoun on the Evils of Government Patronage

Like Jefferson, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was well-aware of the corrupting and polarizing effect that political parties, patronage and news publications exerted on the American public. He observed that their object was “under form of law to take from others and appropriate to themselves more than would otherwise be so taken and appropriated.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Calhoun on the Evils of Government Patronage

“Were a premium offered for the best means of extending to the utmost the power of patronage, to destroy the love of country, and to substitute a spirit of subserviency and man-worship; to encourage vice and discourage virtue, and, in a word, to prepare for the subversion of liberty and the establishment of despotism, no scheme more perfect could be devised; and such must be the tendency of the practice, with whatever intention adopted, or to whatever extent pursued.

If to this difficulty . . . there be added others of a formidable character . . . .on the part of government, in large communities , to seize on and corrupt all the organs of public opinion, and thus to delude and impose on the people; the greater tendency in such communities to the formation of parties on local and separate interests . . . some conception may be formed of the vast superiority which that organized and central party, consisting of office-holders and office-seekers, with their dependents, forming one compact, disciplined corps, wielded by a single individual, without conflict of opinion within . . . and aiming at the single object of re-taming and perpetuating power in their own ranks, must have, in such country as ours, over the people, a superiority so decisive that it may safely be asserted that, whenever the patronage and influence of the government are sufficiently strong to form such a party, liberty, without a speedy reform, must inevitably be lost.

Every lover of this country, and of its institutions, be his party what it may, must see and deplore the rapid growth of patronage, with all its attendant evils, and the certain catastrophe which awaits its further progress, if not timely arrested.

Among [the patronage interests], the first and most powerful is that active, vigilant and well-trained corps which lives on the government, or expects to live on it, which prospers most when the revenue is the greatest, the treasury the fullest, and expenditures the most profuse, and, of course, is ever the firm and faithful supporter of whatever system shall extract the most from the pockets of the rest of the community, to be emptied into theirs.”

(The Life of John C. Calhoun, Gustavus M. Pinckney, Walker, Evans & Cogswell, 1903, pp. 106-110)

Back to Original Principles

Jefferson foresaw the constitutional crisis of the late 1850s and the need for the States to “arrest the march of government” which had been threatening its creators with military action since the days of Andrew Jackson. As he instructs, the solution to the crisis was a convening of the States to modify their agreement, not the agent warring upon a free people.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Back to Original Principles:

“The [Supreme Court] judges are practicing on the Constitution by inferences, analogies, and sophisms, as they would on an ordinary law. They do not seem aware that it is not even a constitution, formed by a single authority, and subject to a single superintendence and control; but that it is a compact of many independent powers, every single one of which claims an equal right to understand it, and to require its observance.

However strong the cord of compact may be, there is a point of tension at which it will break. A few such doctrinal decisions . . . may induce [two or three large States] to join in arresting the march of government, and in arousing the co-States to pay some attention to what is passing, to bring back the compact to its original principles, or to modify it legitimately by the express consent of the parties themselves, and not by the usurpation of their created agents.

They imagine they can lead us into a consolidated government, while their road leads directly to its dissolution.

(Jefferson to Edward Livingston, 1825; The Jefferson Cyclopedia, Funk & Wagnall’s, 1900, pg. 191)

Biblical Basis of Learning in the Confederacy

The Confederate Spelling Book was written by Richard McAllister Smith (1819-1870), and included “Reading Lessons for the Young, Adapted to the Use of Schools or for Private Instruction.”  It was a companion book to the Confederate First Reader of Prose and Poetry,and was designed “to instruct the pupils, and at the same time to elevate their ideas and form correct tastes and instill proper sentiments.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Biblical Basis of Learning in the Confederacy

“The Confederate Spelling Book propounds its philosophy in its preface: “It is a delusion which has gained some foothold with the unreflecting, that a child should not be made to memorize what it does not in all respects understand. Nature has rebuked this idea by developing the memory in advance of the understanding.”

According to the Confederate Spelling Book, teachers of the Confederacy received no little assist in discipline and conduct from the teachings of the Bible. Interspersed with delightful dissertations on such subjects as the pleasures of traveling by steamboat are frequent admonishments supported by references to the Good Book.

The speller cites scripture such as “The Bible tells us that liars cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” A favorite admonishment was “God made all nature cheerful and he intended we should be cheerful also. Cheerfulness does not teach us to be giddy, and boisterous and rude, but to observe a pleasant and polite demeanor toward all whom we meet.”

(Plantation Heritage in Upcountry, South Carolina, Kenneth and Blanche Marsh, Biltmore Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 32-110)

The Aristocrat of the Old South

Southern planters wondered at how educated men and women of the North, former slaveholders and slave traders themselves, could believe that they would willingly injure black men and women under their care, or allow them to be beaten. The sheer cruelty of New England’s slave trade and its infamous middle passage could never be surpassed by the plantations of the Old South.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The Aristocrat of the Old South

“It is true the aristocrat of the Old South did not go into his blacksmith shop to shoe his horse nor his wife into the kitchen to cook, or to the wash tub to wash, but it was not because they were ashamed or scorned to do it, but because there was no need for them to do these things.

History has greatly maligned the old aristocrat of the South. He was not “haughty,” he was not “purse proud,” and he did not consider himself “of finer clay” than any one else, as history has unfairly represented him.

Aristocracy was then gauged by manners and morals, and not by the size of the bank account, as I fear is too much the case today. Far more time was spent in cultivating the graces and charms of life than in amassing fortunes. They realized that “Manners are of more importance than money and laws” – for manners give form and color to our lives. They felt, as Tennyson said, “Manners are the fruit of lofty natures and noble minds.”

It will take us a long time to undo the falsehoods of history about the civilization of the Old South.

Who was the head of the plantation? Why, “ole Miss,”. . . Her life was a long life of devotion – devotion to her God, devotion to her church . . . devotion to her husband, to her children, to her kinfolks, to her neighbors and friends and to her servants. She could not be idle for she must ever be busy.

“Ole Marster” could delegate many of his duties to the overseer, while he entertained his guests. He would rise early in the morning, eat his breakfast . . . Broiled chicken, stuffed sausage, spareribs, broiled ham and eggs, egg bread, corn muffins, hot rolls, beaten biscuits, batter cakes or waffles with melted butter, syrup or honey, and the half not told.

Then, after smoking his Havana cigar, he would mount his saddle and ride over the plantation to see if the orders given the day before had been fully carried out. Then give the next day’s orders, ride to a neighboring plantation and return in time for an early dinner. Dinner was always midday on the old plantation. If it were summer . . . [he would] lie down on the wide verandah . . . while he took his noon-day nap. If it were winter, he would go into his library, and, before a large, open fireplace with whole logs of wood, he would discourse upon the topics of the day with visitors.

There was no subject with which “Ole Marster” was not at home – whether politics, philosophy, religion, literature, poetry or art. “Ole Marster’s” sons for generations had been well-educated and had a perfect familiarity with the classics – they could read Greek and Latin better than some of us can read English today. The best magazines of the day were upon his library table, and the latest books upon his library shelves.

Time [on the plantation] was measured to Christmas, and three weeks before Christmas Day the wagons would go to the nearest city or town to lay in the Christmas supplies. Every Negro man had to have a complete outfit, from hat to shoes; every Negro woman had to have the same from head handkerchief to shoes; each Negro child every article of clothing needed.; and warm shawls, and soft shoes, or some special gifts had to be bought for the old Negroes too feeble to work.

How happy all were, white and black, as the cry of “Christmas Gif” rang from one end to the other of the plantation, beginning early in the morning at the Big House and reaching every Negro cabin – Christmas can never be the same again.”

(The Civilization of the Old South, Mildred Lewis Rutherford; North Carolina Booklet, Vol. XVII, No. 3, January 1918, pp. 142-147)

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