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The Problem of Sovereignty

Regarding the location of sovereignty in the American system of government, Jefferson Davis, in his postwar “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” stated: “If any lingering doubt could have existed as to the reservation of their entire sovereignty by the people of the respective States when they organized the federal Union, it would have been removed by the adoption of the tenth amendment to the Constitution, which was not only one of the amendments proposed by various States when ratifying that instrument, but the particular one in which they substantially agreed, and upon which they most urgently insisted.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Problem of Sovereignty

“The fundamental issue in the writing of the Articles of Confederation was the location of the ultimate political authority, the problem of sovereignty. Should it reside in Congress or the States?

Many conservatives in 1776-1777, as in 1787, believed that Congress should have a “superintending” power over both the States and their individual citizens. They had definite reasons for such a desire.

They feared mob action and democratic rule.

The radicals, on the other hand, were fighting centralization in their attack upon the British Empire and upon the colonial governing classes, whose interests were so closely interwoven with the imperial relationship. Furthermore, the interests of the radicals were essentially local.

To them union was merely a means to their end, the independence of the several States. Hence centralization was to be opposed. Finally, the democratic theory of the time was antagonistic to any government with pretensions toward widespread dominion. Theorists believed that democratic government was impossible except within very limited areas.

Thus the conflict between those who were essentially “nationalists” and those who were forerunners of the “States rights” school.

The real significance of this controversy was obscured during the nineteenth century by historians and politicians who sought to justify the demands of rising industrialism on the central government and the Northern attitude toward the South’s secession in 1860-61.

The Southern contention that the Union was a compact between sovereign States was opposed by the contention that the Union was older than the States. North historians insisted that the first Continental Congress was a sovereign body, and that it represented the people of the United States as a whole, not the people of the several States as represented in their State governments.

To prove their contentions the Northerners cited such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution of 1787 . . . [and italicizing] to place undue emphasis on the portions of the documents which seemed to prove their arguments.

This is essentially the technique of argument used by small boys and would be unworthy of consideration had it not been so effective in shaping certain ideas which have profoundly influenced the interpretation of American history.”

(The Articles of Confederation, an Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781, Merrill Jensen, University of Wisconsin Press, 1940, excerpts pp. 161-163)

 

The South Weighs Heavily on Communist Minds

The early years of the civil rights movement in the US included many black leaders who embraced Marxism and communism, seeing it as a way to advance their race: WEB DuBois, Marcus Garvey, James Weldon Johnson, A. Philip Randolph, Ben Davis, Paul Robeson, Walter White, M.L. King, and Bayard Rustin. In the 1930s, the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee became a training ground for revolutionary unionizing activities in the South, where activists King and Rosa Parks were both trained.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The South Weighs Heavily on Communist Minds

“In the 1910s and 1920s the Bolsheviks believed that taken at the flood, the system of Communism they had recently institutionalized would spread across their new nation and around the world.

In this system, racism would be outlawed as “social poison,” workers would own the means of production, and town meetings, called soviets, would ensure that everyone’s voice would be heard. Ethnic differences and historic hatreds would be banished through the multicultural practice of nurturing each group’s language and culture. No one would have too much, and no one would have too little.

It promised to liberate colonized peoples and demonstrate to poor white Southerners their class solidarity with poor black Southerners.

A decade after the Bolshevik Revolution, Communists in the USSR and the USA [Communist Party USA] created a Negro Policy that left no action to chance. In the first place, there must be absolute equality between individuals in all social relations.

Then it moved to from the personal to the political to guarantee equality to all ethnic groups. The system, which most people called social equality, offered a simple mandate for all human activity . . . Because it was so all-encompassing, it required constant, vigorous policing and swift punishment of violations, wilful or not. In theory, equality extended to every phase of public and private life. Living this new reality required practice.

The Bolshevik Revolution’s success offered a persuasive final solution to the labor problem. Communists did not have to resort to ethnic cleansing to bring minorities into their nation, and social equality could elevate racially-diverse workers into their rightful place. If managed properly, the system would produce ever more committed Communists in each succeeding generation. It was a modern, well-organized and efficient way to remove the stumbling blocks of race and class in the worldwide contest for advancement.

Because the South represented the least industrialized and least unionized part of the United States, the region weighed heavily on Communist minds. If Southern African-American became Communists, they could lead the revolution in their region. Black Southerners might open the door to that possibility.

The international Soviet governing body, the Comintern, welcomed the “rising tide of color” that it could turn against imperialist nations. In speaking for the Southern masses, African-American Communists had an influence on domestic and international Communist policy disproportionate to their meager numbers.”

(Defying Dixie, the Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950, Glenda E. Gilmore, W.W. Norton, 2008, excerpts, pp. 29-32)

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)

 

 

Trade and Sovereignty

Of the many reasons that war occurred in 1861, trade and sovereignty were two of the most prominent. On the first, Northern editorial opinion changed dramatically after the new Confederate States government enacted a virtual free-trade 10% tariff which would have bankrupted Northern ports and industry; the second was the question of the federal agent of the sovereign States waging war upon its creators. In the years prior to the war, Manhattan banks were lending money at modest interest to planters expanding fields for cultivation — and New England mills eagerly accepted slave-produced cotton.  Since 1865, Northern capitalists and their allies in the three branches have had a free hand in federal monetary policy and trade.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Trade and Sovereignty

“The heart of the trade debate is not income or prices but sovereignty. The free trade agreements entered into by the United States not only violate our Constitution – a small thing, perhaps, since our own government does that very thing every day – but they also erode sovereignty.

This is obvious from the global apparatus of rigged trade established by NAFTA and GATT, but of the World Trade Organization set up in the last round of GATT alarmed even some knee-jerk free-traders. The WTO is a secret organization whose meetings are closed to the press, and it has a right to settle trade disputes between the US and other nations and the power to enforce its decisions.

When it comes right down to it, the free-traders believe that men and women are not really French or American, not really Christians or devil-worshippers; they are only rational producers and consumers, rootless hedonists and utility-maximizers who could just as well be born from a test tube as from a mother’s womb. They acknowledge no social ties except that of the contract for mutual exploitation. Concepts like “loyalty” and “treason” are as alien to them as they were to Red capitalists like Armand Hammer.

The big-money boys of the capitalist West (in and out of government) have changed their rivals but not their attitudes. They will sell arms to both sides in an African civil war and poison gas to Saddam Hussein; and if a tin-pot dictator bankrupts his country buying fighter planes, computer systems and one-way railroads, the New York banks will be happy to give him a loan backed by the World Bank and the American taxpayer.

In the good old days, American conservatives had to do battle with an evil globalist ideology called communism. They had their difference but they agreed on what they were against.

Today, they are confronted by a different globalism, the ideology of free trade and open borders and world government. If our conservative Republicans refuse to stand up to this menace, then the only way they are going to get into the White House is by buying a ticket and taking the tour.”

(Selling the Golden Cord, Thomas Fleming, Chronicles, July 1998, excerpts pp. 12-13)

“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)

Radical Errors of the Public Mind

On the subject of naturalization of citizens, Congress derives its limited authority through Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution: “To establish [a] uniform rule of Naturalization . . .” and there was no intention to create a separate citizenry “of the United States.” The individual States determine who will become a citizen, and who is entitled to vote. Alexander H. Stephens expounds on this below.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Radical Errors of the Public Mind

“P.M. – The article on naturalization in the cyclopedia attracted my attention. It is strange what errors have crept into vogue and pass without scrutiny or question; especially on naturalization and its sequence, citizenship of the United States. The subject is treated as if Congress were empowered by the Constitution to confer upon aliens citizenship of the United States distinct from citizenship of particular States and Territories.

The truth is, Congress has no power to naturalize or to confer citizenship of the United States. Its only power is to establish a uniform rule to be pursued by the respective States and Territories on admitting aliens to their own citizenship.

Before the Constitution was adopted, each State possessed the right as an Independent Sovereign Power to admit to citizenship whom she pleased, and on such terms as she pleased.

All that the States did on this point in accepting the Constitution, was to delegate to Congress the power to establish a uniform rule so that an alien might not be permitted to become a citizen of one State on different terms from what might be required in another; especially, as in one part of the Constitution it is stipulated that the citizens of each shall be entitled in all the rest to the rights and privileges of their citizens.

But no clause of the Constitution provides for or contemplates citizenship of the United States as distinct from citizenship of some particular State or Territory. When any person is a citizen of any one of the States united, he thereby, and thereby only, becomes and can be considered a citizen of the United States.

Errors in the public mind on this question are radical and fundamental, and have the same source as many others equally striking.”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, His Diary, Myrta Lockett Avary, LSU Press, 1998 (original 1910), excerpts pp. 312-313)

 

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)

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

Since the war, Americans have believed, or led to believe, that national unity is the ultimate goal of all Americans – the South has been portrayed as evil given its distinction of unsuccessfully withdrawing from the Union. Southern historian Francis Butler Simkins notes that even Southern-friendly historians seem to get “inspiration from William T. Sherman who felt justified in imposing a cruel punishment upon the South because it tried to destroy the national unity.” In reality, the South’s withdrawal did not destroy the Union, it simply reduced the numerical constituency of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

“The reputation of the region of the United States below the Potomac today suffers from the same forces from which the Middle Ages suffered at the hands of historians during the Enlightenment. Chroniclers of Southern history often do not grasp the most elementary concept of sound historiography: the ability to appraise the past by standards other than those of the present.

They accept a fanatical nationalism which leaves little room for sectional variations, a faith in Darwinian progress which leaves no room for static contentment, and a faith in the American dream of human equality which leaves little room for one person to get ahead of another except in making money.

In theory at least, our historians refuse to tolerate a concept of “all sorts and conditions of men” of which The Book of Common Prayer speaks.

Growing out of the uncritical acceptance by historians of the South of this creed of contemporary Americans are certain concrete dogmas: the church and state should be separate, but not the school and state; school but not church attendance should be compulsory; universal education is better than folk culture; political democracy is better than aristocratic rule; freedom is better than slavery; nationalism is better than provincialism; urban standards are better than rural ones; small farms are better than plantations; the larger the number of voters the better for the commonwealth; and the two-party system is better than the harmony of one party.

The historians who are friendly to the region and who accept the ideal of human equality seem ashamed of the degree to which the South has not attained this ideal. Their faith in the benefits of two political parties has led them to predict, for the past ten decades, the breakup of the Solid South and the coming of a state of rectitude like that of New York or Illinois.

They are apologetic over the existence in the South of the sharpest social distinction in all America: that between the white man and the Negro. They hail breaks on the color line as forecasts of the good times a-coming.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1965, excerpts pp. 4-5)

 

Northern Prosperity at the South’s Expense

By 1860, the immigrant floods which spread westward in the 1840s and 1850s had changed the United States into two distinct cultures and political views. The South maintained its ties to the 1776 generation and its republican political character; the North had become a conglomerate of immigrant ethnic groups controlled by machine politicians eager for power and beholden to industrialists eager for cheap labor. Immigrant voters, wholly unfamiliar with American political concepts and traditions, were easily led by demagogues and money.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Northern Prosperity at the South’s Expense

“The festering corruptions of the post-war period sprang up in every part of America and in almost every department of national life. Other loose and scandalous times – in [James] Buchanan’s day, in [Mark] Hanna’s, in [Warren] Harding’s – have been repellent enough; but the Grant era stands unique in the comprehensiveness of its rascality.

The cities, half of which had their counterparts in [New York’s Boss] Tweed; the legislatures, with their rings, lobbyists and bribe-takers; the South, prey of unscrupulous Carpetbaggers and Scalawags; the West, sacked by railway and mining corporations; Congress with its Credit Moblier’ [scandal], its salary-grab, its tools pf predatory business; the executive departments, honeycombed with thievery; private finance and trade, with greedy figures like Jay Cooke and Collis P. Huntington honored and typical – everywhere the scene was the same. Why?

The war explained much: its terrible strain upon all Ten Commandments; the moral exhaustion it produced; the waste and jobbery which it bred; its creation of vast new Federal responsibilities. Washington became an irresistible lodestone for crooked men.

The fecund war contracts, the tariffs, the subsidies, and [enlistment] bounties, huge appropriations for speculators and [pension] claim-agents, the opportunities for theft in both collecting and spending the swollen Federal revenues, drew them as honey draws flies.

The South was ruined, and the fine principles and traditions of its aristocracy were engulfed. The industrial revolution in the North wrought the roughest, most aggressive business elements to the front. As the West was settled with amazing rapidity, a more extensive and influential frontier than ever before gave manners a cruder cast.

Cities were filling up with immigrant communities, subservient to machine politicians. Everywhere tested standards, restraints of public opinion, the cake of custom, were broken down. Co0nditions of the day produced a new and flashier political leadership. They brought demagogues and pushing brigadiers into office; generals like Ben Butler and “Black Jack” Logan, vote getters like Oliver P. Morton and Zach Chandler, speculators like Oakes Ames.

But one fact must be emphasized. Contemporaneous with this corruption, geared to it as a motor is geared to the conglomerate machinery of a factory, was the tremendous industrial boom which followed the war. For eight years Northern business rollicked amid a flush prosperity.

With money easy, with fortunes rising on every hand, with the temptation to speculate irresistible, the whole tendency of American life conduced to greed.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 638-639)

“Casus Belli”

As the majority of the South, and Northern men trained at West Point in the years prior to the war, were educated to believe withdrawing from the Union was a proper remedy to which a State might peaceably resort to if its people determined in was in their best interest to do so. The war’s result determined that secession was not improper as a redress, but that superior military power could conquer and subjugate any State or States who resort to such obvious constitutional measures for redress. Excerpts from a mid-August 1879 address regarding secession by General J.R. Chalmers follows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Casus Belli”

“All we ask is an impartial statement in history of our cause, as we understood it; and it devolves on the survivors of the struggle to correct whatever we believe to be erroneous statements in regard to it, whenever and wherever they are made.

“The right to judge of infractions of the Constitution and the mode and measure of redress,” were no new questions in our politics. They were discussed in the conventions which formed the Constitution, and subsequently whenever the General Government was supposed, by usurpation of power, to infringe on rights reserved to the people of the States united.

Massachusetts threatened secession in the War of 1812, when her commerce was crippled; South Carolina threatened nullification in 1832, when a high protective tariff discriminated heavily against her interest.

Every State of the North practiced nullification against the fugitive slave laws as fast as they came under the control of the Republican party.

Eleven States of the South attempted to practice secession when the General Government fell into the hands of the Republican party, whose leaders had denounced the Constitution as “a covenant with the devil,” and the Union as a “league with hell.”

No honorable man can read the last speech of Jefferson Davis, in the United States Senate, or the letters of Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee, when about to resign their commissions in the United States army, and say that the Confederate leaders left the Union “from choice or on light occasion.”

They loved the Union formed of States united by the Constitution; they feared a Union consolidated in the hands of men who denounced the Constitution.

Mr. Lincoln and two-thirds of his party in Congress then denied any purpose to destroy slavery, but every Republican leader now shamelessly boast that this was the great object of the war.

The very fact that there was a war growing out of a question of constitutional rights, should be a source of pride, as evidence that no large body of our people will ignobly submit to what they believe to be a violation of their rights.”

(Forrest and his Campaigns, Gen. J.R. Chalmers, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpts pp. 451-452)