Browsing "Recurring Southern Conservatism"

The South Against a Seceding North

Though South Carolina had been threatened with invasion over nullifying federal law in the early 1830s, no such threats were made to Northern States in the 1850s as they instituted personal liberty laws which nullified federal law and obstructed federal officers. Had Lincoln not won his plurality in 1860, the secession of the North might have been the case.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The South Against a Seceding North

“There was strong opposition to secession, not only in the Upper South, but also in some parts of the Lower South, the very heart land of the future Confederacy. In every convention except South Carolina’s there were votes against secession, and in Alabama and Georgia the opposition was considerable. In Georgia, Alexander H. Stephens, Herschel V. Johnson, and Benjamin H. Hill gave up their fight for the Union only after their State had seceded and threatened to leave them behind.

In their campaign to save the nation, the [Southern] Unionists resorted both to argument and to delaying tactics. They played on national sentiments; the Revolution and its heroes . . . the Constitution, which largely Southerners had made and was sufficient for all needs if properly interpreted and enforced. Up to this time the South had generally dominated the government, either through Southern-born presidents or . . . Northern men with Southern principles. Most of the Supreme Court had been Southerners, and the court at this time was dominated by the South.

In fact, the whole idea of secession was illogical and wrong, it was argued. The process should be reversed. The North should do the seceding, for the South represented more truly the nation which the forefathers had set up in 1789. Therefore the South should not allow itself to be driven out of its own home.

Henry A. Wise of Virginia was especially vigorous in arguing this point of view. “Logically the Union belongs to those who have kept, not those who have broken, its covenants,” he declared. If he ever had to fight he hoped it would be against a seceding North, “with the star-spangled banner still in one hand and my musket in the other.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, pp. 3-5)

Hoke Reveals a Kinship of Lee's Spirit

Major-General Robert F. Hoke of Lincolnton, North Carolina was said to be Lee’s personal choice for command of the Army of Northern Virginia should he be incapacitated. A brilliant division commander, Hoke was not a West Pointer and after the war declined any reminiscences of his participation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Hoke Reveals a Kinship of Lee’s Spirit

“I once saw General Hoke eating ham and eggs and buckwheat cakes in a hotel in Greensboro. A massive man with broad smooth brow and well-trimmed gray beard, he resembled the pictures of General Lee. Later in the day when I was introduced to him at a railway station, the talk fell on the war with Spain, which had just ended and he told me President McKinley had offered him by telegraph a brigadier’s commission in the army preparing to go to Cuba.

He thanked the President but declined. “I have seen enough of war in my time,” he said. He spoke as casually as if he had said,” “I had all the buckwheat cakes for breakfast I wanted.”

We were then only four miles from the spot where he as the commander of a division in [General Joseph E.] Johnston’s army had surrendered to Sherman. I tried to draw him out on the subject, but he was politely uninterested.

General Hoke engaged in mining and railroading after 1865. He resolutely refused to enter politics, unlike many of his brother officers who were only too ready to capitalize their war records. In this General Hoke revealed a kinship of the spirit of General Lee.”

(Son of Carolina, Augustus White Long, Duke University Press, 1939, pp. 36-37)

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

During the colonial period it was common for North Carolina planters needing labor to trade cargoes of tar and pitch to New Englanders for the slaves they imported. On the eve of the Revolution the North Carolina Provincial Congress resolved that “We will not import any slave or slaves, nor purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others from any part of the world after the first day of November next [1774].”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

“So far as can be determined, no tax was levied on the importation of slaves into North Carolina prior to the Revolution. On the other hand, the Virginia Assembly made numerous attempts to discourage the importation of slaves by imposing from time to time a tax on all slaves brought in from Maryland, North Carolina, the West Indies, and Africa.

The first impressive protest for any considerable body of citizens of the colony against the African slave trade was registered by the freeholders of Rowan County [North Carolina] in 1774. They placed themselves on record against the African slave trade in the following resolution:

“Resolved that the African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it, prevents manufacturers and other useful emigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the balance of trade against the colonies.”

Due in part to the dearth of labor occasioned by the Revolution, there was a resumption of the slave trade after the war. It was not, in fact, until 1787 that the General Assembly took the initial step in taxing the traffic, basing its action on the general ground that the importation of slaves “into this State is productive of evil consequences and highly impolitic.”

Whatever the motive, a duty of 5 [pounds] was levied on all slaves brought in by water. Slaves between the ages of thirty and forty were made subject to the same duty, while those between the ages of twelve and thirty were subject to a duty of 10 [pounds]. In addition, a general head tax of five pounds was imposed on all slaves imported from the coast of Africa. The act of 1787 did not prohibit, but no doubt discouraged, the slave trade.

Due presumably to the ratification of the Federal Constitution by North Carolina in 1789, the act of 1787 was repealed in 1790, and there was no restriction on the importation of slaves until 1794 . . . and in that year a heavy fine was imposed on the importation of slaves. [Its] passage might have been further delayed had not a terrifying Negro insurrection occurred in San Domingo in 1791. This insurrection thoroughly aroused the people of the State to a realization of the potential danger of a large Negro population.

[In] 1795 the legislature placed a further restriction on the importation of slaves by making it unlawful for any person removing to the State, “with intent to settle or otherwise,” from any of the West Indian or Bahama Islands to bring with him any Negroes or people of color above the age of fifteen years, under penalty of 100 [pounds] for each and every slave or person of color brought in.

To many public men of the time the danger from this source seemed imminent; so much so that, in 1798, Governor Samuel Ashe issued a proclamation calling on the people of the State to prevent the landing of slaves or free persons of color. He stated in his proclamation that several shiploads of San Domingan Negroes had set sail, and that one shipload had arrived in Charleston.

Despite precautions, West Indian Negroes found their way into the State. The landing of a number of emancipated Negroes from the island of Guadaloupe at Wilmington in 1803 so alarmed the inhabitants of the town that they memorialized Congress to take action to prevent the introduction into the United States of any persons of that class.”

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser Howard Taylor, Negro Universities Press, 1969 (original UNC Press, 1926), pp. 23-26)

 

The Graves of American Heroes

The first commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans, General John B. Gordon of Georgia, tried repeatedly to retire from his high office “but his comrades would not consent.” Below, he spoke in 1890 of the necessity of maintaining unblemished the nobility, heroism, sacrifices, suffering and glorious memory of the American soldiers in grey.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Graves of American Heroes

“[The United Confederate Veterans] was created on high lines, and its first commander was the gallant soldier, General John B. Gordon, at the time governor of Georgia, and later was United States senator. General Gordon was continued as commander-in-chief until his death.

The note . . . struck in the constitution of the United Confederate Veterans were reechoed in the opening speech of the first commander-in-chief. General Gordon, addressing the Veterans and the public, said:

“Comrades, no argument is needed to secure for those objects your enthusiastic endorsement. They have burdened your thoughts for many years. You have cherished them in sorrow, poverty and humiliation. In the face of misconstruction, you have held them in your hearts with the strength of religious convictions. No misjudgments can defeat your peaceful purposes for the future. Your aspirations have been lifted by the mere force and urgency of surrounding conditions to a plane far above the paltry considerations of partisan triumphs.

The honor of the American Government, the just powers of the Federal Government, the equal rights of States, the integrity of the Constitutional Union, the sanctions of law, and the enforcement of order have no class of defenders more true and devoted than the ex-soldiers of the South and their worthy descendants. But you realize the great truth that a people without the memories of heroic suffering or sacrifice are a people without history.

To cherish such memories and recall such a past, whether crowned with success or consecrated in defeat, is to idealize principle and strengthen character, intensify love of country, and convert defeat and disaster into pillars of support for future manhood and noble womanhood.

Whether the Southern people, under their changed conditions, may ever hope to witness another civilization which shall equal that which began with their Washington and ended with their Lee, it is certainly true that devotion to their glorious past is not only the surest guarantee of future progress and the holiest bond of unity, but is also the strongest claim they can present to the confidence and respect of the other sections of the Union.

It is political in no sense, except so far as the word “political” is a synonym for the word “patriotic.” [It will] cherish the past glories of the dead Confederacy and transmute them into living inspirations for future service to the living Republic; of truth, because it will seek to gather and preserve, as witness to history, the unimpeachable facts which shall doom falsehood to die that truth may live; of justice, because it will cultivate . . . that broader and higher and nobler sentiment which would write on the grave of every soldier who fell on our side, “Here lies an American hero, a martyr to the right as his conscience conceived it.”

(The Photographic History of The Civil War, Vol. 5, Robert S. Lanier, editor, Blue & Grey Press, 1987, pp. 298-299)

Spending the Money of Future Generations

Robert Hayne of South Carolina followed Jefferson’s admonition that the national debt was not something to be passed on to future generations; it was considered immoral for a president not to pay the debts incurred under their administrations before leaving office. In encouraging an unending public debt, Daniel Webster, on the other hand, Webster was promoting the American System of Whig politician Henry Clay which would give the government an endless supply of money with which to buy influence and power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Spending the Money of Future Generations

“The gentleman from Massachusetts (Webster), in alluding to a remark of mine that before any disposition could be made of the public lands, the national debt (for which they stand pledged) must be first paid, took occasion to intimate (that Southerners desire to pay the national debt) “arises from a disposition to weaken the ties which bind the people to the Union.”

But, adds he gentleman, “so far as the debt may have an effect in binding the debtors to the country, and thereby serving as a link to hold the States together, he would be glad that it should exist forever.” Surely then, sir, on the gentleman’s own principles, he must be opposed to the payment of the debt.

Sir, let me tell that gentleman that the South repudiates the idea that a pecuniary dependence on the Federal Government is one of the legitimate means of holding the States together. A monied interest in the Government is essentially a base interest . . . it is opposed to all the principles of free government and at war with virtue and patriotism. In a free government, this principle of abject dependence if extended through all the ramifications of society must be fatal to liberty. Already we have made alarming strides in that direction.

The entire class of manufacturers, the holders of stocks with their hundreds of millions in capital, are held to the Government by the strong link of pecuniary interests; millions of people, entire sections of the country, interested, or believing themselves to be so, in the public lands and the public treasure, are bound to the Government by the expectation of pecuniary favors.

If this system is carried on much further, no man can fail to see that every generous motive of attachment to the country will be destroyed, and in its place will spring up those low, groveling, base and selfish feelings which bind men to the footstool of despots by bonds as strong and as enduring as those which attach them to free institutions.”

(The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 42-43. Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830)

The South Falls Heir to Northern Problems

The South after 1865 was not only an economic colony for Northern interests, but it would also fell prey to the multitude of vices associated with a relentless pursuit of profit. What was earlier termed “the Southern Yankee” became more common as the drive to emulate the industrialized and profit-obsessed North overwhelmed the Southern people.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The South Falls Heir to Northern Problems

“During the decade of the [nineteen] twenties, the South surpassed New England in textile manufacturing. A growing percentage of owners of Southern mills were absentee Yankees. In 1929 the region’s first serious labor revolts occurred, and Communist agitators were discovered among the rioters in Gastonia, North Carolina. There could no longer be any doubt that industrialization threatened to bring change. Some Southerners questioned the wisdom of continuing to heed the advocates of the “New South.”

If the South proceeded in remaking herself in the image of the North, would she not fall heir to those Northern problems from which she had fancied herself immune? Chief among the literary expressions of reaction was “I’ll Take My Stand,” published in 1930. A defense of agrarianism and individualism, it was the work of twelve Southern writers, most of them associated with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. During the 1920’s, four of their number (John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Donald Davidson) published “The Fugitive,” a significant magazine of poetry and criticism.

Later in the decade with the nation seemingly committed to materialism and the South in ferment, they began their quest for Southern identity. They found the good life in an agrarian society where ideals meant more than money — in the South before 1880 — and they recommended it to a nation which had lost its balance. Like the Fugitives, Ball found the cherished personal virtues — the code of the upcountryman — secure only in the land. But because his arena was political, he saw the happier life also dependent upon conservative government.”

(Damned Upcountryman, William Watts Ball, John D. Starke, Duke Press, 1968, pp. 151-152)

 

States Rights' Cornerstone of the Republic

Barry Goldwater criticized both Eisenhower and Nixon for claiming to be conservatives on economic issues but liberals when it comes to human problems. Goldwater believed that man “cannot be economically free, or even economically efficient,  if he is enslaved politically; conversely, a man’s political freedom is illusory if he is dependent for his economic needs on the state.” As the Founders’ believed, the State’s were the bulwark against an oppressive federal government in the hands of political opportunists.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

States’ Rights Cornerstone of the Republic

“The Governor of New York, in 1930, pointed out that the Constitution does not empower the Congress to deal with “a great number of vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare, and a dozen other important features.” And he added that “Washington must not be encouraged to interfere” in those areas.

Franklin Roosevelt’s rapid conversion from Constitutionalism to the doctrine of unlimited government is an oft-told story. But I am here concerned not so much by the abandonment of States’ Rights by the national Democratic Party – an event that occurred some years ago when the party was captured by the Socialist ideologues in and about the labor movement – as by the unmistakable tendency of the Republican Party to adopt the same course.

The result is that today neither of our two parties maintains a meaningful commitment to the principle of States’ Rights. Thus, the cornerstone of the Republic, our chief bulwark against the encroachment of individual freedom by Big Government, is fast disappearing under the piling sands of absolutism. The Republican Party, to be sure, gives lip service to States’ Rights. We often talk about “returning to the States their rightful powers”; the Administration has even gone so far as to sponsor a federal-State conference on the problem.

But deeds are what count, and I regret to say that in actual practice, the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, summons the coercive power of the federal government whenever national leaders conclude that the States are not performing satisfactorily. Let us focus attention on one method of federal interference — one that tends to be neglected in much of the public discussion of the problem. In recent years, the federal government has continued, and in many cases, has increased, federal “grants-in-aid” to the States in a number of areas in which the Constitution recognizes the exclusive jurisdiction of the States.

These grants are called “matching funds” and are designed to “stimulate” State spending in health, education, welfare, conservation, or any other area in which the federal government decides there is a need for national action. If the States agree to put up money for these purposes, the federal government undertakes to match the appropriation according to a ratio prescribed by Congress. Sometimes the ratio is fifty-fifty; often the federal government contributes over half the cost. There are two things to note about these programs. The first is that they are federal programs – they are conceived by the federal government both as to purpose and as to extent.

The second is that the “simulative” grants are, in effect, a mixture of blackmail and bribery. The States are told to go along with the program “or else.” Once the federal government has offered matching funds, it is unlikely, as a practical matter, that a member of a State Legislature will turn down his State’s fair share of revenue collected from all of the State. Understandably, many legislators feel that to refuse aid would be political suicide. This is an indirect form of coercion, but it is effective nonetheless.

A more direct method of coercion is for the federal government to threaten to move in unless State governments take action that Washington deems appropriate. Not so long ago, for example, the Secretary of Labor gave the States a lecture on the wisdom of enacting “up-to-date” unemployment compensation laws. He made no effort to disguise the alternative: if the States failed to act, the federal government would. Here are some examples of the “simulative” approach. Late in 1957 a “Joint Federal-State Action Committee” recommended that certain matching funds be “returned” to the States on the scarcely disguised grounds that the States, in the view of the Committee, had learned to live up to their responsibilities.

These are the areas in which the States were learning to behave: “vocational education” programs in agriculture, home economics, practical nursing, and the fisheries trade; local sewage projects; slum clearance and urban renewal; and enforcement of health and safety standards in connection with the atomic energy program. Now the point is not that Congress failed to act on these recommendations, or that the Administration gave them only half-hearted support; but rather that the federal government had no business entering these fields in the first place, and thus had no business taking upon itself the prerogative of judging the States’ performance.

The Republican Party should have said this plainly and forthrightly and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the federal government. We can best understand our error, I think, by examining the theory behind it. I have already alluded to the book, “A Republican Looks at His Party,” which is an elaborate rationalization of the “Modern Republican” approach to current problems. (It does the job just as well, I might add, for the Democrats’ approach.)

Mr. Larson devotes a good deal of space to the question of States’ Rights, thanks to the Tenth Amendment, this presumption must give way whenever it appears to the federal authorities that the States are not responding satisfactorily to “the needs of the people.’ This is a paraphrase of his position, but not, I think, an unjust one. And if this approach appears to be a high handed way of dealing with an explicit constitutional provision,

Mr. Larson justifies the argument by summoning the concept that “for every right there is a corresponding duty.” “When we speak of States’ Rights,” he writes, “we should never forget to add that there go with those rights the corresponding States’ responsibilities.” Therefore, he concluded, if the States fail to do their duty, they have only themselves to blame when the federal government intervenes.

The trouble with this argument is that it treats the Constitution of the United States as a kind of handbook in political theory, to be heeded or ignored depending on how it fits the plans of contemporary federal officials. The Tenth Amendment is not “a general assumption, ” but a prohibitory rule of law. The Tenth Amendment recognizes the States’ jurisdiction in certain areas. State’ Rights means that the States have a right to act or not to act, as they see fit, in the areas reserved to them.

The States may have duties corresponding to these rights, but the duties are owed to the people of the States, not to the federal government. Therefore, the recourse lies not with the federal government, which is not sovereign, but with the people who are, and who have full power to take disciplinary action. If the people are unhappy with say, their States’ disability insurance program, they can bring pressure to bear on their State officials and, if that fails, they can elect a new set of officials.

And if, in the unhappy event they should wish to divest themselves of this responsibility, they can amend the Constitution. The Constitution, I repeat, draws a sharp and clear line between federal jurisdiction and State jurisdiction. The federal government’s failure to recognize that the line has been a crushing blow to the principle of limited government. But again, I caution against a defensive, or apologetic, appeal to the Constitution. There is a reason for its reservation of States’ Rights.

Not only does it prevent the accumulation of power in a central government that is remote from the people and relatively immune from popular restraints; it also recognizes the principle that essentially local problems are best dealt with by the people most directly concerned. Who knows better than New Yorkers how much and what kind of publicity-financed slum clearance in New York City is needed and can be afforded? Who knows better than Nebraskans whether that State has an adequate nursing program? Who knows better than Arizonans the kind of school program that is needed to educate their children? The people of my own State – and I am confident that I speak for the majority of them — have long since seen through the spurious suggestion that federal aid comes “free.”

They know that the money comes out of their own pockets, and is returned to them minus a broker’s fee taken by the federal bureaucracy. They know, too, that the power to decide how that money shall be spent is withdrawn from them and exercised by some planning board deep in the caverns of one of the federal agencies. They understand this represents a great and perhaps irreparable loss — not only in their wealth, but also in their priceless liberty. Nothing could so far advance the cause of freedom as for State officials throughout the land to assert their rightful claims to lost State power; and for the federal government to withdraw promptly and totally from every jurisdiction which the Constitution reserves to the States.”

(The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater, Victor Publishing Company, 1960, pp. 24-30))

 

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