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Betrayed by Yankees Perverting the Constitution

The presidential messages of Jefferson Davis were filled with assertions of the South’s legal right to secede and form a more perfect union, and determine its own form of government to the letter of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Not losing sight of this, even in early 1865, one Confederate congressman stated that “This is a war for the Constitution, it is a constitutional war.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Betrayed by Yankees Perverting the Constitution

“Contributors to Confederate periodicals explored parallels between the Confederacy and other fledgling nations or independence movements – the Dutch republic, the “young kingdom of Italy,” and the Polish and Greek rebellions.

But the authors were careful to dissociate the South from genuinely radical movements; it was the conservative European nationalism of the post-1848 period with which the Confederacy could identify most enthusiastically. The Dutch struggle, an essayist in the July, 1862, issue of the Southern Presbyterian Review explained approvingly, was like the Confederate, for in both situations, “not we, but our foes, are the revolutionists.”

The Daily Richmond Enquirer was even more explicit about the Poles:

“There is nothing whatever in this movement of a revolutionary, radical or Red Republican character. It is the natural, necessary protest and revolt of, not a class or order, but an ancient and glorious nation, against that crushing, killing union with another nationality and form of society. It is . . . the aristocratic and high-bred national pride of Poland revolting against the coarse brute power of Russian imperialism . . . At bottom, the cause of Poland is the same cause for which the Confederates are now fighting.”

The Southern government welcomed a Spanish analogy between Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and northern advances across the Potomac. British recognition of the new Italian state encouraged [Robert] Toombs to see parallels there, as well. “Reasons no less grave and valid than those which actuated the people of Sicily and Naples,” he explained, had prompted the Confederacy to seek its independence.

But the nationalist movement with which the Confederates most frequently identified was . . . the American War of Independence. A central contention of Confederate nationalism, as it emerged in 1861, was that the South’s effort represented a continuation of the struggle of 1776. The South, Confederates insisted, was the legitimate heir of American revolutionary tradition. Betrayed by Yankees who had perverted the true meaning of the Constitution, the revolutionary heritage could be preserved only by secession. Southerners portrayed their independence as the fulfillment of American nationalism.

Secession represented continuity, not discontinuity; the Confederacy was the consummation, not the dissolution, of the American dream. A sermon preached in South Carolina explained that “The doctrines of the original Puritans were, and are, the doctrines of the Bible . . . but the descendants of the Puritans have gone far astray from the creed of their forefathers.”

[Southerners strived] to avoid the dangerous “isms” – feminism, socialism, abolitionism – that had emerged from Northern efforts at social betterment. But the logic of Confederate nationalism . . . was to prescribe significant shifts in the Southern definition of Christian duty. Secession thus became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying Northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.”

(The Creation of Confederate Nationalism, Drew Gilpin Faust, LSU Press, 1988, pp. 13-14, 27, 29-30)

War of Conquest, Not Emancipation

Following the War Between the States, the freedmen were exploited by the infamous Union League to help ensure the election of Northern radical Republicans who exploited and bankrupted the exhausted South.  The emergence of the Ku Klan Klan was a predictable result.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

War of Conquest, Not Emancipation  

“Reconstruction” is a curious name to apply to the period following the war. Indeed, the war had left widespread destruction, but the government in Washington had no policy of reconstruction.  The South was left to its own economic devices, which largely amounted to being exploited by Northern interests who took advantage of cheap land, cheap labor, and readily available natural resources. This exploitation and neglect created an economic morass, the results of which endure into the twenty-first century.

Not surprisingly, governments based on the leadership of carpetbaggers, scalawags, and freedmen, groups that represented a minority of the population, met widespread and violent opposition. This attempt to create a government based on racial equality was made even more ludicrous when many of [the] Northern States rejected the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, creating a situation where the States that said they had worked to free the slaves failed to grant equality to people of color.

(Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Escort and Staff, Michael R. Bradley, Pelican Publishing Company,

Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism”

“Roosevelt the First,” as Mencken referred to Theodore, seemed unaware that his own party was responsible for the national malady he spoke against – it was the Republican Party’s marriage of government and business in the 1860s that unleashed the Gilded Age as the conservative South was no longer there to resist the government corruption and scandal. As he asserted new powers for the president, Roosevelt was creating new authority beyond what the United States Constitution confers upon the executive branch, his New Nationalism was indeed a refuge for “presidential lawbreakers.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism”

“[Former President Roosevelt] arrived in New York on June 18 [1910], after visiting courts and other interesting scenes in Europe. In all these places he received great honor, and his landing in New York called forth a demonstration worthy a world hero.

The public was curious to see whether Roosevelt would side with his old friend [William H. Taft], now the President . . . Shortly after landing he visited Taft and outwardly all seemed harmonious. In all he said openly he did not criticize Taft, but he did not abate his opposition to big business in politics.

Then suddenly he hurled a thunderbolt. Speaking on August 31 at Osawatomie, Kansas, he announced a political program, which he called “New Nationalism.” Government by the people, he said, was threatened by wealth in national politics, and the power of the nation should be so extended over it that it could not do what it is doing.

To reach this end he would give the federal government all needed power. If the Constitution was not strong enough he would amend it. He denounced what he called the “twilight zone” between federal and State authority, “a refuge for lawbreakers, and especially for lawbreakers of great wealth, who can hire the vulpine legal cunning which will teach the way to avoid both jurisdictions.”

“New Nationalism,” he added, regards the executive power as the steward of the public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare, rather than in property, just as it demands that the representative body shall represent all the people rather than one class or section of the people.” From the individualism of [Grover] Cleveland to the “New Nationalism” of Roosevelt was a long step.”

(Expansion and Reform, 1889-1926, John Spencer Bassett, Kennikat Press, 1971 (original 1926), pp. 175-176)

 

Threats of Federal Interference in Elections

The Republican Party used freedmen votes to win elections from Grant onward, though the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland demonstrated that more federal election interference in the South was needed to ensure GOP victories. Amid Republican claims that free elections were not being held in the South, Senator Zebulon Vance spoke against the Republican’s 1890 Force Bill and their assertion of electoral purity:

“[t]he supporters of this bill . . . is the same party, which inaugurated Reconstruction. By Reconstruction, it will be remembered one-fifth of the votes in eleven States was suppressed by law. The punishment of disfranchisement was freely inflicted [on Southerners] as a punishment for crime without trial and conviction. Thousands upon top of thousands of other votes were suppressed by fraud . . . [and] there were received and counted the ballots of those who were not entitled to suffrage under any law known to American history or tradition.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Threats of Federal Interference in Elections

“At the end of Reconstruction period the South, which had lost so much in other ways, gained in its representation in Congress through counting all the Negroes in the apportionment. In 1860 it had 108 representatives, in 1880 it had 135. In the same period the three Middle Atlantic States rose from 66 to 73, and the six New England States declined from 41 to 40.

The Southern gain worked for the advantage of the Democrats and the disadvantage of the Republicans. The Republicans, now controlling both houses of Congress, were indignant at a situation which . . . deprived them of votes in the House. This feeling led them to bring in the Federal Election Bill of 1890 . . . On its face the law applied to all parts of the country, but it was aimed mainly at the South and the city of New York.

Candid Southerners did not deny suppressing the Negro vote, but they justified it by saying a great wrong had been done when Negro suffrage was imposed on the South by military force; and they insisted it was necessary to eliminate that vote in order to have good government. Southerners gave clear warning that it would be impossible to enforce a law to put the South in the hands of the Negroes.

The bill passed the House but came to a halt in the Senate. The more it was considered the greater was the unwillingness to enter upon the stormy course its passage would produce. The proposal was finally killed by an agreement between eight free-silver Senators and a group of Southern senators.

The threat to pass the election bill alarmed Southerners greatly, and the defeat of the bill did not altogether remove their fears; for federal interference might be renewed at any time.

Another source of anxiety to the Southern Democrats was the appearance of the People’s [Populist] Party in their midst with a fair prospect of dividing the white vote. These two things led Southerners to pass certain amendments to several State constitutions, in order to exclude the Negro from voting without incurring penalties for violating the Fifteenth Amendment.

To do this it was necessary to word the alterations so that the Negro was not disenfranchised upon the specified grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the only grounds on which at that time the rights of suffrage might not be denied.

It was natural that these amendments should go to the Supreme Court for interpretation. But that tribunal showed a strong unwillingness to pas upon them in fact. To overthrow them would produce a critical situation in the South, where the whites were more determined that the Negroes should not rule either all or any part of the section. The Court showed a desire to avoid precipitating a sectional conflict.

Nevertheless the Fifteenth Amendment is still a part of the federal Constitution; and when the Negro race comes to have the weight of trained intelligence and the substantial possession of property, it will probably find a way to qualify and vote under the present State amendments.”

(Expansion and Reform, 1889-1926, John Spencer Bassett, Kennikat Press, 1971 (original 1926), pp. 22-24)

Washington Will Be a Fortified City

Lemuel Burkitt (1750-1807) was a Baptist preacher and member of the 1788 Hillsborough Convention which considered the new union proposed by Alexander Hamilton. A devout anti-Federalist, he demanded a maximum of State rights and the preservation of individual liberties, and thus was highly suspicious of Hamilton’s centralization of power schemes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Washington Will Be a Fortified City

“At the sessions of the courts, at county militia musters, in the taverns, wherever men gathered, the main topics of conversation [in 1787] were the Constitution and its framers. In the heat of argument no man’s character was above attack and no past political or military service could overcome party animosity. Thomas Person, a general of the Revolution and patriot of undoubted sincerity, denounced Washington as “a damned rascal and traitor to his country for putting his hand to such an infamous paper as the new Constitution.”

Willie Jones, leader of the [North Carolina] anti-federalists, found it necessary to deny in the public press that he had “called the Members of the Grand Convention, generally, and General Washington and Col. Davie, in particular, scoundrels” . . . William Lenoir of Wilkes county said later in the debates in the convention that his constituents had instructed him to oppose the adoption of the Constitution. William Lancaster of Franklin [county] said that his own feelings and his duty to his constituents induced him to oppose the adoption of the Constitution, since he believed every delegate was bound by his instructions.

Lemuel Burkitt, a Baptist preacher strongly opposed to ratification, was a [convention] candidate in Hertford county. In explaining the selection of an area ten square miles [to be] the seat of the [federal] government, Burkitt said: “This my friends, will be walled in or fortified. Here an army of fifty thousand, or perhaps, a hundred thousand men, will be finally embodied, and will sally forth, and enslave the [American] people, who will be gradually disarmed.”

[Hugh] Williamson . . . did not consider paper currency as honest tender because of its rapid depreciation. However convenient depreciated paper appeared to those who used it to discharge their debts, he contended that the credit and finances of the State had been injured by it. No part of the North Carolina debt of North Carolina had been discharged by the operations of paper money, “the whole advantage of depreciation being a mere juggle,” by which one citizen was injured for the convenience of another.”

So great were the evils of paper money that the dignity of government was wounded by declaring it legal tender, industry languished, the orphan was defrauded, and the most atrocious frauds were practiced under the sanction of the law.”

(The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina, Louisa Irby Trenholme, Columbia University Press, pp. 107-110; 117)

Generations Living Off Future Generations

Jefferson wrote in 1792: “As the doctrine is that a public debt is a public blessing, so they think a perpetual one is a perpetual blessing, and therefore wish to make it so large that we can never pay it off.” Prior to 1861 it as common for American presidents to view that indebting future administrations was both immoral and unconscionable.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Generations Living Off Future Generations

“On September 6, 1789, Jefferson admonished James Madison from Paris that the country should get straight, “at the threshold of our new government,” how we are to keep the debt from destroying the democracy. Jefferson’s premise, which he believed to be “self-evident,” is that one generation cannot – either morally or in fact – bind another.

It follows that “No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.” The “earth belongs in usufruct [trust] to the living . . . [T]he dead have neither powers nor rights over it.” If one generation can charge another for its debts, “then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.”

Jefferson continued: “The conclusion then, is, that neither the representatives of a nation, nor the whole nation itself assembled, can validly engage debts beyond what they can pay in their own time.”

Madison wrote back that he generally agreed but thought debt was justifiable if it built a project that benefited the future taxpayer – a useful bridge, for example. Jefferson answered that the power to borrow was too dangerous to allow exceptions – any exception would expand or destroy the prohibition.

Madison’s argument seemed plausible, but Jefferson’s camel’s-nose-under-the-tent concern was right. No government will stay within Madison’s exception. World War II, the last time this country could make any kind of legitimate case for a benefit to future generations, was in fact financed 47 percent by pay as you go taxes, which provided $137 billion out of a total cost of $304 billion.

Jefferson could not get his 1798 amendment adopted, but the country got more chances to adopt Jeffersonian principles in 1994, 1995, and 1996 when Sen. Sam Nunn (D., GA) proposed a Balanced Budget Amendment. At the time, the national debt was large (about four trillion dollars) but could have been dealt with. It was not yet a perpetual debt.

Senator Nunn called his legislation the “Jefferson Amendment.” It required that Congress balance expenses with revenues [and] the public constantly supported Nunn’s amendment by 75-percent margins. But he was defeated by the Clinton Cabinet, which argued that the economy would crash if the federal government couldn’t borrow.

A New York senator said the amendment’s passage could “lead to the devastation of the banking industry.” With the defeat of the Nunn Amendment, the boat sailed for the Republic.”

(Just One More Thing, William J. Quirk, Can the Republic Be Restored?, Chronicles, May 2009, pg. 15)

The Constitution Changed with No Text Altered

The following quotes from Colonel Edward M. House’s papers reveal how Woodrow Wilson saw his role as president. The first shows the fear Northern congressmen felt for a Southerner being in control of the politically-important federal pensions for Northern War Between the States veterans. Dewey Grantham wrote in his “Hoke Smith,” that there were “by 1893 almost a million pensioners receiving over $156 million annually, or almost one third of the entire expense of operating the government.” In the last quote House states that Wilson would not tolerate aggression against other republics, yet is silent on the aggression in 1861.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Constitution Changed with No Text Altered

February 13, 1913:

“Chance plays its parts in history. Had Mr. [Walter Hines] Page been in town, he would have been offered and would have accepted the Secretariat of the Interior, and he would not have gone to London as Ambassador. But before his return, the party leaders in Congress learned of the suggestion and objected strongly. Page, they pointed out, was a Southerner, and no Southerner should be the Secretary of the Interior because of his control of [federal Civil War] pensions.”

September 28, 1914:

“We talked much of leadership and its importance in government. He thinks our form of government can be changed by personal leadership; but I thought the Constitution should be altered, for no matter how great a leader a man was, I could see situations that would block him unless the Constitution was modified. He does not feel as strongly about this as I do.”

November 7, 1914:

“There were no outside visitors for dinner, but the President artfully evaded getting alone with me in the study. He was afraid I would renew the McAdoo-Tumulty controversy. However, he need not have worried. He began to speak of a flexible or fluid constitution in contradistinction to a rigid one. He thought that constitutions changed without the text being altered, and cited our own as an example. At the beginning, he thought, there was no doubt that there was no difference of opinion as to the right of the States to secede. This practically unanimous opinion probably prevailed down to Jackson’s time. Then there began a large sentiment for union, which finally culminated in our Civil War, and a complete change of the Constitution without its text being altered.”

December 19, 1914:

“Justice Lamar telephoned that the Argentine Ambassador was back . . . he excused himself for a moment and took [Ambassador] Naon aside to inform him how thoroughly I represented the President. At lunch I reported to the President the substance of my conversation with the Ambassador from the Argentine . . . “The President said in talking with them I could go very far, and he was emphatic in the statement that the United States would not tolerate . . . aggression upon other republics.”

The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, Behind the Political Curtain, 1912-1915, Houghton Mifflin, 1926, pp. 121-122, 212-213,

 

State Sovereignty Paramount

Jefferson Davis and other West Point graduates of his time were taught from Rawle’s “View of the Constitution,” and understood that should a State subvert its republican form of government, “the national power of the Union could be called forth to subdue it. Yet it is not to be understood that its interposition would be justifiable if a State should determine to retire from the Union . . . The secession of a State . . . depends on the will of the people of such a State.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

State Sovereignty Paramount

“On my way home from Boston I stopped in New York once when the ex-President of our Confederacy and Mrs. Davis were there in the interest of his book, and I went to see them.

“Mr. Davis,” I said, “had I come from the South I should be laden with loving messages from your people. But even in abolition Boston you are held in high esteem as one sincere, honest and earnest.”

“Yes,” he said, “though we disagreed on many issues, I believe I held the respect of my fellow Senators from Massachusetts.”

“But you were not a secessionist in the beginning, Mr. Davis, were you?”

“No; neither in the beginning nor the ending,” he smiled.

“But to me the sovereignty of the State was paramount to the sovereignty of the Union. And I held my seat in the Senate until Mississippi seceded and called upon me to follow and defend her. Then I sorrowfully resigned the position in which my State had placed me and in which I could no longer represent her, and accepted the new work.

I was on my way to Montgomery when I received, much to my regret, the message that I had been elected provisional President of the Confederate States of America. I regretted it then and I have regretted it ever since.”

(Words From Jefferson Davis, Confederate Veteran, March 1913, page 108)

 

Yancey’s Prophetic Foresight

Born at Ogeechee Falls, Georgia in 1814, educated at academies in New York and New England, South Carolina and later Alabama editor, William Lowndes Yancey prophetically predicted the rise of the consolidationist Republican party. He foresaw the States becoming “but tributaries to the powers of the General Government,” and their sovereignty enfeebled.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Yancey’s Prophetic Foresight

“. . . Yancey had been an unconditional Unionist . . . But in 1838 disturbing reports, which led him to pause, study the Constitution, and consider the nature of the Union, began to reach his desk. His indignation and fears seem to have been first aroused by the abolitionist petitions which were agitating Congress and the country, and in one of his editorials declared:

“The Vermont resolutions have afforded those deluded fanatics – the Abolitionists – another opportunity for abusing our citizens, and endeavoring to throw firebrands into the South, to gratify a malevolent spirit. They well know that they have no right to . . . meddle with our rights, secured to us by the Constitution; but to gratify the worst of feelings, while at the same time and in many instances, the endanger our safety, they press upon Congress the consideration of this subject.”

This editorial went on to express a fear that there was “a settled determination, on the part of those fanatics, to form themselves into a small band of partisans,” and thereby to gain the balance of power and determine elections.

Yancey’s fears of despotism under the cloak of the Federal Union were intensified by the election of the friends of the United States Bank. He reported a series of resolutions condemning the bank, supporting the President [Jackson] in his fight on it, and approving “well conducted State Banks.” The second resolution [declared]:

“We deem the struggle now going on between the people, and the United States Bank partisans, to be a struggle for pre-eminence between the State-Rights principles of 1798, and Federalism in its rankest state; and that in the triumph of the Bank, if destined to triumph, we would mournfully witness the destruction of the barriers and safeguards of our Liberties.”

In the spring of 1839 Yancey and his brother bought and consolidated the Wetumpka [Alabama] Commercial Advertiser and the Wetumpka Argus. The next spring when Yancey took personal charge of the newspaper, he announced that it would support a policy of strict construction in national politics and a State policy of reform in banking, internal improvements, and public education within reach of every child.

[With the] opening of the presidential campaign of 1840, [Yancey] believed the issue between State rights and consolidation to have been clearly drawn. Twelve years of Jacksonian democracy had destroyed the bank, provided for the extinction of the protective features of the tariff, and checked internal improvements at federal expense. Therefore, if the friends of the bank, the protective tariff, and internal improvements expected to enjoy the beneficence of a paternalistic government, they must gain control of the administration at Washington, and consolidate its powers. Thus to them the selection of a Whig candidate for the presidency was an important question, and from their point of view Henry Clay seemed to be the logical choice.

[Yancey editorialized] to show that the abolitionists, having defeated [Henry] Clay in the convention, now contemplated using their power to defeat Martin Van Buren in the election, disrupt the Democratic party, and absorb the Whigs.

To Yancey it seemed clear that [a] coalition of Whigs and abolitionists would put the South in a minority position . . . that the minority position of the South demanded “of its citizens a strict adherence to the States Rights Creed.”

He declared:

“Once let the will of the majority become the rule of [Constitutional] construction, and hard-featured self-interest will become the presiding genius in our national councils – the riches of our favored lands offering but the greater incentive to political rapacity.”

Furthermore, he foresaw with inexorable logic that once the general government was permitted to exercise powers, not expressly given to it, for subsidies to industry and for the building of roads and canals, it was as reasonable to claim constitutional authority for subsidies for agriculture and labor.

Yancey foretold with prophetic insight the consequences of the application of the consolidationists creed. He said it would result in a “national system of politics, which makes the members of the confederacy but tributaries to the powers of the General Government – enfeebling the sovereign powers of the States – in fact forming us into a great consolidated nation, receiving all its impulses from the Federal Capitol.”

And in strikingly modern language he warned the people that, if the tendencies toward consolidation continued, the Constitution would “have its plainly marked lines obliterated, and its meaning . . . left to be interpreted by interested majorities – thus assembling every hungry and greedy speculator around the Capitol, making the President a King in all but name – and Washington a “St. Petersburg,” – the center of a vast, consolidated domain.”

(William L. Yancey’s Transition from Unionism to State Rights, Austin L. Venable, Journal of Southern History, Volume X, Number 1, February 1944, pp. 336-342)

“In God’s Name, Let Them Go Unmolested”

Delaware was a slaveholding State in early 1861 and Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs of Georgia expected that State to adhere to the South in its new experiment in government. Congressmen James A. Bayard and William G. Whiteley were two Delawareans who advocated peace between the sections and sympathy for Southerners seeking a more perfect union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“In Gods Name, Let Them Go Unmolested”

“Congressman Whiteley [of Wilmington, Delaware] served on the Committee of Thirty-Three and signed a minority report of that Committee. The minority report was signed by five congressmen, all from either Southern or border States. Whiteley and these congressmen advocated peaceful secession. They believed that:

“. . . the doctrine of the indissolubility of the general government has no foundation in the public law of the world . . . ”

Also, . . .”that no power has been conferred upon the general government, by the Constitution . . . to keep a State in the Union.” They became specific when they stated that: “You cannot coerce fifteen sovereign States . . . That a separation, which has become inevitable, shall be bloodless.”

Whiteley signed a statement advocating the secession of all slaveholding States, including Delaware. Specifically, it proposed that there should be no war, but peaceful separation. Succinctly, they stated their position:

“Whether any State has or has not the right to seceded under the Constitution, it is a matter of fact that four States have already seceded; and that in a few short months — perhaps weeks — all of the other slaveholding States will have in like manner seceded, with the purpose of maintaining their new position, by force of arms, if no adjustment is made of the differences between them and the non-slaveholding States.”

After the firing on Fort Sumter, William G. Whiteley held to his previous position. On June 27 at a mass meeting in Dover he stated:

“In God’s name, let them go unmolested . . . Would Delaware give money or men to hold States as conquered provinces? . . . Could the South be subjected? Never!”

(The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States, William C. Wright, Associated University Presses, 1973, pp. 86-87)

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