Browsing "The United States Constitution"

For What are They Waging War?

Jefferson Davis referred to Lincoln’s proclamation of emancipation in early 1863 as affording “our whole people the complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington and which sought to conceal its purpose . . .” Davis, like others familiar with the United States Constitution, saw that only the individual States could emancipate, not the government created by the States. And waging war upon the States was an act of treason under that same Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

For What are They Waging War?

January 5, 1863

“Friends and Fellow Citizens . . .

I am happy to be welcomed on my return to the Capital of our Confederacy – the last hope, as I believe, for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded – the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.

Anticipating the overthrow of that Government which you had inherited, you assumed the right, as you fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent, and nobly have you advocated the assertion which you have made. You have shown yourselves in no respect to be degenerate sons of your fathers.

Men who were bound to you by the compact which their fathers and themselves had entered into the secure to you the rights and principles not only guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, but rights which Virginia wisely and plainly reserved in her recognition of the government in which she took a part, now come to you with their hands steeped in blood, robbing the widow, destroying houses, seizing the grey-haired father, and incarcerating him in prison because he will not be a traitor to the principles of his fathers and the land that gave him birth.

Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader. The Northern portion of Virginia has been ruthlessly desolated – the people not only deprived of the means of subsistence, but their household property destroyed, and every indignity which the base imagination of a merciless foe could suggest inflicted, without regard to age, sex or condition.

In like manner their step has been marked in every portion of the Confederacy they have invaded.

They have murdered prisoners of war; they have destroyed the means of subsistence of families, they have plundered the defenceless, and exerted their most malignant ingenuity to bring to the deepest destitution those who only offence is that their husbands and sons are fighting for their homes and their liberties. Every crime conceivable, from the burning of defenceless towns to the stealing of our silver forks, and spoons, has marked their career.

It is in keeping, however, with the character of the people that seeks dominion over you, claim to be your masters, to try to reduce you to subjection – give up to a brutal soldiery your towns to sack, your homes to pillage and incite servile insurrection.

They have come to disturb our social organizations on the plea that it is military necessity. For what are they waging war? They say to preserve the Union.

Can they preserve the Union by destroying the social existence of a portion of the South? Do they hope to reconstruct the Union by striking at everything which is dear to man? BY showing them so utterly disgraced that if the question was proposed to you whether you would combine with hyenas or Yankees, I trust every Virginian would say, give me the hyenas.”

(Jefferson Davis, the Essential Writings, William J. Cooper, Jr., editor, Modern Library, 2003, excerpts, pp. 285-287)

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

Jefferson Davis served as both a United States Representative and Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War, 1853-1857 under President Franklin Pierce, and President of the Confederate States, 1861-1865. He was a staunch Southern Unionist who strived to find peaceful solutions to the sectional controversies that would lead to secession of the Southern States.  The “Know-Nothingism” mentioned below was a Northern nativist political party of the late 1840s and 1850s which opposed the immigration of Irish and German Catholics — Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts and New Yorker Millard Fillmore were leaders of the party.  The following is excerpted from Jefferson Davis’ address of October 2, 1857 at Mississippi City.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

“Colonel Davis rose . . . and referred to various events in the early history of Mississippi . . . that she had never violated the compact of our Union, and unresistingly borne disproportionate burthens for the support of the general government in peace . . . [and] at the first call for soldiers to maintain the honor of the national flag, had, like a Spartan mother, girded the sword upon her sons, who knew well they could never return to the maternal embrace unless they came covered with honorable fame or wrapped in the shroud of death.

[Regarding incessant Northern aggressions borne by the South, were] we to have more compromises to gather further disappointment, and sink still lower from the equality which our Fathers maintained, and transmitted to us? Fraternity and mutual alliance for the interests of each was the motive and purpose for which the Union was formed.

Preparation in the South to maintain her rights in any contingency which the future might and was likely to bring forth, would best serve to strengthen her Northern allies, if they remained true; and would best enable her to dispense with their services, if they should desert.

It was not upon mere party relation that his hopes were founded; it was upon the elevating, purifying power of the doctrine of State rights and strict construction [of the United States Constitution] – the Shibboleth which none but Democrats can pronounce.

In the earlier, and might well be said, in the purer days of the Republic, Mr. Jefferson pronounced the Northern Democracy the neutral allies of the South, and if that alliance was broken there was surely no other on which to rely.

From the foundation of the Government, the party opposed to the Democracy, under its various names and issues had always evinced its tendency to centralization by the latitudinous construction of the powers delegated to the Federal Government.

As examples, he cited the charter of the United States Bank, the enactment of a tariff for protection, a system of internal improvements, a genera distribution of public lands and of public treasure, and last, lowest in tone, and, as its name implied, in intelligence, Know-Nothingism, with its purpose to concede to the Federal Government the power to prescribe the terms on which naturalized citizens should be invested with the right of suffrage in the States.

He said that he considered every departure from strict construction of grants to the Federal Government, as the introduction of another Grecian horse into our Southern Troy, and he invoked every Mississippian to united and vigilant resistance to every such measure.

The South, as a minority section, can alone be secure in her rights by resolutely maintaining the equality and independence of the States, and thus alone could we hope to make our Union perpetual and effective for the great purposes for which it was ordained and established.

He then urged the necessity of home education, of normal schools, and Southern school-books, as the next step after the mother’s pious training in the formation of that character which was essential to progress toward that high destiny to which his anticipation pointed.

If, as was sometimes asserted, Governments contain within themselves the elements of their own destruction, as animate beings have their growth, their maturity to decay; if ours, the last, best hope of civil liberty was, like the many experiments which preceded it, to be engulfed in the sea of time . . . [he hoped] Mississippi would stand conspicuous for all that was virtuous and noble; that through the waves of fanaticism, anarchy and civil strife, her sons would be the Levites who would bear the ark of the Constitution, and when unable to save it from wreck, that in the pile of its sacred timbers their bones would be found mingled.”

(Speech at Mississippi City; The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, 1856-1860, L. Crist/M. Dix, editors, LSU Press, 1989, excerpts, pp. 138-139; 153-155)

Conservative Robert A. Taft

Like other Old Right conservatives (rightly said to be the spiritual descendants of antebellum Southern conservatives), Robert A. Taft looked askance at the newly-discovered “civils rights” and saw the Constitution as controlling any and all civil liberties. The likely 1948 and 1952 presidential candidate of the GOP, he was thrust aside by the developing liberal wing of that party in favor of Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower.  The same liberal wing of the GOP helped defeat conservative Barry Goldwater’s presidential run in 1964.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Conservative Robert A. Taft

“In 1945 he voted against a compulsory federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, declaring that “Race prejudice is a deplorable thing . . . but I don’t believe it is possible to legislate human prejudice out of existence. This seems to me an interference by Federal Government in millions of employer-employee relationships – the regulation of business and individual life. I particularly object to giving some Federal board power to pass on the motives of the employer, a fact almost impossible to determine in most cases . . .”

Taft . . . in an address to the colored students of North Carolina College . . . told his audience that the “control of education under our Constitution is in the jurisdiction of the States and not of the Federal Government. As long as States provide equal educational facilities for white and colored children in the primary schools, I do not think the Federal Government has the constitutional power to require a State to change its established system of education.”

This qualification was not calculated to please the audience. Taft’s position was that if qualitative equality of segregated schools existed in fact, then the federal government possessed no constitutional authority to intervene; presumably he would not have assented to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s later decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Negroes interested in politics generally were friendly toward Senator Taft. One colored citizen of Ohio remarked, “Our Senator Taft’s record is wonderful . . . Senator Taft is not pro-Negro. He is not pro-white. He is not pro-labor, nor pro-management. The man has some strange passion for justice. He is not trying to win our votes so much as he is trying to do what is right.”

Asked to explain his general position on civil rights, Taft replied that civil liberties could be understood only in the context of the Constitution; therefore an unqualified endorsement of Negro claims, in the abstract, was impossible for him.

“Broadly speaking,” he continued, “the question is whether I feel that the Federal Government should intervene to protect individuals in their constitutional rights against the actions of other individuals and State and local governments.” He believed that the federal authorities should intervene when such action was clearly sanctioned by the Constitution.

(The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft, Russell Kirk, James McClellan, Fleet Press, 1967, pp. 74-76)

No Dissent in Lincolnian America

Lincoln erroneously saw Unionist Clement Vallandigham as aiding the Confederacy when the former Ohio congressman was actually aiding the Union and preserving the integrity of the United States Constitution in his dissent on Lincoln’s unconstitutional acts. Joseph Holt, Lincoln’s Judge Advocate General, was a Kentuckian and Secretary of War during James Buchanan’s administration and warm to the Radical Republicans taking power. It was he who authorized the ill-fated Star of the West expedition to resupply Fort Sumter in early January, 1861, as well as later prosecuting former Ohio Congressman Vallandigham for alleged treason for his dissent.  The latter is called a “Copperhead,” which was not a Southern supporter, but a Unionist who opposed Lincoln’s draconian methods.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Dissent in Lincolnian America

“In early 1863, a military commission prosecuted and convicted Clement Vallandigham, a former congressman, of treason. There is a consensus that this trial ranks among the most important in American history. The twentieth century’s leading scholars of the nation’s legal history, Lawrence Friedman, Kermit Hall and Melvin Urofsky, have all articulated that the Vallandigham trial and eventual Supreme Court determination in the case, is a rare landmark.

But in none of the treatise’s does Holt’s role as Vallandigham’s “prosecutor,” or the participating judge advocates emerge. Indeed, as recently as 2008, a well-researched study on Lincoln’s relationship to the Supreme Court only briefly notes Holt’s role in the entire process.

Melvin Urofsky summed up the Judge Advocate General’s role as, “simply informing the [Supreme Court] that it could inhibit neither Congress nor the President in prosecuting the War.” This is an oversimplification and the importance of Holt’s participation in Vallandigham’s trial is more than symbolic.

Holt, an officer in the War Department argued the case to Supreme Court, rather than the attorney general. This reflected how militarized the law had become and how politicized the Judge Advocate General’s Department was becoming.

[Gen. Burnside’s General Order 38 regarding treason contained] controversial prohibitions aimed at stifling dissent to the war. Most problematic was a section which stated: “The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with the view toward being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends.”

This part of the order conflicted with the Bill of Rights’ recognition of freedom of speech as an inalienable right. [Burnside] intended to ferret out the leaders of subversive organizations [as there were] already acts of public discontent within the Ohio Department . . .

[Burnside’s judge advocate aide Major James Cutts included] allegations [that] Vallandigham referred to the war as “wicked, cruel and unnecessary,” and that the war was “fought for the freedom of the blacks and enslavement of the whites.” [Vallandigham] had publicly accused the [Lincoln] administration of negotiating with the South in bad faith . . . [and] that Lincoln planned to “appoint military marshals in every district and restrain the people of their liberties, to deprive them of their rights and privileges.”

On his own, Lincoln arrived at a novel solution. If, he reasoned, Vallandigham aided the Confederacy, he should be expelled from the Union and reside with them. Holt approved of this course of action.”

(Law in War, War as Law: Brigadier General Joseph Holt and the Judge Advocate General’s Department in the Civil War and Early Reconstruction, 1861-1865, Joshua E. Kastenberg, Carolina Academic Press, 2011, excerpts, pp. 103-106; 110)

 

Opening the Door to Barbarism

In the following study of Francis Lieber’s General Orders No. 100, which claimed to guide the US military in its war upon the South, was the author’s comment that “Perhaps the most significant element of Lieber’s treatise that betrays the lack of attention to US law comes down to this observation: there is no specific reference to the United States Constitution in General Orders No. 100.” Francis (Franz) Lieber was a German revolutionist who fled his home in 1827, settling in Boston. He lost a son in the War Between the States, who fought for the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Opening the Door to Barbarism

“Two years into the conflict, after countless thousands of soldiers had died . . . the United States announced the rules by which it conducted the fighting. These regulations took the form of a document bearing the nondescript title of General Orders No. 100, instructions for the government of the armies of the United States in the field, which was compiled by a professor at Columbia College. Francis Lieber was a German émigré, a classical liberal forced by political persecution from his native country.

But there is a puzzling side to this document that has gone largely unnoticed by historians and legal scholars. Why was it allowed to be created and adopted?

One could argue that the process by which Lieber’s code of war came into being contradicted constitutional principles and the established practices of the United States. The Constitution states that the power to declare war and, even more pertinently, to “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces” belongs with the Congress.

When the nation created the Articles of War in 1806, it did so through congressional legislation, not executive fiat. With General Orders No. 100, the executive branch took a bolder step than many have realized, by assuming a right to determine the parameters of war making, especially the meaning of “military necessity,” without these policies originating with Congress.

As early as August 1861, he went on record in a public letter to Attorney General Bates concerning why the government could treat Confederates as belligerents without recognizing their nationhood. He had seized upon the rationale that became commonplace in the administration – and that owed itself to international precedents – that humanitarian reasons dictated exchanging prisoners and operating under the rules of war.

Reactions to [Lieber’s work] were predictable, with Republicans mostly supportive and administration opponents either ambivalent or hostile. The New York Herald . . . found some policy commendable . . . but stated flatly that “the inhabitants of the Southern States are not alien enemies, but citizens of the United States in insurrection, and consequently the alleged law of nations does not apply.”

Meanwhile, Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis found nothing to praise in the instructions, pointing out how the definition of “military necessity” opened the door to barbarism. Seddon said the order was “the handicraft of one much more familiar with the decrees of the imperial despotisms of the continent of Europe than with Magna Charta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.”

(With Malice Toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era, William A. Blair, UNC Press, excerpts, pp. 93-96; 98)

Origins of the Conflict: The Tallmadge Amendment

The words “disunion” and “civil war” were heard in the halls of Congress in early 1819 as Representative James Tallmadge of New York introduced his amendment to restrict slavery in the proposed State of Missouri. Though Tallmadge thought the action would help end slavery within a generation, Howell Cobb of Georgia said he had kindled a fire “which only seas of blood could extinguish.” The Missouri Compromise of 1820 did not include the amendment, but did prohibit slavery above the 36-30 parallel of the Louisiana Purchase, the southern boundary of Missouri.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Origins of the Conflict: The Tallmadge Amendment

“In 1812 the Territory of Orleans became the State of Louisiana, but meantime the District of Louisiana had been repeatedly reorganized [and by 1819] . . . the population of Missouri closely approximated sixty thousand which, according to precedents set in the Old Northwest, made a territory eligible for Statehood.

Successive Missouri legislatures petitioned Congress on the subject, and in 1819 the House Committee on Territories reported favorably a bill enabling Missouri . . . to draw up a constitution and make ready for Statehood.

It was at this juncture that Representative James Tallmadge of New York raised the question of setting limits to the expansion of slavery in the Louisiana Purchase. He proposed to amend the bill reported from committee by providing that the further introduction of slavery into Missouri should be forbidden, and that all children born of slave parents after the admission of the State should be free upon reaching the age of twenty-five years.

Until the introduction of the Tallmadge amendment, the slavery question had played little part in national politics. The problem of how slaves should be counted when apportioning representatives in Congress or assessing direct taxes on the States had been satisfactorily settled in the federal convention by the three-fifths compromise. Also, an earlier Congress had exercised its constitutional authority to pass a fugitive slave act, and the administration of this measure had so far provoked little criticism.

Moreover, slavery had long been regarded as a dying institution. The founders of the American nation had almost unanimously so considered it, Southerners no less than Northerners. Many of them were eager to speed the day when slavery should cease to exist throughout the whole country.

Washington emancipated his slaves by his will; Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were prominent in the work of emancipation societies; Thomas Jefferson’s anti-slavery views were written into the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Almost by common consent the slave trade was forbidden in 1808, the earliest possible date under the Constitution.

Hostility to slavery during these early days of the republic was firmly grounded on the fact that the institution had ceased to be economically profitable. For this reason, even before the American Revolution, many of the colonies would have taken some anti slavery action had not the British government been so insistent on protecting the profits of British merchants engaged in the slave trade.

As soon as independence became a fact, one State after another took action against slavery . . . [but] the chief obstacle to abolition in the South, where slaves were far more numerous than in the North, was the perplexity felt about what to do with the freed slaves, but Southern emancipation societies were deeply concerned about this problem and were hopeful of finding a solution.

The discovery that cotton could be grown profitably by means of slave labor [with the cotton gin of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney, and] served to revive the institution of slavery just at the time when it had seemed destined to disappear.

(The Federal Union, History of the United States to 1865, John D. Hicks, Houghton Mifflin, 1948, excerpts, pp. 354-356)

North Carolinians Wary of the National Government

Though not alone in suspicions regarding the new federal agent in Washington, even North Carolina’s Federalists were surprised by Hamilton’s centralizing plans under the new Constitution. What they observed was a steady encroachment of powers assumed by that agent to the detriment of the States who considered themselves sovereign, not the agent.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North Carolinians Wary of a National Government

“North Carolina accepted the federal Constitution more or less on faith yet with great confidence that the pending Bill of Rights would protect her and her people from the rash actions of a government that was remote from local control.

Her uncertainty grew out of long years of experience with an even more remote power in London, but the anticipated guarantee of the same rights that were mentioned in the Declaration of Rights in her own State constitution was assuring enough that she was willing at least to give the new government a trial.

Federalism flourished briefly even in North Carolina. Both senators and three of the five congressmen that she sent to the second session of the first national Congress were Federalists. When they took their seats, they discovered that Alexander Hamilton’s program to form a strong national government was being discussed. This was not to their liking nor, they reasoned, would it be to their constituent’s.

Hamilton’s plan to centralize power in the hands of the federal government distressed them, and they were disturbed by the tendency of the Federalist party to support a loose interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution. Such a policy would place more power in the hands of national officials than North Carolinians thought necessary or desirable.

Reaction against Federalism was demonstrated in the State by the refusal of members of the House of Commons in 1790 to take an oath to support the federal Constitution. The legislature also passed a vote of thanks to a State court of equity for refusing to obey a writ of the federal district court ordering the transfer of a case from State to federal jurisdiction.

Since United States senators were elected by the General Assembly, that body also undertook to instruct the senators in their duties as the State’s representatives. The State legislature clearly distrusted and feared the federal government. North Carolinians had a long tradition of resenting and even rejecting orders issued by outsiders, and they regarded the threat of federal directives as potentially just as oppressive as any that had come from England during the colonial period.

Even James Iredell, whose appointment to the Supreme Court by Washington in 1790 was a source of pride to the State, quickly became suspicious of the growing power of the national government.

He pointed out that the course the government appeared to be taking was not one that he had anticipated in 1788 or 1789. Justice Iredell’s dissenting opinion in 1794 in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia took issue with his Federalist colleagues who held that a citizen of one State could sue another State in federal court.

Iredell maintained that each State was still sovereign as to all powers that it had not delegated to the federal government, and he described the federal Constitution as a compact between sovereign States. Iredell’s view was widely hailed throughout the young nation, and it led to the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment depriving federal courts of jurisdiction in cases against a State by a citizen of another State.”

(North Carolina, A History: A Bicentennial History, William S. Powell, W.W. Norton, 1977, pp. 93-94)

 

An Educational Failure

Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia that “every country degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people only,” and to prevent this required education which improved the minds and watchfulness of those governed. He added that though the common perception was that corruption is restrained by restricting the vote to only the wealthy, but would be more effectively combatted by an extension to educated citizens who “would bid defiance to the means of corruption.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An Educational Failure

“The National Education Association, theoretically representing the teachers of the country, had for years been passing resolutions favoring whatever was before the public of un-American import, especially for getting the imperial Government at Washington, through “Federal aid,” to take over the shaping in school of American ideas.

Under the cloak of “academic freedom” men in the universities belittled those who wrote the Constitution and pronounced their work faulty and outmoded. The schools, while neglecting to give thorough courses in our history, and especially in constitutional history or the history of liberty, admitted objectionable textbooks and periodicals.

The principles of our government are not outmoded, as some say. They are as immutable as those of mathematics. The first of them, so well put by Jefferson, is that the man to whom power is given must be chained. The profound historians at Philadelphia who wrote the Constitution looked back over the centuries and drew that principle from the recurring tyrannies and unfailing breakdowns of governments.

As the constitutional system of the United States was the first that man through all the centuries was able to formulate for the one purpose of controlling those in power . . . It is “the last hope of the world,” as Daniel Webster warned us.

Communism and other alienisms can be met and overcome, not by dollars or arms, but only by superior doctrines, as the teaching of the kindness of Christianity overcame the ideas, the brutalities and the power of the Roman Empire.

By neglecting to indoctrinate each new generation with a knowledge of the superior philosophy of the American system of government, we thereby left the people weakened to attack. Hence, so many of them are taken with the false promises of communism. And so many others want the government at Washington to do things beyond its power and outside of its jurisdiction.”

(Undermining the Constitution, A History of Lawless Government, Thomas J. Norton, Devin-Adair Company, excerpts, pp. xi – xiv, 1950)

 

Terms of the Conqueror

Duress accomplished passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution; the people of the South who deeply understood that the States controlled their own domestic institutions were forced to submit to overwhelming military power. The Fourteenth Amendment was unconstitutionally-enacted, not ratified, and considered yet another term of the conqueror.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Terms of the Conqueror

“Who drove the South to these extremities? The very men who accuse her of treason. When she accepted the contest, to which she was thus virtually invited in terms of contumelious threat and reproach, she was threatened with being wiped out and annihilated by the superior forces of her antagonist, with whom it was vain and foolish to contend, so unequal were the strength and resources of the two parties. It is true that the South parted in bitterness, but it was in sadness of spirit also. She did not wish it – certainly, Virginia did not desire it – if she could maintain her rights within the Union.

The South at last fell from physical exhaustion – the want of food, clothes, and the munitions of war; she yielded to no superiority of valor or of skill, but to the mere avoirdupois of numbers. Physically, she was unable to stand up under such a weight of human beings, gathered from whenever they could be called by appeals to their passions or bought by promise to supply their necessities.

It is said that after the battle of the Second Cold Harbor, where Grant so foolishly assailed Lee in his lines, and where his dead was piled in thousands after his unsuccessful attack, the northern leaders were ready to have proposed peace , but were prevented by some favorable news from the southwest.

They did not propose peace except upon terms of unconditional submission. When the South was forced to accept those terms to obtain it, the North was not afraid to avow its purposes and carry them out. Slavery was abolished without compensation, and slaves were awarded equal rights with their masters in government.

It was the fear of these results which drove the South into the war. Experience proved that this fear was reasonable. The war was alleged as the excuse for such proceedings; but can any man doubt that the North would have done the same thing if all constitutional restraints upon the power of the majority had been peaceably removed.

It is sought to be excused, I know, by assuming that these things were done with the assent of the South. That these [Thirteen and Fourteenth] constitutional amendments represent the well-considered opinion of any respectable party in the South, there is none so infatuated as to believe. They were accepted as the terms of the conqueror, and so let them be considered by all who desire to know the true history of their origin.”

(Southern Historical Society Papers, Origin of the Late War, Hon. R.M.T. Hunter, Volume I, excerpts, pp. 11-12)

The Great, Lost Conservative Principle

In his 1991 introduction to the reprinted “John C. Calhoun, American Portrait” by Margaret Coit (original 1951), Clyde N. Wilson wrote that “Coit restored to our national pantheon this lost figure, surely a constructive and consoling experience. Her book was probably a decisive factor in the United States Senate designating Calhoun as one of its five greats in 1959, on the finding of a committee chaired by John F. Kennedy.” He adds that “a number of economic historians [have] found Calhoun’s grasp of fiscal and monetary policy superior” to his contemporaries, and that he was a Jeffersonian, and thoroughly conservative, Democrat.

The Great, Lost Conservative Principle

“A republic goes to war to defend itself and its vital interests, including possibly its honour. Empires go to war because going to war is one of the things irresponsible rulers do. The point of reference for a republic is its own well-being. An empire has no point of reference except expansion of its authority. Its foreign policy will be abstract, and will reflect on the vagaries of mind of the rulers, who might, for instance, proclaim that it is their subjects’ duty to establish a New World Order, whatever the cost to their own blood and treasure.

An empire contains not free citizens, but subjects, interchangeable persons having no intrinsic value except as taxpayers and cannon fodder. A people’s culture may be changed by imperial edict to reflect a trumped-up multiculturalism (a sure sign of empire), or their religion persecuted.

We know the problems. Where should we look for solutions? Changing the personnel of the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court has been of little avail. Thomas Jefferson gives us the answer: our most ancient and best tradition, States’ rights. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson remarked that in most ways Americans were very happily situated, and then asked:

“What more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens – a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits . . . and shall not take from the mouth of labour the bread that it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

John C. Calhoun, speaking of exactly the same tradition a generation later, said:

“The question is in truth between the people and the supreme court. We contend, that the great conservative principle of our system is in the people of the States, as parties to the constitutional compact, and our opponents that it is in the supreme court . . . Without a full practical recognition of the rights and sovereignty of the States, our union and liberty must perish. State rights would be found . . . in all cases of difficulty and danger [to be] the only conservative principle in the system, the only one that could interpose an effectual check to the danger.”

By conservative principle he means not a political position of right as opposed to left – he means that which conserves the Constitution as it was intended. Contrast that with our present position. Forrest McDonald, our greatest living Constitutional scholar, writes:

“Political scientists and historians are in agreement that federalism is the greatest contribution of the Founding Fathers to the science of government. It is also the only feature of the Constitution that has been successfully exported, that can be employed to protect liberty elsewhere in the world. Yet what we invented, and others imitate, no longer exists on its native shores.”

(From Union to Empire, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2003, pp. 155-157)