Browsing "The United States Constitution"

A Mistaken View of Sovereignty

The following was written by John W. Burgess, born in 1844 to Rhode Island parents living in middle Tennessee. Being confirmed nationalist Whigs, his parents raised him to believe the United States government was above the States themselves in political sovereignty. When war came, he committed treason against Tennessee by fleeing to the enemy invaders and waging war against that State.

A Mistaken View of Sovereignty

“Personally, I never had regarded the union under the Constitution of 1787 as a confederation of sovereign States. Even during my boyhood in the South, I had learned from my [Henry] Clay whig father and grandfather to look upon it as a nation holding exclusive sovereignty and exercising government through two sets of organs, each having its own constitutional sphere of action and limitation. I had been taught to consider that this was the advance made in our political system from the [Articles of] Confederation of 1781 to the [Constitution] of 1787.

But I can well remember that this was not the view taken by the vast majority of the people, in rank and file, at the time when I first became cognizant of these questions. The South, by an overwhelming majority, regarded the United States as a confederation of sovereign States; and a very large portion, perhaps a majority, of the people of the North held the like opinion.

The opposition by the New England Federalists to the War of 1812 with England, led by the Federalist [Daniel] Webster, who not only opposed entering upon it, but also opposed to supporting it, and who considered conscription as warranted constitutionally only in resistance to invasion, made the Federalists a State Rights party. One the whole, therefore, the change from Federalism to Republicanism was one which advanced the States Rights doctrine of the Union at the expense of the national doctrine.

[The] slave labor system of the South made it impossible to develop manufacture there and condemned that section to agriculture, chiefly cotton raising, and how the consciousness of this fact by Southern leaders moved them to seek some constitutional principle to defend themselves against the Whig tariff majority. The principle, as Calhoun elaborated it, was nullification, namely, the right of a State to suspend the operation of an act of Congress within its limits until the legislatures of, or conventions in, three-fourths of the States should approve it.

The idea in this doctrine was that the United States government could not determine the extent of its own powers, since that would make its own determinations, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers – in other words, would make it autocratic.”

Despite writing this understanding of the nature of the American political structure, the author wrote of Lincoln’s July 4, 1861, address to a special session of Congress. By this time Lincoln had raised an army and declared war which only Congress can do, he also waged war against States which Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution defines as treason. He additionally had suspended habeas corpus and arrested political adversaries which overawed any political opposition. Lincoln then absurdly claimed that “The Union is older than any of the States, and in fact, created them as States . . . [and that not] one of them ever having been a State out of the Union.”

After Lincoln and his military were victorious in war in 1865, the States were now mere “provinces of a completely centralized government.”

(Reminiscences of an American Scholar, John W. Burgess, Columbia University Press, 1934; pp. 294-297; 306)

 

Clarifying 19th Century American History

Americans were certainly “Confederates” before the 1789 constitution was ratified as their governing document were the Articles of Confederation. When ratifying the new 1789 constitution, 11 States decided to “secede” from the Articles and voluntarily “accede” to the new federation; North Carolina and Rhode Island held out for the Bill of Rights before they acceded. In the latter document, Article III, Section 3 fixed treason as only waging war against “Them,” the States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” This does raise the question of who waged war against the States forming a more perfect union to the South Below, the author clarifies misconceptions regarding Lincoln’s war.

Clarifying 19th Century American History

“Certainly, there are those of goodwill, and let us call it “invincible ignorance, who have been educated to think the primary issue in 1861 was slavery, and Abraham Lincoln was simply reacting to those “rebels” who wished to destroy “the sacred bonds” of Union, while advancing the great humanitarian cause of “freedom.” So much for the caliber and character of our contemporary educational system, not to mention Hollywood’s ideological tendentious (and mostly successful) attempts to influence us. Yet, that mythology surrounding the Southern Iliad of 1861-1865 will not stand serious cross-examination. Consider these popular myths and shibboleths:

“The War was about slavery!” Not really accurate: the war aims cited repeatedly by Lincoln and northern publicists consistently during the years 1861-1863, even afterwards, were that the war was to “preserve the Union.” Indeed, if the abolition of slavery had been declared a war aim in 1861, most likely a great majority of Union political leaders, not to mention Union soldiers, would have recoiled, and the northern war effort would most likely have collapsed.  It was difficult enough to gain wide support in the north, as it was. Remember, Lincoln was elected with less than 40 percent of the vote in 1860, and barely gained pluralities in most northern States.

“Lincoln freed the slaves.” No so; Lincoln freed not one slave. His proclamation, issued first on September 22, 1862, and formally on January 1, 1863, supposedly “freeing the slaves,” only applied to those areas not under Union military control or occupation, that is, territory of the independent Southern States. Lincoln’s proclamation “freed” slaves where his action had no effect.

And most recently this charge: “Robert E. Lee and other Confederate military leaders who were in the US Army committed treason by violating their oaths to defend the Union, and Confederate leaders were in rebellion against the legitimately elected government of the United States.” Somehow, critics seem to forget to mention that Lee and the other Confederate leaders resigned their commissions in the US Army, and from Congress prior to enlisting in the defense of their home States and in the ranks of the Confederate States army, or assuming positions in the new Confederate government. They did not violate their oaths; their States had formally left the union, and, thus, the claims of the federal government in Washington had ceased to have authority over them.”

(The Land We Love: The South and Its Heritage. Boyd D. Cathey. Scuppernong Press, 2018, pp. 60-61)

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

A review of the martial law imposed upon the island of Key West 1861-1865 was recently presented by a local college history teacher, and as a part of the North’s comprehensive military strategy during the Civil War. The audience was a local Civil War Roundtable (CWRT) group.

The lecturer noted the military takeover of the civilian government on the island in mid-January 1861 as the local commander, Capt. James Brannan surreptitiously barricaded his 44 men in the nearly completed Fort Zachary Taylor and turned its guns on the town. Overnight, the US military’s local friends and neighbors became an enemy to be treated with suspicion and contempt. Now fearing bombardment of their homes from the nearby fort, the residents became prisoners in their homes.

The reason cited for Brannan’s warlike action was overhearing “secession” talk among the residents as well as Florida’s recent decision to formally withdraw from the United States federation and become an independent State. Florida was to remain independent until it formally voted to join the Confederate States of America on April 22, 1861.

The arrival in March 1861 of more Northern troops increased armed patrols roaming the town and surveilling citizens. Arbitrary arrests were common, and Fort Taylor became an American bastille to hold prisoners of conscience. Locals, especially merchants with inventories to sell, sought favor with the military as willing informants, reporting on anyone complaining of military rule. Elected officials who disagreed with the military faced arrest and confinement, and new elections of approved candidates were held under armed supervision. Those considered “dangerous secessionists” were deported to the mainland.

What Capt. Brannan accomplished with his unilateral action, and unfortunately not pointed out by the lecturer, was to wage war against a State which is the very definition of treason in the US Constitution – Article III, Section 3. Though Brannan was applauded by his fellow officers and eventually promoted for his act, this does not absolve him of treason.

It was highly likely that Brannan was emulating Major Robert Anderson at Charleston as news of the Fort Sumter seizure could have reached him at Key West in early January. As Anderson suffered no adverse consequences for his fort seizure, Brannan perhaps saw a green light to do the same but should have been more circumspect as he certainly was aware that John Brown was hung in 1858 for waging war against Virginia – the crime being treason. Noteworthy is that Brown was tried and convicted in Virginia, where he committed his crime.

Though this speaker outlined how the island was placed under military rule, no adequate or honest discussion was provided regarding how or why military rule had suddenly materialized, how it was justified under American law, or who specifically ordered it. Martial law is generally considered to be the absence of law with arrests and detentions made at the discretion of the military commander, or those commanded by him. Missing was any explanation of how easily Northern commanders could ignore habeas corpus which was so deeply rooted in Anglo-American jurisprudence. But importantly, as Lincoln ignored the Constitution and approved the repressive actions of those like Brannan, it only encouraged more violations of the law.

The seizure of Fort Taylor came at the whim of a local military commander who was sworn to uphold the United States Constitution – and who should have clearly understood the definition of treason. Though simplistically following orders to protect the fort he was charged with commanding, the withdrawal of the State of Florida and its relationship with the United States government at Washington took precedence. After being officially advised of Florida’s decision to formally declare independence, and lacking any reason to remain on the island, which was no longer part of the United States, Capt. Brannan should have sought Florida officials to provide him with receipts for all equipment left behind before departing with his command. Though he likely would have been court-martialed for doing this, he would have been true to his oath to support the United States Constitution.

The above indicates that there is more than one viewpoint regarding this particular topic, and a more well-versed history teacher should have been able to present all credible perspectives beyond their own. In this particular case, the audience deserved a far better explanation of how military rule quickly overwhelmed a peaceful American town. The listeners were unfortunately left with a partial and limited view of this important and most revealing topic.

(For more information on this topic, see: “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here.” John Bernhard Thuersam – Shotwell Publishing and available on Amazon)

What the American South Fought to Defend

What the American South Fought to Defend

(Excerpted from Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative)

The Governor of New York, [Franklin Roosevelt], 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 agriculture, of education, of social welfare, and a dozen other important features.” And he added that “Washington must not be encouraged to interfere” in these areas.

Franklin Roosevelt’s rapid conversion from Constitutionalism to the doctrine of unlimited [national] 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 that 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 our 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.

There is a reason for the Constitution’s 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. 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.”

The Constitution . . . draws a sharp and clear line between federal jurisdiction and State jurisdiction. The federal government’s failure to recognize that line has been a crushing blow to the principle of limited government.”

(The Conscience of a Conservative. Barry Goldwater. Victor Publishing Company, 1960, excerpts, pp. 24-29)

Lincoln’s View of Carpetbag Politicians in the South

Lincoln’s View of Carpetbag Politicians in the South

“Executive Mansion, Washington.

November 27, 1862.

Hon. Geo. F. Shepley, Military Governor of Louisiana:

“Dear Sir: Dr. Kennedy, bearer of this, has some apprehension that federal officers, not citizens of Louisiana, may be set up as candidates for Congress in that State. In my view there could be no possible object in such an election.

To send a parcel of Northern men here as Representatives, elected, as would be understood, (and perhaps really so,) at the point of a bayonet, would be disgraceful and outrageous; and were I a member Congress here, I would vote against admitting such men to a seat.

Yours, very truly, A. Lincoln.”

(Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall. D.C. Heath and Company, 1937. pg. 701)

Ramaswamy and Dred Scott

Though one of the brightest stars in the line-up for US president, Vivek Ramaswamy greatly errs in his uninformed explanation of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s (pronounced “Taw-nee”) majority opinion in the Dred Scott Case of 1857. Ramaswamy recently opined that Justice Taney’s majority opinion denying free status to Scott was for the purpose of “keeping guns out of the hands of black people.” He offers no documentation to support this belief.

First, Justice Taney was born in Maryland in 1777 and had a far better understanding of the Founders’ minds and logic than Mr. Ramaswamy does today. Further, prior to his seat on the Court, Taney served as US Attorney General and Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson.

In the Dred Scott decision before them, Justice Taney and his Court were primarily concerned with Dred Scott’s free or slave status, and if somehow he had obtained citizenship in some State under the Articles of Confederation or the later Constitution. Prior to the postwar 14th Amendment, the US Constitution did not include the word “citizen” and each State set its own standard for citizenship.  As Dred Scott was born an African slave, was not freed from this status and was not a “citizen” of a State who could sue in federal court.

The question of access to weapons had no bearing on the case as Mr. Ramaswamy suggests.

The Court ruled, with two Justices dissenting, that black people descended from American slave ancestors were not such persons as the word “citizen” means when the Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction over suits between citizens of different States.”

(The Legal & Historical Status of the Dred Scott Decision. Elbert William R. Ewing, Cobden Publishing, 1909, pp. 54-55)

“Such Was the Spirit of Those Who Made the War”

The US Constitution clearly states that only Congress may declare war against a foreign enemy, and Article III, Section 3 of the same document clearly defines the definition of treason committed against the United States.

‘Such Was the Spirit of Those Who Made the War’

“And so, without any authorization from Congress, Lincoln began a war on the Southern States which had formed themselves into a more perfect union. A few months after he began the war, he had the United States Congress to meet and the first thing offered was a resolution confirming and legalizing his acts, as if they had been authorized.

This particular resolution was before the Senate fifteen times between July 6 and August 6 and never passed. Then, after twenty months of warfare, the Supreme Court of the United States (67 US Reports, pg. 668) said Congress had no power delegated to it to make war upon a State, and that the President held no authority to make war – only Congress could do so.

That ‘the Civil War between the Northern and Southern States arose because the citizens of the States owed a supreme allegiance to the United States which the Southern States sought to absolve themselves from, by State secession, and the right of a State to do what was now being decided by wager of battle.’

There was no reason or ground stated to justify the above claim that “the citizens of each State owed supreme allegiance to the United States.” It was a war by the Northern States to hold the Southern States in union with them; a conquest of free, sovereign and independent States to be held under the domination of the more numerous States.

As Senator Baker, of Oregon, declared in the Senate that he favored ‘reducing the population of the Southern States to abject to the sway of the federal government.’ ‘We may reduce the Southern States to the condition of territories and send to them from Massachusetts or from Illinois, loyal governors to control them. I would do that.’ (Cong. Globe LW, pg. 48). Such was the spirit of those who made the war.”

(A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and War of 1861-1865. Capt. S. A. Ashe, Raleigh, North Carolina. Pg. 53)

Lincoln’s Caribbean Colonization Plan

The passage below records Lincoln’s narrow, sectional view of the reason war came in 1861. The war came not because the black man was in America, but due to Lincoln raising an unconstitutional army with troops from equally guilty Republican governors and invading Virginia. Three months lapsed before Congress met to review what the new president had done without authority, with the latter approving his actions under threat of arrest and confinement by Lincoln’s private military.

Lincoln’s colonization scheme for black “contrabands” who were not wanted in the north, revealed his true feeling toward the black race. This naïve plan ran into difficulty as speculators overextended themselves and as the existing countries of the region threatened war against what they saw as a clever scheme of Yankee imperialism. This scheme of colonization is well-covered in the recent book “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here” (Thuersam) from Shotwell Publishing.

Lincoln’s Caribbean Colonization Plan

“In August 1862, a committee of free blacks headed by Edward M. Thomas, president of the Anglo-African Institution for the Encouragement of Industry and Art, was invited to the White House. Introduced to Lincoln by the Reverend James Mitchell, the federal Commissioner of Emigration, the committee was there to hear the president’s arguments for black colonization.

Waiving the question of right or wrong, and implying that blacks were as much at fault as whites, Lincoln pointed to the long-standing and apparently permanent antipathy between the races.  Each race, in his opinion, suffered from the presence of the other. Not only were the vast majority of blacks held as slaves, but even free blacks were not treated as equals by white men, not could they ever expect to be. “The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours.”

Overlooking the inability of his own race to confront the reciprocal problems of slavery and equality, Lincoln then blamed the blacks for the fact that whites were “cutting one another’s throats” in a civil war. “But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or another.”

Physical removal seemed the best solution. Urging blacks to emulate George Washington’s sacrifices during the Revolution and asking for colonization leaders “capable of thinking as white men,” Lincoln painted a glowing picture of the attractions of founding a colony in Central America. The region Lincoln had in mind, a site on the Isthmus of Chiriqui in the Caribbean, was far closer to the United States than the original black colony of Liberia in Africa.

The site was thought to contain rich coal deposits to provide jobs for black settlers and profits for the Northern speculators who had an interest in these mines. In what he hoped would clinch his case, Lincoln told his black audience that there would be no color prejudice in racially-mixed Central America and that the climate would be beneficial to what Northerners assumed was the peculiar adaptability of blacks to the tropics.”

(Flawed Victory – A New Perspective on the Civil War. William L. Barney. University Press of America, 1980, pp. 60-62)

Recollection of Great Deeds in Bronze and Marble

Recollection of Great Actions in Bronze and Marble

“We are told by historians of an earlier age that whenever the renowned men of the Roman commonwealth looked upon the statues of their ancestry, they felt their minds vehemently excited to virtue. It could not have been the bronze or marble that possessed this power, but the recollection of great actions which kindled a generous flame in their souls, not to be quelled until they also, by virtue and heroic deeds, had acquired equal fame and glory.

When a call to arms resounds throughout the land and people relinquish the pleasant scenes of tranquil life and rally to their country’s call, such action is the result of an honest conviction that the act is commendable. In recalling such an epoch, the wish that a true record of the deeds done should be transmitted to posterity must dominate every patriot heart.

Loyalty to brave men who for four long years of desolating war – years of undimmed glory – stood by each other and fought to the bitter end with indomitable heroism which characterized the American soldier in grey, demands from posterity a preservation of the memories of the great struggle.

We cannot find in the annals of history a grander record or prouder roll of honor, no more just fame for bravery, patient endurance of hardships, and sacrifices. But what caused the four long years of desolating war?

Opposition to the to the right of equality within the political union of our fathers has been fostered and inflamed until it had taken possession of the public mind at the North to such an extent that it overwhelmed every other influence. The Republican party, soon to take possession of the powers of the national government, was sectional, irresponsible to the Southern States, and driven by an infuriated, fanatical madness that defied all opposition which must inevitably destroy every of vestige of our political rights.

The consideration for which our State’s gave assent to become members of the federal union of 1789 had wholly failed when they were not to enjoy equal rights within it. The compact was therefore willfully and materially broken.”

(Military History of Florida, Col. J.J. Dickison; Confederate Military History, Vol. XI.   Confederate Publishing Co., 1899, pp. 3; 8)

Nathaniel Macon, Model Conservative

Nathaniel Macon, Model Conservative

From the Congressional Globe, February 14, 1826:

“The government which John Quincy Adams found when he moved into the White House in 1825 was a much bigger government than his father had left; and Nathaniel Macon, who had represented North Carolina in Congress since 1791, was far from happy with it.

He regretted that everything had grown, just like the number of doorkeepers of the houses of Congress. “Formerly two men were sufficient for doorkeeper, etc., for the two houses,” Macon complained, “but now there is a regiment.”

As he recalled at the time, during the presidency of John Adams, when the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions had been passed, he asked: “If there was reason to be alarmed at the growing power of the General Government [then], how much more has taken place since? Congress now stopped almost at nothing, which it deemed expedient to be done, and the Constitution was construed to give power for any grand scheme.”

To Macon, it was a dangerous development. “Do a little now, and a little then, and by and by, they would render this government as powerful and unlimited as the British Government was,” Macon told his colleagues in the Senate in 1825.

At the next session, Macon declared that “he did not like to go on in this way – the Government constantly gaining power by little bits. A wagon road was made under treaty with an Indian tribe some twenty years ago – and now it has become a great national object to be kept up by large appropriations. We thus go on by degrees, step by step, until we get almost unlimited government power.”

(Nathaniel Macon and the Southern Protest Against National Consolidation. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr.  North Carolina Historical Review, Volume XXXI, No. 3, July 1955, pg. 376)

 

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