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From Independence to Independence

(The following is drawn from David Hackett Fischer’s excellent “British Folkways in America.”)

The American Revolution was not a singular struggle but a series of four separate Wars of Independence waged in very different ways by the major cultures of British America.

The first (1775-1776) was a massive popular insurrection in New England. An army of British regulars was defeated by a Yankee militia much like the Puritan bands from which they were descended and urged on by their Calvinist clergy. This war, as stated by John and Samuel Adams was not fought to secure any rights of man in any universal sense, but against what was called “the contagion of venality and dissipation” which was spreading from London to America. New Englanders felt that they had always managed their own affairs and when England tried to stop them – especially their smuggling of goods and slave trade without the Crown’s percentage paid – the war came.

The second war for independence (1776-1781) was more protracted and fought mainly in the middle colonies and coastal south. It was a gentleman’s war of British regulars and professional mercenaries commanded by English gentry, against an increasingly professional American army led by a member of the Virginia gentry. They were fighting for what Jefferson called “the ancient liberties of his Saxon ancestors.”

The third war of independence reached its climax in the years 1779-1781. It was a rising of British borderers in the southern backcountry against American Loyalists and British regulars who invaded the region. The result was a savage struggle which resembled many earlier conflicts in North Britain with much family feuding and terrible atrocities committed on both sides. Prisoners were slaughtered, homes were burned, women were raped, and even small children were put to the sword.

The fourth war of independence continued in the years from 1781 to 1783, a non-violent economic and diplomatic struggle, in which the elites of the Delaware Valley played a leading part. The economic war against England was led by Robert Morris of Philadelphia; the genius of American diplomacy was Benjamin Franklin.

The end of the war resulted in the creation of three “regional republics” of British America – voting blocs of “eastern” colonies of New Englanders; a Southern bloc centered in tidewater Virginia; and a midland bloc of mainly Delaware Valley delegations. The Constitution of 1787 was an attempt to write the rules of engagement among these three regional republics – an agreement which began dissolving in Andrew Jackson’s first term. The nullification issue of 1832 tested the strength of a State’s true sovereignty.

By 1850 the Southern bloc had enough and began reconsidering the value of its political alliance with the others. In 1854 the new Republican party arose from the ashes of the Whig party and absorbed anti-Catholic Know Nothings, Transcendentalists and radical abolitionists. In 1860, this strictly sectional party fielded its second presidential candidate and won a plurality victory in November 1860. Within a month this party would drive South Carolina to independence; other States would soon follow.

In an act of desperation and fearful of his party losing its recently-gained power, this first Republican president violated Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution he was sworn to defend – “Treason against the United States shall consist only of levying War against them; or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” is the States, individually or collectively.

(Primary Source: Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 827-828)

 

Jul 9, 2022 - America Transformed, Jeffersonian America, Tenth Amendment, The United States Constitution    Comments Off on The Source of Political Power Flows from States

The Source of Political Power Flows from States

In his foreword to “Chaining Down Leviathan” by Marco Bassani, Dr. Donald Livingston writes of America’s new central government differing from the European model by having no plenary power. He adds that “It had only a few well-defined powers delegated to it by a compact between sovereign States,” which all held the right to check unauthorized acts of central power – and even withdraw if they chose to do so. As to new States being created in the future, Thomas Jefferson believed that States “would negotiate secessions and form new Unions of States”. He imagined perhaps three new countries united by trade and defense treaties: a federation along the Atlantic coast, one along the Atlantic coast, the Mississippi, and the Pacific. The States themselves held supreme political authority; the government at Washington was merely the agent created by the States.

Source of Political Power Flows from States

“The linchpin of John C. Calhoun’s analysis of the United States Constitution was the power of the individual State as a contracting party to, and the real dominus of, the federal pact.

It must be noted that the word “State” is all over the Constitution (it appears 103 times), while the term “nation” does not appear at all. Federal political representation, and not just that of the Senate, is centered on the States; the members of the House of Representatives are elected “by the People of the several States.”

Regarding eligibility for election, the State-centered character of representation is even more marked: for the House the candidate must be an inhabitant of the State “in which” he or she will be chosen; for the Senate the candidate must be an inhabitant of the State for which he or she will be chosen. In sum, for the House a person is chosen as a representative of a State; he or she is never imagined as a delegate of a part of the American people (which simply does not exist from a constitutional point of view), while the senator is in Washington on behalf of their State.

The source of political power flows from the States to the federal government, and never vice-versa. The Constitution authorizes and prohibits certain actions by the federal government, but to the States nothing is ever permitted, only prohibited. This means that while State political authorities must check only if a constitutional prohibition exists, in the absence of which they can act freely.

A general political capacity is recognized only for the States. The Tenth Amendment (“the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”) is the architrave of American polity. It sums up the entire system of permissions and prohibitions in the sense delineated by Calhoun.”

(Chaining Down Leviathan: The American Dream of Self Government 1776-1865. Luigi Marco Bassani, Abbeville Institute Press, 2021, pp. 195-196)

What Congress is Doing to Curb the Supreme Court

What Congress Is Doing to Curb the Supreme Court

“Bills to counter recent Supreme Court rulings are starting to make their way through Congress. How much further will Congress go? Everything about the Court – how it operates, terms of judges, scope of rulings – is about to get a thorough review, the first in decades.

US News & World Report – July 12, 1957 – Congress is starting to strike back at the Supreme Court. A score of bills have been introduced to curb the Court’s power and to sidestep the effects of controversial decisions. It is clear that a growing number of Congressmen are convinced that new laws must be passed to overcome the effects of these decisions. Other Congressmen propose to go much further and trim the powers of the Court itself.

Senator Herman Talmadge (Dem.) of Georgia, for example, proposes to amend the code of laws to remove public schools from the jurisdiction of federal courts. Others have offered amendments to the Constitution giving States the exclusive power to regulate schools and all other matters relating to health and morals.

Limits on Tenure? Court decisions during the recent term have produced a rash of bills to make Supreme Court Justices less safe in their lifetime jobs. Senator Russell Long (Dem.) of Louisiana, offered a constitutional amendment to require reconfirmation of a justice by the Senate after 12 years on the bench.  Senators Olin D. Johnston (Dem.) of South Carolina, and James O. Eastland (Dem.) of Mississippi propose amendments to require reconfirmation every 4 years.

Behind all the proposals affecting the appointment of Justices is the objection in Congress that recent decisions have been more political than judicial in purpose and in effect.

To promote full debate, Senator Talmadge also is sponsoring a bill to require the Court to give a full hearing, with oral argument, on any case it decides. His contention is that the Court acted in at least ten cases during the recent term without hearing arguments.

All of these bills, in effect, are telling the Court that it is asserting too much power over Congress, the President and the States.”

It Wasn’t About Slavery Nor a “Civil War”

Once the Constitution was ratified in 1789, a State’s declaration of independence from it was recognized and fully acceptable. New York, Rhode Island and Virginia specifically noted this reserved right in their ratifications of the US Constitution, just in case the Tenth Amendment was ignored.

What we refer to as our “civil war” is erroneously claimed to be caused by a desire to abolish slavery when it was not. The decision for independence by several Southern States in 1860-1861 – secession – was not a cause for war as it was an inherent right of a State to do so. Lincoln’s minority government had no constitutional remedy to stop any States from departing. The “cause” of war was Lincoln’s decision to instigate a violent incident at Fort Sumter and then unconstitutionally raise an army without the sanction of Congress to wage war upon a State. Though many governors refused Lincoln’s request for troops to subjugate Americans, those who did were also guilty of treason.

The US Constitution’s very definition of treason in Article III, Section 3 is the waging of war upon “Them” – the States – and adhering to their enemies. What Lincoln unleashed cost a million lives lost along with our Constitution, Americans in the South subjugated and disenfranchised, the North saddled with enormous debt, inflation and fiat money, and the US government embarking on a career of imperialist ventures.

It Wasn’t About Slavery Nor a “Civil War”

In his excellent “It Wasn’t About Slavery,” author Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. notes that “The noted historian Shelby Foote was right: those who say that the Civil War was all about African slavery are just as wrong as those who declare that the war had nothing to do with African slavery.  The fake historians and purveyors of the myth of the North’s noble and enlightened cause to end slavery willfully ignores other cause, including huge constitutional issues such as a State right to withdraw, nullification, and judicial overreach – which led Thomas Jefferson to refer to the federal judiciary as “a despotic branch.”

The issue of secession can be dealt with very simply. The United States itself was the produce of secession and the Declaration of Independence was the most beautiful ordinance of secession ever written.”

A “civil war” is a struggle of competing factions within a nation or country for control of its government. The Southern States pursued political independence from the United States in 1861 just as the thirteen colonies pursued political independence from Britain in 1776.

Mitcham notes that the North’s war did indeed actively destroy the South’s agricultural labor system and armed these workers against the South, and importantly that “freeing the slave was a result of the war, not the casus belli.”

(It Wasn’t About Slavery, Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. Regnery History Press, 2020. Pp. xvi-xvii)

 

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

What follows is an abridgment of an article written by a descendant of Chief Justice Taney to clarify the legal question presented and facts considered. Taney was 12 years old when Washington died and lived long enough to see the Constitution overthrown by military force. It is said that his arrest was ordered for defying Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus.

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “tawney”), 1777-1864, is mostly known for his decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case in 1857. Largely forgotten is his 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, and his steadfast understanding that the Constitution is a compact among sovereign States. In his view, most matters of importance were the domain of States, not the federal government, and the Court was to interpret the Constitution according to the original constitutional meaning when it was first adopted.

The primary question the Court was to decide in the Dred Scott case was whether black people in the United States were “citizens” of the United States. It must be recalled that in the antebellum United States people were first citizens of the individual States, and by virtue of that, the United States.

Taney’s Court was to determine whether people of African descent were actual members of the American political community under the original intent and meaning of the Constitution. His study and understanding reflected that the United States in 1789 were primarily white, Anglo-Saxon people and black people were not part of what was an original political creation of Europeans. The racial viewpoint of the latter toward African people was primary in his consideration.

He and his Court saw that in all States, North and South, laws restricted relations between the white and black races because it was widely believed that “a perpetual and impassable barrier was intended to be erected between the white and black race.” Clearly, this is in general an accurate assessment of 17th and 18th century colonial law.

The Court also explored whether the Declaration of Independence proposition that “all men are created equal” altered the legal and social status of black people in America. Taney argued that if understood in its proper historical context where blacks and whites occupied different legal and social spheres, “it is too clear that black people were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration” in 1789.

It was clear then as it is now, that the Declaration of Independence stood only for the proposition that the American colonists, as Englishmen, had the same rights to self-determination and self-government as their British kinsmen. The Founders of course provided for future amendments to their work, but Taney and his Court were considering this legal question in 1857.

Taney’s Court also investigated whether the Constitution itself had changed the status of black people so as to make them part of the American political and legal community. Taney noted that as the Preamble declared that the United States was formed “by the people” – which was those who were members of the different political communities in the several States forming the United States. Taney concluded that as most States, North and South, had long distinguished between blacks and whites in terms of social and legal rights, and the Constitution itself implicitly distinguishing between the races in its Migration and Importation clause (permitting the abolition of the slave trade after 1808) and the Fugitive Slaves clause, black people were simply not intended as part of “the people” described in the Constitution.

As Taney reviewed federal statutes to further divine the Founders’ minds in 1789 and what they considered “the people of the United States,” he found two federal laws passed within a few years of ratification. One was the first naturalization law of 1790, which provided that only “free, white persons” could become citizens and therefore this was the political community. The other was the first militia law of 1792, which required the enrollment of every “free, able-bodied white male citizen.”

Though one could contest Chief Justice Taney’s interpretations at that time, eminent historian Carl Brent Swisher wrote in his well-respected biography of Taney that his decision was based upon an “accurate portrayal of relations between the two races in communities where both lived in considerable numbers” at the time it was written.

Thus, investigating this important question in 1857, Chief Justice Taney concluded that people of African descent were not citizens of the United States, and therefore the Dred Scott case did not fall under federal jurisdiction. To rule otherwise, Taney warned, “would require that the Court give to the words of the Constitution more liberal construction in their favor than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted.”

Such a “liberal construction” would exceed the Supreme Court’s authority.

No Troops from North Carolina

In mid-April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln himself raised an army – which only Congress may accomplish – for the purpose of waging war against South Carolina. The United States Constitution, Article III, Section 3 states that “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving the Aid and Comfort.” Lincoln had sworn to defend and uphold the Constitution, a document better understood by the North Carolina governor.

No Troops from North Carolina

“Mr. Lincoln took his seat as President on March 4, 1861. He did not receive an electoral vote in any Southern State and out of a popular vote of 2,804,560 only 1,857,610 were cast for those electors favorable to him. He carried but 16 of the 33 States then in the Union. He was inaugurated as president without having received a majority of the popular vote either of the States or the people.

An attempt by President Lincoln to reinforce the US garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was resisted by the Confederate forces under General Beauregard, and on April 14, 1861, after a bombardment lasting thirty-six hours, the fort surrendered.

On the next day, April 15, President Lincoln issued his proclamation calling on the several States to finish their quota of 75,000 troops “to suppress combinations too powerful for the law to contend with.”  The same day, Secretary of War Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, telegraphed North Carolina Governor John W. Ellis: “Call made on you tonight for two regiments of militia for immediate service.”

Reclining on his couch in the executive office, a mortal disease robbing him of his life’s blood, Governor Ellis received the dispatch and at one replied:

“Sir: I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purpose of subjecting the States of the South, as in violation of the Constitution and a gross usurpation of power. I can be no party to this wicked war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.”

Governor Ellis at once issued his proclamation calling the Legislature to meet in special session. On its assembling, the Legislature issued a call for a convention of the people and authorize the enrollment of 20,000 volunteers.”

(An Address on the Services of General Matt W. Ransom, William H.S. Burgwyn, delivered in the North Carolina Senate Chamber before the Ladies Memorial Association and citizens, May 10, 1906)

The Choice Between War and Peace

Lincoln was without question a sharp Whig attorney who knew the intricacies of Illinois politics. On the national stage he led a conglomeration of former Whigs, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, radical abolitionists, free-soilers, Transcendentalists and tariff protectionists who valued their own interests above all. As stated in the second paragraph below he knew that his political support from this rainbow of varied interests and controlled by Radicals, would fall apart should any compromise to save the Union be embraced. He placed his party above his country.

His predecessor James Buchanan was not a supporter of secession but aware that a president waging war against a State was committing treason – Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution. His attorney-general confirmed this. A president could not raise an army – only Congress could do this – Lincoln circumvented the Constitution with Republican governors sending him their own State troops until Congress met in July. By that time congressmen were aware that they faced arbitrary arrest for “treason” should they oppose Lincoln’s actions.

The Choice Between War and Peace

 “Lincoln’s cabinet was almost equally divided between Conservatives and Radicals. The Radicals favored an immediate attempt to resupply Fort Sumter even should this precipitate war. These men thought the new Confederacy would crumble upon the first show of force, because a small junta had caused all the trouble, and the Southern people would have no heart in a conspirators’ war.

The Conservatives believed that given peace and adequate time, the Union could be reconstituted. Would it not be better to withdraw the small garrisons from forts to so as to prevent immediate hostilities and secure the Border States to the Union? Seward knew there were no military reasons for keeping Sumter and had no doubt that it would soon be evacuated. On March 7, Lincoln told a caller that if Sumter were abandoned, he would have to leave the White House the same day.

On March 12 1861 Stephen Douglas began a debate designed to force the Radical Republicans either the accept or attack Lincoln’s peace policy as stated in his inauguration speech.

He reviewed at length the legal status of federal authority in the South. As the laws stood, the Executive could not use the army and the navy to enforce the law in the Southern States. What would be involved in the use of force? He had secured estimates from competent military authorities as to the troop requirements in the event of war. At least 285,000 men would be needed to compel submission and it would cost at least $316,000,000 to keep them in the field for a year. How could eighteen States ever pay the cost of subjugating fifteen?

The Republicans sat silent as he talked, smiling contemptuously. When he finished, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, attacked him as the country’s outstanding alarmist. Douglas lost his temper and taunted the Republican Radicals with desiring the Union dissolved. The Republicans were unyielding, the few Northern Democrats were impotent but the galleries applauded wildly.”

(The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, George Fort Milton, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1934, pp. 548-551)

A Civil War in the North?

Connecticut’s Hartford Times of November 7, 1860, after referring to the danger that the Southern States would “form a separate confederacy, and retire peaceably from the Union,” proceeds to say “If they do decide and act, it will be useless to attempt any coercive measures to keep them within the voluntary co-partnership of States . . . We can never force sovereign States to remain in the Union when they desire to go out, without bringing upon our country the shocking evils of civil war, under which the Republic could not, of course, long exist.”

The misunderstanding of “treason” is noted in the text below, but its actual definition is found in Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It is clear then, whoever waged war upon the several seceding States (them) was guilty of treason. Outgoing President James Buchanan understood this and admitted no authority to wage war against a State, as did his Attorney-General.

A Civil War in the North?

“Prominent supporters of Mr. Lincoln asserted that “secession is treason, and must be treated by the government as treason,” and that “the government has the right and the power to compel obedience.” A considerable number of Republicans, while they emphatically denied the right of secession, questioned the policy of forcibly preventing it. They held, that, if an undoubted majority of the adult population of any State deliberately pronounced for separation, the rest of the States, though they might legally compel that State to remain, would do better to assemble in national convention, and acquiesce in her departure from the Union. Withdrawal under these sanctions is the only secession ever deemed valid or permissible by any number of the supporters of Mr. Lincoln. Many who had voted against him also concurred in this view.

Some of the opponents of the President-elect denied the right of secession, but claimed there was no constitutional remedy against it. The greater part held that the recusant States were theoretically if not practically right; that the United States was simply a confederation of sovereign States, any one of which possessed a constitutional right to withdraw whenever it should consider the arrangement no longer profitable. They deemed an attempt to coerce a State, in order to vindicate the supreme authority of the Federal Government and to preserve the territorial integrity of the Union, to be both illegal and useless.

The opponents of Mr. Lincoln . . . asserted that the Southern people had abundant provocation for their . . . conduct. They . . . declared that the conservatives of the North would never consent to coercion; adding the not infrequent menace, that, “if war is to be waged, that war will be fought in the North.”

(History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-1865; W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill Publisher, 1869, pp. 30-32)

Subjugated Hostile and Belligerent Enemies

The idea of some States using military force to coerce another into remaining in the political union against its will, and ”reconstructing” if it dared exercise independence, would have bewildered the Founders. The Tenth Amendment itself, inserted for the express purpose of stating that any authority or power not specifically delineated in the Constitution as a power of the federal government, was reserved to the States.

Fielding its first presidential candidate in 1854, it required only 6 years for the new Republican party to drive one State out of the Union, and one month more for several others to depart as well. Its first presidential candidate gained victory through a plurality of 39% and more votes cast against rather than for him. Thus installed in the White House, this new President waged war upon the States, which is treason as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution he was sworn to uphold.

Subjugated Hostile and Belligerent Enemies

“In April, 1862, [Michigan] Congressman Fernando Beaman claimed that as a consequence of rebellion a Southern State “ceased to be a member of the Union . . . as a State.” Therefore, Beaman reasoned, Congress must establish a provisional or territorial government in each of the seceding States, before it could again exercise full power. One of the first to take “an advanced and correct position on the question of reconstruction,” Beaman was congratulated by Charles Sumner for his views.

Because of its emphasis on the presidential role in Reconstruction, Lincoln’s 10% plan inspired scant respect among Michigan congressmen. John Longyear claimed that . . . only Congress had the authority to admit new States. The Southerners, stated Longyear, should be treated as subjugated enemies. Until a majority became loyal, [Senator Jacob] Howard advocated keeping the South out of the Union and in “tutelage” up to twenty years.” Howard reasoned that a hostile and belligerent community could not claim the right to elect members of Congress. “Are public enemies,” he asked, “entitled to be represented in the Legislature of the United States?”

[Senator Zachariah Chandler growled], “a secessionist traitor is beneath a Negro. I would let a loyal Negro vote. I would let him testify; I would let him fight; I would let him do any other good thing, and I would exclude a secession traitor.”

[Like other Radicals who disliked Lincoln], Senator Chandler reacted [to his death] in a calculating manner. “I believe that the Almighty continued Mr. Lincoln in office as long as he was useful . . .” Had Lincoln’s policy been carried out, he believed that Jefferson Davis and his followers would be back in the Senate; “but now, gloated the Senator, “their chance to stretch hemp [is] better than for the Senate . . .”

Radical Republican Motivation: A Case History, George M. Blackburn, Journal of Negro History, Vol. LIV, No. 2, April 1969, pp. 111-113)

The Pursuit of Liberty

“Daniel Webster has said, and very justly as far as these United States are concerned: “The sovereignty of government is an idea belonging to the other side of the Atlantic. No such thing is known in North America. Our governments are limited. But with us all power is with the people. They alone are sovereign, and they erect what governments they please, and confer on them such powers as they please.” Jefferson Davis

The Pursuit of Liberty

“If any lingering doubt could have existed as to the reservation of their entire sovereignty by the people of the several States when they organized the federal Union, it would have been removed by the Tenth Amendment . . . the particular one in which they substantially agreed, and upon which they most urgently insisted. Indeed, it is quite certain that Constitution would never have received the assent and ratification of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and perhaps other States, but for a well-grounded assurance that the substance of the Tenth Amendment would be adopted. The amendment is in these words:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

To have transferred sovereignty from the people to a Government would have been to have fought the battles of the Revolution in vain – not for the freedom and independence of the States, but for a mere change of masters. Such a thought or purpose could not have been in the heads or hearts of those who molded the Union.

The men who had won at great cost the independence of their respective States were deeply impressed with the value of union, but they could never have consented, like “the base Judean,” to fling away the priceless pearl of State sovereignty for any possible alliance.”

(Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, pp. 146; 156)

 

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