WFB’s modified limited hangout on homosexual marriage
supports only a very limited version of the marriage amendment
. His proposal would not, as the current proposed amendment does, limit marriage in the United States to a man and a woman. Rather, it would limit the application of the Full-Faith-And-Credit clause of the Constitution so that if any state authorized same-sex marriages (which they would be perfectly free to do under Buckley’s proposal), other states would not be required
to honor them. Imagine that. The father of modern conservatism does not even support the outlawing of same-sex marriage in the United States.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 07, 2003 02:07 AM | Send
Its all about compromise in this case. I guess Buckley has a lot of elite friends he doesnt want to anger. Sad isnt it?
My subscription to NR will end this fall after running continuously for 34 years. Wonder what the 50th anniversary in two years will be like? Perhaps by then, Frum will be editor-in-chief.
That is typical of Buckley. Experience shows that the man believes in nothing. His views on virtually everything have simply followed popular opinion - in that lies a kernel of truth about the death of real conservatism.
Is it not consistent with small-government federalism to espouse Buckley’s position? In the original federal system, only the central government was forbidded to abridge freedom of the press, to establish a religion, etc. The states were permitted to do all sorts of things that 21st century men find objectionable.
That said, I would favor an amendment that gave each state power to define and recognize marriages independently, to define its own rules for choosing adoptive and foster parents, to define its own tax breaks for married couples, etc., exempting them from “unlawful discrimination” claims on all these matters for reasons of favoring heterosexuals over homosexuals, married over cohabiting, etc. We need to address more than marriage, as adoption and other issues will be next. But I can live with doing it all within a federalist system.
Mr. Coleman wants to “do it all within our federalist system.” But he seems to have forgotten that our federalist system consists of a _national_ level as well as a state level. The question to be determined is, what is appropriate for the state level, and what is appropriate for the national level?
The ordinary _regulation_ of marriage is a matter that naturally belongs at the state level within our federal system. But that assumes an overall agreement among the states as to what constitutes marriage in the first place. An attempt to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples is such a radical attack on those common assumptions that a law stopping it by formally defining marriage as consisting of one man and one woman appropriately belongs at the national level. The national level attends to the fundamentals. Once those fundamentals are assured, the states attend to the particulars appropriate to each community.
The fundamental question of what to leave to the states, and what to perform at the national level, was answered in two ways by the authors of the Constitution.
First, a few responsibilities simply make no sense at the state level, because of their interstate or international nature. Foreign affairs, international trade agreements, a national currency, a federal judiciary, immigration and naturalization, customs and border patrol, national defense, etc., fit this category. They constitute 95% of powers legitimately wielded by the national government.
The second, much smaller category, was the “keep us states from doing the wrong thing” category. Thus, the founders anticipated that states might use protectionist measures to restrict interstate trade, and wrote the (much abused) interstate commerce clause. This category is the exception, not the norm, in the Constitution.
The leftist/elitist perspective involves, among many other things, the belief that the states cannot be trusted to do the right thing on countless issues, which then must be handled at the national level. States cannot be trusted to set their own speed limits on their highways (presumably, state legislators do not care if their constituents die, but national legislators do!). States cannot be trusted to properly regulate the number of gallons per flush of a toilet, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
The primary reason that the public at large gives any credence at all to this elitist perspective, which on the face of it is highly insulting to the public, is that the Jim Crow/separate but equal/resistance to desegregation issues, and their relatives, discredited the legitimacy of state governments in general. State governments were seen as the people standing in the school house door, barring entry to some innocent little 7-year-old black girl, etc.
Given that background and context, what you are saying is: The state governments cannot be trusted to define marriage properly. Some of them will do the wrong thing, like Vermont and California and the usual suspects. That is very true, but that is federalism, absent some argument to the contrary.
Note that in my second constitutional category above, the states recognized the temptation that EACH of them would face to restrict trade. It was not “The wise majority of us fear that a few stupid states will try to restrict trade.” Your proposed amendment is motivated by a fear that a minority of states will be stupid, hence the majority of states should gang up on them and prevent it. I understand and sympathize, but it is not the federalist system.
As an analogy, if we abolished the unconstitutional national welfare state programs, there would be nothing to prevent some state from enacting its own welfare programs that would be far more harmful to families than homosexual marriage. That has been called “the laboratory of the states.” Let them fail and be a bad example for every other state to note. That is federalism.
By Mr. Coleman’s reasoning, we should repeal the 13th Amendment and allow each state to institute chattel slavery if it so chooses. He carries the federalism idea to such an extreme that he loses a grasp of the essential principle of unity, particularly of a unity of basic moral and spiritual principles, that must underlie a nation’s diversity if the nation is to be a nation. This is something that Washington understood but that the Southern secessionists, for example, did not understand. Southern Slavery made the North and South into two incompatible social systems, a situation that, while adopted as a matter of necessity, was inherently unstable and could not last. Similarly, a nation divided into “homosexual marriage” states and “traditional marriage” states would have two incompatible and warring social systems and could not last.
Also, I must say that Mr. Coleman trivializes the issue of marriage when he appears to equate a national uniformity on the basic definition of marriage with a national uniformity on speed limits and the size of flush toilets.
I agree. I just wanted to hear a persuasive argument to that effect. To assert that the national government attends to “the fundamentals”, while the states work out “the particulars appropriate to each community”, is a frightening precedent in a federalist system. If applied to issues in general, it would mean that all the meaningful power is in the national government.
In order to practice “the politics of prudence”, conservatives must ensure that the cultural heritage is not squandered, that the culture survives the present generation. Assaults on the family and marriage threaten the survival of the nation and culture, and thus warrant government action, even by those of us who are wary of government action in general.
LA wrote: “By Mr. Coleman’s reasoning, we should repeal the 13th Amendment and allow each state to institute chattel slavery if it so chooses. He carries the federalism idea to such an extreme that he loses a grasp of the essential principle of unity, particularly of a unity of basic moral and spiritual principles, that must underlie a nation’s diversity if the nation is to be a nation.”
I’m not speaking for Mr. Coleman, but only for myself: yes, we should repeal the Thirteenth Amendment and allow each state to institute chattel slavery if it so chooses. I’m confident that no state would choose such a course, but the fact that it is the right of the people of the various states, under the original plan of the Constitution, to do so is indisputable. This country was never intended to be a unity in the way you imagine, with the national government lording it over the states. The original plan was for the states—i.e. the people of the states acting through their state legislatures—to retain their individual sovereignty EXCEPT IN THOSE FEW, DEFINED CASES WHERE THEIR SOVEREIGNTY WAS *LENT* (not surrendered in perpetuity) TO THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT. The STATES were still, in the main, the fundamental unities vis a vis the people of the states. The national government was simply more or less a hired hand, an agent employed to oversee certain areas that it was thought (rightly) that the states couldn’t tend to as well individually. When you talk about America as a unified nation, you are clearly understanding America to be something not very different from any other nation in the world. However, what was actually created by the Framers was a creature FAR DIFFERENT from any other nation in the world, and it was different in just the way I’ve described.
(I suppose it will do no good to point out that I am not in favor of chattel slavery, but I’ll do it anyway. I simply believe, along with most of the Framers, that we have more to fear from rampaging government than we do from oppressive majorities within the states. Also, in declaring that we should repeal the Thirteenth Amendment, I really only mean to challenge the view that the Thirteenth is somehow unassailable. Perhaps the people of the nation desire such an amendment, and if they do it should be kept. But it should not be used, as the Fourteenth is, to incorporate the Bill of Rights against the states in toto, thereby destroying the essential structure of our government and transforming it into the unworkable, tyrannical Leviathan we see today.)
LA wrote: “This is something that Washington understood but that the Southern secessionists, for example, did not understand. Southern Slavery made the North and South into two incompatible social systems, a situation that, while adopted as a matter of necessity, was inherently unstable and could not last.”
What do you mean, the Southern secessionists didn’t understand this? The Southern secessionists understood it perfectly. That’s why they seceded. Just as they suspected at the outset—i.e. at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, which many resisted due to just such fears—they could never live in perfect harmony with the North. Hence, their solution was to peacefully bow out and go their separate way. Too bad that that wasn’t allowed to happen and instead the North took it upon itself to coerce and beat them into submission, thereby making a mockery of the principle of self-rule.
Bubba, I’ve a question for you. In perusing the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, I note that numerous sections are similar, if not altogether identical, to the U.S. Constitution. But as I read its Preamble, it begins: “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a PERMANENT FEDERAL GOVERNMENT …”
Very curious wording. The U.S. Constitution referred to “a more perfect union.” But I wonder about this phrase, “permanent federal government,” which seems much stronger and more demanding.
So my question to you is this: Did the CSA Constitution provide for the right of the individual States signatory to the compact to secede from this “permanent federal government?” The issue seems to be no more resolved in the CSA Constitution than the U.S. one. So what is your position on this?
“The national government was simply more or less a hired hand, an agent employed to oversee certain areas that it was thought (rightly) that the states couldn’t tend to as well individually.”
With respect for Bubba, this remarkably tendentious statement (“hired hand,” etc.) is out of line with the most basic facts about the American founding. Consider, for example, Washington’s many statements counseling the American people how they should view the United States, as the object of their love and loyalty. The notion that Washington, Madison, Hamilton and the rest viewed the national government as a mere “hired hand” can’t be taken seriously. I think Bubba is not telling us the way the founding generation viewed the founding; I think he’s telling us the way that modern libertarians like to imagine the founding.
Another point concerning General Washington’s views on the Union and slavery is made in Mr. Flexner’s biography as follows:
“Washington felt that it was the Virginia institution [of slavery] that would in the end have to give way. ‘I clearly foresee,’ he told an English caller, ‘that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.’ To Randolph, he revealed a conclusion that tore at his most deeply seated habits and emotions. He stated that should the Union separate between North and South, ‘he had made up his mind to move and be of the northern.’”
Though the last statement postulated an eventual separation, I would draw no comfort from this, considering whose side he had determined to take. Considering the actions he took, in personal leadership, to put down the Whiskey Rebellion I don’t think it’s too much to assume that he would have handled the Southern rebellion any differently than Mr. Lincoln. And as he spoke of the ‘rooting out’ of slavery, I doubt this would give much credence to your view that the States would have retained any prerogative regarding the preservation of that institution within their territories!
Bubba, if you don’t answer my question on the the right of secession under the CSA Constitution, I will post the lyrics of “While We Were Marching Through Georgia” in your honor. ;-)
“Bubba, if you don’t answer my question on the the right of secession under the CSA Constitution, I will post the lyrics of ‘While We Were Marching Through Georgia’ in your honor. ;-)”
I also was waiting to learn the answer to that (which I knew once but amazingly have completely forgotten!), but let’s not go overboard, Joel — that threat you made was a bit harsh. Let’s not shock the poor guy. Besides, what if he’s away from his machine, and can’t get back to it in time?
No, post the lyrics to “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord” first. If he still refuses to respond, THEN post “Marching Through Georgia.”
But you’ve GOT to give the guy a chance first, Joel … be a Mensch!
To show how incorrect is Bubba’s idea that the Founders viewed the national government as nothing more than a “hired hand,” as something lacking not only in real sovereignty, but in any higher permanence or meaning, let us go to the greatest authority on the Founding, George Washington, in his Farewell Address. As you read this passage, keep in mind Bubba’s dismissive phrase “hired hand” and compare it with Washington’s evocation of the greatness and irreplaceable value of the Union and its claims of love and loyalty upon us. Also notice his prediction that threats to the Union would be ceaseless, and must be continually guarded against.
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.
I accept Unadorned’s admonition. Now that I think about that was overly harsh. “The Fall Of Charleston” would have been sufficient. ;-) Bubba’s a good guy anyway, and has made some good points. He did post on another thread after I posed that question, however. So I hope he’s just not ducking it, considering how adamantly and repeatedly he has spoken up in defense of the Southern Secession. But I agree he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The most I have found on the question is that the CSA Constitution did not have an explicit right of secession included, (although one was said to have been proposed by Chairman Rhett of the Montgomery Convention that drafted the permanent constitution.) But the right is said to be _implied_, (in which case I missed it on my first reading.)
It really is amazing that an explicit provision should be missing though, since the Confederate States made ‘secession’ their watchword. They were willing to accept war to assert this right! Yet the failure to express it clearly in their own founding document seems to point to a tacit acknowledgment of its unworkability in forming a stable federal government.
So I’d still like to hear what Bubba has to say about it. :-)
And I’d also like to hear Bubba’s response to that awesome quote that Mr. Auster just posted from General Washington!
“It really is amazing that an explicit provision should be missing though, since the Confederate States made ‘secession’ their watchword. They were willing to accept war to assert this right! Yet the failure to express it clearly in their own founding document seems to point to a tacit acknowledgment of its unworkability in forming a stable federal government.”
That tacit acknowledgement of a compelling reality that doesn’t fit into one’s liberal ideology is the unprincipled exception.
“It really is amazing that an explicit provision should be missing though, since the Confederate States made ‘secession’ their watchword. They were willing to accept war to assert this right! Yet the failure to express it clearly in their own founding document seems to point to a tacit acknowledgment of its unworkability in forming a stable federal government.”
Posted by: Joel on August 25, 2003 06:40 PM
neither is the right to revolution mentioned in the us constitution, but who doubts their acceptance of that principle?
I have to strongly disagree with Joel on his interpretation of the Confederate Constitution. The language was changed from “more perfect union” because that was one of the phrases being used against the secessionists at the time.
From Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address: “And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was ‘to form a more perfect Union.’ But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.”
“Permanent Federal Government” was used to clarify what the secessionists believed that the founders had meant. It was actually meant as an answer to the debate going on at the time.
So why did the Confederate Constitution contain no language explicitly protecting the right of secession? Because it could not. The Confederate Constitution was mostly a copy of the U.S. Constitution with additional language to protect slavery (though it did prohibit the trans-Atlantic slave trade). For that reason, the drafters of the Confederate Constitution knew that they could never make the right of secession explicit. If they had, it would have meant capitulation to the argument that the U.S. Constitution made secession illegal.
If you take a look at Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, you will find a good outline of much of the debate at the time. While I am not sure that I completely agree with Bubba’s argument about the place of the Federal government, many of the secessionists certainly did. I would like to note that the 1861 13th amendment which passed Congress (not the original 13th amendment which had something to do with titles of nobility) read: “No Amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any state, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” Lincoln refers to this in his Inaugural, and claims that amending the Constitution would be an alternative to secession.
The 13th amendment which did pass during the Civil War and the 14th which passed latter need to be read, in my opinion, as answers to this amendment (or at least to the debate it represented). So yes, the 14th was meant as a Federal power grab.
I’m not sure what the point of Thrasy’s comment is, but regarding the Lincoln’s proposed amendment in 1861 which would have safeguarded slavery perpetually, that tells us two interesting things. First, it shows how incredibly far Lincoln and his fellow Republicans were willing to go to appease the South and avoid secession and Civil War; and second, it points again to the fanatic, self-destructive folly of the secessionists. Had they accepted Lincoln’s incredibly generous offer, they would have maintained their distinct civilization forever. Instead, they insisted on destroying the Union, and so brought destruction on themselves instead.
Also, I can’t help but see the parallels between the Southerners and today’s Arabs. At innumerable points over the last 60 years, from the Peel Commission partition plan in 1937 to Barak’s incredible offers to them at Camp David and the White House in 2000, the Arabs could have had their own state in Palestine, yet every time they refused it because driving out the Jews was more important to them. And so, every time, they’ve ended up losing everything.
It’s the fanatical temperament at work.
Mr. Lincoln’s speech at the Cooper Institute in 1960 elaborated the point on the meaning of ‘more perfect union.’
I’m not sure I follow your reasoning on why the framers of the CSA Constitution couldn’t make a specific provision on the right to secession. Making clear a matter that was previously in controversy doesn’t mean conceding the other side to be in the right; it means clarifying the issue to avoid any similar controversy in the future.
Would passage of the proposed 13th Amendment have been construed to imply that the Constitution had not previously recognized the rights of the States to preserve slavery? Of course not. (As it was, it took the final 13th Amendment to free the slaves of the North after the War.) Mr. Lincoln made this point clear in his First Inaugural: “To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”
By failing to make such a provision in the CSA Constitution, which argued to “be implied constitutional law,” one can hardly make the case then that secession was anything but less than “express and irrevocable.”
Thrasymachus would have done well to show how the CSA Constitution implicity allowed for secession.
Finally, although Mr. Lincoln mentioned 2 roads that a people can take in their disaffection with government — amendment or revolution — the whole context of his speech makes clear his position on the latter. And it is universally understood that revolution is almost always accomplished only by the successful conclusion of war. “And the war came.”
Actually, that was not Lincoln’s proposed amendment. He claims not to have read it even (unlikely). It had passed Congress, but it was very unlikely that the Northern States would have ever ratified it. Lincoln was proposing the struggle for ratification as an alternative to secession.
In my opinion, the worst real blunder of the South was not to surrender Sumter and Pickens. Lincoln would have been forced (probably) to abide by his promise not to go to war.
The position of the South, was that secession was their legal right guarenteed by the original U.S. Constitution. The Confederate Constitution was the U.S. Constitution with just a few words changed. At the time, it would have been a major loss for them to admit that the U.S. Constitution did not provide enough guarantees to protect the right of secession.
President Lincoln’s “amendment or revolution” argument was a direct attack on the South’s belief in a right to secession. He was able to follow up on it because of the blunder at Sumter. He preserved the Union, but it wound up costing the nation 2% of its population.
Why would thathave been a “major loss?”, even assuming the logic to be correct? By that point they had already seceded and were only taking the step of formally organizing a new governement. There would be no further debate on the subject.
If you are saying that their concern was with Northern sentiment in supporting or opposing the secession, I have difficulty accepting that the act of secession itself was not sufficient to affect opinion on the matter one way or another, as if including a constitutional provision would somehow have ‘tipped the balance’ of Northern opinion in favor of war.
And even conceding the right of secession as the ‘crux’ issue, in a practical sense, Mr. Stephens’s Cornerstone speech made reference to several areas where the CSA Constitution settled questions that had previously lingered in controversy. And again, I don’t think in any case this could be construed as an admission of error on the part of the South.
This is true even in the indirect, underlying cause of the secession: “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution … This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” But here again, Mr. Stephens explicitly disavows any notion analagous to your contention:
“The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured…” And this concerns an issue which Mr. Stephens himself admits to be the cause of the late ‘rupture,’ even as he proudly proclaims that in the CSA Constitution it has been “put at rest, forever.”
The fact that there were provisions in the U.S. Constitution acknowledging slavery, (though not by the word ‘slavery,’ a fact Mr. Lincoln also made much of in the Cooper speech,) but none concerning secession, leads me to this conclusion:
The only way that your point could have any real validity is if the Southerners recognized in truth that secession was NOT and had never been a Constitutional right, this being so clear that making a direct provision thereto would give the lie to their position, (since they had seemingly little concern about clarifying expressly other positions which had been a source of conflict with the North.) But would any of them have admitted this? Or did they not strongly believe in the right? Otherwise, to say that they had to refrain from a clear provision, or dress it up in ambiguities, in order to AFFIRM the right just doesn’t make sense.
Mr. Auster wrote,
“Had [the secessionists] accepted Lincoln’s incredibly generous offer, [the South] would have maintained [its] distinct civilization forever.”
Forever? Am I mistaken, or was slavery doomed to disappear from the scene, civil war or no civil war, in at most another generation?
Let’s estimate an upper limit on that institution’s conceivable life expectancy: I’d think “total dismantlement — through completely peaceful, natural social causes indigenous to the South itself with no one else’s help — by at the absolute latest the end of World War I” has got to be at least close to inevitable reality (we speak now, of course, with the benefit of all sorts of hindsight they didn’t have in Lincoln’s day, but so be it). I mean, can anyone imagine the automobile, the airplane, radio, and Charlie Chaplin’s and Greta Garbo’s silent movies co-existing in the same America with Negro chattel-slavery?
Roughly the end of World War I, say, has got to be an absolute upper limit to slavery’s longevity. Now, I think all sorts of arguments can be made for concluding it would’ve bitten the dust — entirely peacefully, within the Old South itself, and of the Old South’s accord, in the Old South’s way, without coercion from any other quarter — much earlier than the end of WW-I. I think a case can be made for moving the date of its inevitable demise up to before the start of WW-I and even before the turn of the century.
My opinion is that at the outbreak of the Civil War slavery had at most twenty-five to thirty years to go, in any event — war or no war.
Unadorned said, “My opinion is that at the outbreak of the Civil War slavery had at most twenty-five to thirty years to go, in any event — war or no war.”
This is pure speculation. Slavery exists in parts of the world today notwithstanding every advance in technology and media. If President Bush can go to Africa and issue insulting utterances about America long after she ended slavery, whilst ignoring its existence on the very continent where he was speaking, I don’t see why the the institution could not have perpetuated itself here for far longer with others turning a blind eye.
It was protected by the Constitution, and no amendment removing it would have passed while the South remained unconquered. It was an entrenched part of their identity. Read the Cornerstone speech again if there remains any doubt of this.
I will play devil’s advocate here by posting a couple of points that have been made (rather vehemently) elsewhere, many times.
1) There is no question, based on explicit statements, that the framers of the Constitution believed that states had the right of secession, and that it was a final check on tyranny.
2) Imagine if 60% of today’s states ganged up on the other 40% and announced that citizens of those 40% shall pay double the federal income tax rate as citizens of the 60% of states. This is analogous to the tariff situation the South faced.
Would Lincoln’s amendment have changed that?
There might be lots of interesting things to say about the Civil War, but I will be surprised if there is any serious dissent from these two points.
Both Unadorned and Joel make reasonable points. It’s an interesting thing to speculate about. I didn’t mean to be making a literal statement when I said “forever,” I just meant that no external force would have taken away their peculiar institution.
I’ll take Mr. Coleman’s challenge:
1. Probably so, since our founding document referred to the right of revolution. But I’ll refer to my statement above regarding the conclusion of war. But there’s another side to this coin — it is hard to read the Constitution without concluding that the Federal Government had a right to put down an insurrection.
2. I would not argue that the South didn’t have legitimate grievances. But in reading the declarations of secession of the various States, starting with South Carolina, even where matters such as this are touched on, the concerns that seem the most pressing, and most elaborated on, are these 3: Slavery, slavery, and slavery.
There were purely economic forces at work undermining slavery even as the South prepared for war defending it. This has been discussed at some length by David Horowitz, citing the researches of various scholars. Slavery — a 16th and 17th century institution adopted in the first place from the very alien cultures of Colonial Spanish America — already could not truly compete economically in the very different economies of mid-19th-century Anglo-Saxon America but was showing itself more and more an ineffecient money-loser, and was doomed purely on economic grounds to perish by, in my opinion, the end of the century, given the huge advances in agricultural mechanisation which had taken place by then, let alone other forces such as the shifts to more modern labor-capital relationships and banking/insurance practices, the rise of labor unionisation, and other trends including evolution in public opinion that were transforming America by the close of that century.
I love it when people make the most controversial assertions, adding that there is and can be no disagreement about them whatsoever! Perhaps if Mr. Coleman could show us statements by the founders claiming a unilateral right of secession …? And by a right of secession, I mean a legal right within the Constitution, not the right of revolution.
Also, I don’t know what the issue of the tariff could add to this discussion, i.e., “The South didn’t secede over the burning issue of slavery that had been tearing the country apart for the last six years and for years before that; they didn’t secede over the election of a Republican president who opposed the expansion of slavery and who many of them expected to invade the South in order to free the slaves—oh, no!—the South seceded over the _tariff_”.
I had a reply to Joel written, but upon previewing, I see that the discussion has overtaken me. Slavery was absolutely the reason for the South seceding. The tariff issue was raised to make it appear that the Northern states had violated the constitution, making it no longer a binding contract for the South.
And the States that made ratification of the U.S. Constitution conditional on their right to secession were accepted into the Union — so apparently it was a settled question at that time.
A careful examination of the documents of ratification of the several States would be helpful here. If Thrasymachus has a list of States who made such a condition, that would helpful to start.
I’ve heard again and again that Virginia was among them, and her secession declaration affirmed this, but in reading it I’m not sure the language is as strong as that:
“We the Delegates of the People of Virginia … Do in the name and in behalf of the People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination can be cancelled abridged restrained or modified by the Congress by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any Capacity by the President or any Department or Officer of the United States except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes…”
Is this really asserting a right of secession?
Thanks to Thrasymachus for that link. I found another good reference a http://www.constitution.org which has a plethora of documents. Thrasymachus’s link has a better list of ratification documents however.
Perusing these ratification documents turns up no obvious claim to a right of secession. There are several States that qualified their decisions, affirming that the powers not specifically delegated to the Congress were retained by themselves, including the right of the people to keep and bear arms, and especially the right to determine the logistics and procedures of voting. These seem to be inferred as conditions for their ratifications, but no explicit right to secession is asserted.
Aside from the statement by Virginia noted above, the strongest statement appears to be from New York:
“That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness…”
If the right to secession were held to by so many of the Founders, it is curiously absent in these documents. I would conclude however that the conditions on which several of the States assented to the Union have been long since violated, but what that means, or should mean, beyond mere observation I can’t say.
In further reply to Unadorned, I would argue that slavery was NEVER an economic benefit to the whole of the people where it was practiced. It enriched only a small few at the expense of the many, depressing their prospects and wages not unlike our current illegal immigration.
But you are falling into the understable habit of using logic, which in this case fails even where economics are concerned.
With due respect, I suggest that you vastly underestimate the fierce attachment that Southerners had to this institution. It was like a religious ideology, fanatical in its zeal. And I think it is hard for us to comprehend how thoroughly it consumed their hearts and minds, in pride.
The circumstances attending the ongoing practice of slavery created many problems. The presence of a population that in many regions outnumbered whites several times is but one example. But it only seems to have increased the fervency and determination of the South to maintain the status quo.
As Pharaoh could only be persuaded to free the Israelites by 10 horrible, Divinely-unleashed plagues, so the South would only have been persuaded to free their slaves by outside force.
Joel quoted from the New York ratification document:
“That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness…”
I would think that the difference between “retained” and “reassumed” would be obvious enough to everyone here, but some of the posters do not seem to have grasped it. If the states merely asserted, at the time of ratification, that they “retained” certain powers, then this would be equivalent to making their ratification dependent on the eventual adoption of the 10th amendment, retaining those powers not expressly granted to the national government. That is, they would be asserting the gist of the 10th amendment prior to its actual ratification.
On the other hand, to “reassume” powers, a state government must have ceded those powers to the national government for a certain time, then decided that it was “necessary for their happiness” to reclaim those powers. How that happens short of secession would be an interesting topic.
My point in raising the subject of the tariff was not that it had primacy over slavery in the secession debates, but rather that it raises the question of how the Southern states could possibly have defended themselves against it without seceding. I would be glad to hear an INFORMED and CONCRETE answer from anyone who is knowledgeable in the actual history of how the South unsuccessfully fought against the tariffs within the national government.
I will gather quotes from the founders about the right of secession and post them as soon as I can. I thought this was common knowledge; apparently not.
A brief starting place for how the right of secession was viewed prior to the Civil War can be found in the March 27, 2002, and April 10, 2002, columns by Walter Williams. These can be found in the archives at TownHall.com:
A point that he touches on briefly, that I would like to lengthen: An agreement, or compact, is a two-way street. Would you enter into a legal agreement with me that included this clause: “In case of a difference of opinion over the terms of this agreement, Clark Coleman shall have exclusive power to interpret the agreement and settle the difference of opinion.” Sovereign states entered into an agreement to form a federal government. Shall the federal government have sole authority to mediate disputes over the limit of its own powers over the states? I wonder how it will rule in such disputes?
Williams proposes state nullification of federal power grabs. How would that have been accomplished with tariffs, for example? As Williams notes, certain statutes can be nullified easily, but in other cases it gets ugly pretty quickly. Then, we have secession or submission to tyranny (the present-day approach).
An interesting article about the tariff dispute between North and South can be found here:
One interesting quote:
Charles Adams pointed out in his history of taxation, For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization (2nd ed., p. 333) that because of the pass-through effect of the tariff, and because the South was so export dependent, it “paid about three quarters of all federal taxes, most of which was spent in the North. The injustice of this arrangement dominated Southern hostilities toward the North.”
A political minority region of the country paying 75% of the taxes sounds like tyranny to me. Did the Southerners suddenly notice this in about 1861 and use it as an excuse for secession, to divert attention from the slavery issue? You can note in the DiLorenzo article the date of the famous “Tariff of Abomination” speech in the Senate by John C. Calhoun: 1828. More than three decades before the Civil War.
Tariffs might have been secondary to slavery, but it was a long-standing dispute that, based on the empirical evidence, was not amenable to solution through our federal system. Deny the right to secession, and what do you have? Tyranny.
I have never been obsessed with the Civil War issues the way that the people at lewrockwell.com, mises.org, and Chronicles magazine are. I only felt compelled to address the subject here because I am amazed at the one-sided parroting of the Unionist propaganda.
” … [Y]ou vastly underestimate the fierce attachment that Southerners had to [slavery]. It was like a religious ideology, fanatical in its zeal. And I think it is hard for us to comprehend how thoroughly it consumed their hearts and minds, in pride. … “
No expert, I am reluctant to argue this other than to say I think this is completely wrong. Most white southerners were not slave holders and the typical southern small farmer or tradesman had no vested interest in slavery whatsoever. (The sense in which he could be said to support slavery was the very indirect one in which, it being an entrenched institution of his country, the South, and he being a patriot, he stood up for his country and its ways and lifestyles. He also definitely viewed the Negro race as inferior to, and justly subordinate to, the white race. But he was no fanatical supporter of slavery per se.) In fact, it was in many ways an economic irritant to southern white laborers, tradesmen, and many small independent non-slave-holding white farmers for, among other reasons, the wage-depression cited by Joel and the region-wide endemic dearth of job opportunities for whites, as well as price and other economic distortions created by the South’s system of huge plantations worked by slaves. Frederick Douglass describes how he was almost beaten to death by white co-workers when his master allowed him to ply his trade of ship caulker in the Baltimore ship yards (he could keep part of his wages, and had to turn part over to his master who owned him) — the white caulkers wanted strictly no slaves working there to threaten their wage levels, and one day picked a fight with him, beating him up pretty severely. The typical southern soldier fought fiercely in defense of his country, yes. But it was his country he was defending — from foreign invasion. Not necessarily slavery, per se. In fact, not at all slavery per se. Here I’m not talking about the élites but the ordinary southern soldiers drafted into the army.
Though most didn’t know it at the time, of course, slavery was actually a dying institution in the 1860s. War or no war, it was going nowhere but down to dismantlement.
(Clarification: in my comment above, the phrase “justly subordinate to the white race” refers not to the way I view the world, but to the way many Southerners [and probably just as many Northerners] of the Civil War era viewed it. [I hope it’s unnecessary to state that no race is subordinate to any other.] )
I don’t think we can make such assured statements about hypothetical events in the past such as that slavery would have come to an end in the near or medium term. The Southern whites—not just slave-owners, but all Southern whites—passionately feared and loathed the prospect of free blacks. This fear and loathing was at the center of their being. This fact makes Unadorned’s supposition of a voluntary ending of slavery, driven by changing economic factors, questionable. Maybe such a thing would have eventually happened, but it would only have happend through tremendous trauma and upheaval, not as some smooth, automatic result of changing economic conditions.
One more rejoinder if I may, then I’ll keep quiet and listen, having no great knowledge of this subject.
Mr. Auster wrote, “The Southern whites … passionately feared and loathed the prospect of free blacks. This fear and loathing was at the center of their being.” But isn’t it possible that, had the Civil War been avoided (or Lincoln not been shot), such a situation — large numbers of free blacks — wouldn’t have been permitted to arise, but would have been prevented by some arrangement or other along the lines of repatriation?
Mr. Coleman makes controversial assertions about the Civil War; some of us question them; and he replies that he is amazed at “the one-sided parroting of the Unionist propaganda.” He may not, as he says, make the Civil War the center of his concerns as the Rockwellites do; but it is clear that he mirrors their dogmatism.
Unadorned asks whether Southern whites might have avoided the trauma of dealing with a liberated black population by repatriating them to Africa. This is another interesting possibility to add to the game of historical “what ifs?” But it’s a pure guess. True, prior to the Civil War, there was a movement in the South to repatriate blacks, but it didn’t get very far. Lincoln also floated the idea during the war, and withdrew it when black leaders vehemently protested it. A South that hadn’t seceded and hadn’t been defeated is so different from the actual South that we have no way of knowing what it would have done. Maybe they would have been less nice about the feelings of blacks and just re-patriated them by force, but even that would have taken years or decades to complete, requiring an exceptional degree of social organization.
Obviously, conditions in the modern world would have made slavery less and less profitable and acceptable. But how an _undefeated_ South would have actually responded to those circumstances is pure speculation.
Mr. Auster writes:
“Mr. Coleman makes controversial assertions about the Civil War; some of us question them; and he replies that he is amazed at “the one-sided parroting of the Unionist propaganda.” He may not, as he says, make the Civil War the center of his concerns as the Rockwellites do; but it is clear that he mirrors their dogmatism.”
True, the “propaganda” line was a cheap shot on my part. Let me put it more civilly.
I am aware of various points of view on Lincoln, secession, etc. When I have encountered the claims of DiLorenzo et al., I have been aware that I am reading a one-sided, contrarian view, which attempts to revise what they consider the mythology surrounding Lincoln. By piecing together various one-sided views, one can perhaps eventually arrive at a better understanding of the truth. It would certainly be nice to read a collection of dialogues, rather than monologues, on this subject and many others.
What I found on this site was a seemingly informed and intelligent discussion of this issue, but then various posters began to evidence a lack of familiarity with the “contrarian” claims. As these claims have been around for a long time, and have been made by such popular columnists as Walter Williams and not exclusively by off the beaten path websites, I guess I was a little disappointed. I found the claim (not made by Mr. Auster) that secessionists dreamed up the tariff issue as a last-minute bogeyman to justify secession, when it fact it had been an intensely divisive national issue for decades, to be particularly ignorant and offensive. But, I apologize for calling it the parroting of propaganda. We all know what we have been exposed to, and nothing else, and no doubt each of us holds certain facts to be common knowledge that are in fact new ideas to others.
That being said, I would like to know how we view the work of our Constitutional framers. They obviously tried very hard to use separation of powers, federalism, checks and balances, etc,. to safeguard freedom from concentrations of power. If they did not believe secession was permissible, then they slipped up and did not realize that a certain kind of regional tyranny would therefore be incapable of being resisted. Is that anyone’s position here? Or does someone have a suggestion for what the South should have done about the tariff? Or, is it perhaps true that the framers anticipated that secession was a last defense against tyranny?
To find out more about the tariff issue (including the massive increase signed into law two days before Lincoln’s inauguration), you might want to see the following article, which I just located by search engine:
About two-thirds of the way down, see the link to “Lincoln’s Tariff War”. Even if you think that tariffs were still secondary to slavery, the more interesting thing is to understand the tariff situation, then answer the question, “What should the South have done about it?”
Mr. Coleman’s emphasis on the tariff issue seems much greater than the Southern States themselves placed on it in their respective secession Declarations. Georgia’s had an extensive lead-in on the matter, but in most cases the single most significant emphasis was _slavery_.
And the complaints droned on and on, as South Carolina’s: “Those states have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions … they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other states.” Abolitionist societies, naturally.
I have conceded that the South did have grievances that were legitimate, but to try to assign to the tariff issue a greater weight than the States THEMSELVES gave it in THEIR declarations amounts to historical revisionism.
One can find scattered quotes here and there among the Founders that give a general credence to the notion of ‘reassuming’ power, but I have yet to see any that suggested an outright legal mechanism to effect an official right of secession. Herein lies a critical distinction. The right of revolution, as Abby wryly noted above, was certainly believed in by the Founders, but, again, along with this belief came the understanding that it would involve military conflict, not as something just handed over.
I am not in a position to suggest what remedies to the tariff situation might have been pursued. I can only note what we already know — the one they did pursue didn’t work.
And to Unadorned, I must stand by my statements on the South’s view of slavery. That most did not own slaves and were even disadvantaged by the institution is quite beside the point — there goes that logic again! The right to retain the institution was to them possessed of a ‘sacredness’ we do not understand and to which most of us simply cannot relate.
I am no expert either. I rely greatly on my father, for whom study of the Civil War has been a passion for decades, and whose voluminous library on the subject has provided all I need to be certain of what I say. One passage he showed me, (in “The Battle Cry Of Freedom” by McPherson if recollection serves,) spoke of how in certain Southern locales, a white man who so much as expressed publicly a doubt as to the morality of slavery could find himself dangling from a rope, fortunate if he were only tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. (I will try to obtain exact reference at some point.)
Slavery was an evil and prideful vice, (the cause of so many of our _present_ problems,) and like so many vices consumed the spirit and showed itself impenetrable to logic and reason.
If I may say so, I wonder if Joel is going too far in his condemnation of the Southerners. Certainly they were terribly wrongheaded in the passion that drove them to secession, and in their their non-negotiable demand that slavery be freely extended into the whole United States. But let us also remember Lincoln’s wise words (during the 1858 debates) that the Southerners’ attachment to slavery was no different than what the Northerners themselves would feel, if they were in the same situation. In other words, slavery was not simply a _chosen_ behavior or practice. It was something that every person in the South had _inherited_, and there were no simple ways to get rid of it. Remember also Jefferson’s remark that slavery was like a wolf that you’ve got by the ears: you can’t hold him forever, but you can’t safely let him go of him either.
It is for these reasons that our current president, G.W. Bush, was so wrong in his recent speech on slavery, in which he condemned in the most hideous terms literally every American who lived with the institution of slavery. Showing no understanding of historical reality with its mitigating factors, he delivered, to his own disgrace, a politically correct caricature of the historical United States.
Well, all I can say is I don’t disagree with a single statement you just made. ;-) I think that Southerners themselves were harmed by the institution terribly. I agree with Mr. Lincoln’s admonition in his Second Inaugural, “but let us judge not that we not be judged.”
Had I been born the son of a plantation owner I would doubtless have believed no differently. There but for the grace of God go I. Needless to say, many of the Founders whom I so much admire were slaveowners; I don’t base my assessment of their greatness on this, regardless of their personal feelings on the matter.
But with all of this understood, I believe the statements I have made are factually correct, and need not be shunted aside for the observations you have made, which I also think were entirely proper to make.
I better clarify — I don’t agree quite with the _first_ statement. ;-) But I don’t mean to condemn so much as to simply state the facts. Judgment is another matter I would as soon leave the Supreme Judge.
I also will admit, a bit late, that 5% of me is sympathetic to the notion of secession. But then I’m a West Virginian; I sort of have to be. :-)
For what it’s worth, I have framed portraits of Gen. Lee and Gen. Stonewall Jackson in my living room. :-)
“I have conceded that the South did have grievances that were legitimate, but to try to assign to the tariff issue a greater weight than the States THEMSELVES gave it in THEIR declarations amounts to historical revisionism.”
My response: I am sorry that you know everything you need to know about the subject and don’t need to read any of the links I posted about the subject before responding. Perhaps I need to summarize key points from them. The key point of “Lincoln’s Tariff War” is that the primary reason that Lincoln sought war was to continue to collect tariffs. The tariff issue was important to the South, which does not necessarily imply that it took primacy over preserving slavery as a reason for secession, only that it was one of the major issues that could not be resolved except by secession.
In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, as cited in the article, he promised that he would not use force of arms to end slavery. However, he promised that he would use force of arms to preserve federal property, AND TO COLLECT IMPOSTS AND DUTIES, in the South.
These facts lead me to conclude that, to the Southerners, the primary issue was slavery, the secondary issue was tariffs, and the general issue was state sovereignty versus centralization of power. To Lincoln, the primary issue was the tariff, the secondary issue (if even that important) was slavery, and the general issue was “preserving the union”.
“One can find scattered quotes here and there among the Founders that give a general credence to the notion of ‘reassuming’ power, but I have yet to see any that suggested an outright legal mechanism to effect an official right of secession. Herein lies a critical distinction. The right of revolution, as Abby wryly noted above, was certainly believed in by the Founders, but, again, along with this belief came the understanding that it would involve military conflict, not as something just handed over.”
Really? Once again, if you would read the few links I posted, you would see otherwise. King George III used force to attempt to prevent secession. Why? Because there was economic benefit to having colonies in an empire. Was that the relationship of the North to the South? In a relationship of equals, as with the sovereign states, one peer does not violently attack another peer because of a desire to go separate ways. Only if you think you OWN the other entity do you do such a thing. Many posters in this thread are making the fundamental mistake of equating the American secession from Britain with Southern secession. As numerous Founding Fathers, and even more numerous newspaper editors, wrote: If someone wants to go, it would be better to let them go than to use violence against our countrymen to force them to stay.
If Puerto Rico voted for independence, would you (A) support Congress granting independence to them, or (B) support a military invasion of Puerto Rico?
With respect for Mr. Coleman, he makes a point that seems so far off-base to me that I must respond. He writes:
“The key point of ‘Lincoln’s Tariff War’ is that the primary reason that Lincoln sought war was to continue to collect tariffs. … In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, … he promised that he would not use force of arms to end slavery. However, he promised that he would use force of arms to preserve federal property, AND TO COLLECT IMPOSTS AND DUTIES, in the South.”
I think this wildly misconstrues Lincoln’s meaning and the context in which he was speaking. The issue was not the tariff per se. The issue was Lincoln’s assertion of the continuance of the national authority throughout the nation—that same national authority that the seceding states were seeking to destroy, not over the issue of tariffs (as Mr. Coleman himself acknowledges), but over the issue of slavery.
Regarding my above exchange with Joel about his condemnation of slavery, I do not mean at all to relativize the immorality of slavery. It was a terrible crime, that corrupted the people and society that practiced it, especially given that they were a Christian people. Where I was seeking to qualify Joel’s comment was where he called slavery “an evil and prideful vice … and like so many vices consumed the spirit and showed itself impenetrable to logic and reason.” In many cases this was true, especially when, as the 19th century advanced, the South switched from its former position of viewing slavery as a necessary evil, to viewing it as a positive good that they wanted to spread everywhere. But in many cases people viewed slavery as simply the way things were, and, like most human beings, they accepted the ways of their society. That doesn’t change the immorality of slavery, but it also suggests that the prideful self-assertion Joel speaks of was not the nature of the sin in all or most cases.
Because my own postings have been part of leading us off on a tangent, I think it is important to emphasize our points of agreement in the original discussion. As Mr. Auster wrote:
“By Mr. Coleman’s reasoning, we should repeal the 13th Amendment and allow each state to institute chattel slavery if it so chooses. He carries the federalism idea to such an extreme that he loses a grasp of the essential principle of unity, particularly of a unity of basic moral and spiritual principles, that must underlie a nation’s diversity if the nation is to be a nation. This is something that Washington understood but that the Southern secessionists, for example, did not understand. Southern Slavery made the North and South into two incompatible social systems, a situation that, while adopted as a matter of necessity, was inherently unstable and could not last. Similarly, a nation divided into “homosexual marriage” states and “traditional marriage” states would have two incompatible and warring social systems and could not last.”
I am in agreement with this. We need a certain foundation that is common to all states, regardless of the states’ rights we can permit on various matters, and neither slavery nor homosexual marriage can be part of that foundation.
As it seems that few have read the links I posted, I will drop what is becoming an unproductive discussion about secession.
I appreciate what Mr. Coleman has said. The secession controversy can be endless, and it really wasn’t what the main discussion was about. Our agreement on the need for an essential principle of unity in the formation of society is the important thing.