From Confederate Military History, Vol I, 1899.
The Southern States have shared the fate of all conquered peoples. The conquerors write their history. Power in the ascendant not only makes laws, but controls public opinion. This precedent should make the late Confederates the more anxious to keep before the public the facts of their history, that impartial writers may weigh and properly estimate them in making up the verdict of an unbiased posterity. Besides, as they have been the objects of persistent misrepresentation, and authentic records have been perverted to their prejudice, their descendants are liable to receive and hold opinions hostile and derogatory to their fathers.
In this series of volumes, pertaining to the history of the Confederate States, all concerned wish to disclaim in advance any wish or purpose to reverse the arbitrament of war, to repeal the late amendments to the Constitution, to revive African slavery, or secession as a State right or remedy; or to organize any party, or cultivate an opinion, which, directly or indirectly, shall inculcate disloyalty to the Union, or affect the allegiance of citizens to the Federal government. Let it be stated, once for all, that this argument as to the right of the South to be protected in property in slaves and the exclusive right of a State to be the final judge of the powers of the general government and to apply suitable remedies, is based on the Constitution and the rights of the States as they existed in 1860. The amendments made, since that year, in Federal and State constitutions, put an entirely new and different phase on the subjects discussed, for these changes have expurgated slavery and secession from our institutions. Our sole object is to present the Southern side of the controversy as it existed in 1860 and to vindicate it from accusations and aspersions which are based on ignorance and injustice. As the South is habitually condemned and held criminal for seeking to perpetuate a great wrong, it is well to inquire and investigate who was responsible for the state of things which precipitated and prolonged the crisis of 1860-1865. If the act of secession cannot be justified the Southern people will be stigmatized as a brave and rash people deluded by bad men who attempted in an illegal and wicked manner to overthrow the Union. Painfully are we conscious of the disadvantages in any effort to vindicate the motives and principles and conduct of the Southern States and secure a rehearing and re-adjudication of a suit which seems to have been settled adversely by the tribunal of public opinion. We have a right to ask of our fellow citizens and of the world a patient and fair hearing while we present anew the grounds of our action. We challenge the closest scrutiny of facts and arguments, and if they cannot be disproved and refuted, justice and honesty demand a modification or reversal of the adverse judgment. Few writers seem to comprehend the underlying idea of secession, or the reasons for the establishment of the Southern Confederacy. Swayed by passion or political and sectional animosity, they ignore the primary facts in our origin as a government, the true principles of the Constitution, the flagrant nullifications of the Northern States; and, when they philosophize, conclusions are drawn from false premises and hence injustice is done. Too often, in the endeavor to narrate the deeds of and since the war, prejudiced and vicious statements as to character and motives have been accepted and acted on as verifiable or undeniable facts.
In deciding upon the rightness or wrongness of secession, in passing judgment upon the Confederate States, it is essential to proper conclusions that the condition of affairs in 1860 be understood and that clear and accurate notions be had of the nature and character of the Federal government and of the rights of the States under the constitutional compact. And here, at the threshold, one is confronted by dogmas which are substituted for principles, by preconceived opinions which are claimed to be historical verities, and by sentimentality which closes the avenues to the mind against logic and demonstration. To a student of our political and constitutional history it is strange how stubborn historical facts are quietly set aside and inferences and assumptions are used as postulates for huge governmental theories. These errors are studiously perpetuated, for in prescribed courses of reading in civics and history are books full of grossest misstatements teaching sectional opinions and latitudinous theories, while works which present opposite and sounder views are vigorously excluded. State rights is perhaps the best term, although not precise or definite in its signification, for suggesting the view of the Constitution and of Federal powers, as held by the Southern States. During the administration of General Washington, those who were in favor of protecting the reserved rights of the States against threatened or possible encroachment of the delegated powers assumed the name of the Republican party, but were often called the State Rights party.(*) There is no ultimate nor authoritative appeal for determining the political differences between the North and South except the Constitution, but some preliminary inquiries, answers to which will be suggestive and argumentative, may aid in understanding and interpreting that instrument.
Our Constitution is not a mere temporary expedient. It exists in full force until changed by an explicit and authentic act, as prescribed by the instrument, and in its essential features is for all time, for it contains the fundamental principles of all good government, of all free representative institutions. Among these requisites, unalterable by changing conditions of society, are individual liberty, freedom of labor, of human development, rights of conscience, equality of the States, distribution of political powers into independent executive, legislative and judicial departments, and a careful restriction of those powers to public uses only, the healthy action of concurrent majorities, a careful safe-guarding that the power which makes the laws and the power which applies them shall not be in the same hands, and local self-government. The people are ultimately the source of all political power, and the powers delegated are in trust, alterable or terminable only in a legitimate and prescribed manner. Changes cannot be made to conform to a supposed moral sense, or to new environments, neither by the “fierce democracy,” nor by the action of a department, nor by a combination of all departments.
To obtain a correct comprehension of the dignity and power of the States it is well to consider them as they emerged from their colonial condition, having waged a tedious and successful war against the mother country, having achieved separate independence and established a new form of government, a federal union of concurrent majorities, under a written constitution. The American colonies have not had sufficient importance ascribed to them for their agency in achieving civil and religious liberty; and, with their rights and powers as separate governments, as the potential forerunners of our constitutional, representative, federal republic. The institutions founded in this western world, in the essential elements o law and freedom, were far in advance of contemporary transatlantic institutions. The relations they sustained to one another and to the controlling English government, their large measure of local administration, must be clearly comprehended to do them justice for what they wrought out and to understand what character and power they preserved as States in the government of their creation under the Federal constitution. Their precise political condition prior to the Revolution cannot be obscured. The colonies were separate in the regulation of domestic concerns, in home affairs, but sustained a common relation to the British empire. The colonists were fellow subjects, owed allegiance to the same crown, had all the rights, privileges and liabilities of every other British subject.(*) The inhabitants of one colony owed no obedience to the laws, were not under the jurisdiction of any other colony; were under no civil obligation to bear arms or pay taxes, or in any wise to contribute to the support or defense of another, and were wholly distinct and separate from all others in political functions, in political rights, and in political duties. In so far as all the colonists were one people and had common rights, it was the result of their mutual relation to the same sovereign, of common dependence on the same head, and not any result of a relation between themselves. There was neither alliance nor confederacy between the colonies.
When hostilities between Great Britain and the colonies became imminent, because of adverse imperial legislation and the unlimited claim of the right of taxation, and united effort was obvious and imperative, to relieve themselves from the burdens and injustice of the laws and the claims of a distant government, the colonies, each acting for itself, and not conjointly with any other, sent deputies to a general congress, and when the body assembled each colony had a single vote, and on all questions of general concern they asserted and retained their equality. The Congresses of 1774, 1775 and 1776 were occasional and not permanent bodies, claimed no sovereign authority, had no true governmental powers, and seldom assumed to go beyond deliberation, advice and recommendation. When under stress of war and the danger of or impossibility of delay they acted as a de facto government, their acts were valid, had the force and effect of law only by subsequent confirmation or tacit acquiescence. The common oppressions and dangers were strong incentives to concert of action and to assent and submission to what was done for resistance to a common enemy. There never was any pretense of authority to act on individuals, and in all acts reference was had to the colonies, and never to the people, individually or as a nation.
Virginia made a declaration on the 12th of June, 1776, renouncing her colonial dependence on Great Britain and separating herself forever from that kingdom. On the 29th of June, in the same year, she performed the highest function of independent sovereignty by adopting and ordaining a constitution, prescribing an oath of fealty and allegiance for all who might hold office under her authority, and that remained as the organic law of the Old Dominion until 1829.
The Declaration of Independence, subsequently on the 4th of July, was an act of Congress declaring absolution of the colonies from allegiance to the crown and government of Great Britain and that they were “free and independent States.” The Congress which made this Declaration was appointed by the colonies in their separate and distinct capacity. They voted on its adoption in their separate character, each giving one vote by all its own representatives who acted in strict obedience to specific instructions from their respective colonies, and the members signed the Declaration in that way. The members had authority to act in the name of their own colony and not of any other, and were representatives only of the colony which appointed them. Judge Story, in his “Commentaries on the Constitution,” reasons upon this instrument as having the effect of making the colonies “one people,” merging their existence as separate communities into one nation. The Declaration of Independence is often quoted as an authoritative political document defining political rights and duties, as on a parity with the Constitution, and as binding parties and people and courts and States by its utterances. The platform of the Republican party in 1856 and 1860 affirms the principles of this Declaration to be essential to the preservation of our republican institutions, the Constitution and the rights of the States, when, in truth and in fact, its main and almost its sole object was to declare and justify the separation from, and the independence of, the British crown. In no sense was the paper or the act intended as a bill of rights, or to enunciate the fundamental principles of a republic, or to define the status of the colonies, except in their relation to the mother country. No true American will underrate the significance or the importance of the act of separation from a foreign empire, or hold otherwise than with the highest respect the reasons which our fathers gave in vindication of their momentous and courageous action. Refusing to be subject to the authority of the crown and the parliament was a heroic undertaking dictated by the loftiest patriotism and a genuine love of liberty. Putting into the minds and hearts of our ancestors more far reaching and prescient purposes than they possessed will not magnify their virtues nor enhance their merit. They met the issues presented with the sagacity of statesmen and were not guilty of the folly of propagandism of the French revolutionists, a few years later. The colonies being distinct and separate communities, with sovereignty vested in the British crown, when the tie which bound them to that sovereignty was severed, upon each colony respectively was devolved that sovereignty and each emerged from provincial dependence into an independent and sovereign State. A conclusive proof of the relation of the colonies to one another and to the revolutionary government is to be found in the recommendation in 1776 for the passing of laws for the punishment of treason, and it was declared that the crime should be considered as committed against the colonies individually and not against them all as united together. The joint expression of separate wills in reference to continued union with England expressed no opinion and suggested no action on the subject of a common government, or of forming a closer union. It completed the severance of the rapidly disuniting ties which bound to the government across the seas. Some of the colonies, prior to the 4th of July, had declared their independence and established State constitutions, and now all, by a more public and stronger and more effective affirmation, united in doing what had by some been separately resolved upon. Ceasing to be dependent communities involved no change in relations with one another beyond what was necessarily incident to separation from the parent country. The supremacy which had previously existed in Great Britain, separately over each colony and not jointly over all, having ceased, each became a free and independent State, taking to herself what applied to and over herself. The Declaration of Independence is not a form of government, not an enumeration of popular rights, not a compact between States, but was recognized in its fullest demands, when, in 1782, Great Britain acknowledged New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Georgia and the other colonies to be “free, sovereign and independent States.”
Stress is laid on the revolutionary government and on the Declaration of Independence by those who are anxious to establish the theory of a national or consolidated government, reducing the States to mere dependencies upon central power. As has been shown, the contention, derived from those sources, is without legal or historical foundation; but the temporary government, largely for war purposes, was superseded by the Articles of Confederation, which, because of the reluctance of the States to delegate their powers, did not become obligatory until 1781, as their ratification by all the States was a condition precedent to their having any binding force. These articles, in explicit terms, incapable of misinterpretation, declare that “each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” There can be no mistake here as to the reservation of entire freedom, entire independence, entire sovereignty. These were retained without qualification or limitation, and the use of the word “retains” is the clearest assertion that these unsurrendered prerogatives were possessed under the previous government.
This historical review was not necessary except argumentatively as throwing light on the real facts, and as raising the strong presumption, to be rebutted only by irrefragable proof, that a state once sovereign has not voluntarily surrendered that ultimate supreme power of self-government or self-existence. While in a colonial condition the people of the several States were in no proper political sense a nation, or “one people;” by the declaration and the treaty of peace each State became a complete sovereignty within its own limits; the revolutionary government was a government of the States as such through Congress as the common agent, and by the Articles of Confederation each state expressly reserved its entire sovereignty and independence. In all this succession of history there was no trend to consolidation and the most conspicuous; feature was the jealous retention by the States of their separate sovereignty.
The Constitution Made By the States
As everything in this discussion depends on the Constitution it seems prudent to state with some particularity its origin, its establishment and its terms. The confederation was found to be inadequate to the ends of an effective government. The states adopted conflicting and even hostile commercial regulations and trade suffered from these embarrassments. The legislature of Virginia, impressed with the necessity of a government of larger powers, appointed in 1786 commissioners to meet commissioners from other States, at Annapolis, to prepare for adoption by the States a uniform plan of commercial regulations. Some met and recommended to their respective legislatures to appoint delegates to meet in general convention at Philadelphia for the purpose of reforming the government as the interests of the States might require. Congress approved the recommendation and suggested a convention of delegates to be appointed by the several States to meet in Philadelphia and to report to Congress and the several legislatures such alteration of the Articles of Confederation as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union. Accordingly, the convention was composed of deputies appointed by the States, and they voted as States. Madison, in recording their action, on agreeing to the Constitution, says: “It passes in the affirmative, all the States concurring.” It was transmitted to the several State legislatures to be by them submitted to State conventions and each State for itself ratified at different times, without concert of action, except in the result to be ascertained. As the jurisdiction of a State was limited to its own territory, its ratification was limited to its own people. The Constitution got its validity, its vitality, not from the inhabitants as constituting one great nation, nor from the people of all the States considered as one people, but from the concurrent action of a prescribed number of States, each acting separately and pretending to no claim or right to act for or control other States. That each of these States had the right to decline to ratify and remain out of the Union for all time to come, no sane man will deny. Rhode Island and North Carolina did, in the undoubted exercise of an undisputed right, refuse to enter the compact until after the government was organized and Washington entered upon his duties as president. “The assent and ratification of the people,” says Madison, “not as individuals composing an entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they belong, are the sources of the Constitution. It is, therefore, not a national but a federal compact.”
Virginia, in her ratification as a distinct, sovereign community, had said: “The delegates 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.” (5 Bulletin of the Bureau of Rolls, 145.) Calhoun’s Works, 248-251.
Maryland declared that nothing in the Constitution “warrants a construction that the States do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them and vested in the general government of the Union.” New York more explicitly said: “That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whenever it should become necessary to their happiness, that every power, jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the people of the several States, or to their respective State governments, to whom they may have granted the same; and that those clauses in the said Constitution, which declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the said Constitution; but such clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specified powers or as inserted merely for greater caution.” Rhode Island lingered until 1790, and then adopted the cautious phraseology of New York, specifying certain rights and declaring that they shall not be abridged or violated and that the proposed amendments would speedily become a part of the Constitution, gave her assent to the compact, but declared that”the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whenever it shall become necessary to their happiness.” (5 Bureau of Rolls, 140-145, 190, 191, 311.) Other States showed equal concern and jealousy.
Besides the clear assertion on the part of ratifying States of the right to reassume delegated powers, a larger number were so apprehensive and distrustful of federal encroachment, so jealous in the maintenance of their respective rights, that they attached bills of rights to their assent, or proposed amendments to restrict the general government; the incorporation of which into the Constitution was earnestly insisted upon.
It has now been demonstrated that with jealous vigilance the States retained their separateness as sovereign communities in all the forms of political existence through which they passed. That they adopted their separate State constitutions in their sovereign character is indisputable. That the deputies who framed the federal constitution were appointed by the several States each on its own authority; that they voted in the convention by States; that their votes were counted by States; that when framed the instrument was submitted to the people of the several States for their independent ratification; that the States ratified and adopted, each for itself, as distinct sovereign communities; that the Constitution had no binding force over a State or its citizens except in consequence of this adoption; that it was valid as a covenant o union, the federal compact, only as between the States so ratifying the same; are facts alike incontestable. All these acts were by the States and for the States, without any participation on the part of the people regarded in the aggregate as forming a nation. Our controversy arose, not so much from these historical incidents (although historians, judges, editors and congressmen have denied or misinterpreted them all) as from the import and effect and construction of the agreement so formally and cautiously made.
Did the act of ratification of itself, or does the Constitution in its grants, divest the States of their character as separate political communities and merge them all into one nation, one American people? The Constitution superseded the Articles of Confederation because the parties to those articles agreed that it should be so. If they have not so agreed, the articles are still binding on the States. In point of fact the Constitution did become obligatory as a compact of government by the voluntary and separate ratification and adoption of the several States. Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in their ratification, call the Constitution a compact, and the federal Union must be so, or the result of a compact, because sovereign States would not otherwise have agreed and expressed their agreement. Some made provisos, others suggested amendments, which make plain the intention of the fathers in entering the Union. The apprehensions of consolidation were so strong that to guard against such a possible evil, provisions to prevent were incorporated in the acts of assent. The right to resume surrendered powers, as affirmed by three of the States, has been mentioned. Massachusetts, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia were so alarmed at the liability to absorption of unsurrendered powers, that they proposed an amendment to the effect that each State shall respectively retain every power, jurisdiction and right which had not been delegated in the Constitution. This was modified and adopted in regular constitutional form and is known as the Ninth article. All the suggestions were in the nature of limitations and restrictions, showing distrust of centralization and a determined purpose to preserve from invasion or impairment the rights of the States. It was felt that time and experience would show the wisdom of changes and of adaptations to new environments, and thus it was wisely provided that amendments might be made but should be valid only “when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof.” As the States only could make a constitution, so three-fourths of them, as separate political corporations, could amend the instrument. The favorite theory of many, that the States were merged into the government of the Union, into an aggregated unit, is an assumption totally irreconcilable with the fact that this same people can neither alter nor amend their government. When that essential function has to be performed, it is indispensable to summon into new life and activity those very State sovereignties, which, by the supposition, lost their individual power and vitality by the very act creating the instrument which they are required to amend. Had the Constitution originated from the people inhabiting the territories of the whole Union, its amendment would have remained to them, as the amendment of a State constitution belongs to the people of a State. But as such a body of associated people is a myth, a figment of the brain, the power of amendment is left in the hands of the existing bodies politic, the creators of the Constitution and of the Union. The positive supervising power bestowed by the compact upon the State governments and the people over the whole Federal government flatly contradicts the idea that the same compact designed constructively to bestow a supervising power upon Congress, or other department, over the State governments.
The government was organized in 1789 and assumed its place among the nations of the earth. Soon, amendments proposed by the ratifying States were submitted, as the Constitution prescribed, to the respective States and adopted by them. These amendments have no direct relation to the immediate objects for which the Union was formed, and, with few exceptions, were intended to guard against improper constructions of the Constitution, or the abuse of the delegated powers, or to protect the government itself in the exercise of its proper functions. They sought to guard the people and the States against Federal usurpation, and one of them Jefferson pronounced “the corner stone of the Constitution.” The ninth amendment prohibits a construction by which the rights retained by the people shall be denied or disparaged by the enumeration, but the tenth, in language that tyranny cannot pervert or dispute, “reserves to the States respectively or to the people the powers not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the States.” Could any language more conclusively show the ultimate authority of the States, or that the general government has no more right to enforce its decisions against those of the several States where they disagree as to the extent of their respective powers than the latter have of enforcing their decisions in like cases? ‘This reservation was incorporated from a caution deemed unnecessary and excessive by some, because such a reservation is of the very essence and structure of the Constitution, but it has been vindicated as a marked demonstration of the wisdom and sagacity of the fathers. Instead of receiving powers the States had bestowed them, and in confirmation of their original authority most carefully reserved every right they had not relinquished, The powers reserved by those who possessed them, the distinct people of each State, are those not delegated or prohibited, and were intended to remove a suspicion of a tendency in the Constitution toward consolidation which had been vigorously charged by some of those who had opposed the ratification. It cannot be reiterated too often that the people do not derive their rights from government. In England, Magna Charta and other franchises were granted by kings and residuary rights remain in and with the government; here, un-granted rights remain with the grantors and these are the people of the States.
Relation of the States Under the Constitution
We are now prepared to consider the action of the South which rested upon the relation which the States and the Federal government bore to each other. What the South maintained was that the Union, or general government, emanated from the people of the several States, acting in their separate and sovereign capacity, as distinct political communities; that the Constitution being a compact to which each State was a party for the purpose of good government and the protection of life, liberty and property, the several States had the right to judge of infractions of the Constitution, or c,f the failure of the common government to subserve its covenanted ends, and to interpose by secession or otherwise for protecting the great residuary mass of undelegated powers, and for maintaining within their respective limits the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them. The third Virginia resolution of 1798, drawn by Madison, puts this very clearly–“That this assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare that it views the powers of the Federal government as resulting from the compact to which the States are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact; as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in the compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable and dangerous exercise of other powers not granted by the said compact, the States, who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their. respective limits the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.” The States, in adopting the Constitution and surrendering many attributes of sovereignty, might have surrendered all their powers and even their separate existence. Were they guilty of this felo de se, or did each retain the equal right to judge of the failure of the government to accomplish stipulated objects as well as of the mode and measure of redress, and the means of protecting its citizens? We have held that the obvious and chief purpose of the Constitution was to invest the Federal government with such powers only as equally affected the members of the community called the Union and to leave to the States all remaining powers. The greater part of the powers delegated to the general government relate directly or indirectly to two great divisions of authority; the one pertaining to the foreign relations of the country, the other of an internal character; the put. poses for which the Constitution was formed being power, security and respectability without, and peace, tranquillity and harmony within. Mr. Calhoun, in early political life, stated clearly our dual system. The American Union is a democratic federal republic–a political system compounded of the separate governments of the several States and of one common government of all the States, called the government of the United States. The powers of each are sovereign, and neither derives its powers from the other. In their respective spheres neither is subordinate to the other, but co-ordinate; and, being co-ordinate, each has the right of protecting its own powers from the encroachments of the other, the two combined forming one entire and separate government. The line of demarkation between the delegated powers to the Federal government and the powers reserved to the States is plain, inasmuch as all the powers delegated to the general government are expressly laid down, and those not delegated are reserved to the States unless specially prohibited.
Much is said and written in praise of the British constitution, but, in large degree, it is intangible and indefinable. It exists in no exact form, except as contained in Magna Charta, Petition of Right and some other muniments of liberty. Elsewhere it is to be searched for in usage, tradition, precedent and public opinion, and chiefly consists in direct parliamentary control of the responsible heads of the great departments of state. Knowing how illusory and deceptive were constitutional guarantees, which existed only in repealable statutes or the varying will of parliament, our ancestors preferred to repose on fixed definitions and asserted rights, embodied in organic law, having more dignity, permanence and sacredness than a mere municipal or statutory regulation. In proportion as power was liable to be abused, it was thought wise to impose and strengthen checks and restraints. If the judgment of the governing body be the only limit to its powers, then there is nothing to control that judgment or to correct its errors. The minority is relegated to the uncertain remedy of rebellion or revolution. Restrictions, however clear and ascertainable, if there be no right or power to enforce, will end in legislative omnipotence which makes useless a written constitution. True liberty demands severe restraints to prevent degeneracy into license and needs a discipline to be compelled by some exterior authority. It is absurd to make one’s rights contingent upon the conscience or reason of another. There is but one safe rule to be adopted by those intrusted with ecclesiastical or civil power–if you do not wish to hurt me, put it out of your power to do so. If a government, or a department of a government, can interpret finally its own powers, or take without hindrance what powers it pleases, then it may as well have had originally all powers, without the mockery of a verbal limitation. Mr. Jefferson deprecated “usurpation of the powers retained by the States, interpolations into the compact, and direct infractions of it,” and as late as 1825, solemnly asserted that though a dissolution of the Union would be a great calamity, submission to a government of unlimited powers would be a greater. Under our written Constitution, the powers of the government were distributed among several co-ordinate departments and instead of being left to be scrambled for were defined with such precision that generally each may ascertain its own, unless blinded by ambition or partisanship or selfishness. The jurisdiction of each is limited to certain enumerated objects, and this division, with checks and balances, was to prevent the evils Jefferson deplored, and which have always attended irresponsible and ill-defined authority.
As the written Constitution, with all its superiority to unwritten usage, is not self-executory, the practical and vital question continually arises, who is to guard and enforce its limitations and who is the ultimate arbiter in case of dangerous infractions? The famous Kentucky resolutions of 1798, drawn by Jefferson, affirm that the States composing the Union are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; that each State, while delegating certain definite powers to that government, reserved the residuary mass of right to their own self-government, and that the government created by the compact to which each State acceded as a State and is an integral party, was not made the exclusive or final judge of the powers delegated to itself, since that would have made its discretion and not the Constitution the measure of its powers. In 1799 he reaffirmed the declaration and added that the principle that the general government was the exclusive judge of the powers delegated to it stopped nothing short of despotism.
The favorite allegation of consolidationists is that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are the supreme law of the land. No one questions that statement, but what is the Constitution, what laws are in pursuance thereof? The consequent assumption is that the Supreme court is the safe referee and the final judge. In all questions of a judicial nature of which the court has lawful cognizance, it is the final judge and interpreter, and there is no power in the government to which the court belongs to reverse its decisions or resist its authority, but the jurisdiction of the Federal courts is limited and the Federal judiciary is only a department of the government whose acts are called in question. Numerous instances of usurped powers might occur which the form of the Constitution could never draw within the control of the judicial department. The Supreme court might assume jurisdiction over subjects not allowed by the Constitution and there is no power in the general government to gainsay it. Charles Sumner, associated in the Northern mind with John Brown, as a semi-inspired apostle, spoke in 1854 in lofty scorn of according to the Supreme court the “power of fastening such interpretation as they see fit upon any part of the Constitution–adding to it, or subtracting from it, or positively varying its requirements–actually making and unmaking the Constitution; and to their work all good citizens must bow as of equal authority with the original instrument.” Sometimes the court is divided, the dissenting judges possessing by universal concession the greater wisdom, more legal learning and ability; sometimes, not bound by its own judgment, the court reverses its decisions and stands on both sides of a question. “If the court itself be not constrained by its own precedents how can co-ordinate branches under oath to support the Constitution,” and the creating States, “like the court itself, called incidentally to interpret the Constitution, be constrained by them?” Sometimes to procure a, reversal it is held that the court by action of Congress may hereafter be constituted differently, and we have a memorable precedent of the enlargement of the court and of the appointment of additional justices, whose opinions were well known in advance, in order to secure a reversal of the legal tender decision. Jefferson, in 1820, saw how by the silent and potential influence of judicial interpretation, the government was in great danger, and he wrote to Thomas Ritchie: “The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working underground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric * * * a judiciary independent of a king or executive alone’s a good thing, but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a republican government.” The powers reserved in the tenth amendment are not only reserved against the Federal government in whole, but against each department, the judicial as well as the legislative and executive. Otherwise the Federal sphere is supreme and the spheres of the States are subordinate. It cannot be tolerated for a moment that the Supreme court has the right to modify every power inhering in the State governments, or undelegated by the people, so as to exempt its own action from their influence. That would be to concentrate absolute sovereignty in the court. If the Federal government, in its entirety, has no authority in the last resort to judge of the extent of its own powers, how can a single department, even the Supreme court, have this authority? What folly for the States to reserve powers against the Federal government, if that government, in whole or in part, has the ultimate decision as to what was reserved! To the Supreme court all the jurisdiction which properly belongs is cheerfully yielded, but in it no more than in the other departments can be safely reposed the trust of ascertaining, defining or limiting the undelegated powers of the States.
History is said to be constantly repeating itself. This assumption of the Federal government, through all or either of the departments, to decide, ultimately and authoritatively, upon the character and extent of the grants and limitations of the Constitution, upon the powers it possesses, is a claim of absolute sovereignty and is not distinguishable from the unrepublican theory of the Divine Right, as expounded by Filmer and other such writers. Reduced to its real significance, it is practically what was asserted by the “Holy Alliance” of 1815, when certain European sovereigns, under a kind of approved orthodox despotism, assumed the prerogative to perpetuate existing dynasties, to suppress rebellions and revolutions, and to crush out civil and religious liberty. This alliance insisted that governments did not derive their authority or legitimacy from the assent of the people; that all who asserted such political heresies were outlaws and traitors; that constitutions have no legitimate source except absolute power; that governments grant or withhold what they please; that every movement in opposition to the “powers that be” is a monster to be crushed, and that all resistance to oppression is involved in the same anathema, however legitimate or defensible.
There are some who see and concede the unreasonableness of making the discretion of a majority in Congress the measure of the powers granted or withheld in the Constitution, and that this nullifies the limitations and guarantees of the compact, and they recognize the necessity of resistance and interposition where reserved rights have been trampled on. Declining to accept the State rights theory, they have, under the stress of the necessity of not leaving wrongs unrighted and guarantees disregarded, suggested that the true remedy is an appeal to the “sober second thought” of the people, or that failing, to a popular uprising to overthrow the offending government. This is the logical fallacy of begging the question. What people? En masse? No such people politically ever existed. The people who offended? Who will convince them of their error?
“When self the wavering balance shakes, It’s rarely right adjusted.”
Rebellion or revolution assumes that the acts complained of were done by legitimate authority, in due course of procedure, according to valid forms. That is the gist of the question in issue. If successful, rebellion becomes right; if unsuccessful, it is treason. It is not an appeal to reason, justice, morality, law, but to brute force. It belongs to the slave and is the mere right of self-preservation. It is a travesty on freedom, on constitutions, on civilizations. Might can never make right. It is great only in the service of righteousness. Were Satan omnipotent, he would be none the less Satan, rather all the more the incarnation of evil, in potent antagonism to the good. Our fathers do not deserve such a reproach. They were not guilty of such folly. With a prescient statesmanship, far beyond their times, they made adequate protection for the rights and liberties of posterity and made not their maintenance dependent on avoirdupois, or the fluctuating will of an interested or fanatical populace.
States Must Decide. Sectionalism Produced Disunion
The Federal government, as the representative and embodiment of the delegated powers, has no disposition, and, within itself or in its organization, no provisions to prevent the delegated from encroaching on the powers reserved to the several States. This government, neither through the President, the Congress nor the courts, having the right to determine finally whether the compact has been dangerously violated, or has failed to subserve the purpose of its formation, it follows irresistibly that where the forms of the Constitution prove ineffectual against dangers to the equality and essential rights of the States, the parties to it, these States have the sole right to interfere for arresting the progress of the evil and for maintaining within their respective limits the rights and liberties appertaining to them. The interposition of a State in its sovereign character, as a party to the constitutional compact, was the only means furnished by the system to resist encroachments and prevent entire absorption of the powers which were purposely withheld from the general government. Madison said: “Where resort can be had to no tribunal superior to the authority of the parties, the parties themselves must be the rightful judges in the last resort, whether the bargain made has been pursued or violated. The Constitution of the United States was formed by the sanction of the States, given by each in its sovereign capacity. The States, then, being parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal above their authority to decide, in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated, and consequently that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.” An assemblage of citizens of Boston in Faneuil Hall, in 1809, state, in a celebrated memorial, that they looked only to the state legislatures, who were competent to devise relief against the unconstitutional acts of the general government. “That your power is adequate to that object is evident from the organization of the confederacy.” How the States were to exercise this high power of interposition, which constitutes so essential a portion of their reserved rights that it cannot be delegated without an entire surrender of their sovereignty and converting our system from a federal into a consolidated government, is a question that the States only are competent to determine. The reservation of powers is “the States respectively,” that is, to each State separately and distinctly. The Constitution contains no provision whatsoever for the exercise of the rights reserved nor any stipulation respecting it. It does not seem reasonable to look to the government of the United States, in which the delegated powers are vested, for the means of resisting encroachments on the reserved powers. That would be to expect power to tie its own hands, to relinquish its own claims, or to look for protection against danger to the quarter from which only it could possibly come. (1 Calhoun, 237.) Every sovereignty is the judge alone of its own compacts and agreements. Each State must have the right to interpret the agreement for itself unless it has clearly waived that right in favor of another power. That it has not been waived has been placed beyond refutation, for otherwise the powers of the government at Washington are universal and the enumerations and reservation are idle mockeries. And so a written constitution, however carefully guarded the grant and limitations, is no barrier against the usurpations of governments and no security for the rights and liberties of the people. Restrictions are contemptuously disregarded, or undermined by the gradual process of usurpation, until the instrument is of no more force, nor any more respected than an act of Congress. Constitutional scruples are hooted at, and suggested bar-tiers of want of authority are ridiculed as abstractions or the theories of political doctrinaires. The Federal judiciary, the Congress, the Executive, the Constitution, the Union, are but emanations of the sovereignty of the States, and the States are not bound by their wishes, necessities, action, except as they have agreed to be bound, and this agreement was made, not with the Union, the Federal government, their agent and creature, but with one another. “Vicious legislation must be remedied by the people who suffer from the effects of it and not by those who enjoy its benefits.” (Bryan.)
They made their compact as sovereign States, and as such they alone are to determine the nature and extent of that agreement and how far they were to be bound. Each State was grantor and grantee receiving precisely what it had granted. The Federal government was in no sense a party to the Constitution; it has no original powers and can exert only what the States surrendered to it, and these States, from the very nature and structure of the common government, are alone competent to decide, in the last resort, what powers they intended to confer upon their agent. The States were not so stupid as to confer upon their creature, the Union, the power to obliterate them, or reduce them to the relation of dependence which counties sustain to the State. This high, supreme, ultimate power of our whole system resides in its fullness in the people of the several States, the only people known to us as performing political functions. The general government is not superior to the States, and has no existence nor autonomy, outside, irrespective of, contrary to, the States. The Union could not exist a day if all of the States were to withdraw their cooperation. The President, the Senate and Representatives, with all their powers, are conditioned upon the action of the States. Hamilton, in Federalist, No. LIX. said: “It is certainly true that the State legislatures, by forbearing the appointment of senators, may destroy the national government.” The Federal government, the Union, as a corporate body politic, does not claim its life, nor a single power, from the people apart from State organizations. In truth and in fact, there is not, nor ever has been, such a political entity as the people of the United States in the aggregate, separated from, independent of, the voluntary or covenanted action of the States. That anything is constitutional or admissible, simply because the judiciary or the Executive or the Congress, or the moral convictions of citizens approve, or the country will be benefited by it, is a modern invention and has no basis in our constitutional federal republic. To put it in the least objectionable form, the States, in their undelegated powers, are as important, as supreme, as the general government, and the theory of State subjugation, of provincial dependencies, is a pure afterthought to justify arbitrary and ungranted authority. It is indisputable that by far the greater part of the topics of legislation, the whole vast range of rights of person and property–where the administration of law and justice comes closest home to the daily life of the people–are exclusively or chiefly within the power of the States. The number of topics of legislation which lie outside the pale of national legislation greatly exceeds the number to which the power of State legislation does not extend. (Federalist, No. 14; Mich. Lect., 244; I Calhoun, 197, 204, 214-15.) If the Union be indissoluble, with equal or greater propriety we may affirm that the States are equal and indestructible.
When the adoption of the Constitution was under discussion before the State conventions, with an uncertain result, its enemies were alarmed en account of the magnitude of powers conferred on the general government and its friends were fearful because of alleged feebleness in comparison with extent of reserved powers; but neither party contended that an’ increase or diminution of power could constitutionally be made by implication and inference so as to equip the central government with all the means it derived in the warfare with antagonists. The authors of The Federalist–the essays written to secure the acceptance of the Constitution–insisted that the apprehended inequality did not exist, and that should it be developed, the States would be able to control. Hamilton wrote: “The general government can have no temptation to absorb the local authorities left with the States. * * * It is, therefore, improbable that there should exist a disposition in the Federal councils to usurp the powers with which commerce, finance, negotiation and war are connected. Should wantonness, lust of domination, beget such a disposition, the sense of the people of the several States would control the indulgence of so extravagant an appetite.” This redundant exposition of the doctrine that there can be no tribunal above the authority of the States and that in them reside the ultimate decision, has been made because there is such a painful misunderstanding of the relation the Federal government sustains to the States, and of the comparative authority, power and value of the Union and of the States.
The forebodings of those who dreaded an undue enlargement of the powers of the central government–the increase of centripetal tendencies to the weakening of the centrifugal—have been more than realized. Instead of a rivalry between the general government and the States, between the delegated and the reserved powers, the antagonism has proved unreal and fallacious, and the strong trend has been and is to centralization, justifying the prediction of Jefferson that “when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venial and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” By an irresistible tendency the stronger has absorbed the weaker and is concentrating in itself unlimited and uncontrollable power. This usurpation has been carried so far that nothing short of an absolute negative on the part of the States can protect against the encroachments of a growingly centralized government. For a few years and naturally, States were superior in dignity, and two citizens of South Carolina declined positions on the Supreme court, one the chief-justiceship. The enlargement of territory, the multiplication of States, the glory resulting from successful wars, the enormous prosperity caused by vaned climate and products, free interstate commerce, religious liberty, the stimulus of free institutions, extensive landed proprietorship, the immense Federal and subsidizing expenditures, government partnership in business, the building up of favored classes and interests by protective tariffs and bounties and discriminating fiscal policy, the vast number of Federal offices constituting executive patronage and conferred not as a trust for the public good, but as spoils of office and rewards for partisans, a huge pension system, destroying local patriotism of recipients and corrupting states–have magnified the government at Washington and given from exuberance of strength a resistless impulse, adverse to its federal and favorable to a consolidated character. This revolutionary change has been attended by the grossest inequality, because a majority has centered in one section, giving it absolute control on all questions which coincide with its views and interests. As the government has been centralized, nationalized, lost its original character as a constitutional federal republic, its power has grown by what it has fed upon and its patronage has become more tempting and wide spread. Proportionate with power and patronage, and increasing with their increase, will be the desire to possess the control over them, for the purpose of individual or sectional aggrandizement; and the stronger this desire, the less will be the regard for principles and the Constitution, and the greater the tendency, accompanied by increase of ability, to unite for sectional domination. (I Calhoun, 241, 371.) The tariff system, framed in the interests and at the dictation of classes and persons that contribute liberally in elections; the taxation practically of agricultural exports, grown preponderantly in one section; the partial, inequitable appropriations for rivers, harbors, public buildings, the concentration of the financial operations of the government in one quarter of the Union; the theories of the latitudinous interpretation of the Constitution which dominated parties and dictated political and legislative action at the North, investing Congress with the right to determine what objects belong to the general welfare; have been most potential in enriching one section to the prejudice of the other and in enlarging the power, prestige and influence of the Union. The power of Congress to levy duties on imports for specific purposes has been enlarged into an unlimited authority to protect domestic manufactures against foreign competition. The effect of this has been “to impose the main burden of taxation upon the Southern people, who were consumers and not manufacturers, not only by the enhanced price of imports, but indirectly by the consequent depreciation of the value of exports, which were chiefly the products of the Southern States.” The increase of price was not always paid into the public treasury, but accrued somewhat to the benefit of the manufacturer. What revenues went into the treasury were disbursed most unequally, and the sectional discrimination, enriching one portion to the injury and inequality of the other, tended to direct immigration to the North and to increase the functions and influence of the Federal government. The majority, doing the injustice, claim to be the sole judges of the rightness of their action and whether or not the power is lodged in their hands. The minority have no rights which the majority are bound to respect, or if they have, there are no means of asserting and vindicating them. The majority, which are sectional, possess the government, measure its powers and wield them without responsibility. Enriched by their own acts, becoming proud, insolent, greedy of power and gain, inflamed by cupidity, avarice, monopoly, they arrogate and usurp; and, with each succeeding day, what was very questionable becomes by force of unresisted precedent a principle, and self-conceit transmutes exercise of power into piety, and the judgment of parties and the interest of classes into a higher law, into the will of God. We find in England and other countries an aristocracy, the classes in the enjoyment of pensions, tithes, monopolies, vested rights, exclusive privileges until, with blunted sensibilities and beclouded intellects, they delude themselves into acquiescence in, and support of, such inequalities and wrongs. So in the United States, under powers granted in the Constitution, such as levying duties and taxes, regulating commerce, war, appropriating money, disposing of territory and other property, admitting new States, the government during the Confederate war in. corporated banks, made fiat money or promises to pay a legal tender, constructed roads, granted bounties and monopolies, gave away the property of the people, prescribed State constitutions, emancipated slaves, fixed terms and conditions of suffrage, dictated manner of appointing and electing senators, assumed control over railways and industries and absorbed and exercised a sovereign power over interstate commerce, capital, labor, currency and property. We have seen an alliance between Congress and eleemosynarians, senators taking care of their private affairs in revenue bills, and manufacturers before sub-committees of ways and means and of finance dictating the subjects to be taxed and the amount of duties to be levied.
One wonders how these revolutions and iniquities have been accomplished. Governor Morris wrote to Timothy Pickering that “the legislative lion will not be entangled in the meshes of a logical net. The legislature will always make the power which it wishes to exercise.” One of the ablest expounders of the Constitution deplores “the science of verbality,” the artifice of so verbalizing as to assail and destroy the plainest provisions. The instrumentality of inference has sapped and mined our political system. Acuteness of misinterpretation and construction has accomplished what the framers of the Constitution exerted all their faculties, by specifications and restrictions, to prevent, so that constructive powers have been as seed-bearing of mischief and usurpation as the doctrine of constructive treason. Alexander Hamilton believed honestly that nothing short of monarchical institutions would prove adequate to the wants of the country, and in the convention of 1787 he sought to conform the new government, while in process of construction, to the model of the British, which he regarded as the best ever devised by the wit of man. He had not a single supporter, and afterward, ably and effectively, with marked patriotism, he threw his pen and voice in favor of ratification. But this he did avowedly as a temporary bond of union and as the only avenue of escape from anarchy. Appointed to assist in carrying the government into effect and sincerely believing that with no other powers than those he so well knew it was intended to authorize, it must prove a failure, and the government must go to pieces, he decided unhesitatingly to do under it whatever he, in good faith, might think would promote the general welfare, without reference to the intention of the authors of the Constitution. The discussions to show that his principal measures were authorized by the instrument, were in deference to the prejudices and ideas of the people–nothing more. The principle of construction he espoused was to make good all laws which Congress might deem conducive to the general welfare, and which were not expressly prohibited, a power similar to that contained in the plan he proposed in the convention. He desired, in short, to make the Constitution a tablet of wax upon which each successive administration would be at liberty to impress its rescripts to be promulgated as constitutional edicts. (Van Buren’s Pol. Parties in U.S., 211, 213.) Hamilton laid the foundation of his policy so deep and with so much skill that it has been impossible to reverse especially under conditions so favorable to centralization. He invoked in support of his measures the selfishness, the cupidity, the ambition of classes, and sought to make the strength of the government depend, as in England, on the interested support of an intelligent and combined few. An impulse in accordance with his theory was impressed, and has since been constantly strengthened. It is not uncommon to hear the Constitution ridiculed as an abstraction, or an effete formula. The government has grievously departed from its federal character, and reserved powers are so far removed from possible application in case of controversy, that State rights, when seriously mentioned, provoke contempt or ridicule. In 1824 Jefferson wrote to Van Buren: “General Washington was himself sincerely a friend to the republican principles of our Constitution. His faith might not, perhaps, have been as confident as mine, but he repeatedly declared to me that he was determined’ it should have a fair chance of success, and that he would lose the last drop of his blood in its support against any attempt which might be made to change it from its republican form.”
Why the South Resisted Federal Encroachments
It can now be clearly seen why the South, being a minority section, with agriculture as the chief occupation and with the peculiar institution of African slavery fastened on her by Old England and New England, adhered to the State rights or Jeffersonian school of politics. Those doctrines contain the only principles or policy truly conservative of the Constitution. Apart from them, checks and limitations are of little avail, and the Federal government can increase its powers indefinitely. Without some adequate restraint or interposition, the whole character of the government is changed, and .forms, if retained, will be, as they have been in other countries, merely the disguises for accomplishing what selfishness or ambition may dictate. The truest friends of the republic have been those who have insisted upon obedience to constitutional requirements. The real enemies, the true disunionists, have been those who, under the disguise of a deceptive name, have perverted the name and true functions of the government and have usurped, for selfish or partisan ends, or at the demand of crazy fanaticism, powers which States never surrendered. Those who contend most strenuously for the rights of the States and for a strict construction of the Constitution are the genuine lovers and friends of the Union. Their principles conserve law, good order, justice, established authority; and their unselfish purpose has been to preserve and transmit our free institutions as they came from the fathers, sincerely believing that their course and doctrines were necessary to preserve for them and posterity the blessings of good government. The States have no motive to encroach on the Federal government and no power to do so, if so inclined, while the Federal government has always the inclination and always the means to go beyond what has been granted to it. No higher encomium could be rendered to the South than the fact, sustained by her whole history, that she never violated the Constitution, that she committed no aggression upon the rights or property of the North, and that she simply asked equality in the Union and the enforcement and maintenance of her clearest rights and guarantees. The latitudinous construction, contended for by one party and one section, has been the open door through which the people have complained. A strict construction gives to the general government all the powers it can beneficially exert, all that is necessary for it to have, and all that the States ever purposed to grant.
Passion, revenge, cupidity, ignorance and fanaticism have created an incurable misunderstanding of secession, its source and object. In its simplest form and logically it meant a peaceable and orderly withdrawal from the compact of union, a dissolution of the civil partnership, a claim of the paramount allegiance of citizens, a declension to continue under the obligations due to or from the Federal government or the other States. The authority of the Constitution remains intact and unimpaired over the States remaining in the Union and ceases only as to the seceding State. The remaining or continuing States had no right of coercion nor of placing the “wayward sister” in the attitude of an enemy. The history of the Union does not show any eagerness on the part of any State to interpose its sovereign power for protection. During the first quarter of our existence as a confederate union, New England showed much impatience at remaining under the bonds, made angry and repeated threats of dissolution, but did not execute her menaces. The truth is that the Union is so strong, has so many advantages, so many patriotic associations, that the motives and reasons for continuance in it, for patient forbearance, for submission even to injustice and wrong, are well nigh overwhelming.
The Southern States through many years showed the strength of their attachment to the Union by immeasurable sacrifices, illustrated their patriotism by acts of heroic devotion, and got their reluctant consent to a separation only after a series of unendurable wrongs, and the most’ indisputable demonstration of the purpose of a united North to deprive them of solemn guarantees of equality in the Union. From the “Missouri compromise”–prohibiting Southern extension north of the line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes–substituting a new confederation for the old, drawing a geographical line, south of which was to be equality, north of which the Southern States were proscribed, dishonored, stigmatized, establishing the policy of an interference by Congress with an interest not common among all the States and thus creating two great combinations of States, between which mutual provocations were manufactured, down to the war between the States, the Congress and the government repeatedly and offensively declared that the Southern States were not the equals of the Northern States in the benefits of the Union, that property recognized and guaranteed in the Constitution must be restricted within narrow lines, and that “territory of the United States,” obtained at the cost of common blood and common treasure, was not to be equally enjoyed, but was to be for the exclusive possession of the Northern States with their civilization and property.
The Northern States, not in the regular and prescribed form, but in most irregular, illegal and contemptuous manner, by ecclesiastical action and influence, by legislative and judicial annulment, by public meetings, by pulpit and press, by mobs and conspiracies and secret associations, made null and void a clear mandate of the Constitution, protective of Southern property and adopted as an indispensable means for securing the entrance of the Southern States into the Union. To use the language of President Harrison: “Government of the mob was given preference over government of the law enforced by the court decrees and by executive orders.” The highest Northern judicial and historical authorities concede that the Union would never have been formed without these compacts of guarantee and protection. This constitutional provision was sustained by the Supreme court and by every Congress and President up to 1861. Ten Northern States, with impunity, with the approval of such men as Governor Chase, afterward secretary of the treasury under Mr. Lincoln and chief justice of the Supreme court, nullified the Constitution, declared that its stipulation in reference to the reclamation of fugitives from labor was “a dead letter,” and to that extent they dissolved the Union, or made an ex parte change of the terms upon which it was formed. These States did not formally secede, but of themselves, without assent of those Mr. Jefferson described as “co-parties with themselves to the compact,” changed the conditions of union and altered the articles of agreement. Releasing themselves by their own motion, in most arbitrary, extra-judicial, extra-constitutional manner, of a covenant or injunction of the Constitution, because in their opinion it was unwise, they still, while thus in flagrante delicto, demanded obedience to the Constitution and laws on the part of the other co-signitories to the league of government. In the elections of 1860, on sectional issues and securing sectional ascendency, this rebellion against legitimate authority, this nullification, this assumption of a right to self-release from an imperative constitutional requirement, this setting up of private judgment, of individual or corporate whim, against statutory and organic law, an unbroken line of judicial precedents and the undisputed history of the formation of the Constitution, was sanctioned by the popular vote of the North and the election of President Lincoln, who had boldly declared that the States could not remain in union as they had originally agreed and stipulated. In that election, in direct antagonism to the opinions and covenants of the men who achieved our independence and framed and adopted the Constitution which made the Union, it was deliberately decided that the States could not exist together as slave-holding and non-slaveholding, and that “the irrepressible conflict” between them must go on until “the relic of barbarism” should be effaced from constitutions and laws.
That election divided the Union into fixed hostile geographical parties, strongly distinguished by institutions, traditions, opinions and productions and pursuits, the stronger struggling and by the popular verdict licensed to enlarge its powers, and the weaker to save its equality and rights. It placed in the hands of the stronger section, dominated by a fanatical spirit, the power to crush the weaker section and institutions, to destroy at will the existing constitutional relation between the races, and to leave no alternative but reduction to provincial condition or resistance. With the ascendency previously acquired by territorial monopoly and government favoritism, it was now made certain that political power was centralized permanently in the North to the control and subjection of the South whenever the feelings or interests of the sections came into conflict. What the result would be it required no seer to prophesy.
Whether the North had any purpose to uphold the Constitution and give equality in the Union may be judged from the appended opinions:
“There is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain. Slavery must be abolished, and we must do it.”–Wm. H. Seward.
“The time is fast approaching when the cry will become too overpowering to resist. Rather than tolerate national slavery as it now exists, let the Union be dissolved at once, and then the sin of slavery will rest where it belongs.”–N. Y. Tribune.
“The Union is a lie. The American Union is an imposture, a covenant with death and an agreement with hell. We are for its overthrow! Up with the flag of disunion, that we may have a free and glorious republic of our own.”–William Lloyd Garrison.
“I look forward to the day when there shall be a servile insurrection in the South; when the black man, armed with British bayonets, and led on by British officers, shall assert his freedom anti wage a war of extermination against his master. And, though we may not mock at their calamity nor laugh when their fear cometh, yet we will hail it as the dawn of a political millennium.”–Joshua R. Giddings.
“In the alternative being presented of the continuance of slavery or a dissolution of the Union, we are for a dissolution, and we care not how quick it comes.”–Rufus P. Spaulding.
“The fugitive-slave act is filled with horror–we are bound to disobey this act.”–Charles Sumner.
“The Advertiser has no hesitation in saying that it does not hold to the faithful observance of the fugitive-slave law of 1850.”–Portland Advertiser.
“I have no doubt but the free and slave states ought to be separated….The Union is not worth supporting in connection with the South.”–Horace Greeley.
“The times demand and we must have an anti-slavery Constitution, an anti-slavery Bible, and an anti-slavery God.”–Anson P. Burlingame.
“There is merit in the Republican party. It is this: It is the first sectional party ever organized in this country….It is not national, it is sectional. It is the North arrayed against the South….The first crack in the iceberg is visible; you will yet hear it go with a crack through the center “–Wendell Phillips.
“The cure for slavery prescribed by Redpath is the only infallible remedy, and men must foment insurrection among the slaves in order to cure the evils. It can never be done by concessions and compromises. It is a great evil, and must be extinguished by still greater ones. It is positive and imperious in its approaches, and must be overcome with equally positive forces. You must commit an assault to arrest a burglar, and slavery is not arrested without a violation of law and the cry of fire.”–Independent Democrat, leading Republican paper in New Hampshire.
The Southern States believed that the transfer of the government to pronounced hostility to their institutions involved a repudiation of the covenanted faith of their sister States, and released them from the burden of their own covenants when they were denied the benefit of the corresponding covenant of the other contracting states. Seeing the hopelessness of security from President, or Congress, or courts, or public opinion, all inflexibly averse to their constitutional rights, as understood by the patriot fathers, they felt constrained to withdraw from a government which had ceased to be what those fathers made it. Not to have done this would have been to leave the stronger section in entire and hostile control of the government and to consolidate the powers of our compound system in the central head. The last hope of preserving the Constitution of the Union being extinguished, nothing remained except to submit to a continuation of the violation of the compact of union, the perversion of the grants of power from their original and proper purposes, or to assert the sovereign right of re-assuming the grants which the States had made.
Secession: The Separate and Legal Act of the States
It is not uncommon to confound the secession of a state, as a separate, independent. sovereign act, with the subsequent establishment of a confederacy or a common government, by the co-operative action of several States after they had seceded. A State, by virtue of its individual, sovereign right, demonstrated in this introductory chapter, repealed or withdrew its act of acceptance of the Constitution, as the basis or bond of union, and resumed the powers which had been delegated and enumerated in that instrument. This act of resumption of delegated powers, assertion of undelegated sovereignty, was not by the legislature. There is in our American system what is not found elsewhere, a power above that of the Federal or of the State government, the power of the people of a State, who ordained and established constitutions for and over themselves. No secret conspiracy was needed, no mask to conceal the features of the State, no secret place in which to concoct or consummate the designs. Everything was done in broad daylight, and inspection was invited to the accomplishment of what had been repeatedly avowed as the logical consequence of sectional supremacy. The people of the State–the only “people” then known under our political system–had a regularly and lawfully constituted government, already in their hands and subject to their direction. They had a complete corps of administrative officers, an executive, a legislative, a judiciary, filling every department of a free, representative government, all holding office under State authority alone and wearing no badge of official subordination to any power. This government was complete in all its functions and powers, unchanged as to its internal affairs, altered only in its external or Federal relations, and law and order reigned in every portion of the State precisely as if no change had occurred. The secession was as valid as the act of ratification by which the State entered the Union. The secession, or withdrawal of a State from a league, had no revolutionary or insurrectionary character, and nothing which could be tortured into rebellion or treason except by ignorance or malignity.
Several States having openly, with most public declaration of purposes, withdrawn from the compact, they established a union, a confederacy of states, for themselves. The constitution was formed, adopted, ratified, in precisely the same manner and by the same forms and agencies as the Constitution of the United States came into being. Not a Clause nor article interfered with the right of any Northern State or citizen. No assault was made upon property or institutions of any other people.
The model of the Constitution of the Union, which had been respected, obeyed and revered by the Southern States, was followed, with only such changes as time and experience had demonstrated to be necessary for the states to retain their equality in the Union and have their guaranteed rights respected. There seemed no other alternative for the security of the domestic institutions of self-governing States–institutions over which neither the Federal government nor people outside the limits of such States had any control, and for which they had no moral or legal responsibility. Southern life was habitually denounced as utter “barbarism,” and an institution of the remotest origin, sanctioned in the Old Testament and by the law of nations, and upheld for centuries by all civilized governments, and existing at the time of the Declaration of Independence in all the States, was held up to odium as “the sum of all villainies,” and the Constitution, because of its explicit recognition and guarantee of this institution, was spurned as “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” It was a logical and inevitable inference that the predominant and fanatical sentiment of the North should purge the country of such an “unmitigated crime” by its speedy suppression, and that invested with, or arrogating supreme power, it should throw its irresistible weight in the sacrifice of Southern interests to a remorseless and destructive propagandism.
No one would now hazard the assertion that, if the Southern States had acquiesced in the result of the elections of 1860, the equality and rights of the Southern States could have continued unimpaired by the unfriendly action of the government at Washington and of the Northern States. We need not be left to conjecture as to what would have occurred, for a few years later–not during the frenzy of the war, but in the flush of victory and the strength of peace–we had a notable illustration of the insecurity of reliance upon the clearest constitutional prohibition. The Supreme Court, exercising its constitutional power and duty, gave an interpretation to the legal tender law that was not pleasing to Congress and certain moneyed interests. As a rebuke and remedy the court was reconstructed, the number of judges was increased, to reconsider and reverse the judgment, and this process President Harrison, speaking on a kindred subject in a political address in New York, characterized as “packing the court with men who will decide as Congress wants them to.”
Perhaps more conclusive proof of the insecurity of a minority and of unresisted tendency toward assumption of all power which may be supposed to be needed for the accomplishment of coveted ends, may be found in the reconstruction measures, which were deliberately purposed to punish “the rebels” and to subject the white people to negro domination. Roger Foster, in his commentaries on the Constitution, 1896 (pp. 265-267), speaks of the dealings of Congress and the Federal government with the Southern States during the period of reconstruction. At his hands the story becomes a gloomy tale of vacillation, intimidation and fraud; but he tells it with plainness and directness and with more than his usual force. In his opinion “the validity of the acts of Congress” is “open to investigation,” and, “in view of the language of the Constitution, the decisions of the courts on cognate questions, and the action of Congress in other respects toward the States which were the seat of the insurrection, it seems impossible to find any justification for them in law, precedent or consistency. The reconstruction acts must consequently be condemned as unconstitutional, founded on force, not law, and so tyrannical as to imperil the liberty of the entire nation should they be recognized as binding precedents.” The change of sentiment in reference to John Brown is a startling revelation of the rapidity with which sectional and political hostility can pervert the judgment and the conscience.
In October, 1859, this bold, bad man attempted his bloody foray into Virginia, fraught with most terrible consequences of spoliation of property, arson, insurrection, murder and treason. The raid was a compound of foolhardiness and cruelty. Conservative and respectable journals and all decent men and women denounced, at the time, the arrogant and silly attempt of the murderer to take into his destructive hands the execution of his fell purposes. Sympathy with those purposes and his methods was vehemently disclaimed by representatives of all parties in Congress, conspicuously by Hon. John Sherman. Few, except red-handed and insane fanatics, lifted voice against his execution, after a fair trial and just verdict by a Virginia court. A Senate committee, after a laborious investigation of the facts, submitted a report accompanied by evidence, and said: “It was simply the act of lawless ruffians, under the sanction of no public or political authority, distinguishable only from ordinary felonies by the ulterior ends in contemplation by them, and by the fact that the money to maintain the expedition, and the large armament they brought with them, had been contributed and furnished by the citizens of other States of the Union under circumstances that must continue to jeopardize the safety and peace of the Southern States, and against which Congress has no power to legislate.” Now, John Brown inspires a popular song and poetry and eloquence, almost a national air, and Northern writers and people compare him to Jesus Christ and put him in the Saints’ Calendar of Freedom.
The organization of the Grand Army of the Republic has become a potent political agency, demanding that Union soldiers shall have preference, and making connection with the army, irrespective of service or personal merit, the highest consideration in appointments to places of profit and trust. Akin to this, a gigantic pension system, heavier and more exhaustive than the support of the huge standing army in Germany, has been fastened on the public treasury, subsidizing States and making the name of soldier or sailor the passport to the support of himself and family. The strange and vicious doctrine has been affirmed over executive protest that fraud and perjury do not vitiate a pension once allowed, and that any disabilities incurred, whether in the line of duty or of pecuniary aggrandizement, within the “sphere of communication” with either army, are sufficient grounds for the paternal adoption of such a son. And a presidential candidate, in his letter of acceptance of the nomination, seeking arguments for popular support, makes the” need” of a soldier or sailor, however that need may have been created, a sufficient plea for “generous aid” by the government.
As has been affirmed and reiterated, the action of the seceding States was deliberate and most publicly pre-announced. The Northern States and the government at Washington were not taken by surprise, for the purpose of the South, in a certain anticipated contingency, was well known and had been repeatedly and solemnly declared. Exercising a right claimed by the States in their ratification and adoption of the Constitution, and reaffirmed from that day continuously, the seceding States neither desired nor expected resistance to their action. The power to coerce States had been explicitly rejected in the convention. Hamilton said: “To coerce the States was one of the maddest projects ever devised.” No provision had been made by any of the States to meet a resistance to their withdrawal from the partnership. (Madison Papers, 732, 761, 822, 914; 2d Elliot’s Debates, 199, 232, 233.) Not a gun, not an establishment for their manufacture or repair, nor a soldier, nor a vessel, had been provided as preparation for war, offensive or defensive. On the contrary, they desired to live in peace and friendship with their late confederates, and took all the necessary steps to secure that desired result. There was no appeal to the arbitrament of arms, nor any provocation to war. They preferred and earnestly sought to make a fair and equitable settlement of common interests and disputed questions with their former associates, so as to preserve most amicable relations and avoid the infliction of any damage or loss.
To show that peace was ardently desired by the government and the people of the Confederacy, it is sufficient to state that the Confederate Congress, prior to the inauguration of the chief magistrate, passed a resolution asking for the appointment of commissioners to be sent to the government of the United States, “for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that government and the Confederate States, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two governments upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.” In his inaugural President Davis said: “If a just perception of neutral interests shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled.” “In furtherance of these accordant views of the Congress and the people,” said the president in his first message, 29th April, 1861; “I made choice of three discreet, able and distinguished citizens, who repaired to Washington. Aided by their cordial co-operation and that of the secretary of state, every effort compatible with self-respect and the dignity of the Confederacy was exhausted before I allowed myself to yield to the conviction that the government of the United States was determined to attempt the conquest of this people, and that our cherished hopes of peace were unattainable.” On the 12th of March the commissioners officially addressed the secretary of state (Mr. Seward), informing him of the purpose of their mission, and stating, in the language of their instructions, their wish “to make to the government of the United States overtures for the opening of negotiations, assuring the government of the United States that the President, Congress and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution of these great questions; that it is neither their interest nor their wish to make any demand which is not founded on strictest justice, nor do any act to injure their late confederates.” To this no formal reply was received until the 8th of April. In the meantime, with the firm resolve to avoid war if possible, the commissioners waived all questions of form and held unofficial intercourse through an intermediary, Justice Campbell, late of the Supreme court of the United States, and through him assurances were received from the government of the United States “of peaceful intentions; of the determination to evacuate Fort Sumter; and, further, that no measure, changing the existing status prejudicially to the Confederate States, especially at Fort Pickens, was in contemplation, but that in the event of any change of intention on the subject notice would be given to the commissioners.” In the closing paragraph of the message the President protested “solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, this we must, resist to the last extremity.”
On May 8th, 1861, the president submitted a special message to Congress, communicating a report of Judge Campbell stating what he had done in connection with the commissioners for a peaceful adjustment of the pending difficulties between the two governments. In the papers were letters from Judge Campbell to President Davis and to Secretary Seward, the latter having been submitted to Mr. Seward, who did not reply or publicly question the correctness or accuracy of the recital. Judge Campbell held written and oral conferences with Secretary Seward, and from these he felt justified in writing to Mr. Seward, “The commissioners who received these communications conclude they have been abused and overreached. The Montgomery government hold the same opinion.” “I think no candid man who will read over what I have written, and consider for a moment what is going on at Sumter, but will agree that the equivocating conduct of the administration, as measured and interpreted in connection with these promises, is the proximate cause of the great calamity.” He further affirmed the profound conviction of military and civil officers “that there has been systematic duplicity practiced on them through me.” President Davis had previously said: “The crooked paths of diplomacy can furnish no example so wanting in courtesy, in candor, in directness, as was the course of the United States government toward our commissioners in Washington.”
A Peace Convention was held in Washington City, with representatives from border and other States, to devise terms of honorable adjustment and prevent the calamity of war or disunion. Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, a statesman of experience, ability and conservatism, submitted a series of compromise measures and they were indignantly and insultingly rejected. The speaker of the house of representatives was not allowed even to present certain proposed amendments to the Constitution, looking to pacification, while the convention in Virginia, so unwilling, so reluctant, to take extreme steps, tendered to Senator Crittenden, by a unanimous vote, the thanks of the people of the State for his able and patriotic efforts “to bring about a just and honorable adjustment of our national difficulties.”
It is not within the scope of this article to detail incidents of the war; it is fitting, however, to animadvert upon an oft-repeated accusation and to furnish such proof of its falsity as to leave hereafter no loop to hang a doubt upon. It is a common excuse for early defeat and inability “to crush the rebellion in ninety days,” that the Confederacy was better supplied than the government of the United States with the means and appliances of war. This explanation on its face is absurd, for how could an infant, suddenly improvised government, without a dollar, without a sailor, without a ship, without a manufactory of guns or powder, be better equipped than a strong, well established government, constantly engaged in Indian wars and having a regularly equipped .army and navy and no inconsiderable plants for their maintenance? Mr. Goldwin Smith, of Canada, in his work on the United States, says that at the beginning of the war the South was able to draw upon the supplies stored in the arsenals, which had been “well stocked by the provident treason of Buchanan’s minister of war.” Senator Sherman, in his “Recollections,” repeats the absurd story and says that in the early days of the war the Confederates, because of this surreptitious aid, had superior means of warfare. General Scott endorsed the accusation against Secretary Floyd in regard to what has been called “the stolen arms,” and thus contributed to the belief of respectable people that the Confederate States fought with cannon, rifles and muskets treacherously placed in their hands. Mr. Buchanan says, and there can be no better authority, in the book on his administration, page 220: “This delusion presents a striking illustration of the extent to which public prejudice may credit a falsehood not only without foundation but against the clearest official evidence.” Eighteen months before General Scott’s endorsement of the charge it had been condemned as unfounded by the report of the committee on military affairs of the house of representatives. The disproved slander that arms had been fraudulently or otherwise sent to the South to aid the “approaching rebellion,” is in accord with the concerted purpose of writers and politicians to falsify the record and make apology for Northern reverses. General Scott made specific charge that Secretary Floyd removed “115,000 extra muskets and rifles, with all their implements and ammunition, from Northern repositories to Southern arsenals, so that, on the breaking out of the maturing rebellion, they might be found without cost, except to the United States, in the most convenient positions for distribution among the insurgents.” He also charged that 130 or 140 pieces of heavy artillery were ordered from Pittsburg to Ship Island and Galveston, forts not yet erected. The charge, vouched for by public rumor, underwent a searching official investigation by a committee authorized to send for persons and papers and to report at any time. It was most easy to establish the charge, if true, for these arms could not have been removed without the knowledge and active participation of the officers of the ordnance bureau, whose loyalty had never been impugned nor suspected. The accusation may be reduced to three indictments:
First. That arms were improperly distributed to the Southern States prior to and preparatory for premeditated rebellion. Tables furnished from the ordnance bureau show that these States received much less, in the aggregate, instead of more, than the quota of arms to which they were justly entitled under the law for arming the militia. It is a significant fact, utterly disproving the charge and the belligerent intent, that Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas did not receive any portion of army muskets of the very best quality to which they were entitled, and which would have been delivered to each on a simple application to the ordnance bureau. Of the muskets distributed the South received 2,091, and of long-range rifles of the army caliber, 758! Not enough to arm two full regiments!
Second. That Secretary Floyd sent cannon to the Southern States. If he did the fact could not have been concealed, for their size and ponderous weight would have made it impossible to escape detection. The committee reported that there was no evidence that any cannon had been transported to the South. Secretary Floyd may have made an order for the transfer of guns, but it was never executed, and the officer in charge, Colonel Maynadier, said: “It never entered his mind that there could be any improper motive or object in the order.”
Third. The committee extended their inquiry into the circumstances under which Secretary Floyd ordered the removal of the old percussion and flint-lock muskets from the Springfield armory, where they had accumulated in inconvenient numbers. These arms were to be removed from time to time as may be most suitable for economy and transportation, and were to be distributed among the arsenals in proportion to their respective means of proper storage. These arms had been condemned by inspectors and were recommended to be sold, and they were advertised for sale, but the bids did not average $1.50 each and were not accepted. The committee did not, in the slightest degree, implicate Governor Floyd. Alas! what becomes of Senator Sherman’s conjured up superior preparation for war and of General Scott’s “good arms stolen?” It is of a piece with the rifle pitfalls with which Northern papers, after the Bull Run escapade, in which some Republican congressmen shared, said the whole country was honeycombed. (See Reports of House Committee on Military Affairs, 9th January, 1861, and 18th February, 1861–Report No. 85.)
Secretary Floyd, by inheritance and conviction, was a thorough believer in State rights, but was opposed to secession and in favor of employing every right and proper expedient for averting or postponing it. His diary of the secret meetings and discussions of Mr. Buchanan’s cabinet, during November, 1860, shows how averse he was to what he regarded the unwise and precipitate action of South Carolina. He addressed himself with great assiduity to the task of repressing the disposition manifested by the Southern States to take forcible possession of the forts and arsenals within their limits, and just prior to the time alleged for his distribution of public arms for aiding the secession movement he had published, in a Richmond paper, a letter which gained him high credit at the North for his boldness in rebuking the pernicious views of many in his own state. (Pollard’s Lee and His Lieutenants, pp. 790-796, and Administration of Buchanan, p. 220.)
It may not be impossible that this persistent perversion of history is intended to shield the North from any reproach that might attach to her because of inability, with her immense superiority of military resources, to make an early conquest of the South. Besides the enormous means at her command in aid of commissary, quartermaster and ordnance departments, the North recruited her largely preponderant armies by purchased “Hessians” from Europe, by enlistment of negroes, and by pecuniary stimulants for substitutes or volunteers offered by individuals and towns and states and the general government. The frauds practiced on the poor negroes in enlistments, in withholding bounties, in misapplication of what had been accumulated under orders of Butler and other generals, constitute a dark chapter in the mysterious history of the freedmen’s bureau and in other unrecorded occurrences of the war. In 1870 was published the report of the commissioners on equalization of the municipal war debts by the general assembly of Maine. It contains curious and disgraceful matters of history in regard to the method of furnishing men for the army and navy. It transpires in that official comment that “substitute brokers” did a business so important and profitable as to call for the formation of partnerships, which plied their “iniquitous transactions” so adroitly and actively and fraudulently, as to obtain large sums, “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” for men who were never reported for duty. This “wrong” to the municipalities, “double and cruel wrong to the brave men lying in the trenches of the Appomattox and the James,” occurred, says this merciless exposure, “when the army lay panting and exhausted in front of Petersburg,” “when the government was calling loudly for recruits and new regiments,” “when the gallant men were calling for help and succor,” “when the conviction had been at last forced home upon the government that the people and the rebellion could only be subdued by being thoroughly whipped in its entrenched strongholds, and that to do this the army of freedom must be kept full and strong by constant reinforcements.” (See Portland Advertiser, January 31, 1870.)