Delivered at the Blount County Courthouse, January 19, 2015.
Robert E. Lee said “Everyone should do all in his power to collect and disseminate the truth, in the hope that it may find a place in history and descend to posterity. History is not the relation of campaigns and battles and generals or other individuals, but that which shows the principles for which the South contended and which justified her struggle for those principles. ”
In honoring him today, I wish to adhere to his will in this regard and speak to you on the cause that he and those who followed him into battle offered their lives for.
I have suggested for some time that to understand the travesty of Lincoln’s war of 1861 through 1865, one must first have some basic understanding of the outcome of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, which proposed a constitution for the United States, and ratification of that constitution in 1788. Additionally, to understand the current political situation that we find ourselves in today, one must likewise have some basic understanding of Lincoln’s war and the damage to the original union that it inflicted. There is an idea among some that because the events that Lee participated in occurred over 150 years ago they are “irrelevant” to us today. This is an example of extreme short-sightedness on the part of the American populace.
Contrary to popular and oft-stated opinion, we did not just awaken one day to the political and economic mess we’re in due to the outcome of the last election, or even the several before it. The proverbial snowball has been rolling down hill and gaining in size, as well as potential calamity, for quite some time. In actuality, to understand the disparity between “Red States and Blues States”, “Liberals and Conservatives” or even “Traditional conservatives and Neo-Conservatives”, it is necessary to go back further than the adoption of the Constitution and to acquire some form of understanding of the disparity in the cultures of the various groups of British settlers who would ultimately form “America”. There were those during the ratification process of the constitution who recognized that these cultures could never be bonded together under a central government, but their efforts to prevent the constitution’s adoption were defeated under the submission that, since the constitution delegated only limited powers, the government that it would create would have no jurisdiction into the affairs or governance of the various States. Everyone, it was supposed, would be able to live as they chose without interruption from an authority that was being created only to act on behalf of the States with regards to certain specific, enumerated and limited powers.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay would make this argument in what came to be known as the Federalist essays. Although these writings carried little weight outside the State of New York with regards to promoting the Constitution’s ratification, being that James Madison- one of the key players in both the Philadelphia Convention as well as the Virginia Ratifying Convention -was a principle writer of these essays, I’ll use his own explanation, from Federalist 39, of the government then under consideration.
In an effort to convince readers of the constitution’s republican nature Madison laid out a detailed description of how the elected representatives under the new government would attain office, after which he took the constitution’s opponents to task. He said:
“Could any further proof be required of the republican complexion of this system, the most decisive one might be found in its absolute prohibition of titles of nobility, both under the federal and the State governments; and in its express guaranty of the republican form to each of the latter.”
Recognizing that opponents were of the persuasion that this explanation “was not sufficient,” and that the constitution “ought, with equal care, to have preserved the federal form, which regards the Union as a Confederacy of sovereign states” but instead “regards the Union as a consolidation of the States” Madison said that, “it is asked by what authority this bold and radical innovation was undertaken?”
After asserting that “this objection requires that it should be examined with some precision” he endeavors to further explain the precise arrangement and form that the new government would take. He writes:
“On examining the first relation, it appears, on one hand, that the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act.”
Proponents of the Constitution sold the document to the States on the basis that the sovereignty of each State to retain all powers not expressly delegated was not to be in any manner effected by the constitution’s ratification. The new government was to take a “federal” form, and to establish a “union” of sovereign republics rather than a singular “nation” under one parent government.
Madison further explained that, “The idea of a national government involves in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are objects of lawful government. Among a people consolidated into one nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature.”
However, he explained “among communities united for particular purposes, it is vested partly in the general and partly in the municipal legislatures. In the former case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme; and may be controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure. In the latter, the local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere.”
Referring to the form of this newly proposed government, and with regards to the specific delegated powers enumerated within the constitution, he concludes that “In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.”
The only powers comprising the “sphere” -an analogy that Alexander Hamilton would likewise use in the New York Convention to explain the “Supremacy Clause” -within which the new government was to be “supreme” are found under Article I. All others, as the 10th Amendment would later state, are “reserved to the States.”
Just shortly over a decade after the constitution was ratified, when the John Adams administration would sign into law a set of acts that would comprise a flagrant violation of the general government’s lawful authority, then Secretary of State James Madison would pen the Virginia Resolution of 1798 which re-asserted the premise under which the constitution was accepted. He wrote 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 the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that 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.”
He continues by proclaiming, “that a spirit has in sundry instances, been manifested by the federal government, to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and that implications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which having been copied from the very limited grant of power, in the former articles of confederation were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect, of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains and limits the general phrases.”
Madison is referring to the advocacy of “implied powers” being advanced and he acknowledged that these actions were being taken “so as to consolidate the states by degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable consequence of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United States, into an absolute, or at best a mixed monarchy.”
Not only were the United States not unified as “one indivisble nation” under a parent governing authority, but it is the duty of the States, Madison said, to “interpose” in an effort to ensure that such an arrogation of undelegated, and thus unlawful, power was never undertaken.
Interestingly, during the Philadelphia Convention, Madison had argued for a federal “negative” (veto power) over State laws. As well, he had later attempted to have three notable protections of individual rights, as recognized in the Bill of Rights, made applicable against the States. Both positions were in an effort to put into place a stronger, “more energetic” central government, and both proposals were unanimously defeated in convention. But, as Kevin Gutzman makes clear in his excellent book James Madison and the Making of America Madison accepted what the States desired, and throughout the remainder of his political career he largely abided strictly by the constitution as ratified, even though its form had been in opposition to his own personal desires for the new government. Such statesmanship is virtually unheard of today.
In fact, such statesmanship would be limited even within Madison’s own generation, and it would deteriorate further with the future waves of politicians ascending to elected office. Unlike Madison, his co-author of the Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, having given great effort to sell the constitution to his State of New York on the basis that it was limited in scope and encompassed a separation of powers between the States and general government, then spent the remainder of his life working to rewrite, or “re-interpret”, the constitution to better suit his own monarchical tendencies. Hamilton was admiring of the British system and he would find willing accomplices to help fulfill his designs in the persons of John Marshall, Joseph Story and Daniel Webster, among others. While these men would chip away at the edges of constitutional restraints, Abraham Lincoln would emerge much later to take such usurpation to an extent that I believe would have horrified even Hamilton.
Throughout the Philadelphia Convention arguments were made in favor of a national government that would abridge the authority of the States and essentially transfer all but the most menial powers to the new “central” government, making it supreme in all endeavors. Subsequently, every attempt at this centralization of power was forthwith rejected by the convention.
It was not only the Southern States who rejected the formation of a national government in favor of a federal union, but delegates from some Northern States as well.
John Lansing, for example, said in the Philadelphia Convention that “Had the legislature of the State of New York apprehended that their powers would have been construed to extend to the formation of a national government, no delegates would have appeared on the part of that State. New plans annihilating the rights of the States can never succeed.”
So, not only is Lansing suggesting that New York would object to a national government which would annihilate the rights of the States, but he is asserting that the convention would not have even been represented by his State had they suspected that such a proposal would have been submitted. He and Robert Yates, who would later write in opposition to the constitution under the pen-name “Brutus”, exited the Convention prior to its conclusion.
The plan for a national government was shredded in the Convention, and to further bolster this fact every State, as a condition of ratification, would insist on what became the 10th Amendment which says that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
The end result was a “general” government with clearly enumerated powers delegated to it, allowing it to act only in specific instances and as merely an agent of the various States.
Madison said in Federalist 39 that “Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act.”
Still skeptical, three States (Rhode Island, New York and Virginia) asserted as a condition of ratification that they reserved the right to “resume” all delegated powers should the new government become “perverted to their injury or oppression.” In other words, as a condition of joining the union they insisted on a recognition of their right to secede, and this shows plainly that while creating a union under this new constitution, they had the highest expectations that their sovereignty would be maintained- if it is accepted that a State may secede, the sovereignty of that State must first be recognized.
Who ratified the constitution? It was not, as is often suggested, “the people” at large, or “the people of the United States.” It was “the people” of the states who are “the supreme authority in each State.” The preamble to the constitution makes clear that it is a constitution ”for” the United States, and not a constitution “of” the United States. This is the basis upon which the union was formed, and it was the understanding of the people who ratified it that the constitution established a plural “union” rather than a singular “nation”.
The problem where Abraham Lincoln is concerned is that he rarely spoke of the constitution unless it was politically expedient to do so. His contemporaries noted of him that he was more apt to assert decisions based on what he perceived to be practical rather than what the constitution actually allowed. Stated another way, he was an advocate of arbitrary government based on personal whims rather than a statesman acting within the confines of powers actually consented to him and derived from the compact that the union was formed on. In the union as it was created, the constitution was itself the basis for political power in the general government. In Lincoln’s practices as a politician, his own idea of “what was good for the people” would replace what had been consented to his office, leaving him restrained, not by any rule of law, but only by his own desires. Is this not indicative of the very form of government that the Colonials had fought for eight years to escape from?
In the Declaration of Independence the Founders said of government that “government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed” and that the only legitimate purpose of government was the protection of the God-given rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To secure these rights they “altered”, “abolished” and “threw off” a tyrannical government, and established their former “colonies” as “free and independent States.” “States” on par with the “State” of Great Britain.
Conversely, Lincoln said of government that it was “a leading object” whose purpose it was “to elevate the condition of men: to lift artificial weights from all shoulders: to clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all: to afford to all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life. This is the leading object of government for whose existence we contend.”
According to this nefarious view, the individual is incapable of making his own way in life. He is incapable, without the all-knowing, all-caring hand of a central authority backed by authoritarian force, to elevate himself through his own ambitions, hard work and personal achievement. Government must exist to “level the playing field” and “clear the path” for the individual. When President George W. Bush said “government should provide a hand up” and Barrack Obama said “you didn’t build that” both men were channeling their inner Lincoln.
It was to establish this view of government that the South was invaded. The South whose people had played a pivotal role in settling this continent, whose sons had established and defended the newly formed States from British invasion, the South whose statesmen were titans among the founding generation and who helped to craft the constitution into a form they believed most protective of liberty, the South who had shed its blood in Northern States to defend against British subjugation were now to be subjugated themselves by the very government that they had helped to establish.
Robert E. Lee dreaded the idea of secession. He considered the more vocal elements on both sides leading up to secession to be “hotheads” and hoped that calm and rational thought would prevail, and that the union would be preserved by arbitration.
Biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, says that secession was a time of “deep depression” for Lee who wrote to his son Custis that “The Southern States seem to be in a convulsion……My little personal troubles sink into insignificance when I contemplate the condition of the country, and I feel as if I could easily lay down my life for its safety.”
But secession came, and Lee was faced with a decision to either remain with the union, or to follow his own State. He recalled that before he was a soldier, he was a Virginian, and it is in error to suggest that he anguished over the decision to go as Virginia went. His wife wrote later that “From the first commencement of our troubles he had decided that in the event of Virginia’s secession, duty would compel him to follow.”
She recalled that her husband had “wept tears of blood over this war, but as a man of honor and a Virginian, he must follow the destiny of his State.”
Thus, when offered command of the Union army which was to invade the seceded Sates, he resigned his commission and offered his sword to Virginia and to the defense of the South.
What does this tell us? Here is a man whose own Father had helped establish American Independence. A man whose adult life had been committed to the service of the Union, and who dearly loved the principals for which the Union was formed. A man who regretted any perceived disruption of the Union, and who opposed secession. And yet, he was willing to forgo his personal emotions and offer his life to defend his home, his people and his native Country of Virginia. What this suggests to me is that, as badly as he anguished over the division of the union in general, and the departure of his State in particular, weeping “tears of blood” over these circumstances, he possessed even more indignation at the idea that his people would face an unlawful and an unjust subjugation in an effort to prevent their God-given right to independence. For this, he was even more willing to offer his service, and his life.
Lincoln’s armies devastated the South. From the earliest stages of the war cities were destroyed, civilians were targeted, looting and rapine were inflicted, homes and crops were burned, and every rule of just war was violated by the invading union armies. With approval from the highest levels William T. Sherman pursued a form of warfare meant to “eradicate the Southern people” and to bring to bear “the hard hand of war” boasting at one point that “for five days, ten thousand of our men worked hard and with a will, in that work of destruction, with axes, sledges, crowbars, clawbars, and with fire…. Meridian no longer exists.”
Contrary to what we are told, and what our children are taught, this was not a “civil war” wherein the South was vying to “destroy the union.” But it was indeed a revolution. It was a revolution by the Lincoln administration and radical elements within the Republican Party to overthrow the plain meaning of the Constitution. It was a war aimed at destroying the sovereignty of the States and elevating a formerly “general government” with limited powers to the position of “supreme authority” with sweeping powers, and relegating the “free and independent States” to the position of “provinces” subservient to a newly self-ordained “mixed-Monarchy.”
It was this that Lee, Jackson and the men who followed them into battle contended against. Far from attempting to “destroy the union” these men were in fact willing to lay down their lives in defense of the very principals that the union had been built on- the principal that the governed, not the government, are the source of all legitimate authority.
Robert E. Lee led his men into battle in defense of principals that English Philosopher, Lord John Dahlberg Acton said “would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics.” The cause of Robert E. Lee in 1861 was the same cause of his Colonial forefathers in 1776, and if those men were Patriots, it must be admitted by anyone with a shred of integrity that so were our men in gray likewise Patriots.
History, if logically considered, is blatantly obvious in that these men went to war, not to preserve African bondage, which many themselves deplored, but to defeat the tyrannical notion that “might makes right” and to preserve, protect and defend a system of governance secured for them and handed down to them by their ancestors- a system built on the inherent belief that the right to self-governance is a gift from God, and an inheritance that no man, and no government, may justly take away.
Today, you and I will be ridiculed by politically correct and historically ignorant people for being here. But thankfully, in spite of the narrative leveled against us, in spite of all efforts to conceal historical truth and in spite of all the forces that exist only to deceitfully attempt to tarnish the nobility of our ancestors, we have the satisfaction of knowing the truth. And the truth is that time has proven the cause of Robert E. Lee to have been correct. The evidence of this is found in a government that, knowing no limitations to its own powers, and under the guise of “elevating the condition of men” now controls every aspect of our lives.
Truth necessarily defeats any “shame” with which our detractors would attempt to level against us, and truth is the foundation of a Heritage forged on the field of battle and handed down to us by our ancestors who followed Lee and Jackson. It matters not that his cause was defeated, the legacy of Robert E. Lee and the men who followed him still stands.
And it is that legacy which affords you and me the right to stand proudly beneath the Christian Cross of St. Andrew and, in the presence of all who would deny us our Heritage, proclaim with pride that “I am Southern and I will not apologize.” I am Southern by birth, Southern by ancestry, Southern by tradition, Southern by culture, Southern by Heritage, Southern by blood. I am Southern by the unyielding Grace of Almighty God. Thank you for being here, and may God Bless Dixie.