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Abraham Lincoln

Harry Jaffa says Jack Kemp and I have been conducting an “uncivil war” over Abraham Lincoln’s character. Well, for my part, I deny it. Kemp called me one of the current “assassins of Lincoln’s character,” which I thought was a little rabid, inasmuch as I had given Lincoln praise as well as criticism in the speech Kemp referred to (without having heard or read it, naturally). Jaffa doesn’t say how I was “uncivil” in defending myself by quoting Lincoln. I don’t consider it character assassination to distinguish the real Lincoln from the Mythic Lincoln. (A Reply to Harry Jaffa’s In Re Jack Kemp v. Joe Sobran.)

But before I get into details, let me go right to the real point. In the book I’m now writing about Lincoln, I argue for the right of secession. And I also argue that if there is a right of secession, it follows that Lincoln had no authority to suppress secession by force.

Jaffa thinks that he and Lincoln have, between them, demolished the case for secession. Far from it. To make their case, both of them have had to misread the American founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence.

What, exactly, did the Declaration of Independence declare to be independent? Thirteen states — “free and independent states.” Now in 1776 and long afterward, a state was by definition free, independent, and sovereign. If it formed a confederacy with other states, it could withdraw — secede — reassert its independence — at any time, because a confederacy was, again by definition, a voluntary association of sovereigns. And the Declaration said nothing about a “Union,” or as Lincoln later put it, “a new nation.”

In order to get around these inconvenient facts, Lincoln said falsely that the Union was older than the Constitution, older even than the states. How could a union of things be older than the very things it was a union of? Isn’t that a bit like saying that a marriage is older than either spouse?

Well, said Lincoln, the Union had been formed while the future states were still colonies — then they declared their independence of Britain — but not of each other, mind you — then the Union was “further matured” in the Articles of Confederation — then it was matured still further in the Constitution; but at every stage, the states had had no existence outside the Union, so the Union was indissoluble. At least no state could withdraw without the consent of the rest of the Union. (This contradicted Lincoln’s own ringing affirmation of the right of secession during the Mexican War, but never mind. He came up with a fine and convenient distinction between a “revolutionary” and a “constitutional” right of secession.)

Oddly enough, the states of 1776 thought they were states, plural, not provinces of a sovereign “Union.” N.B.: They did not declare themselves a single “free and independent state,” which is what Lincoln (followed by Jaffa, of course) in essence said they were.

Let’s pause briefly on one point here. A state can secede from a confederation any time it wants to. It needs no justification beyond its own sovereignty. Lincoln, in denying that the states were sovereign, was denying that they were really states at all. All the rest is secondary — whether slavery was good or bad, whether it was endangered, whether the Southerners were acting like sore losers over the 1860 election, and so forth.

Now for the Articles of Confederation. As their name implies, they defined the Union as a confederation of the states, not as a sovereign power over the member states. In fact their second article says plainly: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence,” et cetera. Each state, if I understand these words correctly, “retains,” among other things, its “independence.” This would seem to imply that each state already enjoyed its independence — not only of Britain, but of the other states.

So the Articles of Confederation were a second Declaration of Independence. Even as the states were still fighting together to secure their independence of Britain, they asserted their independence of each other as well! They were loosely united in a confederation, or, as they also put it, “a firm league of friendship.” But they retained severally their “sovereignty, freedom, and independence,” which I interpret to mean their sovereignty, freedom, and independence.

In the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Britain recognized, and listed by name, the 13 “free, sovereign, and independent states.” Evidently the states were sticklers for acknowledgment of their separate statehood. They didn’t settle for recognition of “the United States” in the aggregate.

Note that the Constitution always speaks of the United States in the plural. There is a reason for that; it isn’t just a quaint detail of linguistic usage.

Perhaps a Straussian analysis will demonstrate that the “inner meaning” of these documents flatly contradicts their ostensible meaning. Meanwhile, we may be pardoned for taking them literally.

We may also note that President Thomas Jefferson, chief author of the Declaration, said, when some states talked of secession, that they should be permitted to go in peace.

The Constitution says nothing about secession, either way. But it doesn’t equate secession with “rebellion” or “insurrection,” as Lincoln did. It says the federal government may aid a state in suppressing “domestic violence” — if the state requests its help. It doesn’t suggest that the federal government may invade a state against its will for any reason.

How could Lincoln be so wrong? Well, he was a product of a later generation of rising nationalism, typified by Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, that was out of touch with the Founders and the Framers of the Constitution. As a matter of fact, the longer I study Lincoln, the more I am convinced that he was simply ignorant of the greatest body of American political thought; I seriously doubt that he ever read even The Federalist Papers. If he did, he never assimilated their thinking about the problems of “confederation,” “consolidation,” “usurpation,” and the like. Jefferson Davis was steeped in these ideas and completely mastered them, as his memoirs show. Lincoln, however, couldn’t have carried on an intelligent conversation with Madison, Hamilton, or his hero Jefferson (whose Kentucky Resolutions he also seems ignorant of).

Jaffa may be surprised to learn that much of my critique of Lincoln, as I will present it in my book, King Lincoln, is drawn from the evidence of his own recent book, A New Birth of Freedom. He doesn’t realize how damning to Lincoln his own words are. For example, he says Lincoln thought that “the Union stood in the same relationship to a state as a state to a county.” Could Lincoln (or Jaffa) really hold such a naive view? The states were not formed by counties delegating powers to them; the counties had no sovereignty, but were mere subdivisions of the states. The states were not mere subdivisions, or inferior parts, of the Union. Lincoln’s simple hierarchical view of the Union is a far cry from federalism. Again we see Lincoln’s simplistic nationalist ideology.

Jaffa tries to make Lincoln sound like an avatar of the Founding Fathers, but about all he took from them was a set of snippets — “All men are created equal,” “consent of the governed,” et cetera — from which he wrung inferences they would have rejected. Jefferson in particular would have disowned Lincoln as a disciple.

Lincoln’s lack of learning was a serious defect, and it cost all Americans dearly. I’m not just defending the Confederacy; I think it was foolish to secede when it did, though it was fully within its rights. The point is that Lincoln’s war deprived all the states of their ultimate defense against federal tyranny and usurpation. Since 1865 the federal government has had little to fear from the states, and it has steadily usurped their reserved powers without much opposition and with total impunity.

To my mind, the most egregious case was the U.S. Supreme Court’s wholly arbitrary 1973 ruling that the states could not constitutionally protect unborn children from violent death by abortion. This was not only morally outrageous, but constitutionally absurd. But by then the states were helpless. Lincoln made that possible.

When Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to invade the South after Fort Sumter fell, several governors refused to comply, calling his military assault on their sister states “illegal,” “unconstitutional,” and even “revolutionary.” This last term is significant, because modern liberals who adore Lincoln — James McPherson, Garry Wills, and George Fletcher, for example — credit him with achieving a “revolution” in securing federal supremacy over the states. This amounts to an admission that it was Jefferson Davis, not Lincoln, who was fighting to “preserve the Constitution.”

Lincoln would never concede this, but he doesn’t have to: his fans do it for him. They applaud him for helping bring about the centralized, consolidated, monolithic — or, as they would say, “progressive” — government the Constitution was designed to prevent. Not only open leftists but “neoconservatives” adore Lincoln too.

Jaffa says I remind him of die-hard Confederates and Jim Crow politicians defenders when I say that Lincoln “launched a bloody war against the South, violating the Constitution he’d sworn to uphold.” Well, I can’t help it if I remind Jaffa of such folks, any more than he can help it if he reminds me of a desperate Trotskyite defending “true” Communism against Stalin’s “betrayal.” The carnage of the Civil War (620,000 deaths) was wildly disproportionate to that of Fort Sumter (one horse was killed).

“Who fired on Fort Sumter?” Jaffa demands, as if who fired the first shot had anything whatever to do with the merits of secession. If secession was a right, the South had a just claim on Sumter; if not, not. Had Lincoln ordered the first shot, no doubt Jaffa would be justifying it.

But the question of the first shot is of some interest. Lincoln wanted a war. But as a master of public relations, he didn’t want to fire the first shot, because he knew that in the minds of ordinary people, constitutional abstractions carry little weight; all they want to know is, “Who started it?” Firing the first shot makes you look like the aggressor in the eyes of the masses. Both sides understood this well enough, but Davis committed a terrible mistake by letting Lincoln maneuver him into shooting first. Nobody was killed (except the aforementioned horse), but the North went mad with war fever.

For more than a month, Lincoln allowed his subordinates William Seward and Ward Lamon to assure the Confederates that Sumter would be peacefully evacuated soon, and the Confederates rightly felt betrayed when Lincoln sent provisions and reinforcements instead. The official line is that Lincoln didn’t know what Seward and Lamon were doing. But did he take responsibility for them? No. Did he discharge them for blundering the country into a gigantic civil war? No. Did he even reprimand them? No. He was quite happy with the result, as he privately told Orville Browning and Gustavus Fox.

So much for secession. Now for what Jaffa calls my “disingenuous” quotations from Lincoln on race. He says I must know better. He refers to his 1959 book Crisis of the House Divided, “a book Sobran once knew well, and once spoke of with great approval. In it I explained that Douglas’s strategy was to identify Lincoln with abolitionists, the most radical, and radically unpopular, of those in the antislavery coalition. Lincoln’s disavowal of abolitionism was absolutely necessary to his political survival in the climate of opinion of Illinois voters in the 1850’s. To have failed to make such disavowals would simply have disqualified him as a political leader of the antislavery cause. Sobran knows this, and his present use of these quotations is simply disingenuous.”

Not exactly. I’ve never read that book through, let alone praised it. I did praise a couple of Jaffa’s other books, but he ought at least to be more precise when he’s impeaching my honesty. In any case, Jaffa makes the same argument elsewhere, all over the place in fact, and I’ve always found it unconvincing — actually, I find it just a little bit disingenuous.

Lincoln didn’t just “disavow abolitionism” — he opposed Negro citizenship in the United States. Was this just an election-year ploy? Were his various anti-Negro statements, as Jaffa puts it in his new book, mere “concessions to the prejudices of his times”? If so, Lincoln certainly went far out of his way to create a false impression.

Lincoln always supported the fugitive slave laws, not only verbally, but actively. In 1847, as a lawyer, he represented a Kentucky slaveowner named Robert Matson who was trying to recover a whole family of fugitive slaves in Illinois.

In 1852, when he was out of politics and wasn’t courting votes, he eulogized Henry Clay for his promotion of colonization — encouraging free Negroes to return to “their native clime,” Africa. They were Africa’s “lost children,” and restoring them to their homeland would be a “glorious consummation” of the misfortune of slavery in America. If it could be accomplished, Lincoln thought it would be remembered as one of Clay’s greatest services “to his country and his kind.” Later he would settle for sending them to a tropical climate in the Western Hemisphere, always provided it was outside the United States.

Lincoln himself was an active member of the American Colonization Society. He often referred to the American Negro as “the African.” In his 1854 speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act he again urged colonization, on grounds that Negroes could never be the “equals” of whites in America. In his 1857 speech against the Dred Scott decision he once more urged colonization as “the only perfect preventive of [racial] amalgamation,” which filled white people with “natural disgust”; the solution was “to transfer the African to his native clime.” He wasn’t seeking office yet. He simply believed what he said — that “God made us separate.”

During his 1858 debates with Douglas, Lincoln said nothing more in disparagement of the Negro than he had already said before, and often. He was slightly more explicit than usual about denying Negro citizenship; he had no objection to Illinois’s harsh black code, which forbade free Negroes to vote, hold public office, serve as jurors, or intermarry with whites. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity. He repeatedly cited the “physical difference” between the races as sufficient reason why they could never live together on equal terms.

Far from being a campaign ploy, colonization was Lincoln’s passion, an idee fixe. He dragged it into speeches and conversations at odd times, as if it were an uncontrollable obsession. His admiring secretary John Hay thought he was a bit of a nut on the subject and was relieved when he finally stopped pursuing it. Usually Lincoln was a realist; but he ignored those who pointed out that American Negroes were being born faster than they could possibly be shipped abroad. “The enterprise is a difficult one,” he conceded; “but ‘where there is a will there is a way,’ and what colonization needs most is a hearty will.” To him it was not just a vague hope but a practical project.

As president, even as the Civil War raged, Lincoln made time to pursue colonization. He founded colonies for free Negroes in Panama (then still part of Colombia) and Haiti. In his 1862 state of the Union message he even proposed a constitutional amendment to promote colonization of “free colored persons” outside the United States. In his negotations with the border states, he suggested gradual, compensated emancipation, accompanied by colonization to South America. He pledged to pursue colonization in his preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. He invited a delegation of free Negroes to the White House, where, citing the “physical difference” again, he exhorted them to lead their people in a mass migration to Panama, where they could support themselves by mining coal.

What an inspired idea — converting American Negroes into Panamanian coal miners! The Negroes must have thought he was crazy. But Lincoln was quite serious. He couldn’t drop the idea until his colonies fizzled out in mid1864.

Similarly, Jaffa can’t drop the idea that Abe Lincoln was on a lifelong “mission” — his word — to achieve Negro equality in America. If this Lincoln sometimes said and did things indicating he had other ideas for the Negro, well, that was all part of the Plan! He could only defeat bigotry by posing as a bigot himself, like an FBI agent infiltrating the Klan. Honest Abe couldn’t afford to be honest about race — or perhaps he was only pretending to be dishonest? If so, he overdid it. He left more evidence than even Harry Jaffa can explain away, and Harry Jaffa has devoted an arduous lifetime to explaining such things away.

I trust that by now it’s obvious to everyone but Jaffa that this Lincoln — his cherished crusader for equality — is a wholly imaginary being. The Mythic Lincoln, sent down to earth from heaven to vanquish not only slavery but racial prejudice and inequality, can’t long survive the publication of Lerone Bennett Jr.’s Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream. Bennett adduces a thousand facts that show why serious abolitionists derided Lincoln as “the Slave-Hound from Illinois”; I have cited only a few salient details.

Jaffa insinuates that anyone who quotes the same Lincolnian words quoted by the White Citizens’ Councils in days of yore must agree with the White Citizens’ Councils. He misses the rather obvious point that Lincoln agreed with the White Citizens’ Councils. Lincoln was an unabashed racial separatist. Why should liberals be allowed the privilege of claiming him?

Actually, Lincoln had a double purpose: to prevent the political separation of North and South, while achieving the permanent racial separation of whites and blacks. Just as the “nation” couldn’t go on being half-slave and half-free, neither could it survive half-white and half-black. Lincoln wanted a unified white America. This remained his ideal even when he gave up on colonization for the time being.

Lincoln wound up performing two of the most important acts of American history: waging a civil war and emancipating the slaves in the seceding states. Both acts were attended by accident, intrigue, and rich irony; but the Lincoln mythology stubbornly insists that they were part of a providential mission of which Lincoln was the fully conscious agent. Like Christ, he was put on earth to play the predestined role of redeemer; he pursued his redemptive mission single-mindedly all his life; when he didn’t seem to be pursuing it, he was only, out of necessity, fooling lesser men who were not yet prepared for the full blaze of his divine truth. He always remained, in his pure essence, uncompromised. If he sometimes said unseemly things about the very people he had been appointed to deliver from bondage, he didn’t really mean them. He couldn’t have meant them. And shame on those who say he did mean them.

This is the Mythic Lincoln; Harry Jaffa’s immaculate Lincoln, and the Lincoln of a good many other idolaters as well. In his prize-laden book Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills dismisses Lincoln’s belittling remarks about Negroes as “accommodations to the prejudice of his time” and makes not a single mention of Lincoln’s desire to ship the dark people abroad.

The real Lincoln was a lesser, more complicated figure, even a tragic one, embarrassing to the mythology. And he knew himself: he recognized his dark reflection in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He would have had enough humor to laugh heartily at his hagiographers.

This is the man I will present in King Lincoln — not the incarnation of the American Idea, but an oddly concrete human being who, for some reason, never allowed his children to meet their grandfather. The Mythic Lincoln is open and universal, with nothing to hide: the real Lincoln was “secretive,” “reticent,” “shut-mouthed.” The Mythic Lincoln quoted Scripture and talked like the King James Bible: the real Lincoln could never bring himself to believe. The Mythic Lincoln detested cruelty and violence: the real Lincoln accepted 620,000 deaths, to “save” an ill-defined “Union.”

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in the Imaginiative Conservative Bookstore

Copyright (c) Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, Reprinted with permission.

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16 replies to this post
  1. Well, here we go again. Arguing over Abraham Lincoln seems to be something we shall never get away from. Rather than argue the case, I shall say that I think Jaffa is right and defer to his arguments.

    For my part, I hope everyone can agree that one good thing about this debate is that it hones all Americans’ understanding of federalism.

    One of the more irritating features of Lincoln worship is that it is thoughtless and leads to thoughtless opinions, like those claiming analogy between Lincoln’s fight for Negro equality and equal rights for gays – something absurd from Lincoln’s point of view.

    This is why this debate is important, so long as it is civil

    • Sobran’s arguments for the right of secession are irrefutable, and his assessment of Lincoln is just brilliant. Bravo, Joe! RIP.

    • Here here! I miss him too. He was my favorite writer at National Review, bar none. In fact, when they fired him, I dropped my subscription.

  2. I’ll take the Ranke-ian view here and say that Lincoln has to be judged in the context of his times and the extra-ordinary events that occurred during his presidency. He was not a saint by any means. That said, neither was Davis, or Lee, or Grant, or anyone else. I tend to agree with Russell Kirk and describe Lincoln as a man of “old Roman” virtue. Perhaps he did misunderstand his duties and did the wrong thing. But then again we cannot have his side of the argument. I for one don’t see the rationale used to justify “secession” as valid in the case of the Civil War. “Oh, I don’t like the guy who got elected so I’m gonna secede.” If that was the case in every election we’d be a continent of little warring fiefs. I had family on both sides of the conflict and I find little to admire about the squalid slums of NYC and other Northern industrial centers, but the cotton fields of Mississippi and Alabama are no better on their flesh and blood harvesters than are the factories on their workers. And I cannot reconcile with any argument that justifies keeping in bondage an entire group of people based solely on their skin color. And on slavery that is all I have to say.
    In sum, I guess what I would say is that I hold no illusions of Lincoln the man and president. He was not a god, and never will be nor should he be regarded as near to one. However, I cannot but think that he was the man for the time in which he lived.

  3. Whatever else one thinks of the late Mr. Sobran’s arguments about Lincoln, it’s undeniably true that the real Lincoln is far more complicated, and far more interesting, than any myth. That, of course, is and always has been the case with public figures. One of the unfortunate consequences of mythologizing someone like Lincoln is that inevitably iconoclasts come along who want to topple the myth; usually, in their zeal to do so, they create a caricature of their own that errs in the other direction from established orthodoxy.

    By the same token, the issue of secession is far less cut-and-dried than Mr. Sobran claimed. Whatever the case may have been at the country’s founding, by Lincoln’s time (and arguably before) a national consciousness had developed–at least outside of the South–which lent a very different weight to arguments about state sovereignty and so forth. If the delegates to the 1787 Convention–many of whom were from southern states and who were concerned about centralized federal power–believed that the right of secession existed, they could have done everyone, including themselves, a favor by insisting that it be spelled out in the Constitution. Not only did they not do so, to my knowledge they never even tried. Sobran would have argued, no doubt, that the right to secede was so universally taken for granted that it would have seemed unnecessary to include it; but the insistence on including a Bill of Rights makes that argument unpersuasive. The time to reject union (or to assert the right to secede) was when it was being formed, not eighty years after–and I say that as someone who wishes Lincoln would have heeded Jefferson’s counsel to let disgruntled states leave in peace.

  4. The South certainly did NOT recognize the sovereignty of the individual states when it came to the lack of enforcement of the fugitive slave law. Lincoln a hypocrite … sure, a typical politiican. But there was hypocrisy all around.

    • Dr. Claypool, please expand your remarks. As I understand the Fugitive Slave Law it was a federal law, properly passed in both houses and signed into law by the president. The South understood the idea of state sovereignty but the states in a federalist system are required to obey all Constitutionally promulgated law (which the FSL was).

  5. World War II fighter pilot Greg Boyington famously wrote, “Name a hero, and I’ll prove he’s a bum.” Although “Pappy” had good reason to feel that way, most of us have no excuse to find succor in cynicism. A little bile now and then is natural, and it’s fun to read in Joseph Sobran’s prose secretions, but, as Mr. Shifflett suggests, let’s not turn an angel into a demon; let’s instead turn him into a man–an extraordinary man. No, Lincoln didn’t “talk like the King James Bible.” No one does. He was good with a quill, though. He wrote one of America’s finest documents with fewer words than many tweets in our own lofty age of literacy. Horatio says to Hamlet, “I saw him once. He was a goodly king,” to which Hamlet replies, “He was a man. Take him for all in all,/I shall not look upon his like again.”

  6. “A state can secede from a confederation any time it wants to.” <– This is not what the Declaration says. These anti-Lincoln posts always make me laugh.

  7. The War of Independence was a revolutionary war,in behalf of the rights we are are endowed with , by our Creator, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.The Civil war was in behalf of White people to enslave black people,as Jefferson Davis claimed in his first address to the provisional congress of the Confederacy.The First state to secede was South Carolina,as it said,in behalf of keeping slaves,a majority of the population of which state were enslaved black people.What god gave them that right?There is no right to secede in behalf of an evil cause.Do any of you still believe owning slaves is a moral and righteous cause?That is what the confederate states claimed,and fought for.The slaveocracy persuaded many unwise men and women to their cause,and many of them,and many Northerners too,died in that war to end or preserve slavery,and over the cause of Union,or secession.Slavery and secession lost. Slavery,and secession in its cause, were evil.And that was what the war was about.Anything else is evasion.

  8. I wish a state would today leave the Union.
    I would move immediately to a state not at war
    with reality; a free creative state that supported the
    family by outlawing the murder of children in”family
    planning centers”; and that outlawed the death wish
    of the wealthy elites – homosexual marriage.

  9. Why is this “discussion” on Lincoln important? Because this nation left the path of the Founders and the principles of limited government and the consent of the governed with Lincoln’s (far more than) “imperial presidency.” Lincoln was a despot. He disdained and ignored the Constitution, made “total war” against non-combatants which included war crimes of such an egregious nature that even “pro-Northern” writers have admitted that the South would have been justified in hanging him and his whole military and civilian government and murdered over a million people when the total number of casualties – direct and indirect – are taken into account. And, of course, that doesn’t take into account the fact that he adopted the philosophy of Marx (who LOVED Lincoln) and turned a “federal” government into a “national” government. For those who think that this is just “history,” be aware that our present situation in Washington (that great man would be ashamed of the city that bears his name today!) is entirely due to Lincoln and his unjust, illegal, unconstitutional and wicked war. Until “conservatives” and “patriots” acknowledge the evils of Lincoln, we will continue down the path to tyranny and ruin.

  10. I agree with Lincoln and think this author’s article is full of fallacious (and dangerous!) reasoning.

    His argument is really an argument for radical anarchy and against all legitimate government. Why should “States” have a privileged, inviolable, status while the Union can be jettisoned without even a reason?

    The union, represented in the Continental Army and in the Continental Congress, both liberated and produced the States. Without the commitments of the other states and the expense of many lives and much money, none of the united states would be an independent state.

    If a State wanted to secede lawfully, the only rightful course would be to get the approval of the majority of the other states and be returned to the authority of the King and Great Britain. Of course part of that process would be to settle the obligations the states would still rightly owe to the remaining states (and its creditors).

    It would be quite a battle to determine how much each state owes to the greater union that has enabled it to progress and succeed as it has (it would be an immense figure both in blood and treasure).

    Of course in our time of anti-authority and radical individualism (that does not acknowledge the benefits of union) this author’s reasoning seems to make sense.

    The idea that the founding fathers would have agreed with secession is unfounded. Unilateral secession was a radical position before the 1850’s. Andrew Jackson believed it was the creation of John Calhoun.

    James Madison was living during the “tariff of abominations” and “nullification crisis” of 1832-33 when S. Carolina sought to secede. He not only was firmly against it in principle, he argued that the original founders would have all been against it in principle. (See his letters to Nicholas Trist and Daniel Webster in 1832 – they can be found on-line). Early on, Madison believed a strong union was necessary to keep anarchy in check. Leading up to the Constitutional Convention he used “Shay’s Rebellion” very effectively to show how a strong central governing body was essential, although it was only after the Constitutional Convention that he saw it as essential for keeping sectional interests in check.

    Madison specifically identified the error of secessionism as rooted in confusing individual States with the concept of “the States” in the writings of the founding era. He insisted the founding generation was committed to the rights of “the States” (e.g over the Federal Government), but not each individual State.

    Clearly the federalists, like Washington, Adams, Hamilton, John Marshall, would have been wholly against secession. We would guess the Jeffersonians would have been more likely to be for it (although we might have guessed Madison to be one of these, but we know he was against unilateral secession). But the common factor among the leading Federalists was their experience in the Continental Army. People who know the price required to keep a Union and the benefits it brings are unlikely to treat it lightly.

    Southern secession (and thus the Civil War) was rooted in demagoguery and the oppression of a race by selfish rich slave holders. While we should rightly be concerned about centralization of power we cannot base our stance in anarchy, bad history, and specious and fallacious arguments.

  11. I just discovered this, and didn’t read much of it. So, please forgive me if, however brief, anything I say is redundant.
    if the Federal Government doesn’t follow the Constitution, and is not overruled by the Court, any state has the legal right to say, “Include me out!” Any state would have been on solid legal ground had it tried to exercise this right during the New Deal, and later. but no such ground existed in 1860-61. Nevertheless, Lincoln, who had earlier supported Texas’ right to secede from Mexico, did not declare war. The South Carolinians attacked a Federal Army unit on Federal property, when all they had to do was sit back, profit from selling provender to Fort Sumter, and receive free protection from foreign forces and any overambitious pirates. Mark Twain believed they had read too much Sir Walter Scott, and who can blame him?
    If the fire=eaters had fasted, it would have been a sad day for Civil War buffs, but might have been fascinating to read today about a South with a contiguous foreign border, over which slaves could flee without fear of extradition.

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