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The Legality of Seccession in Antebellum America

3 years 10 months ago #1 by stonewalljackson

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  • “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.”
    -Abraham Lincoln 1848

    “The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; that the original States were not the creatures but the creators of the Union; that these States had gained their independence, their freedom, and their sovereignty from the mother country, and had not surrendered these on entering the Union; that by the express terms of the Constitution all rights and powers not delegated were reserved to the States; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State.-the one for liberty in the union of the States, the other for liberty in the independence of the States.”
    -John B Gordon Confederate General Reminiscences of the Civil War

    The right to self govern is maybe the most fundamental American right there is. It is what led to the revolution. America prior to 1860 maintained a confederation of sovereign states. These states were self governing and independent. The right to succession has been a fundamental right of sovereign states in American history. It has been more common of northern states in America prior to 1860, to discuss or threatened succession. Lincoln turned history on its head and declared the nation created the states and states had no right to leave the union. He also declared the entire people [not the states simple democracy] created the union.

    “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”
    -Declaration of Independence

    The declaration of Independence says “These colonies are, and ought to be free and independent States.” The deceleration is itself a succession document. When the revolution ended the king of England made a peace treaty with each and every state, not with one American nation. Under the articles of confederation article 1 section 2. “Each state retains its sovereignty freedom and Independence.” This is at odds with Lincolns view, but even so, some will say the peoples of the states gave up sovereignty when they ratified the Constitution.

    "The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the states; and these, in uniting together, have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disapprove its right of doing so, and
    the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or right.
    -Alexis de Tocqueville Democracy in America

    The first draft of the preamble to the constitution read “we the people of the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode island etc.. when they realized not all states might adopt it, they left out the states to ratify as they chose to. The constitution was than ratified by the states, not the American people. The self governing sovereign people of the individual states appointed representative from each state to ratify the constitution. The states existed prior to and created the constitution out of their own free will. In federalist #39 James Madison “The father of the constitution” said the constitution was ratified by the people “Not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent states to which they respectively belong” “states were considered a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only bound by its own voluntary act.” Virginia, New York and Rhode Island reserved the right to succeed from the union before ratifying the constitution.

    “The laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding.”
    -New York’s ratifying convention

    They also declared the right for other states, the others assumed this was the case. In the constitution “united states” is always in plural, not the way we use it today as to refer to one nation. Federally founded West Point taught the right to secession in its textbook. The constitution nowhere outlaws secession. The constitution established where the federal government has been delegated authority. The rest is reserved to the states. Secession than is a state issue. Nothing is authorized to the states in the constitution [secession or otherwise] since the purpose of the constitution is federal powers.

    “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”
    -10th amendment U.S Constitution

    Thomas Jefferson

     “Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself...each party has equal right to judge for itself”
    -Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

    Hartford convention 

    At the convention the New England states debated whether they should leave the union. No one questioned the legality, simply if it should be done.  In 1801 Thomas Jefferson as president said “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed.” Jefferson said alittel rebellion is “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” When as president the New England federalist were considering succession Jefferson said “If any state in the union will declare that it prefers separation...let us separate”

    Other Founders

    “But the indissoluble link of union between the people of the several states of this confederated nation, is after all, not in the right, but in the heart. If the day should ever come, (may Heaven avert it,) when the affections of the people of these states shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give away to cold indifference, or collisions of interest shall fester into hatred, the bands of political association will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the disunited states, to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect union, by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the centre”
    -John Quincy Adams Northern federalist 1839

    Northern federalist Daniel Webster said in 1851 that if the north would not comply with the fugitive slave law, “The south would no longer be bound to observe the compact. A bargain can not be broken on one side, and still bind the other side”

    “The thirteen states are thirteen sovereign bodies”
    -Oliver Ellsworth

    “The states are nations”
    -Daniel Webster Commentaries on the Constitution

    “If the union was formed by the accession of states then the union may be dissolved by the secession of states”
    -Daniel Webster U.S senate Feb 15 1833

    “The attributes of sovereignty are now enjoyed by every state in the union”
    -Alexander Hamilton

    “Had Buchanan in 1860 sent armed forces to prevent the nullification of the fugitive slave law, as Andrew Jackson thretned to do so in 1833, there would have been a secession of fifteen northern states instead of thirteen southern states. Had the democrats won in 1860 the northern states would have been the seceding states not the southern.”
    - George Lunt of Massachusetts Origin of the Late war

    By 1860 clearly the southern states saw secession as legal but so did most in the north and many leading newspapers, for a few examples.

    “the leading and most influncial papers of the union believe that any state of the union has a right to secede”
    -Davenport Iowa Democrat and news 11/17/60

    “opposing secession changes the nature of government “from a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism were one part of the people are slaves”
    - New York Journal of commerce 1/12/61

    “The great principles embodied by Jefferson in the declaration is... that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” Therefore if the southern states wish to secede, “they have a clear right to do so”
    -New York tribune 2/5/61

    Secession is “the very germ of liberty...the right of secession inheres to the people of every sovereign state”
    -Kenosha Wisconsin Democrat 1/11/61


    Article 3 section 3 of the constitution says

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

    This is what Abraham Lincoln did in the American civil war, he waged war against the southern states.

    “To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised... a complying state at war with a non complying state. Congress marching the troops of one state into the bosom of another? Here is a nation at war with itself. Can any reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself- a government that can exists only by the sword”.
    -Alexander Hamilton Northern federalist

    “Before the war a union a collection of states... after the war we began to speak of a nation”
    -Ken Burns

    But southerns would also say the south was not leaving the original American republic, but establishing it. That is why before the war the south often thought the north should succeed.

    "All that the South has ever desired was the Union as established by our forefathers should be preserved and that the government as originally organized should be administered in purity and truth."
     Gen. Robert E. Lee Quoted in The enduring Relevance of Robert E Lee

    Also being called a traitor is not automatically a bad thing, our nations greatest heroes IMO were traitors. The declaration of Independence was a secession document of sovereign states choosing separation from England's tyrannical government. From Great Britans point of view, they were the loyalist and Americans the traitors. The difference is the north won the war. Had America lost its war for independence, they would have taught the founders as traitors and rebels in textbooks in America. During the revolution “loyalist” like Benedict Arnold were the traitors.

    “Rebellion if successful, is sacred, if not, is treason”

    "How do you like this are coming back into the union"
    Confederate solider to Pennsylvanian citizen before Gettysburg

    "No way sherman will go to hell, he would outflank the devil and get past havens guard"
    southern solider about northern general sherman

    "Angels went to receive his body from his grave but he was not there, they left very disappointed but upon return to haven, found he had outflanked them and was already there".
    northern newspaper about the death of stonewall jackson

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