I have posted mostly theology stuff here, but today I'm moving into the political realm. What follows something I wrote several years ago. It was first given as a speech to our local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I hope you find it interesting (and convincing).
(The website for our local SCV Camp is --Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390)
The federal government is a creation of the states that formed the union. These states were sovereign powers and each joined the new federal union, created by the Constitution, by way of ratifying conventions. The member states in the Federal union did not forfeit their sovereignty when they joined the new confederated republic. They joined as states and did not become provinces of the federal system they created. This was universally understood by the founders and the generation to follow. State sovereignty was not challenged until the 1830's. It was about that time that a debate began as to the nature of the American system we received with the constitutional union.
The South remained true to the founding principles. Her leaders were strict constructionists. Men such as Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph of Roanoke, John C. Calhoun, and Jefferson Davis had a clear understanding of the founding principles of the United States Constitution. Massachusetts' politicians began to deny those aspects of American political history that had been so widely and clearly understood. In our day the political leaders from Massachusetts are still at the forefront of distorting what little remains of true constitutional government in the United States, and they have plenty of help from all regions of the U.S.
In 1776 thirteen colonies, from New Hampshire to Georgia, seceded from the British Empire. There is a great misunderstanding about the reason for this important act of secession. The several colonies, in America, were related to Great Britain by a mutual king. The colonies were not subjects of Parliament, and they were not governed internally by the legislature in London. They had their own legislative bodies and had governed themselves from the first half of the seventeenth century. The king was chief executive for each colony and he appointed the governors in them. He also had a veto over their legislation. George III was king of England, Scotland, Ireland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Delaware, etc... The King had a compact with each of the individual colonies; no such agreement existed between the colonies and the British Parliament. The Parliament in London had no sovereignty in the colonies; the colonists were subject to the king and elected their own representatives to the colonial governments. The British Parliament had no authority to tax any of the American colonies. Parliament was attempting to tax the colonies, which would be like the New York legislature passing a tax on the people of Louisiana. They have no legal right to do so, and only cowards and fools would submit to such abuse of authority.
For more than ten years there had been an on going dispute, because the legislature in London was trying to tax the people of the colonies. The Americans and several of Great Britain's leaders had over and over denied that that body had the right or the authority to do such a thing. The cry "no taxation without representation" didn't mean the Americans wanted seats in the Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth. It meant they had their own representatives in their own legislatures at home, and didn't want a foreign body trying to govern them in their own land. George III sided with the government in London, and by so doing broke his compact with the colonies. By acting in an arbitrary, despotic and illegal manner, he forfeited his right to rule over them. This lead to the first American secession. It was a conservative attempt by the Americans to preserve lawful government. Virginia declared independence in June of 1776, and then all thirteen colonies declared independence on the same day July 4, 1776. The Declaration Of Independence would have been issued two days earlier, but it had to wait on a couple of state delegations, because the members of the Continental Congress had no authority to act without their states approval, and they had not yet received authorization from their respective governments to go ahead with the act of secession.
Though they acted together, each state acted as a sovereign nation. The Declaration is very clear at this point. It states that they had to "alter their former systems of government" because of the king's usurpation. The document continues:
[T]hat these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connections between them and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, which Independent States may of right do.
Notice that these are independent states. Each saw itself as a separate nation allied with its sister states in a struggle with a common enemy. The colonies were only united in their desire to be free of a king that was attempting to destroy their constitutional liberties. The Articles of Confederation, which was agreed to by the thirteen states, created the first United States government and it existed from 1781 until 1789.
The states as nations did not disappear; they were jealous to maintain their individual identities. The Articles put it this way:
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.
A confederation is formed when nations unite together in a common purpose. Mutual defence and trade are common reasons for the creation of such systems. The nations in confederation agree to delegate some of their authority to the confederated or federal government to do its limited task. The nations involved retain all of their sovereignty that they have not delegated.
The end of hostilities with Great Britain came after the United States had been formed, yet in the Treaty of Paris (1783) the United States is recognized as being comprised of independent governments. It reads like this:
His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, vis. New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to be free, sovereign and independent states, that he treats them as such.
Again it's very important that the British crown did not make peace with a single nation called the United States, but with the thirteen states, negotiating for peace with a common enemy, through their confederation government. The treaty recognizes each state as "free, sovereign, and independent." Each is acknowledged to be a nation in its own right. This is an important point to remember because sophist, like Joseph Story and Abe Lincoln, would later claim that the United States existed as a single nation from as early as the Declaration of Independence and even before. This claim is the foundation stone of their argument, and it is in absolute contrast to documented history.
A convention of the states was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, because of problems in the confederacy. At the convention in Philadelphia, George Washington was elected to preside over the assembly. After a very long and difficult period the men meeting in Philadelphia proposed that a new government be formed under the Constitution they had formulated. This Constitution was sent to the United States congress and they passed it on to the states for their approval or rejection. Each state called its own convention to decide if it would accept the new Constitution or not.
Today most Americans see the Constitution as one of the greatest political documents ever produced. This was not the case when it was sent to the states for their consideration. The people in the states split over the matter, and a great debate ensued. The debate over the Constitution is well documented; it took place in the newspapers and at the state conventions, which were called to decide on accepting or rejecting the proposal. Those urging approval of the new federal system were called Federalists. They believed that the Constitution would produce a better union than the Articles of Confederation had. The new confederate or federal (the two words are interchangeable) union was so constructed that, while it did produce a more vigorous federal government, it could not usurp the power and sovereignty from the states. The new government would posses only "expressed powers" spelled out in a written document. It could be, and would be, safely contained within those constitutional limits. The new Government would be, as James Madison said, "bound by the chains of the Constitution".
Their were great men supporting the new constitution; George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Light Horse Harry Lee (Gen. Robert E. Lee's father); were some of its champions.
Opponents of the federalist were labelled as "Anti-federalists". This group includes many great Americans also. We find important leaders like Patrick Henry, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee, and George Mason among the Anti-federalist. These men had much in common with the Federalists. Most of the contenders on both sides wanted to maintain a confederated union of sovereign states. Each side argued their position was the best way to sustain such a union, and that their opponent's position was flawed and would be, in the long run, destructive to the union. The Anti-federalists charged that the proposed Constitution would lead to a strong central ("consolidated") government that would steal the sovereignty of the states. They believed that the new government would grow into a monster that would destroy the freedom and independence of the states.
The Anti-federalists had the upper hand in the larger and more important states. The Federalists proposed a compromise, because they did not have the votes to ratify the Constitution. This compromise won over just enough of their adversaries to achieve ratification in eleven states. The compromise was to amend the new constitution with a bill of rights. The proposed Bill Of Rights would further bind the federal government from trampling the rights of the people and the states. The Bill Of Rights was understood to grant individuals and states nothing; its purpose was to further bind and control an already very small and limited federal government.
The people were concerned for their state’s sovereignty and had a strong, and I would add healthy, distrust of large or remote governments. Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts, was one of the Anti-federalists won over by the compromise. He said this of the new union "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. " The People of South Carolina clarified what they understood when they ratified the Constitution. This is part of their declaration "This Convention doth declare that no section or paragraph of the said 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." Virginia, when she reluctantly, and narrowly, approved the new government, made clear that secession was an option if the central government misused its power.
We, the Delegates of the people of Virginia Do, in the name and 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 granted thereby remains with them, and at their will.
Each state as it adopted the new system of government left the old Union and joined the new one. Adoption of the Constitution meant secession from the United States under the Articles of Confederation. The old Union was made up of thirteen states; the new Union began with eleven states. North Carolina had not voted to ratify, and Rhode Island had not even bothered to call a convention. These two states were foreign countries when George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States on 30 April 1789, and were treated as such by the new government. Those who try to prove that the United States were formed as a single nation, at an earlier date, tend to ignore this fact.
North Carolina ratified the Constitution and joined the union six months after Washington had taken the oath of office. Rhode Island joined the union a full thirteen months after Washington had become president. She was accepted into the union, though her ratifying convention made clear that she too believed she retained her sovereignty, and could recall all powers delegated to the federal government. The folks in Rhode Island believed they could secede from the new union if they chose to. The United States accepted those states that held they had the right to secede from the "new Confederacy". Their view of secession was not challenged when they joined the union.
A very important part of the Articles of Confederation was not repeated in the Constitution. The Union, that began and ended in the 1780's, had been declared a "perpetual union" in the Articles of Confederation. Though many aspects of the Articles had been carried over into the new union, the words "perpetual union" are conspicuous by their absence from the new Union's covenant document.
Thomas Jefferson was fearful that there might be a "separation" as early as 1790. He, like every American believed the union vital, but he did not doubt a state's right to leave the union if it decided to do so. Jefferson said in a letter written in 1802 that he believed that the United States, in and of itself, had no inherent sovereign power, because sovereignty was retained by the states. He was not alone in this view. In Lonsdale versus Brown, an 1821 Pennsylvania court case, the following verdict was rendered. "[F]or though they form a Confederated Government, yet the several states retain their individual sovereignties, and with respect to their municipal laws, are to each other foreign."
William Rawle, who was appointed United States attorney for Pennsylvania in 1791 by George Washington, wrote an important study on United States government. His book, A View of the Constitution, was in use at West Point when men such as Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis attended the U. S. military academy. The Rawle's textbook says this about secession: "The secession of a state from the union depends on the will of the people of such state." He adds, "It depends on the State itself whether it will continue a member of the Union. To deny this right, would be inconsistent with the principles on which all our political systems are founded; which is, the people have, in all cases, a right to determine how they will be governed." Rawle does not treat secession lightly; he says "To withdraw from the union is a solemn and serious act" yet states retain the right to do so.
New England was the region in the North most hostile to Southern secession. It is ironic that this very region, which had threatened secession over and over again, and had done so as late as the 1840’s, was a hot bed of anti Southern feelings in the North. There were calls for New England to secede in 1803 because of the Louisiana Purchase, 1814 because of the War of 1812 (which was unpopular in that region), and 1843 because of the acceptance of the Republic of Texas into the union. The New Englanders that made war on the South during the War for Southern Independence had a very short and selective memory.
Abraham Lincoln, who had supported the right of secession while in congress, took the oath of office as president determined to do all that was necessary to nullify the secession of South Carolina, Georgia and the Gulf States. The question of legality and constitutionality would not play a part in his decision to make war on the seceded states. Lincoln's willingness to totally disregard the Covenant document of the "sacred union" drove four of the Border States to the side of the Southern Confederacy. He prevented the secession of other Border States by the use of martial law, which he had no legal authority to impose.
Lincoln's utter disregard for the provisions of the Constitution are well documented, but little known today. His despotic acts overthrew the constitutional governments of the South, and North. It's because of his usurpations that Washington D.C. is now the seat of a consolidated government our Founding Fathers had worked so hard to prevent. Washington D.C. is an imperial capitol, and no longer the seat of the limited federal government handed down by the Founders.
We must remember the constitutional liberties our ancestors fought for in two wars for independence. Alexander H. Stevens, vice president of the Confederacy, spoke wisely and his words need to be remembered by a new generation of Southerners. He said "The Cause which was lost by the surrender of the Confederates, was only the maintenance of this Principle by arms. It was not the Principle itself that they abandoned." We, too, must remember the principle for which our ancestors spilt so much of their blood. We need a return to limited constitutional government. A confederacy of sovereign states is what we were given by the first act of secession. A confederacy of sovereign states is what was lost in both North and South when the Southern states were forced back into the union by grapeshot and the bayonet.