The power of III

Summum ius summa iniuria--More law, less justice

03 January 2011

How the South "rationalizes" Secession, it's "Revolution"

In an article entitled: "How the South rationalizes secession" on, Prof. Glenn LaFantasie of Western Kentucky University has an agenda to smear any defender of the Southern perspective in regards to the reasons for Secession in 1860.  He does this through a number of historical errors and omissions.

"In any event, Southern secessionists believed that it did, so they came to see themselves as conservatives, not revolutionaries. This position entrapped them in the contradiction of wanting to overthrow the government of the United States while also remaining under the protection of the Constitution. As a result, Southern justifications of the constitutionality of secession and their own conservatism became almost surreal. "

LaFantasie calls Jefferson Davis "One of America’s worst traitors, a man who had committed or condoned far worse acts against his country than Benedict Arnold,..."
and:  "...Until his death in 1889, he found a stronger voice in passionately defending the right of secession and extolling the nobility of the Lost Cause. He became, like so many of his fellow Confederates, an unreconstructed rebel. As one might expect, he never believed that he had committed a single traitorous act; in fact, he boldly, even arrogantly, affirmed that every one of his actions was legal and constitutional."

He asks:  "How can anyone possibly be a patriot by calling for the destruction of the country one professes to love and honor?"

Prof. LaFantasie concludes thus:  "In pledging allegiance to the flag, Americans vow to uphold "one nation, indivisible." For Lincoln, the issue was straightforward. Secession was revolution. Secession was treason. There still should be no doubt about that, especially as we ponder the meaning of the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s ignominious -- and traitorous -- secession from the Union."

Let's start off with the basics here.  We need to define our terms, something Professor LaFantasie doesn't bother to do:

rationalize Look up rationalize at

1803, "to explain, to make reasonable," from rational + -ize.
secession Look up secession at

1530s, from L. secessionem (nom. secessio), from pp. stem of secedere "secede," from se- "apart" (see secret) + cedere "to go" (see cede). Originally in a Roman historical context, "temporary migration of plebeians from the city to compel patricians to address their grievances;" modern use in reference to religious or political unions dates from 1650s.

revolution Look up revolution at

late 14c., originally of celestial bodies, from O.Fr. revolution, from L.L. revolutionem (nom. revolutio) "a revolving," from L. revolutus, pp. of revolvere "turn, roll back"
insurrection Look up insurrection at

mid-15c., from M.Fr. insurrection, from L. insurrectionem (nom. insurrectio) "a rising up," from insurrectus, pp. of insurgere "to rise up"
treason Look up treason at

early 13c., from Anglo-Fr. treson, from O.Fr. traison (11c.; Fr. trahison), from L. traditionem (nom. traditio) "a handing over, delivery, surrender" (see tradition). O.Fr. form influenced by the verb trair "betray." In old English law, high treason is violation by a subject of his allegiance to his sovereign or to the state

Please forgive me, Professor LaFantasie, but I have doubts about secession representing treason.

The Texas v. White case used to demonstrate the illegality of secession is silly, because it was written after the fact to justify the war by one of the former members of Lincoln's cabinet.  

Let me counter the quote "It is safe to assert that no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination" with the following inconvenient points:  The federal government is the servant of the people, who are sovereign, and of the States, which created the federal government and gave it specific enumerated powers.  The right of the government to rule derives from the consent of the governed.  The voluntary consent of the governed.  Otherwise you cannot claim that the United States is a free country.

Moreover: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --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, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

To continue:

Using the different etymological definitions listed above, there are many rationalizations for secession.  The rationalizations for secession were and are reasonable and Constitutional.  The Southern States did want a Revolution in the original sense of that word.  That is to say, they wanted to come full circle back to States Rights as it was understood by the ratifying conventions of the several States in 1787-1788. The federalist proponents of the Constitution recognized that if powers were not specifically enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the powers were reserved to the States and the people of the States.  The understanding of the Southern States ratifying conventions was that of implicit recognition of the right of a Slave State to maintain it's slaves and set its own laws regarding slavery and slave ownership without Federal interference.

This is what is meant by the claims that secession is both conservative and revolutionary. 

You can go on about the immorality of Slavery and the need for Abolition all you like.  If you utilize the Congress and Federal judiciary to effect changes that affect the Southern States in particular on these issues then you have crossed a constitutional line.

As far as Professor LaFantasie's claims that [the Confederate States were] "taking up of arms against the United States":  Does the professor propose that the Confederate States government was planning a march on Washington DC to overthrow the United States government (at the time of secession)?

Secession was separation and withdrawal from the Union.  It was not an internal revolt or insurrection.  Militias were raised at the time because the States were withdrawing from the Union and no longer had the US Army or Navy for defense.  Moreover the Southern States had reason to fear the Lincoln government and the remaining States in the Union based upon the rhetoric from the Executive Branch and the northern press at the time.

To claim treason, you must prove that individuals were working to overthrow their government (by the specific definition of Treason in the Constitution).  In the case of secession of the Southern States in 1860-1861, you have State conventions of elected representatives of the people of the individual states voting to withdraw from the Union.  The Union was formed on a voluntary basis in 1788, and was being undone on a voluntary basis in 1860-61.  That is, this was a legal Constitutional process of withdrawal;  There is no call for marches on Washington or the overthrow of Lincoln, etc.,.  The Confederate States increased in number when Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the insurrection [sic], pushing the border States out of the Union.

Is it not clear to a reasonable person that the United States could continue to exist as an independent nation with Abraham Lincoln as its president, without the seceding states, just as the 11 states of the United States existed without the States of Rhode Island or North Carolina after the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 to 1789?

The South's withdrawal from the United States cannot be logically likened to trying to destroy the United States.  It is a change from the past, to be sure, but both countries could have coexisted and benefited from commerce and mutual defense.

The pledge of allegience that LaFantasie refers to in his conclusion was written by a socialist utopian in the 1890's.  This was long after the unsatisfactory conclusion of the War to Prevent Southern Independence, long after the death of the voluntary Republic.  The pledge was written to indoctrinate children to a new way of thinking about their "nation," as the true history of the United States was buried.

Regarding the Professor's continued use of the terms Revolution and Treason, I defer to Inigo Montoya:

Regarding "How can anyone possibly be a patriot by calling for the destruction of the country one professes to love and honor?"  

I would say that equating one's government to one's country is not legitimate.  The country, in my opinion, is composed of it's people, not it's government.  Too often the people in government have an agenda which increases their own power at the expense of the productive members of that country. 

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