Howard Zinn, Neo-Confederate

While I disagree with him on a host of political issues, I follow Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog at The Atlantic closely because of his consistently well written and fascinating posts on history and literature. Many of these are on the Civil War, which has in recent years become a topic of great interest to him.

There was a particularly interesting pair of these a couple weeks ago in which Coates and his commenters discussed (in the context of Ron Paul’s repeated statements that the Civil War was unnecessary) the fact that left wing icon Howard Zinn actually peddles the several of the neo-confederate tropes: that the Civil War was fought for Northern economic domination and had little to do with slavery, and that a the Civil War clearly wasn’t necessary in order to end slavery anyway. [First post on Ron Paul, Howard Zinn and the Civil War. Second, followup post.] The specific Howard Zinn text that they go after (because it’s conveniently online) is a lecture he gave called Three Holy Wars, in which he tries to make a case for why people should not see the Revolutionary War, American Civil War or American involvement in World War II as moral or just — something he argues is important because seeing any past wars as just allows people to justify other wars on analogy.

Zinn proceeds to run through most of the standard complaints against the “War of Northern Aggression”:
It was really, really bad:

Slavery. Slavery, nothing worse. Slavery. And at the end of the Civil War, there’s no slavery. You can’t deny that. So, yeah, you have to put that on one side of the ledger, the end of slavery. On the other side, you have to put the human cost of the Civil War in lives: 600,000. I don’t know how many people know or learn or remember how many lives were lost in the Civil War, which was the bloodiest, most brutal, ugliest war in our history, from the point of view of dead and wounded and mutilated and blinded and crippled. Six hundred thousand dead in a country of 830 million. Think about that in relation today’s population; it’s as if we fought a civil war today, and five or six million people died in this civil war. Well, you might say, well, maybe that’s worth it, to end slavery. Maybe. Well, OK, I won’t argue that. Maybe. But at least you know what the cost is.

The Civil War didn’t meaningfully free them anyway:

But you also have to think, the slaves were freed, and what happened after that? Were they really freed? Well, they were, actually — there was no more slavery — but the slaves, who had been given promises — you know, forty acres and a mule — they were promised, you know, a little land and some wherewithal so they could be independent, so they needn’t be slaves anymore. Well, they weren’t given anything. They were left without resources. And the result was they were still in the thrall, still under the control of the plantation owner. They were free, but they were not free. There have been a number of studies made of that, you know, in the last decade. Free, but not free. They were not slaves now. They were serfs. They were like serfs on a feudal estate.

And it wasn’t about slavery anyway:

After all, when the war started, it wasn’t Lincoln’s intention to free the slaves. You know that. That was not his purpose in fighting the war. His purpose in fighting the war was to keep Southern territory within the grasp of the central government. You could almost say it was an imperial aim. It was a terrible thing to say, I know. But yeah, I mean, that’s what the war was fought for. Oh, it’s put in a nice way. We say we fought for the Union. You know, we don’t want anybody to secede. Yeah. Why no? What if they want to secede? We’re not going to let them secede. No, we want all that territory.

No, Lincoln’s objective was not to free the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation came. And by the way, it didn’t free slaves where they were enslaved.

And if we’d just waited, the problem probably would have gone away:

So, the Civil War and its aftermath, you know, have to be looked at in a longer perspective. And yes, the question needs to be asked also: yeah, is it possible if slavery could have been ended without 600,000 dead? We don’t know for sure. And when I mention these possibilities, you know, it’s very hard to imagine how it might have ended, except that we do know that slavery was ended in every other country in the western hemisphere. Slavery was ended in all these others places in the western hemisphere without a bloody civil war.

Zinn is trying to build the case against war in general, and so the arguments he finds most readily to hand are the arguments of defenders of secession. Ironically, this means that he uses exactly the same neo-confederate arguments which Coates and his readers (mostly progressive and strongly influenced by the school of historians such of James M. McPherson who did the research to show that the Civil War was the ultimate civil rights issue) have spent so much time and research rebutting.

There was a certain wistfulness I sensed in Coates and some of his commenters at finding someone some of them had seen as an icon, someone who in many cases was the first one to present a version of history which complicated the simple narrative they’d heard in school, at finding that Zinn had swallowed such a clearly problematic set of justifications in order to drive his overall pacifist historical agenda. I think this underlines one of the huge, huge dangers in ideologically driven history, whether that ideology is left or right, religious or secular. Often such writers do dig up “inconvenient facts” which serve to counter the prevailing narrative. (I remember having similar “aha!” moments reading Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, a book which ultimately I found frustrating because of a similar, though less extreme, willingness to settle for simplistic answers that fit with ideological preferences.) But when writers come to history already knowing what happened and just needing to find the facts to support it — which I think is quite clearly what Zinn was doing in this case — they end up doing their readers a huge disservice even if they do achieve some consciousness raising in the near term, because at some point, if they really do create a fascination with the past in their readers, those readers will hit the realization of betrayal.

44 Responses to Howard Zinn, Neo-Confederate

  • Art Deco says:

    In the interests of precision:

    1. Howard Zinn is peddling nothing. He is dead.

    2. He was not a pacifist. He was as a young man a vigorous member of the Communist Party, later taking on the protective coloration of the remnant of the American Labor Party in New York. He never broke faith with that. The wars he did not care for were the ones fought by this country.

    3. He was not a Civil War scholar. His original research was in early 20th century American history. His dissertation (a biography of Fiorello LaGuardia) was published; after 1959, he was the author of or contributor to two or three minor histories of the labor movement. Beyond that, all of his work as a professor was devoted to the production of commentaries on topical matters and the many editions of his teaching text.

  • “I remember having similar “aha!” moments reading Paul Johnson’s Modern Times,”

    Paul Johnson in his book on American history wrote that it was the Texas Rangers and not the Army Rangers that came ashore on Utah beach, and in the Civil War section he kept confusing Albert Sydney Johnston and Joe Johnston. I had thought highly of him as a historian until he wrote about subject matter that I knew quite a bit about.

  • Thanks Art.

    I did know he was dead, though I tend to refer to all authors as if they’re active when talking about their work. Sloppy writing, but otherwise I’d have to admit a lot of the people I spend my time with are dead.

    I’d known he had communist attachments, but I hadn’t realized he’d held onto the warlike aspects of the system throughout his career. I guess this was partly a bad assumption on my part (his work having always been recommended to me to explain “the real nature” of various wars by pacifists) and partly based on having read various short pieces of his (plus as much as I could stand of People’s History of the United States — which was about 100 pages) in which he seemed always to be making the point that various wars only served to solidify the hold of the powerful and make things worse. But I shouldn’t have used the term “pacifist” without more to go on than that.

    I hadn’t had the impression he was much of a scholar period. People’s History is tremendously shoddy and only seems to keep trucking along through being ideologically convenient for some people. But sadly, he does seem to have outsized influence among the far left and to pass for a “historian” there.

  • Pinky says:

    Well, you know, when the ambulance pulls up, and the so-called rescuers use the jaws of life to pull you out of your damaged vehicle, what do they do next? They put you into another vehicle. They strap you onto a bed in the back of the ambulance. You may not be able to move any better there than you could in the wrecked car. You’re free, but not free.

    And a lot of rescuers die in vehicle fires, so you have to look at the loss of life. And who’s to say that you wouldn’t have made it out of the car on your own? I mean, sure, the door was crushed in, but a lot of other people get out of cars all the time. So I don’t see a reason why we should assume that the paramedics really did anything to help you.

  • WK Aiken says:

    Some points that may or may not matter:

    1. Hostilities did not commence until the Confederates in Charleston fired on Ft. Sumter, a full 4 months after South Carolina’s secession. Between Dec 1860 and Apr of 1861, 7 states had seceded, the CSA itself had been founded and a number of Federal forts had been seized peaceably. So it wasn’t the act of secession itself, or even ‘confiscation’ of property that motivated war.

    2. The economic value of chattel slavery was enough to make its threatened destruction frightening to even the lowliest Southerner. Estimates of stock value of chattel slaves in 1860 run close to CSA$3 billion; although such comparisons can’t be accurately charted (think rubles, circa 1972) the potential loss of labor capacity represented somewhere around 25-30% of the country’s GDP. This would translate into a $4-5 trillion dollar loss today.

    3. So, the impetus for war was retaliation to unprovoked hostility, and, as any good war leader can tell you, the main aim in making war is to ruin your opponent’s economy and will to fight as quickly as possible. It took a bit for Lincoln et al. to get that point, but once they hit on it, they went for the throat.

  • If Chomsky and Zinn had examined the Lord of the Rings:

    “CHOMSKY: Have you noticed that there are few consonants in any of these names? What we see—or perhaps I should say, “What we hear”—is a kind of linguistic hierarchy.

    ZINN: Between that of an Orcish name such as Grishnák and a Mannish name such as Eowyn, you mean?

    CHOMSKY: Eowyn is hardly a name at all—it’s just a series of dipthongs. When the Elves or wizards or their deluded human pawns have consonants in their names at all, they’re mostly alveolar approximants or labiodental fricatives. Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas.

    ZINN: Whereas the Orcs—

    CHOMSKY: They get saddled with clotted sequences of nasals, velar plosives, and occasional palato-alveolar affricates. It’s quite extraordinary. The abstract vowels in the overlords’ names are clearly being valued at the expense of the more earthly consonants.

    ZINN: Another case of Elves and wizards not wanting to get their hands dirty.

    CHOMSKY: Or their tongues. I mean, could you imagine an Orc being named, say, Lewahoo or Horaiowen? It would be unheard of.”

  • Darwin says:

    WK Aiken,

    1. True, it’s clearly the firing on Fort Sumter that was the actual inciting incident for the war — and a rather blithe one on the part of Southern fire eaters. That four month spacing, however, was also related to the power vacuum that reigned from the election till Lincoln’s inauguration. The firing on Fort Sumter was only a month after Lincoln actually became president.

    2. Indeed, the huge economic value of slavery at the time is something I think people don’t understand nearly well enough. Not only was the dollar value of slaves huge at the time, but it dwarfed any other type of capital asset in the US (the US being so much poorer at the time). So for comparison, while the value of all slaves in the US in 1860 was $3Billion, the total capital value of all US railroads at the time was only $1Billion. This underscores why the Southern states with the highest slave populations jumped the gun and seceded so quickly, even though Lincoln was far from being a radical abolitionist. They simply had so much too hold on to.

    3. Yes, striking at the Southern economy was definitely one aim of the Emancipation Proclamation, but in acknowledging that it’s important to also keep in mind that Lincoln had been against slavery (that was, after all, why his election sparked secession) for a long time, and the war was already being seen increasingly as being “against slavery”. As it would continue to be throughout the war. By the end, Blacks make up 10% of the Union army.

    Donald,

    Now you can’t quote that snippet without providing a link to the glorious whole. I’ve seldom laughed so hard:

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/unused-audio-commentary-by-howard-zinn-and-noam-chomsky-recorded-summer-2002-for-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-platinum-series-extended-edition-dvd-part-one

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/unused-audio-commentary-by-howard-zinn-amp-noam-chomsky-recorded-summer-2002-for-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-platinum-series-extended-edition-dvd-part-two

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/part-three

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/part-four

  • T. Shaw says:

    Mike:

    I think medieval serfs, on a feudal estate, had it better than taxpayers in America in 2012. Serfs were not born owing $48,000 each. And, they gave the lord a smaller percentage of their harvests than does Buffett’s secretary.

    And, I thank God I am not an intellectual.

  • “Now you can’t quote that snippet without providing a link to the glorious whole. I’ve seldom laughed so hard:”

    That was parsimonious of me Darwin! It is twice as funny when one recalls that Chomsky is a humorless ideologue and Zinn’s idea of a laugh was: “And then the conservative fascist opressor of the people choked to death!”

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “I think medieval serfs, on a feudal estate, had it better than taxpayers in America in 2012.”

    “Plus they had a lot more time off with all the holydays and feasts.”

    Yeah, other than the constant threat of famine, plague, marauding invaders, and maternal/infant/child mortality, they had it pretty good, if they actually lived to adulthood, that is.

  • tom says:

    A modest proposition: one does not have to celebrate the institution of slavery or defend it in the slightest in order to support the proposition that the states have the right to secede under the constitution; that the Civil War was in fact an unconstitutional war of agression by the North, and that its result was a severe blow to Federalism as envisoned by the Founders.

    The two ideas–non-support of slavery and support for the principle of secession and Federalism– are not logically inconsistent. The attempt to conflate support for secession with support for the institution of slavery is nothing but cheap ad hominem.

    The demise of slavery was the good outcome of a bad (and yes, uneccessary) enterprise. Does that position make one a dreaded “Neo-Confederate?” My, my, my, I hope not.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    one does not have to celebrate the institution of slavery or defend it in the slightest in order to support the proposition that the states have the right to secede under the constitution; that the Civil War was in fact an unconstitutional war of agression by the North,

    No, you’d just simply be wrong.

    and that its result was a severe blow to Federalism as envisoned by the Founders.

    Including, evidently, founding fathers such as James Madison who very clearly said secession was unconstitutional.

    The attempt to conflate support for secession with support for the institution of slavery is nothing but cheap ad hominem.

    I’m not sure you are quite familiar with what the expression “ad hominem” means, at least based on the context in which you are using it here. The over-arching divide in America at the time of the Civil War was the issue of slavery. Now, neo-Confedrates may wax poetic about states rights, but make no mistake about it, what they were defending was the right of states to continue the legal protection of slavery.

  • bearing says:

    “what they were defending was the right of states to continue the legal protection of slavery.”

    Not just that, but they were attacking the right of free states to set their own rules. Cf. the Fugitive Slave Act.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “Neo-Confederates may wax poetic about states rights, but make no mistake about it, what they were defending was the right of states to continue the legal protection of slavery.”

    I agree that’s what defenders of “states’ rights” in the 1850s were doing, the same way defenders of “reproductive rights” today are, 99.9 percent of the time, defending abortion. But one could interpret “reproductive rights” in a broader sense to include, for example, the right of women in China to have more than one child, or the right not to be sterilized or forced to use contraception against one’s will or moral convictions.

    Likewise, one could TODAY interpret “states’ rights” in a broader sense to mean that the federal government shouldn’t be trumping state or local authority as much as it does today. It doesn’t necessarily HAVE to include the right to secede. However, as Paul points out, the term “states’ rights” has become so closely associated with slavery, secession and racial segregation that it’s practically impossible to use it today and be taken seriously.

  • tom says:

    It’s simply a flat out lie that southern states seceded over slavery. Some, like SC and other deep south states did. Virginia emphatically did not secede because of slavery. She actually voted against secession UNTIL Lincoln made it clear that he intended to impress soldiers from Virginia to wage a war of invasion against the deep south. Virginia seceded on the principle that she would not be a party to the President’s unconstitutional decision to raise armies and invade states.

    As to the constitutionality of secession, Paul, it can be argued endlessly, and my point was a narrow one, that arguing for secession does not imply support of slavery; but in response to your assertion that I’m wrong, I must state in reply, “no, you are wrong.” ;-)

  • Darwin says:

    Tom,

    Your first two sentences appear to contradict. As you admit in the second, clearly the states of the deep south that seceded first did so utterly and clearly because of slavery. Here, for instance, are the first two paragraphs of Mississippi’s declaration of secession:

    In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. [emphasis added]

    At most, it sounds like you’re trying to get some distance for the second round of secessions, including Virginia, by claiming that they weren’t motivated by slavery but were instead willing to fight a war over the principles that states should be able to secede whenever they want. (Which is odd, because the Confederate States that they put together did not, in fact, end up protecting the rights of it’s constituent states to secede.) However, even Virginia started off their declaration of secession:

    AN ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution

    The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States

    So clearly protection of slavery as an institution is a major concern for them.

    The constitution which the CSA wrote was pretty close to being a xerox of the US constitution, with one of the few changes being the permanent enshrinement of slavery in the constitution. It does not specifically enshrine a right for states to secede, which if that was the real cause of secession seems like a really odd omission. It does however remove the right of any state to ban slavery within its borders. So much for states rights…

  • Virginia Secession was in defense of slavery Tom, as the Virginia Ordinance of Secession indicates:

    “The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States:”

    Of course in the vote on secession, most of non-slaveholding western Virginia voted against it:

    http://www.newrivernotes.com/va/vasecesh.htm

    At the time, everyone knew what the war was all about. It is only in hindsight that what was clearly a war in defense of slavery by the Confederacy is argued to be something else.

  • “It does not specifically enshrine a right for states to secede, which if that was the real cause of secession seems like a really odd omission.”

    South Carolina delegates wanted such a right to be inserted in the Confederate Constitution. They were voted down. Instead this provision is in the Confederate Constitution:

    “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government,”

    As far as the Confederacy was concerned, it was to be permanent.

  • tom says:

    I’m sorry, guys, but the simple fact remains: no threat of northern invasion and Virginia stays in the Union. That’s just historical fact. Virginia was not prepared to secede simply on the issue of slavery. They only did so in response Lincoln’s call for armed invasion of southern states.

    Of course as a slave-holding state Virginia shared the same concerns about northern radicalism, but the fact remains: Virginia decisively rejected secession when the issue was solely preservation of slavery vs. the radical Republican regime in Washington. It was only when the people of Virginia were to suffer “injury” from threatened invasion, that secession won out.

    As to the constitutional issue, I’m amazed that conservatives otherwise knowledgeable about the constitution suddenly become blinkered when this issue is discussed: the federal government is one of limited, delegated powers. Any power NOT expressly given the federal government is retained by the states. Since there is NO express power given to the federal government to maintain the union by force against the wishes of a state or states, the federal government does not have that power of coercion.

    It is backwards to argue that since there is no express grant of a right of secession that the states therefore have no such right. The correct constitutional view is that since the federal government is given no authority to bind the states to the Union, that power does not exist, and the states retain the right to separate.

  • “no threat of northern invasion and Virginia stays in the Union.”

    There was no invasion Tom, it was all one country. Virginia was content, temporarily I am sure, to stay in the old Union so long as the United States did not lift a finger to keep the nation one. That provisional commitment to the Union was completely worthless, as noted by unionists at the time in western Virginia.

    “Any power NOT expressly given the federal government is retained by the states.”

    Yes, Tom, and in order for them to retain a right to secede from the Union, you have to first establish that right. I think it is impossible to do so for the original 13 states, which became states courtesy of the Second Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence, having no separate existence as states, as opposed to colonies subject to the British Crown, outside of the Union. The Union is older than the Constitution and the Constitution clearly grants no new-fangled right to the states to secede from the pre-existing Union. As for the other states, except for Vermont and Texas, they were all created by the Federal government. How could the Federal government create entities that had an inherent right of secession from it?

  • Darwin says:

    Also, frankly, I just can’t see the “it was all about the right to secede” argument passing the laugh test. Are we really to believe that Virginia did not think it was worth fighting a war to protect slavery, but did think it was worth fighting a war to protect the right of other states to secede in order to protect slavery? For real? That would have to be the most destruction a state ever let itself in for in order to stand up for an abstract principle being applied in a way it disagreed with. If a Human Life Amendment passed and California seceded in protest, would you argue that Texas should secede as well in protest over California not being allowed to proceed? And then form a union with California with a constitution specifically guaranteeing the right to abortion on demand? Seriously?

    Besides, one of the explicitly listed power of the US Government is:

    “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union,
    suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”

    What Lincoln did is call for the raising of troops after a US fort had been unilaterally fired upon by insurrectionists.

  • tom says:

    No, again, you have it exactly backwards, on two counts. First, as a government of only enumerated powers</i, the burden is on the proponent of forced, cumpulsory union to point to the authority for such a thing in the text of the Constitutioin. Second, as to the origin of government in America, the original thirteen colonies became, according the Declaration, “free and independent states.” They pre-existed the federal government, created it by entering into a voluntary union, and therefore retained the primordial right to exit from the union (the same Declaration which itself recognized the right of the people to alter or abolish the government when it became despotic, by the way)

    Of note is how the people of Virginia, for example, framed the issue when they ratified the Constitution:

    We the Delegates of the People of Virginia duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly and now met in Convention having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us to decide thereon Do in the name and in 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 not granted thereby remains with them and at their will.


    Notably, the committee of five that wrote this ratification was Edmund Randolph, George Nicholas, James Madison, John Marshall, and Francis Corbin — all of them Federalists and Madison and Randolph, of course, members of the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787.

    Presumably, the smart men who wrote the constitution could have easily stated “this is a perpetual union” or “no state may withdraw from this union.” They didn’t, so absent that express grant of perpetuity or power to compel union, such a power does not exist.

    That the north succeeded by bloody compulsion in enforcing an unwanted “union” does not disprove anything stated here.

  • “First, as a government of only enumerated powers, the burden is on the proponent of forced, compulsory union to point to the authority for such a thing in the text of the Constitution.”

    No, Tom, the burden is on the proponents of secession to show that the power existed to be retained by the states, especially states created purely by the fiat of the Federal government. One would think that if such a power existed, the Founding Fathers would have mentioned it. James Madison of course, the Father of the Constitution, held that no such power existed.

    “Second, as to the origin of government in America, the original thirteen colonies became, according the Declaration, “free and independent states.”

    You have to read the whole paragraph Tom:

    “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That 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 connection 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, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

    The indepence of the colonies was undertaken solely in the context of the creation of a new nation, the United States of America. The Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War was between Great Britain and the United States of America, not between Great Britain and each of the 13 states.

    “Presumably, the smart men who wrote the constitution could have easily stated “this is a perpetual union” or “no state may withdraw from this union.” ”

    Already done Tom. Just as the Constitution did not rename the country which the Declaration had already named, it was not necessary for the Constitution to state that the Union was perpetual, as the Articles of Confederation had already noted that.

  • tom says:

    Don, you conveniently ignore the ratification statement of Virginia, which serves as an example of the obvious fact that the thirteen colonies had, as an original matter, gather to form a federal government. If they had chosen not to, they would have continued on under the loose Articles of Confederation. No power forced them to sit down and decide on the Constitution, they came to the table as equal parties. If not, then why would each state have to bother ratifying the thing?

    No, the states went into the Constitutional convention free and equal; they were not “created” by any central force before their voluntary union, which arose out of their unique and individual character as separate colonies.

    Tellingly, when the delegates got together to draft a new Constitution they omitted</i the phrase “perpetual union” which appeared in the Articles of Confederation. As to the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the Constitution and was the governing document of the united colonies, it expressly stated:

    Article II. 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.

    No, the states were independent entities, then entered into the Articles of Confederation, which expressly referenced the retention of sovereignty.

    In drafting the Constitution, then, the states came to the table with that sovereignty intact, and as the Virginia adoption resolution states, they maintained that sovereignty, having ceded to the new federal government only those expressly enumerated powers mentioned, and specifically retaining all else.

    Civics 101– the states were independent and created the federal power, not the reverse. Or more specifically, the original 13 states, since after-admitted states stood in a different posture vis-a-vis the federal government.

  • Darwin says:

    Tom,

    I hate to be playing the annoying game of repeating the questions people don’t want to answer, but again:

    What exactly do you call a full out artillery attack against a United States fort if not an “insurrection” or “invasion”?

    And again: If a Human Life Amendment passed and California seceded in protest, would you argue that Texas should secede as well in protest over California not being allowed to proceed? And then form a union with California with a constitution specifically guaranteeing the right to abortion on demand? Seriously?

  • Darwin says:

    No power forced them to sit down and decide on the Constitution, they came to the table as equal parties.

    Arguably, the force that caused them to sit down and decide on the constitution was that they knew that the colonies were incapable of surviving on their own, and that the original Articles of Confederation has been unsustainably weak. Without a strong union, the country and its constituent parts were unable to thrive.

  • tom says:

    Darwin, there were obviously reasons that the states felt it was in their interest to cede some of the powers for the purposes of effective joint action. Don however, denied that the states had any existence before being created by some form of federal power. Clearly, they were sovereign before the Constitution and did not surrender that sovereignty except as specifically noted in the text of the Constitution.

    As it turned out, the union was not strong after all. Eleven states wanted to withdraw and peaceably go their way. Lincoln and the radical Republicans stifled their desire for independence, and forcibly compelled them to remain in the Union. Not much of a “glorious union” when it has to be maintained by bloody invasion and loss of 600,000 lives.

    Don: we’re talking theory. Understanding the origins of the Constitution and the aboriginal sovereignty of the states helps us to understand how federalism ought to look. There have historically been extremely few issues impelling states to consider withdrawal from the union. The southern states were not the only ones to consider the notion!

    I prefer to look at it this way: If Roe were overturned and half the states retained abortion law, and half did not, would our moral objection to abortion (a much greater evil than slavery) justify armed invasion of the other states in order to enforce our (admittedly superior) moral judgment on them? Clearly not. And slavery, however evil it was, did not justify armed invasion of slave-holding states.

    And if California, in your example, wanted to go, I’d say “adieu.” It’s subsidiarity at it’s best, to allow people to chart their own course, at the most local level possible, and not to have them bound to one overarching federal authority. But it’s highly unlikely, as demonstrated by our history, that even highly contentious issues would impel a state to throw away the benefits of union for the sake of that one solitary issue.

  • tom says:

    And of course, no state now would dare attempt secession when the precedent has been set that the result is going to be a federal army killing your people, burning your property, and forcing your local government to conform to the dictates of the conqueror.

    So to that extent, the issue of secession has been settled. But by main force, not by force of argument or right.

  • Darwin says:

    And if California, in your example, wanted to go, I’d say “adieu.” It’s subsidiarity at it’s best, to allow people to chart their own course, at the most local level possible, and not to have them bound to one overarching federal authority.

    But that’s the thing. Virginia, by your account, didn’t just say, “adieu” to the Deep South. By your account even though Virginia was not willing to fight to retain slavery, they were so incredibly enthusiastic over the idea of the right of states to secede that they decided to secede on their own and fight a war in order to protect that right. I find that impossible to credit.

    there were obviously reasons that the states felt it was in their interest to cede some of the powers for the purposes of effective joint action. Don however, denied that the states had any existence before being created by some form of federal power. Clearly, they were sovereign before the Constitution and did not surrender that sovereignty except as specifically noted in the text of the Constitution.

    Well, at that point, what’s so special about just the states? They also had not existed since time immemorial. Why not simply have any group or person who doesn’t like any decision “secede” until we reach a point of virtual anarchy?

    We don’t do that because we know that when we ignore or break the law at some point a guy with a gun and flashing lights on his car will fine us or take us to jail. And at root, that’s how nations work as well. Nations exist by virtue of the fact that if they are invaded or if parts of them rebel, their rulers will use their monopoly on legal force to defend the existence and order of the nation. (That’s why we had to fight a revolutionary war in order to get our independence in the first place.)

    That’s why I do not see the 600,000 lives it took to preserve the union and end slavery as any less glorious than the 400,000 US lives it took to win World War II. In both cases the United States defended itself against attack — the one internal, the other external.

  • tom says:

    Uh, no…. Virginia did not fight for a vague right to secede; they did not WANT to secede… what Virginia wanted was for the feds to allow the deep south to secede and leave the states alone. They would have stayed in the Union but for Lincoln’s demanding them to raise troops for an impending invasion of those states, that would take place by traversing Virginia’s territory. THAT is what tipped the scales and led Virginia into secession.

    Well, Darwin, you might think “what’s the big deal about states” and that slavery abolition was “worth it.”

    But we were supposed to be a nation of laws, and governed by those laws. If what Lincoln did was in violation of those laws, we should honestly acknowledge that While we can celebrate the good consequence of emancipation, we ought at the same time to take pause at the serious erosion of federalism as envisioned by our Founders which resulted from Lincoln’s war. After all, the diminution of our federalist system has not been working out too well for the last hundred years or so.

    Oh, and we do owe a duty to the truth, even if the approved government version of events does not correspond with it.

  • But we were supposed to be a nation of laws, and governed by those laws. If what Lincoln did was in violation of those laws, we should honestly acknowledge that While we can celebrate the good consequence of emancipation, we ought at the same time to take pause at the serious erosion of federalism as envisioned by our Founders which resulted from Lincoln’s war.

    Well, but that’s the thing: I see no legal basis for this claim that a state (or any other part of a nation) should have the right to walk away whenever it feels the desire to. All I’m seeing in support of it is the vague claim that membership in a nation should somehow not be binding, which seems to me contrary to the very existence of a nation. And on the contra side is not only the force of history and the actions of the founders, but the very mode for approving the Constitution which the Constitutional Convention wrote, which did not require the consent of all the states in order to impose the constitution on the whole of the union.

    I guess the farthest I would go towards your position would be: To the extent that there was any illusion in anyone’s mind that there was a right of states to secede, I believe that one of the good effects of the Civil War was that this illusion was permanently disabused, because I think such a right would only be destructive to a nation.

    But really, having read a fair amount of Civil War history including primary sources, I just don’t think the war was over secession. Secession was just the means. The war was about slavery and everyone knew it. The other rationale has only come to prominence in a “the losers write history” sense — as people who don’t like the fact that the south as a region and as a culture was defeated search for a more attractive rationale than slavery to excuse the fact that the South chose to rebel on probability that they would see their slaveholder “rights” diminished.

  • Of course the deep South did not secede because Lincoln violated any laws, especially since the first wave of secession occurred before he even took office. It took place simply to defend slavery from a phantom menace. Lincoln and his Republicans lacked the votes in Congress to enact any anti-slavery legislation as long as the Southern Senators remained in Congress. Once secession occurred Lincoln had all the legal authority he needed to supress the rebellion under the terms of the Insurrection Act of 1807:

    Ҥ 332. Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority

    Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.”

  • T. Shaw says:

    Mac,

    Was that also the year the Embargo and Alien and Sedition Acts passed?

    Was there was a difference between the economy of the north and the economy of the South?

    Obama’s job killing policies are destroying the evil, racist American private sector. Lincoln’s election was perceived to mean be the end for the evil, racist (depended on slave labor) Southern economy.

  • The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in 1798 T.Shaw by Federalist dominated Congress. The Sedition Act ended by its own terms the day before Jefferson became president. The Republicans benefited greatly by the hostility generated by these acts towards the Federalists.

    The Embargo Act passed in 1807 was Jefferson’s way of trying to avoid war with England. It was immensely unpopular and ended in 1809.

    In regard to Lincoln he had pledged during the campaign not to interfere with slavery in the Southern states. More to the point he lacked the power to do so, until the powers that be in the South decided to start a war to protect their precious right to hold other human beings as slaves, and withdrew their representatives and senators from the Congress, thereby placing the Republicans in complete control of Congress. Never have a braver people been led with more consumate folly than were Southerners in 1860-1865.

  • Tom says:

    Well, we’re back to slavery was evil, so the war was good.

    No one in this discussion has laid a glove on the point that the states, sovereign from the beginning, retained their sovereignty but for the express grant to the federal government in the constitution. States thus retained, because the power was never ceded, the right to withdraw from the union.

    That you don’t like WHY they did it is utterly irrelevant. Sadly, the sanctimonious north has succeeded over the years in framing the issue as a fight over slavery. It was decidedly not. It was a fight over who had the right to organize their societies: states or the national government. The national government won out, with consequences we sadly live with today.
    The civil war truly began the transformation of our country from one of limited national authority to ultimately, today, virtually unlimited national authority. That, with the added evil of the Yankee doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” has wreaked havoc on small government, local rule, and individual liberty.

  • “No one in this discussion has laid a glove on the point that the states, sovereign from the beginning, retained their sovereignty but for the express grant to the federal government in the constitution. States thus retained, because the power was never ceded, the right to withdraw from the union.”

    No Tom, you haven’t even begun to establish that the states possessed such a power to begin with for them to retain. I am certainly curious to hear your explanation how states created by the Federal government under the Constitution could have an inherent power which they retained to secede from the government that created them.

    “That you don’t like WHY they did it is utterly irrelevant”

    Rubbish. Secession occurred because the powers that be in the South wanted to protect the right of rich whites to own blacks. Yeah, that is a superb reason to attempt to destroy the Union, and start a war that killed 640,000 Americans. It was an idiotic, tragic blunder and many innocents paid for their lives because of the blind selfishness of the political leadership of the South. What is also tragic is that the old political leadership largely got back in the saddle shortly after the War and, with a very few honorable exceptions, continued to treat black Americans as helots in their own land for the next eighty years.

    Your comment about Manifest Destiny being a Yankee doctrine Tom is truly hilarious. It was the slave-owning South that was most in favor of expansionism, from the annexation of Texas forward. It was the dream of the South to seize Cuba and northern Mexico, and if the Confederacy had achieved its independence I have little doubt that they would have conquered these areas.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    That, with the added evil of the Yankee doctrine of “Manifest Destiny”

    Other historical evils of the same kind:

    The Jewish doctrine of lebenrsaum.

    The Catholic doctrine of re-incarnation.

    The neoconservative doctrine of isolationism.

    The Burkean doctrine of the compact theory of government.

    If what Lincoln did was in violation of those laws, we should honestly acknowledge that While we can celebrate the good consequence of emancipation, we ought at the same time to take pause at the serious erosion of federalism as envisioned by our Founders which resulted from Lincoln’s war

    Federal spending as a percentage of GDP basically stayed at the same level for 50 years following the Civil War. Until the beginning of World War I, it never even approached double digits. The erosion of federalism did not take place until the Great Depression and the New Deal.

    Also, you have failed (like most confederate apologists) to provide a detailed list of a “long train of abuses” carried out by the Lincoln administration to justify secession. You can’t, because 7 of the 11 confederate states seceded before Lincoln took office. So they rebelled against a theoretical usurpation of liberty that never actually took place. In fact, had the states not seceded Lincoln would not have been able to emancipate the slaves absent a sudden conversion of a large number of slave-holding states.

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