Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Conservatives and President Obama

Long time no post, but I've been musing on something lately. Writing helps me order my thoughts, and as long as I'm writing on this topic, it might as well go on the ol' blog. This is much in the same vein as my post on conservative opposition to John McCain four years ago.

I've noticed something about the Obama administration since 2009. Republicans in general tend to hate the man (see my point on party loyalty being the ultimate factor in the post on McCain), of course, but at least the neoconservative wing of the party, marginalized as it is presently, really shouldn't.

Why? They (we, I would have said a few years ago, though I've changed ever so slightly since) are basically getting what they want out of him. Osama bin Laden is dead at the hands of the American military, the Iraq war is being honorably ended according to the schedule President Bush agreed to with the Iraqis without a precipitous withdrawal, the Afghanistan campaign has been robustly supported (more so than it was under Bush, I might add) with substantial measurable progress, the United States is standing up to Iranian threats regarding the Strait of Hormuz and its nuclear program, democracy is indeed sweeping across the Middle East, and American and NATO assistance has helped to overthrow one of the most noxious dictators of Northern Africa in the person of Muammar Gaddafi without having to put a single boot on the ground. In short, the neoconservative position, that American power should be used in furtherance of liberty throughout the world, is being more or less obliged by this President, and good on him for that. (As I said, slightly.) Since neoconservative philosophy properly referred to is a foreign policy philosophy, without regard to domestic issues, this should be making that part of the Republican establishment essentially headed by Dick Cheney and the (now largely defunct) Project for the New American Century extremely happy; I daresay that Obama has been more effective at implementing their policies than Bush, who it must be said did a deeply flawed if enthusiastic job of it.

It won't, though, because Obama is a Democrat. Party loyalty, you see. This is why I've been a lifelong independent; I don't have to feel obligated to anybody's tribe over the issues. But that's another rant.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Origins and Causes of the U.S. Civil War

Despite the fact that it has been over for 143 years, the American Civil War's causes, the motives behind the secession of the Deep South, and even the legality of secession itself are still matters of hot debate in historical circles. There has been so much historical revisionism on the subject (on both sides, no less), that it has become difficult to get a clear account of the reasons behind it, although the facts of the actual events are widely available.

In this post, I'm going to lay out the facts as I see them. I freely admit to being a Unionist and ardent anti-Confederate, but feel that these are positions borne out by the objective facts of the matter rather than damaging biases. Make of that what you will.

First, the motives behind secession.

Too often, you will see apologists for the Confederacy claiming that the South did what it did because they saw that Abraham Lincoln was a despotic tyrant in the making, that he would subjugate the rights of the people and crush the states beneath the boot of the federal government. "Lincoln the Tyrant" is a popular trope, spurred onward by the usual grain of truth that gives such things their lasting appeal: Abraham Lincoln did, as President, suspend habeas corpus, raise an army without the consent of Congress, and, yes, ordered the forfeit of property on the part of Confederates (i.e. freed the slaves, though it's not often put like that in a criticism for obvious reasons). You see this repeated over and over in neo-Confederate and anarchocapitalist circles; for instance, a look through the titles of Thomas DiLorenzo's essays shows an obsession with writing extensive character attacks on President Lincoln, and while probably the most prolific, he's not the only one.

There are obvious problems with this approach, however. The most glaring is that none of the things that Lincoln did that earn so much scorn could have been done outside the context of the Civil War. In other words, far from predicting Lincoln's behavior and seceding to avoid it, the southern states were the catalyst for his behavior! After all, had there been no insurrection, there would have been no need to arrest insurrectionists, raise an army to suppress the insurrection, and emancipate the slaves in Confederate-held territory as a war measure. (More on the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation later.)

The other problem, of course, is that there is no shortage of primary source documents from the Confederate governments themselves stating exactly why they seceded. These documents are occasionally selectively quoted, but not often, since the discerning Confederate apologist realizes that quoting from one invites the reader to find the rest of the declaration, which utterly destroys the secession-as-proof-of-tyranny argument.

Common quotations used to argue that secession was prompted by northern tyranny and aggression are:

By the disloyalty of the Northern States and their citizens and the imbecility of the Federal Government, infamous combinations of incendiaries and outlaws have been permitted in those States and the common territory of Kansas to trample upon the federal laws, to war upon the lives and property of Southern citizens in that territory, and finally, by violence and mob law, to usurp the possession of the same as exclusively the property of the Northern States.

The Federal Government, while but partially under the control of these our unnatural and sectional enemies, has for years almost entirely failed to protect the lives and property of the people of Texas against the Indian savages on our border, and more recently against the murderous forays of banditti from the neighboring territory of Mexico; and when our State government has expended large amounts for such purpose, the Federal Government has refuse reimbursement therefor, thus rendering our condition more insecure and harassing than it was during the existence of the Republic of Texas.

These and other wrongs we have patiently borne in the vain hope that a returning sense of justice and humanity would induce a different course of administration.

Well, here we have Texas accusing the federal government of incompetence and dereliction of duty in defending its territory. Seems a reasonable complaint, doesn't it? After all, if the federal government were truly remiss in its duties in defending its territory, then Texas, having once been a sovereign republic itself and having agreed to become one of the United States presumably with the assumption that it would be defended, might actually have legitimate cause to question continuing as part of the Union.

However, a summary reading of the full text quickly shows that the "property" referenced in the first paragraph was, in fact, slaves, and that the bulk of the document is dedicated to railing against abolitionist sentiment.

South Carolina also chimes in, with this gem.

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

A noble sentiment; after all, if several parties to an agreement are flouting that agreement with abandon, why continue it?

Of course, the statutes referred to all involved the treatment of escaped slaves.

And most egregiously, Mississippi:

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity.

So, assuredly they saw Lincoln's tyranny coming, with a statement such as that, right?


At least not the "tyranny" so often complained about in the modern day. Here's what it is they saw: Quote:
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.


And just to give the "escaping tyranny" falsehood its death-blow, here is an excerpt from an address given by Alexander Stephens, member of Georgia's secession convention (where he argued against seceding on the grounds that the Union would militarily crush the South) and vice president of the Confederate States of America:

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other-though last, not least: the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions-African slavery as it exists among us-the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly used against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it-when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."

From the Cornerstone Address. And to expand further on it, the following is from a post-war passage in Stephens' memoirs:

Slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession; out of it rose the breach of compact, for instance, on the part of several Northern States in refusing to comply with Constitutional obligations as to rendition of fugitives from service, a course betraying total disregard for all constitutional barriers and guarantees.

So, I should think that this lays to rest claims that the southern states were benevolently attempting to avoid general oppression; they rather acted in order to keep a large segment of their own populations oppressed.

Ah, but regardless of their reasons, moral or immoral, it was the right of the states to end the compact of the Constitution, cries out the Libertarian circle! It was never the intention of the Founders to forever bind the states against their wills, and they intentionally left the door open to secession by not explicitly banning it in the Constitution! Lincoln's actions, therefore, forever and improperly removed a natural right of the states, a safeguard against future tyranny.

Well, no. Let's look at the intentions of the Founders. Secession did indeed occur to them; after all, many were still alive during the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s. There are therefore many writings from several Founding Fathers to draw from. At random, let's start with James Madison. From this letter to William Rives.

The milliners it appears, endeavor to shelter themselves under a distinction between a delegation and a surrender of powers. But if the powers be attributes of sovereignty & nationality & the grant of them be perpetual, as is necessarily implied, where not otherwise expressed, sovereignty & nationality according to the extent of the grant are effectually transferred by it, and a dispute about the name, is but a battle of words. The practical result is not indeed left to argument or inference. The words of the Constitution are explicit that the Constitution & laws of the U. S. shall be supreme over the Constitution & laws of the several States, supreme in their exposition and execution as well as in their authority. Without a supremacy in those respects it would be like a scabbard in the hand of a soldier without a sword in it. The imagination itself is startled at the idea of twenty four independent expounders of a rule that cannot exist, but in a meaning and operation, the same for all.

The conduct of S. Carolina has called forth not only the question of nullification, but the more formidable one of secession. It is asked whether a State by resuming the sovereign form in which it entered the Union, may not of right withdraw from it at will. As this is a simple question whether a State, more than an individual, has a right to violate its engagements, it would seem that it might be safely left to answer itself. But the countenance given to the claim shows that it cannot be so lightly dismissed. The natural feelings which laudably attach the people composing a State, to its authority and importance, are at present too much excited by the unnatural feelings, with which they have been inspired agst their brethren of other States, not to expose them, to the danger of being misled into erroneous views of the nature of the Union and the interest they have in it. One thing at least seems to be too clear to be questioned, that whilst a State remains within the Union it cannot withdraw its citizens from the operation of the Constitution & laws of the Union. In the event of an actual secession without the Consent of the Co States, the course to be pursued by these involves questions painful in the discussion of them.

Madison actually considered the idea of secession so preposterous that until it actually came up when South Carolina first threatened it he felt there was no need to even mention it, and was astonished that he should have to. He also references the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution as proof positive that the states had no such ability, something that modern neo-Confederates tend to deny. Given that he wrote the thing, I should think I trust Madison's interpretation of it.

And now for the thoughts of the man commonly referred to as the father of our country, George Washington, chairman of the Constitutional Convention and first President. This is from his Circular to the States.

There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power:

1st. An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head.

2dly. A Sacred regard to Public Justice.

3dly. The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and<

4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.

Under the first head, altho' it may not be necessary or proper for me in this place to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the Union, and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the States to delegate a larger proportion of Power to Congress, or not, Yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true Patriot, to assert without reserve, and to insist upon the following positions, That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives, they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to Anarchy and confusion, That it is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere, a Supreme Power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the Confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration. That there must be a faithful and pointed compliance on the part of every State, with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue, That whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the Sovereign Authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the Liberty and Independency of America, and the Authors of them treated accordingly, and lastly, that unless we can be enabled by the concurrence of the States, to participate of the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of Civil Society, under a form of Government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression, as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be a subject of regret, that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose, that so many sufferings have been encountered without a compensation, and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.

Ouch. That one's got to sting, especially since many neo-Confederates actually hold Washington as a hero. There was in fact a portrait of him dominating the front wall of the hall in Montgomery where the Confederate Constitution was drawn up.

Well, if Washington wouldn't support dissolving the Union, then surely Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, that man who more than any other spurred the sundering of the American colonies from British rule, who called for regular revolutions to avoid tyranny, would!

Hate to disappoint, but Jefferson wrote to George Washington in 1794:

I can scarcely contemplate a more incalculable evil than the breaking of the union into two or more parts.

And in another letter, this one addressed to a third party and talking about a discussion Jefferson had had with Washington that day:

That with respect to the existing causes of uneasiness, he thought there were suspicions against a particular party, which had been carried a great deal too far; there might be desires, but he did not believe there were designs to change the form of government into a monarchy; that there might be a few who wished it in the higher walks of life, particularly in the great cities, but that the main body of the people in the eastern States were as steadily for republicanism as in the southern. That the pieces lately published, and particularly in Freneau's paper, seemed to have in view the exciting opposition to the government. That this had taken place in Pennsylvania as to the Excise law, according to information he had received from General Hand. That they tended to produce a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of all calamities, and that whatever tended to produce anarchy, tended, of course, to produce a resort to monarchical government.

But... but... Whether they intended it or not, secession isn't disallowed in the Constitution, and the 9th and 10th amendments allow the states to do things that they aren't specifically barred from doing, one might say. And for that, we turn to the Constitution itself. You may recall Madison's letter bringing this up. United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15:

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

Insurrection and rebellion are obviously illegal; otherwise there would be no provision for suppressing it. United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

Again, if rebellion is legal, why the injunction against it? United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3:

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

Again, if you need the consent of Congress to raise an army, then it would seem that just leaving would be out; after all, if you can just leave, why bother having such a restriction? United States Constitution, Article 3, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Speaks for itself, I think. United States Constitution, Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

This one's the kicker. When taken in the context of the Supremacy Clause, we see that the states cannot violate the territorial sovereignty of the United States. Secession is such a violation. Here is that Clause, which is the one Madison referred to in his letter to Senator Rives. United States Constitution, Article 6, Clause 2:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So where is the right to secede? I'm certainly not seeing it. Incidentally, if that was such a big deal to the Confederate States, you would think they would have seen fit to include it in their own constitution. They did not. In fact, the only change they made which affects the ability of states to leave their union is the Preamble:

We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...

So much for the right of secession.

Now, none of this is to say that the North was all sweetness and light. It was not. While slavery was the proximate cause of the initial secessions, and therefore the ultimate cause of the war, freeing the slaves was not the North's motive in prosecuting the war. Rather, the North was motivated primarily to preserve the Union; while Lincoln was personally an abolitionist, he did not believe it within his power as President to free the slaves. (Ironic, since he did take several powers normally reserved for Congress - namely, suspension of habeus corpus and calling out the militia to suppress insurrection - upon himself.)

The Emancipation Proclamation was indeed a great step, but it was first and foremost a war measure. Slave states which did not secede from the Union were permitted to keep their slaves until the passage of the 13th Amendment. In fact, prior to the Proclamation, Lincoln rescinded orders by General John Frémont and General David Hunter freeing the slaves in areas of the Confederacy they had captured; he dismissed Frémont when the general refused the President's orders to reverse his decision.

It was political reality that making the war about slavery would likely have cost Lincoln the war (Ulysses S. Grant said he would resign if he thought the war's objective was to free the slaves, and the border states would likely have simply seceded themselves), but that doesn't change the fact that the Union's prosecution of the war was not to free the slaves; it just makes it more excusable.

However, what is not excusable is the South's behavior prior to and during the Civil War. The initial secessions were without doubt motivated by a desire to continue chattel slavery (secessions after Lincoln took office were motivated by an unwillingness to contribute troops to fight the South, but again, without slavery none of it would have happened), and that is what matters to the causes of the war.

I apologize if some of this essay seems incoherent; it was written in one draft in the post form. I may revise it at a later time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The War of Southern Aggression

“The War of Northern Aggression” is a popular phrase among Confederate apologists, referring to the supposed outrageous aggression shown by the Union to bring the otherwise peaceful Confederate States back under its rule. But how true is it?

I have dealt at length in previous essays about the motivations of the Slave Power and with the constitutional issues of secession itself. Here, I will concentrate on what the states of the Deep South did in the decades leading up to the Civil War and their part in bringing war upon the United States.

The Nullification Crisis and John C. Calhoun

On November 24, 1832 a so-called Nullification Convention of South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification, unilaterally declaring the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional and void within the boundaries of the state. Concurrently, Governor Robert Hayne began military preparations to resist federal enforcement, raising a volunteer minuteman army of 2,000 cavalry and 25,000 infantry. The famous Force Bill authorizing military action against South Carolina was passed by Congress in February 1833, but a compromise tariff acceptable to South Carolina was also passed at the same time, prompting the withdrawal of the Ordinance and defusing the military crisis. Although violence did not result, South Carolina's willingness to use force to resolve internal political disputes was well established.

One of Nullification's chief architects was John C. Calhoun, a leading South Carolina politician and Andrew Jackson's vice president. The split with Jackson over nullification prompted Calhoun's resignation and run for the Senate in 1832, but his long career of political blackmail against Northern interests and particularly abolitionists extended back even into his days as a loyal vice president. In 1826, when confronted with the prospect of recognition of the independence of Haiti (which had recently undergone a revolution against French colonialism led by free blacks and the island's slaves), Calhoun had dire warnings for his government. To Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard, he wrote:

It is a delicate subject, and would in the present tone of feelings to the South lead to great mischief. It is not so much recognition simply as what must follow it. We must send and receive ministers, and what would be our social relations to a Black minister in Washington? Must he be received or excluded from our dinners, our dances and our parties, and must his daughters and sons participate in the society of our daughters and sons? … Small as these considerations appear to be they involve the peace and perhaps the union of our nation.

The implicit threat achieved the hoped-for result: The United States did not recognize Haiti until 1862, with the Civil War in full swing and its agitation of the Deep South long past relevant. Nor was this the last time Calhoun would use the tactic of predicting the destruction of the Union as a result of a proposed policy to thwart its implementation. On March 4, 1850, less than a month before his death, Calhoun prepared a speech for the Senate floor which was read by Senator James Mason of Alabama, due to Calhoun's failing health leaving him unable to speak. In it, he extensively laid the blame for Southern discontent directly at the feet of the North, speaking in broad terms of the sections as wholes and warning of disunion should the North not agree to Southern demands. In his conclusion, he stated:

The North has only to will [the preservation of the Union] to accomplish it—to do justice by conceding to the South an equal right in the acquired Territory [California], and to do her duty by causing the stipulations relative to fugitive slaves to be faithfully fulfilled—to cease the agitation of the slave question, and to provide for the insertion of a provision in the Constitution, by an amendment, which will restore to the South in substance the power which she possessed in protecting herself. ... But will the North agree to do this? It is for her to answer this question. But, I will say, she cannot refuse, if she has half the love of the Union which she professes to have... At all events, the responsibility of saving the Union rests on the North, and not the South.

The speech was a rhetorical masterpiece, methodically (and intentionally) laying the North and South at odds with each other, alleging a crisis, and then laying all responsibility for solving it upon the North. Calhoun sent a copy of the speech to Henry W. Conner, accompanied by this letter:

My speech, of which a copy will be enclosed to you by the mail, which takes this, was read today in the Senate. My friends think it among my most successful efforts, & that it made a profound impression. I, trust, that our friends in Charleston will give it a wide circulation. You will see, that I have made up the issue between North & South. If we flinch we are gone; but, if we stand fast on it, we shall triumph, either by compelling the North to yield to our terms or declaring our Indepen[den]ce of them. Truly, J.C.C.

By this, if by nothing else he wrote, it is clear that Calhoun was intentionally engaging in political brinksmanship, aggressively gambling with the Union itself to achieve his political goal of spreading what he saw as the positive good of slavery. The “equal right” in California he referred to in his speech was the right to hold slaves, which he conflated with the rights of the Southern section in general as a rhetorical device; the point of contention was whether or not California should be admitted to the Union as a free state without a counterpart slave state to keep representation in the Senate equal. Far from the typical picture of a reluctant South seceding as a last resort to escape Northern oppression, Calhoun was quite willing and even eager to destroy the Union for political gain.

Threats and Violence: California, Preston Brooks, and the House (Divided)

Such tactics and sentiments were hardly unique to Calhoun, and not all those who agreed with him were so subtle. On the issue of California, Congressman Albert Brown of Mississippi said on the House floor:

The southern States ... will devise means for vindicating their rights. I do not know what these means will be, but I know what they may be ... They may be to carry slaves into all of southern California, as the property of sovereign States, and there hold them, as we have a right to do; and if molested, defend them ... We ask you to give us our rights by non-intervention; if you refuse, I am for taking them by armed occupation.

In response to Calhoun's speech, James Hammond, a fellow South Carolinian planter and slaveholder, wrote to the Senator two days later, saying:

Our only safety is in equality of power. We must divide the territories so as forever to retain that equality in the Senate at least … I would infinitely prefer disunion to any thing the least short of this … If the North will not consent to this I think we should not have another word to say, but kick them out of the Capitol & set it on fire.

Of course, California was admitted and none of these things came to pass, but not for lack of concessions to the Slave Power. As part of the compromise for the admission of California (the aptly named Compromise of 1850) the remaining former Mexican territories (Utah and New Mexico) enacted slave codes, the infamous Fugitive Slave Act was strengthened (barring free states from requiring trials for alleged escaped slaves and requiring the assistance of their law enforcement in capturing fugitives, removing much of the nothern states' right to self-government), and California even sent one pro-slavery Senator to Washington to maintain “balance” in the Senate despite such views not representing the state's population.

These tactics of threatening disunion and war if this or that policy was not acceded to by the free states continued throughout the 1850s. During the presidential race of 1856, the candidacy of Republican John C. Frémont was vehemently opposed in the South for his party's anti-slavery views, leading Senator James Mason of Virginia to write to Jefferson Davis, who would later become the president of the Confederate States and was then the Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce:

I have a letter from [Virginia Governor Henry] WISE, of the 27th, full of spirit. He says the Governments of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana, have already agreed to rendezvous at Raleigh, and others will—this in your most private ear. He says, further, that he had officially requested you to exchange with Virginia, on fair terms of difference, percussion for flint muskets. I don't know the usage or power of the Department in such cases, but if it can be done, even by liberal construction, I hope you will accede. … Virginia probably has more arms than the other Southern States, and would divide in case of need. In a letter yesterday to a Committee in South Carolina. I gave it as my judgment, in the event of FREMONT's election, the South should not pause, but proceed at once to "immediate, absolute, and eternal separation."

Senator Mason directly requested the Secretary of War to arm the southern states for war against the United States, a full four years before any actual secession, based on the possibility of a Republican president. This did not come to pass, of course, because Frémont lost the election (in no small part due to the specter of the threat of war), but even the asking is telling.

But that's child's play compared to the election of the Speaker of the House in 1859. In that year, a Republican representative from Ohio by the name of John Sherman was a candidate for the Speaker's gavel. That he was a Republican was bad enough for the delegations of the slave states, but the real rub was that Sherman had endorsed Hinton Helper's controversial (in the South) book, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It, in which Helper, a virulently racist North Carolinian, argued against slavery on the basis that it destroyed property values and otherwise retarded the economy of the South, to the detriment of non-slaveholding whites. Nevermind that Sherman had withdrawn his endorsement after learning the full extent of Helper's views, or that Helper was not a morally-motivated abolitionist; he was an abolitionist nonetheless, and no one who had ever endorsed his book would be Speaker if the Congressional delegation of South Carolina had anything to say about it.

As it happens, they had quite a bit to say, and every word scathingly treasonous, even by secessionist standards. Because they did not propose secession, peaceful or otherwise, should Sherman win the seat; rather they were prepared to initiate a bloody coup on the House floor. Representative William Porcher Miles of South Carolina was prepared to do anything to prevent Sherman's taking of the Speakership, and asked Governor William Gist of South Carolina whether the legislature there would support the Congressional delegation's plotting. In response, on December 20, 1859 (one year to the day before South Carolina's secession) Gist posted a letter to Miles. While he cautioned against rashly provoking the free states, advising that a bloodless revolution would be preferable, he placed the matter in Miles' judgment, saying:

While I advise against the ejection of Sherman if elected, I do not wish to be understood as not desiring the war to begin at Washington; but as I would prefer it should begin in sudden heat & with good provocation rather than a deliberate determination to perform an act of violence which might prejudice us in the eyes of the world. … If however, you upon consideration decide to make the issue of fire in Washington, write or telegraph me, & I will have a Regiment in or near Washington in the shortest possible time.

To be clear, this wasn't a matter of national slavery policy, or even of lasting legislation at all; the government of South Carolina was prepared to use military force to influence the internal political workings of the federal Congress over what amounted to personal dislike of the candidate for an action the candidate had since disavowed. Once again, this crisis was defused by the free state delegations acceding to Southern demands; Sherman was withdrawn from consideration as a candidate for Speaker.

Even when not threatening violence and rebellion, Calhoun's mode of threatening secession and disunion continued to be popular with slave state politicians throughout the 1850s. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, nullifying the Missouri Compromise by permitting the slavery question to be determined by popular sovereignty (and setting the stage for Bleeding Kansas, in which opposing sides attempting to gain a majority of the electorate simply by killing the other side's voters), was passed under such threats, and when popular sovereignty failed to deliver a slave state in Kansas, threats of secession were again made if the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution was not accepted as the governing document of a new state of Kansas. “If Kansas is driven out of the Union for being a slave state, can any slave state remain in it with honor?” asked Senator Hammond of South Carolina (who, readers will no doubt recall, advocated burning down the Capitol if California was not made a slave state). These threats prompted President Buchanan to urge acceptance of the Lecompton document, saying that if he did not, the slave states would “secede from the Union or take up arms against us.” In the end, the Lecompton document was rejected and sent back for a new referendum, which failed; Kansas would not become a state, slave or free, for quite some time yet, removing the immediate crisis.

But no account of 1850s slave state aggression would be complete without mentioning Preston Brooks, representative of South Carolina, and his armed assault against Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor on May 22, 1856. Senator Sumner had in the preceding days given a speech denouncing the slaughter in the Kansas territory over the slavery issue, and had scathing words for Senator Andrew Butler, a relative of Brooks. In response, Brooks, along with two companions, walked into the Senate chamber, briefly addressed Sumner, and then commenced beating him with a heavy cane, cudgeling the Senator until he broke his bolted down Senate desk from the floor, rendered Sumner unconscious, and continued beating the unfortunate Senator until he broke his cane.

The incident was instantly infamous. Brooks was roundly censured by the House, but nearly unanimously reelected by his constituents. He received new canes from all over the South, including one bearing the inscription “Use Knock-Down Arguments” and another saying “Hit Him Again.”

The Crisis Comes: 1860-61

By the close of the 1850s, the long string of Southern aggressions had long since begun to wear thin on the patience of the free states, and especially the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln, by now a candidate for President, said in an address to the Cooper Institute in New York, intended to be read by Southerners:

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

Of course, Lincoln's candidacy was successful. This was the first time anyone since Andrew Jackson who had shown any backbone in standing up to their threats had taken high office. The Deep South's secessions were swift. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all seceded before Lincoln even took office. I have extensively covered their stated reasons for doing so elsewhere, but preemptive secession (and accompanying seizure of federal property, notably forts and armories) is not a passive act, to put it mildly. On January 11, 1861, the day of Alabama's secession, Lincoln wrote to a Republican congressman who proposed an emergency compromise to forestall and reverse the secessions:

We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union.

Compromise at this stage was impossible. Lincoln saw, with more clarity than his predecessor, that the South would never cease holding threats over the heads of the free states until the question was solved. “The tug has to come, and better now than later,” he wrote in December, 1860. All that remained now was the tug itself.

That came at Fort Sumter. The fort was a federal installation, manned by federal troops, which the state of South Carolina had by statute voluntarily surrendered all claim to in 1836. In short, it was thoroughly the property of the United States, even if one is so generous as to presume the legitimacy of secession through the means used by South Carolina. As every high school student in the United States knows, South Carolinian forces fired on Fort Sumter from the batteries of Fort Johnson, Fort Moultrie, and Cummings Point starting at 4:30 am on April 12, 1861.

This was, of course, the ultimate aggression of the South: Southern partisans bombarded and captured a manned United States military fortification, touching off a war that killed more Americans than any other war in history, almost as many as all other American wars combined.


The American Civil War was thoroughly of Southern construction. Between the administrations of Jackson and Lincoln, the federal government and free states had bent over backwards at every threat of the slaveholding South to prevent disunion; every single threat of secession and war was met with compromise and backing down. The so-called War of Northern Aggression is a fictional construct by the defenders of the fictional country known as the Confederate States of America, a thorough distortion of well-documented historical fact.

Author's Note: This essay's title, “The War of Southern Aggression,” is shared by an essay by James M. McPherson, a fact I discovered while conducting research for this article. Dr. McPherson's work is extremely well-written, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in this subject. His book of essays containing his work by this title may be found on Google Books here, but I recommend purchasing the book, as I did after discovering it. No infringement is intended.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Sri Lankan civil war is at its end.

BBC, Prabhakaran's obituary

The Sri Lankan civil war, which has raged for as long as I have been alive, is finally at its end. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers and longtime de facto dictator of the territory the rebels and terrorists controlled, has been killed by the Sri Lankan Army; may he rest in pieces.

Since I've never before discussed Sri Lanka in this space, a brief outline of the conflict is in order. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly called the Tamil Tigers, are (or now, hopefully, were) a radical guerrilla army, hellbent on carving out 40% of Sri Lanka's land area as a homeland for the Tamil minority population of the island, which comprises less than 10% of its people. The Tigers invented suicide bombing as it is known today, as cited by the New York Times, and used it extensively in their terroristic campaign against the Sri Lankan government and people. They also, at the height of their power, managed to become a conventional threat, with artillery, a naval flotilla, and even a small air wing, which they used to conduct aerial bombings until just a few months ago, when the last of their planes were shot down.

The Tamil Tigers negotiated many ceasefires and truces with the Sri Lankans during the course of the war when strategically convenient for them, using each one to rearm and then breaking it when they were prepared to resume their offensive. The current Sri Lankan government, to its very great credit, decided enough was enough, and pressed on to destroy the Tigers once and for all despite international calls for another ceasefire. The LTTE stayed true to form even in their last days, resorting to using their remaining artillery to shell civilians behind their own lines so that they could attempt to blame the Sri Lankan government and step up international pressure for a truce.

The world is better off without this scourge. May the rebuilding move swiftly and without recrimination towards those ethnic Tamils who did not take up arms.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ralph Hayes, Jr. is a coward and a fool.

It's not often that I do this; after all, writing a post for everyone who commits a logical fallacy in a debate would fill this blog to the exclusion of all else. However, argument through appeal to force is something I feel the need to write about.

The subject of today's rant is known as Ralph Hayes, Jr. Mr. Hayes is the illustrator and author of a couple of excellent webcomics, in addition to several mediocre to outright bad ones, hosted at his site which I linked to in the title.

This has little to do with my problem, however. What it has more to do with is the fact that he is an outspoken social conservative, and happens to advocate revoking all funding for AIDS research and treatment, in favor of quarantining the victims of the disease. I virulently disagree with his conclusion, but even that's not why I'm writing this.

No, I'm writing this because, after I wrote a long reply detailing just how bogus his money-saving rationale is, due to the fact that a quarantine would require cutting off international trade to prevent the virus from being re-introduced into the country, which would cost the economy an amount of money that makes the $13.7 billion he complains about seem paltry by comparison, he deleted my reply and banned me from commenting on his blog.

That's some way to win an argument there. Don't like what someone has to say? Destroy the evidence and get rid of him! Comrade Stalin would be proud.

As you can (currently; I don't know how long it'll last) see, he did not delete all my replies. Earlier ones based on the immorality of locking up so many people who had done nothing wrong were dismissed on the basis that quarantine would save lives, and he simply claimed I was wrong when I pointed out that quarantine in the modern world, with modern travel, isn't as effective as he would like, but when I destroyed his flimsy rationale, he got rid of me. Guess I struck a nerve.

I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when discussing it with him, but I'm sure as hell not going to now. The method of controlling the disease that he advocates is ineffective by every single measure - cost savings, preventing the spread of the disease, easing the suffering and extending the lives of the victims - except the measure of punishing those who engage in what he, as a social conservative, sees as immoral behavior. Sure, it's costing us boatloads of money and not advancing medical research in any way, but at least we get to lock up THE GAYS!

There. I said it. He hasn't, but that's the only purpose his proposed solution would serve, so there it is.

Mr. Hayes, if you ever read this, I want you to know: Censorship is the act of a coward. Public censorship, openly removing material after it has already been published and read, is the act of a fool. You have revealed yourself as a foolish, pathetic little man who, given a modicum of power, is quite prepared to use force against those who disagree with him. I also want you to know that argumentum ad baculum may make you feel better, but it has yet to ever win a debate.

"The attempt to silence a man is the greatest honor you can bestow on him. It means you recognize his superiority to yourself." - Joseph Sobran

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter switches parties

Wall Street Journal, MSNBC

Well, the news broke barely five minutes before I started writing this (hey, I think that's a new record on me covering something in this space), and already the wailing and gnashing of teeth has begun. Senator Arlen Spector, R-Pennsylvania is now Senator Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, and I saw the complaints starting even before I had read enough to be able to open this tab and write about it.

My analysis: This is powerful symbolism, but ultimately it doesn't matter in practical legislative terms. Cloture will remain the same as it was before; Specter won't suddenly vote down every Republican filibuster because he's now registered as a Democrat. If he'd have done it before, he'd do it now, and if he wouldn't have, he won't. It really just doesn't change anything.

I really don't have a whole lot more to add, but thought I'd better get my (very small) voice of reason in anyway. Beyond the political ruckus, I don't care who's got what letter behind his name in media reports on Congress. Our representatives and Senators are individuals, and should be judged and elected as such. I know that's not what happens, thanks to both the primary system and the large proportion of the electorate who simply vote their party line when it comes time to go to the ballot box, but hey, I can dream.