On the Eve of South Carolina’s Decision to Leave the Union, Horace Greeley Articulates and Supports the State’s Right to Secede

Robert E. Lee - Surrender at Appomattox

Diane Rufino, May 7, 2018

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Daily Tribune, was the embodiment of the North. In an editorial for the paper on December 17, 1860 (three days before South Carolina voted in Convention to secede, and amidst rumors that the state would likely secede), Greeley articulated the view of secession that most in government and in the North held. In that brilliant editorial, entitled “The Right of Secession,” he wrote:

We have repeatedly asked those who dissent from our view of this matter to tell us frankly whether they do or do not assent to Mr. Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government,” etc. etc. We do heartily accept this doctrine, believing it intrinsically sound, beneficent, and one that, universally accepted, is calculated to prevent the shedding of seas of human blood. And, if it justified the secession from the British Empire of three million colonists in 1776, we do not see why it would not justify the secession of five millions of Southerners from the federal union in 1861. If we are mistaken on this point, why does not someone attempt to show wherein and why we could not stand up for coercion, for subjugation.  We do not think such would be just. We hold the right of self-government to be sacred, even when invoked on behalf of those who deny it to others. If ever ‘seven or eight States’ send agents to Washington to say “We want to get out of the Union,” we shall feel constrained by our devotion to Human Liberty to say: ‘Let Them Go!” We do not see how we could take the other side without coming in direct conflict with those Rights of Man which we hold paramount to all political arrangements, however convenient and advantageous.

Of course, when Northern businessmen and northern businesses realized how badly they would suffer without the stream of money coming from the South and its tariff collections and in trade against a “free-trade” Confederacy (the Confederate Constitution prohibited protective tariffs), their view of secession changed.

Even Europe saw the Civil War for what it was. Europe understood that at its core, the American “Civil War” as an exercise of the right of secession. If the South had the right to secede from the Union, which Europe believed it had (articulated to a “candid world” in the Declaration of Independence), then the South held the moral superiority in the conflict and Southerners were the heroes. The North was the great villain, starting a fratricidal war merely for commercial and economic gain.  Certainly Great Britain knew what was going on, for the Confederacy was hoping it would join the conflict on its side and the North was doing what it could to prevent that from happening (ie, the Emancipation Proclamation).  The legendary English writer, Charles Dickens, expressed this view very clearly in commentary during that period.

British Lord Acton (John Dalberg Acton) wrote the following to General Robert E. Lee in November 1866, a year and a half after his surrender at Appomattox:

…… I saw in States Rights the only available check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will (of the federal government), and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the Old World the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore, I deemed that you were fighting the battles for our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.

The South, unequivocally and without doubt, had the right to secede from the Union. Anyone who believes in the Declaration of Independence and in the debates in the several Ratifying Conventions to determine whether the Constitution (creating a limited government) would be ratified HAS to believe in the right of secession and HAS to respect the decision of the Southern States to seek their independence. After all, the Declaration of Independence is the greatest Ordinance of Secession ever written and the most eloquent expression of the right of and the desire to pursue independence.

 

***  This article is based, in part, on sections from Gene Kizer Jr’s book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, Charleston Athenaeum Press (2014)

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Those Who are Tearing Down Confederate Monuments are Forcing Selective Amnesia on Americans

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ROBERT E. LEE - in front of door

by Diane Rufino, July 27, 2017

In this era when Southern (Confederate) leaders, symbols, generals, buildings, etc are being erased from our memory and history, and vilified in our conversations because of their connection to slavery, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind folks that they should really do some homework before jumping on this politically-correct bandwagon.  A history lesson is an opportunity for speech, for dialogue, for debate, for learning.  Erase history and you erase much more than the mere reminder than an event happened. Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase a time when states had the backbone to stand up for the principles in the Declaration of Independence (“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..”). Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase a time when states were willing to exert their natural rights of self-determination (aka, secession) rather than allow the federal government to subjugated them completely to its ambitious designs. Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase the last time in our nation’s history when states actually believed themselves to be the powerful sovereigns that they thought they would be under the US Constitution.

Be careful how you treat history.

Now many, it seems, are calling for the destruction of the monuments erected to Confederate leaders and Confederate generals, such as the great General Robert E. Lee.  There is no finer gentleman, no finer American, no finer human being than General Lee.  When President Lincoln tricked the South Carolina militia to fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1860, therefore giving him the reason he needed to raise troops to invade the South and force it back into the Union, he had some soul-searching to do. He was summoned to serve Lincoln and command the Northern Army, but then he would have to take up arms against the state he loved so much. Back in the day, one’s citizenship and one’s loyalties were first and foremost with one’s state (except, of course if you were a member of Congress). It was Lincoln’s Proclamation of April 15 that made Lee’s decision to fight for Virginia an easy one. Lincoln sent a dispatch to states such as Virginia and North Carolina, demanding that they send 75,000 troops to the Northern Army in order to invade the “rebelling states.”  Taking up arms, killing fellow Southerners, and imposing government force on his neighbors were things his conscience would not allow.  And so, he resigned the standing position he had with the government and joined the Confederate cause (Virginia voted to secede on April 17).

Lincoln had a tortured understanding of the Constitution and the South was right to resist.  Robert E. Lee, like so many other Southerns, was not a supporter of slavery and was looking forward to the day when the institution would either die a natural death (which it was on its way to doing) or would be abolished. He thought it an evil institution.  But slavery was not the cause of the hostilities that brought the War. It was government ambition, the disregard for States’ Rights, and the use of government force against member states (the ones who created the government in the first place) that initiated the violence that would claim more than 650,000 young American lives.  General Lee made the right choice. It may not have been the choice that best served our collective conscience regarding the enslavement of an entire race, but that’s not what the war was about. He made the right choice because only when states have the power to make their rightful decisions, including the decision to separate from an abusive government, can they effectively carry out the essential role that they play in our government system – to check the federal government when it oversteps its constitutional authority.

So, those who clamor to take down the statues of men like General Lee, or to erase his name from buildings and streets, take a moment to read what he had to say about slavery when the war was over: “I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.”