The Truth About the 13th Amendment

LINCOLN MEME - Dishonest Abe

Excerpted from Lawrence “Mike” Scrugg’s book, The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths (Chapter 7: “The First Thirteenth Amendment”). 2011, Universal Media (Charlotte, NC) –  with some additions and commentary by Diane Rufino

Mike Scrugg’s book, THE UN-CIVIL WAR, is an excellent book – an excellent reflection on the causes, treatment, and aftermath of the Civil War. I am posting this excerpt, which is the entire seventh chapter of the book (“The First Thirteenth Amendment’) for the primary purpose of introducing you to this book and encouraging you to purchase it and read it.

Ludwell H. Johnson used the words The American Illiad in the subtitle for his comprehensive book on the American “civil war,” entitled NORTH AGAINST SOUTH. The Iliad analogy is very appropriate for two reasons. First, the war was a traumatic, bloody, and nation-changing event. The enormous casualties and destruction alone would sear its battles, personalities, and tales of heroism into America’s memory. Second, what most Americans know about the causes of the war is pious myth.

Most Americans are at least vaguely aware that the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution passed by Congress and approved by the States in December 1865 following the “civil war” abolished slavery. But this was actually the second 13th Amendment. The US House of Representatives had passed, with the required 2/3 majority, a 13th amendment on February 28, 1861. This same amendment was passed by the US Senate on March 2, 1861. It was then send to the States for final approval. As per Article V of the Constitution. 3/4 of the States must approve the amendment before it can officially become part of, and hence “amend,” the Constitution. Two days after the Senate’s approval of the amendment, the newly-elected president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, promised to support it in his inaugural speech.

But what was this first 13th Amendment and what became of it?  Here is the wording:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of such State.”

The first 13th Amendment would have forever prohibited any Constitutional change that interfered with slavery in any state!

Lincoln endorsed this amendment, which would have permanently engraved slavery into the Constitution by two statements in his inaugural address:  First, self-quoting what he had written earlier to New York Tribune editor, Horace Greeley: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Later in the speech, he specifically promised to support this first 13th Amendment with these words: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution has passed Congress to the effect that the federal government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose, not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

In other words, Lincoln had no problem with an amendment which would have prohibited the federal government from interfering with slavery in the States!  In addition, he felt the Constitution already prohibited the federal government from interfering with slavery in the States !!!

The reason for this first 13th Amendment was, of course, to reassure the Southern States that were threatening to leave the Union that there was not and never would be any danger of Congressional or federal interference with slavery in the States. [Remember that by the time the Senate approved the amendment, seven Southern States had already seceded from the Union – South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas]. The slavery question was a concern to the Southern States, of course. The South had an agrarian society and its economy was supported by the exporting of its crops. The Northern States had gradually phased out slavery, but then again, there had been but a few slaves in the North. Phasing out slavery in the North was a much less daunting social and economic endeavor. It would be an enormous undertaking in the South. The calls of radical abolitionists in the North for immediate abolition of slavery regardless of the economic cost to the South and heedless of the hardship it would suddenly inflict on the slaves themselves, though not really a prevalent Northern sentiment, was a worry to the South. Slavery was by no means universally popular in the South, and many Southern States and individual Southerners were already struggling with how they might phase out the institution of slavery without devastating the Southern economy. But Southern States preferred to handle the slavery question when, if, and however they saw fit. Like Lincoln and many other political leaders in the North, the South considered how to handle the slavery question to be the Constitutional right of each State respectively.

Slavery was an issue that caused tensions between North and South, but it was by no means the only issue. If slavery was the only crucial issue, the South had no reason to secede. The first 13th Amendment would have guaranteed the question in their favor.

But there were other important issues to the South… more important ones.  One enormous issue was the question of the protective tariffs and in particular, the Morrill Tariff that had been passed by the predominantly Northern Congress with the support of only one Southern congressman. It was passed by the Senate and signed by President Buchanan only two days before Lincoln took office, and Lincoln pledged to support it. The Morrill Tariff, like others in the past, was a severe economic hardship to the agricultural South (in particular to South Carolina and the Gulf States), but a protective benefit for the industrial North – for its manufacturers. To make matters worse, most of the revenue was collected at Southern ports but subsequently used to the benefit of Northern States. In other words, the South was being plundered for the benefit of the North. To look at it a different way, the federal government, which was supposed to be a common government for ALL the States, to serve their interests equally, was effecting policy to benefit only one section of the country, while knowingly and intentionally harming another. Southern States were furious over this tariff, which had just been raised from an average under 20% to an average which would reach 47% (and would affect more items). The Morrill Tariff was part of Lincoln’s and the Republican Party’s campaign platform. In fact, Lincoln further endorsed the Tariff in his inaugural speech and strongly implied that even if the South seceded, the tax would be collected by the Union Navy at Southern ports.

There were other issues as well. North and South had developed different views of government. The South favored the limited and decentralized federal government of the Constitution, but the North was strongly tending towards a powerful centralized government. Early in the years of the American republic, the South and especially Virginia had dominated national politics. But massive waves of immigration to Northern manufacturing States now made them much more populous and politically dominant. Between 1845 and 1855 more than 1.5 million Irish adults and children alone emigrated to America (because of the great potato famine).  And then there was the outright hostility and even violence towards the South. John Brown and his sons butchered 5 pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and then led a raid on Harpers Ferry. The radical abolitionists exhibited unmitigated hatred of all things southern and continued to aggravate tensions.

The first 13th Amendment became a moot issue, though, after the firing on Fort Sumter and then Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to invade the South. The outbreak of the “civil war” that would claim the lives of over 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and as many as 50,000 Southern civilians effectively cancelled the first 13th Amendment.

On March 2, 1861, the same day the first 13th Amendment was passed by the Senate, another Amendment to the Constitution was also proposed. This amendment would have outlawed secession. This is a good indication that most of Congress indeed realized that the right of secession was implied when the Constitution was originally ratified by the States and effectively reinforced by the 10th Amendment. If that wasn’t so, why would they attempt to outlaw it?  In fact, textbooks used at West Point for years before the war had explained the validity of the right of secession.

Indeed,  most members of Congress understood each State had a fundamental right to secede (as the colonies did from Great Britain in declaring their independence). Lincoln himself, at one time, believed the same. As a junior representative from Illinois, Lincoln addressed Congress on the Mexican-American War, asserting that the US should take only that portion of the Texas territory that represents the desire of the people to secede from Mexico (and not the additional 500,000 square miles of land from Mexico it was seeking – territory comprising Arizona, New Mexico, and California; otherwise, the US would be imperialistic).  On January 1848, he spoke these words: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.”  [ ]

Yet, when the Southern States actually exercised this fundamental of sovereign states’ rights and left the Union, Lincoln had a change of heart. All of a sudden, he no longer recognized secession as an “inherent” or “natural” sovereign right. And this was a problem, because he was the president and as it always seems to be, the views of the president become the views of the government.  In his first Inaugural Address, he articulated his “new understanding” of the right of secession:

“I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it–break it, so to speak–but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?   Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “to form a more perfect Union.”  (First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861; ]

The notion of a States’ right of secession – to withdraw from the Union – HAD to be dispelled and de-legitimized if Lincoln was to be able to claim power to preserve the Union and then make good on that promise. There could be no rightful exercise of federal power to force the States to remain together when the States possessed (reserved) the supreme sovereign power, restated by the 10th Amendment, to withdraw from the Union.

On July 22, 1861, the now Northern only Congress passed a joint resolution (“The Crittenden-Johnson Resolutions on the Objects of the War, 1861”) defining the federal government’s goals in the war:

“Resolved.. That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the dis-unionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; That this war is not being prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, not for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”

In other words, the Northern Congress stated in that resolution that preserving the Union and NOT interfering with the institution of slavery was the purpose of the war.

Later, on August 22, 1861, Lincoln explained his thinking on the war to editor, Horace Greeley, an abolitionist:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some an leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union.”

Nearly two years into the war, in September 1862, Lincoln found it expedient to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. This proclamation actually freed no slaves in any territory under Union control. It was done primarily as a war measure. Lincoln hoped that the Proclamation would encourage slave uprisings in the South, thus causing Confederate troops to be diverted. The overwhelming majority of the slaves, however, proved remarkably loyal to the families of their Southern masters, most of which were away in the Confederate Army. Some say that it was also to please the anti-slavery British and thus keep them from coming into the war on the side of the South. The British did not come into the war on the side of the South, but they were also not so stupid as to be fooled by this ruse. The North, after all, imposed the protective tariffs on the South, which had harmed trade with Great Britain. Though the Proclamation had disappointing military results, and only made the British more skeptical of Northern intentions, it did please those radical abolitionists who did not seem to mind the hypocrisy of a document that did not free a single slave in Southern territory occupied by the Union Army. After a period of discontent in the North and in the Union Army over the Proclamation, the abolition of slavery began to be used to bolster the moral purpose of the war. Ever since then, it has been a prime propaganda tool justifying and glorifying the war as a just and noble and moral cause.

However, as can easily be seen in the first 13th Amendment, Lincoln’s speeches, and Congressional resolutions, slavery cannot be said to have been the cause of the war. It was an issue causing much tension, but it was not the cause of the war. These tensions are very much misunderstood today. Contrary to current misinformed public opinion, most Northern objections to slavery were not really of a high moral tone. Many Northern States, such as Lincoln’s Illinois, severely restricted the possibility of any Blacks, free or slave, taking up residence within their borders. Ohio and Indiana even prohibited free Blacks from even entering their states. Northern attitudes towards Blacks that drove much of the “Free State vs. Slave State” controversy can best be summarized by an October 16, 1854 quote by Abraham Lincoln himself:

“Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska, or other new territories, is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people who may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted with them.”

A common, but practical solution of what to do with the emancipated slaves was colonization (repatriation). That meant sending them back to Africa or to Central America. Lincoln himself was strongly in favor of colonization. Lincoln was a great admirer of Senator Henry Clay, who first proposed the colonization solution in 1827. Lincoln frequently stated his advocacy of colonization and spoke to black pastors and leaders about it, and on December 1, 1862, in a message to Congress, stated: “I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization.”

This was undoubtedly spoken to reassure Northern politicians who were uneasy with the possible migratory consequences of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln opposed slavery and was in favor of gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization. But he obviously considered the Union (preserved) and Northern business interests a much higher priority than eliminating slavery. To his credit, he recognized and hated the dangerous fanaticism of the radical abolitionists. But all the current and post-war talk (propaganda) about the war being a noble crusade to free the slaves and of Lincoln being the great Emancipator is a shameless fraud.

Preserving the Union was the principal purpose stated by the North. That might be called noble – if using violence, killing 620,000 young men, killing women and children (civilians), starving families by killing livestock and scorching the land, and forcing states to bear a subservient and exploited status in an unwanted and, to them, an unprofitable Union at gunpoint can be called ‘noble.” The North had more than just territory in mind when it said it wanted to preserve the Union. Loss of the Southern States would mean loss of most of the tax revenue, of which over 90% came from the tariff duties that were paid by the South States and so burdened them. They would also have to compete with the South’s proposed free-trade policies, which would have wreaked economic havoc on the North, just as the protective tariff had wreaked economic havoc on the South. The South would have gained economically by independence, whereas the North would have lost considerably both in tax revenues and in trade.

The real reason Lincoln sought to preserve the Union was to preserve the ability of the federal government to continue collecting tariff revenue from the Southern States. He admitted as much when he was sworn in as president.  Referring back to the section of his first Inaugural Address above where he dispelled the right of the States to secede from the Union, he continued:

“It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it……   I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.  In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”

Notice that when he spoke the words “the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself” he is really declaring that the federal government has as its primary purpose the obligation to ensure its preservation. This is in absolute, direct contradiction to the cherished principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Despite the tension that divided the South from the North, beginning in 1828, over the protective tariffs (recall the Nullification Crisis which nearly precipitated secession in 1832) and the concerns of South Carolina over Lincoln’s (and the Republican Party’s) platform in the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln chose to ignore such concerns in his Inaugural Address. He said: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”

The so-called “Civil War” was not really a civil war after all. A civil war implies that both sections of the “same country” were fighting for control of the same government. The South had seceded from that government; it wanted nothing more to do with it. Two names for the war are fare more appropriate:  For the South, it was the “War for Southern Independence” and for the North, it was the “War to Prevent Southern Independence.” It was not a glorious crusade to free slaves. Unfortunately, most Americans today accept the pious fraud that the “Civil War” was all about ending slavery. The first 13th Amendment, however, provides shattering documentary evidence disproving that cherished humbug.

BOOK - The Un-Civil War (Mike Scruggs)


To Purchase THE UN-CIVIL WAR:  Amazon –


QUESTION: Was – Is – Secession Legal?

SECESSION - Map of North America after Confederacy was formed

by Diane Rufino, but based in large part on Leonard “Mike” Scruggs book THE UN-CIVIL WAR, January 19. 2018

On July 4, 1776, thirteen British colonies announced their secession from Great Britain and declared to the world their just reasons: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separate.” (paragraph 1 of the Declaration of Independence)

The Declaration of Independence (second paragraph) goes on to say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….”

The Declaration then goes o to list numerous grievances against the British Crown and Parliament. Most of these have to do with the British Crown and Parliament usurping the powers of the colonial legislatures, but mention is made of the King keeping troops among the colonists in times of peace, quartering British troops, cutting off colonial trade with the rest of the world, taxing the colonists without their consent (representation), depriving colonists the benefits of trial by jury, arbitrarily dissolving colonial charters, inciting insurrection against the colonies (including among the unfriendly Indian tribes), and more. (Ironically, the one thing not mentioned among the list of 27 grievances was the disarming of the colonists and confiscation of their arms and ammunition – the one thing that inspired Patrick Henry to submit resolutions he’d written to the Virginia colonial legislature to build and train a militia from each county; “They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?….. The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. The war has actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”)  After the listing of the specific grievances, the Declaration emphasized that neither the King nor Parliament would listen to their complaints and pleas for relief. “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

In the closing paragraph, the signers declare that the colonies are “Free and Independent States.” This paragraph also contains the words “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World” and “with firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.”  Note that the United States of America were not formed into a single national state, but a confederation of independent and sovereign states.

Previous to the Declaration of Independence, both North Carolina (May 20, 1775) and Virginia (early 1776) had already declared their independence from Great Britain. North Carolina took the lead in calling for independence from Great Britain, and her state flag reflects the two historic dates on which she did so – May 20, 1775 and April 12, 1776. On May 20, 1775, a Charlotte government committee drafted the Mecklenburg Resolves which declared the residents of Mecklenburg County, NC independent of Great Britain:

Resolved, That we the citizens of Mecklenburg county, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother Country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association, with that nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties — and inhumanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at Lexington.

Resolved, That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people, are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self–governing Association, under the control of no power other than that of our God and the General Government of the Congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other, our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.

Resolved, That as we now acknowledge the existence and control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this country, we do hereby ordain and adopt, as a rule of life, all, each and every of our former laws, wherein, nevertheless, the Crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.

On May 31, the Committee put the document in final form and adopted it. The updated document announced that all the colonies were independent of Great Britain:  “Whereas by an Address presented to his Majesty by both Houses of Parliament in February last, the American Colonies are declared to be in a State of actual Rebellion, we conceive that all Laws and Commissions confirmed by, or derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated, and the former civil Constitution of these Colonies for the present wholly suspended. To provide in some Degree for the Exigencies of the County in the present alarming Period, we deem it proper and necessary to pass the following Resolves:  (1) That all Commissions, civil and military, heretofore granted by the Crown, to be exercised in these Colonies, are null and void, and the Constitution of each particular Colony wholly suspended……….”

The Resolves were delivered to the North Carolina delegation meeting at the Continental Congress with the hope that the entire Congress would vote and adopt it. The Congress felt the time was not right and did not take the matter up.

On April 12, 1776, the Fourth Provincial Congress, meeting in Halifax County, adopted the “Halifax Resolves,” which gave North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress the authority to vote for independence. It was the first state to give such authority to its delegates.

On May 4, 1776, the colony of Rhode Island declared herself independent of Great Britain, and in late May – June, the Fifth Virginia Convention passed a series of resolutions rejecting all aspects of British authority and establishing a new form of independent government for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, then urged the Continental Congress to follow Virginia’s (and North Carolina’s) lead.

On June 7, 1776, Lee introduced a resolution (the Lee Resolution) to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia declaring independence, and John Adams seconded the motion.

Lee’s resolution declared “That these United Colonies are, and of right out 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; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”

The Continental Congress adopted the resolution, finally declaring independence for the 13 colonies, on July 2, but this day has been largely forgotten in favor of July 4, when the “formal” Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted.

Clearly, the idea that a people could separate from a government that did not serve them, or in the worst case, had become tyrannical and abusive, was something the colonists believed was a natural right.

The right of self-determination for people seeking independence is firmly established in international law. With US backing, Panama seceded from Columbia in 1903. Norway seceded from Sweden in 1905. In the United States, the right of self-determination and therefore secession is supported by the precedence of the Declaration of Independence which declared our own secession from Great Britain.

While the Declaration of Independence is of immense importance as a founding document, it is the Constitution of 1787 and the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791 that are the official founding documents. The Constitution was made official by the approval of the people of each state acting independently in convention, not by the people of the United States in general. Nor did these states surrender their sovereignty to the United States. Only limited government powers were delegated to the Federal Government and every state reserved the right to withdraw these powers. In fact, three states – Rhode Island, Virginia, and New York – specifically stated in their ratifications that they reserved the right to withdraw. Other states had less strongly-worded reservations, but no state would have ratified the Constitution if they believed that in doing so they would be surrendering their newly-won independence.

When New York delegates met on July 26, 1788, their ratification document read, “That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same.”

On May 29, 1790, the Rhode Island delegates made a similar claim in their ratification document. “That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same.”

On June 26, 1788, Virginia’s elected delegates met to ratify the Constitution. In their ratification document, they said, “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.”

As demonstrated by the ratification documents of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia, they made it explicit that if the federal government perverted the delegated rights, they had the right to resume those rights. In fact, when the Union was being formed, where the states created the federal government, every state thought they had a right to secede, otherwise there would not have been a Union.

It was to guarantee the sovereignty of the states that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were added to the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment is a particularly straightforward restatement of the federal nature of the government established by the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Since the Constitution was ratified by sovereign states who desired to retain their sovereignty, the document is classified as a social compact. In essence, it is a contract and thereby its legality is guided by contract law, one of the oldest areas of law. The Constitution is a compact – a contract – between the individual sovereign states, which are the parties, to create the federal government (the creature, or if likening the compact to agency law, the government would be the agent) in order to carry out certain common functions for the states in order that the Union itself could be successful. In the case of Chisholm v. State of Georgia (1793), the Supreme Court expressly declared that the US Constitution is a compact. The right of withdrawal or secession is inherent in the basic document (ie, the right of secession “supersedes” the Constitution) and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments further establish it as a right retained or reserved to each state. It is the option of each state, not the federal government (merely the creature or agent), as to whether it shall remain in the Union or whether it will withdraw. The right of secession was almost universally accepted until Lincoln came up with a new theory of the Constitution – based on a treatise on the Constitution, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, written in 1833 by then Supreme Court associate Justice Joseph Story. [It should be noted that Story’s treatise was highly criticized by leading constitutional experts of the day – including Henry St. George Tucker, Sr., John Randolph Tucker, Abel Parker Upshur, James Kent, and John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was revered as an expert on the Constitution and perhaps even more “Jeffersonian” than Jefferson himself.]

New Hampshire’s constitution of 1792 contains very strong words reserving its sovereign powers as a state. In 1798, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison circulated the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions among the states. These resolutions strongly supported the Doctrine of States Rights and thus also the right of secession. Together these resolutions became known as the “Principles of ’98.”

The Kentucky Resolution, the work of Thomas Jefferson, asserted States’ Rights in very strong terms: “If those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained, annihilation of the state governments, and the erection upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers: That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a Nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy….”  (Kentucky Resolutions or Kentucky Resolves of 1799)

The Virginia Resolution, the work of James Madison, asserted States Rights also in very strong terms; perhaps stronger: “That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to Interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.”  (Virginia Resolutions or Virginia Resolves of 1798)

The doctrines of Nullification, Interposition, and Secession are all rights reserved to the states under Natural Law (the Law of Nature and God’s Law) and by the US Constitution (both implicitly by the limited nature of the delegations of power to the federal government, and expressly by the Tenth Amendment). Furthermore, they are remedies available under contract theory (compact law).

None of the states disagreed with the “Principles of ‘98” (which, by the way, were articulated to resist the unconstitutional Alien & Sedition Acts, signed into law by President John Adams, which were gross violations of several of the Bill of Rights, but most notably the First Amendment).

The New England states threatened secession on five occasions: (1) In 1803 because they feared the Louisiana Purchase would dilute their political power; (2) In 1807 because the Embargo Act was unfavorable to their commerce; (3) In 1812, over the admission of Louisiana as a state; (4) In 1814 (the Hartford Convention) because of the War of 1812; and (5) In 1814, over the annexation of Texas (which had seceded from Mexico). Additionally, many New England abolitionists favored secession because the Constitution allowed slavery.  From 1803 to 1845, anytime that New England felt that their political power or commercial power might suffer, they threatened secession. Yet when the Southern states did the same, a war was initiated to force them to remain in the Union against their wishes.

As early as 1825, the right of secession was taught at West Point. William Rawle’s View of the Constitution, which was used as a text at West Point in 1825 and 1826 (and thereafter as a reference), specifically taught that secession was a right of each state. Rawle was a friend of both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and his 1825 text was highly respected and used at many colleges. A subsequent text by James Kent maintained the same position and was used at West Point until the end of the war in 1865. Several Union and Confederate generals were at West Point during the time Rawle’s text was used. Rawle even spelled out the procedure for a state to secede, explaining: “The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of each state. The people alone… hold the power to alter their Constitution.”

The right of secession was very well-stated by none other than Congressman Abraham Lincoln himself in 1848: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable and most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.”

That same year, Lincoln further stated: “Any people that can may revolutionized and make their own of so much territory as they inhabit.”

But in 1861, Lincoln adopted a view of secession more expedient to holding the Southern states in the Union against their will. He discovered the theory that Supreme Court associate Justice Joseph Story concocted in his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, asserting that there was an American nation in the minds of the people before the States were formed. This humbuggery had been strengthened by Daniel Webster’s eloquent but disingenuous and speeches to Congress, claiming that the Constitution was not a compact.

So, Lincoln characterized the orderly, democratic Secession Conventions of South Carolina and the Gulf States, conducted in accordance with Rawle’s treatise on the Constitution, and carried out step-by-step in the same manner as the states when they declared their independence from Great Britain and formed the United States of America, as a rebellion perpetrated by a small minority and proceeded on a path that every member of his Cabinet meant war.

As to the question of whether Secession is legal today, the answer is yes. Again, the right is an inherent and natural right, seared into our history by example (secession from Great Britain), implied by the very limited nature of the general government created by the Constitution and the limited powers delegated to it under that document, and expressly reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment.  Lincoln’s government may have waged a war to somehow reclassify the nature of the conduct of the Southern states in 1860-61 (“rebellion” rather than secession) in order to force those states back into the Union, but its actions cannot change the fact that those states exercised a natural and inherent sovereign right. The Constitution was never amended to prohibit that right to a State and despite attempts to judicially remove it, as well requiring the Southern states to include such a prohibition in their amended state constitutions (in order for them to be “re-admitted” to the Union that Lincoln said they never left), such actions are merely exercises in futility; they are extra-constitutional actions that lack authority or power of enforcement. The right of a people of self-determination, as it applies to government, can never be legislated, decreed, or written away. It is an inalienable right, having its place among the other Laws of Nature and among God’s Law.

***  For an in-depth discussion on the topic of Social Compact, why the US Constitution is, in fact, a social compact, and the remedies naturally available to the parties of a compact (which in our case are the individual states), including the remedy of secession, please read by article “The Social Compact and Our Constitutional Republic,” which is the article preceding this one.

BOOK - The Un-Civil War (Mike Scruggs)

— This article is based, in good part, on Leonard “Mike” Scrugg’s book: THE UN-CIVIL WAR: SHATTERING THE HISTORICAL MYTHS (Chapter 6, Constitutional Issues and the Un-Civil War). The purpose of this article and the reason for relying so heavily on Mr. Scruggs’ book is to get the reader interested not only in the topic at hand but also to be motivated to purchase and read his most excellent book in its entirety and then to share the information with others!


Leonard “Mike” Scrugg’s, THE UN-CIVIL WAR: SHATTERING THE HISTORICAL MYTHS (Chapter 6, Constitutional Issues and the Un-Civil War), 2011, Universal Media (Asheville, NC).

Walter Williams, “States Have a Historical Right to Secede,” Columbia Tribune, April 25, 2009. Referenced at: [The section on the Rhode Island, Virginia, and New York Resumption Clauses – included at the time that these states adopted the US Constitution – is taken entirely from Mr. Williams’ article]

The Social Compact and Our Constitutional Republic

CONSTITUTION - at the Philadalphia Convention

by Diane Rufino, Jan. 21, 2018 (first section only; other sections attributed to other authors)


A Social Compact is an agreement, entered into by individuals, that creates some form of self-government and results in the formation of an organized society, the prime motive being the desire for protection and the performance of common functions to serve the community of individuals. To form an organized community, a surrender of some personal liberties is the trade-off.

Perhaps you may remember the Mayflower Compact from your days in grade school. You may remember that it was a document – you probably don’t remember what kind of document it was – that was drafted aboard the Mayflower, as it brought the Pilgrims to the shores of what would one day become Massachusetts. Well, the Mayflower Compact is actually quite significant. It was the first American document to establish a framework of self-government. It was perhaps the first the American Social Compact. The Compact was drafted by the Pilgrims as they sailed across the Atlantic and was signed on November 11, 1620 and became the governing document of Plymouth Colony.

I know that most people have never heard of the term “Social Compact” but I make the case here that this term is probably one of the most important terms to know and understand. The next American Revolution will be to wrestle power away from the federal government and to transfer it back to its rightful depositories, which are the States and the People themselves. The only way this will be possible is if the American people understand that the US Constitution is a social compact, was intended as such, was promoted as such, and was commonly referred to as such up until the end of the Civil War. All of the primary documents that explain the Constitution, refer to it, document its drafting, its adoption, and ratification characterize it as a “social compact.” Early Supreme Court decisions refer to it as a “social compact.” (See Chisholm v. Georgia, 1793; Calder v. Bull, 1798), and dozens of lower federal courts, as well as state courts, have done the same. When the colonies sought their independence from Great Britain, they articulated in the Declaration of Independence they believed that governments are products of social compacts (constitutions establish government authority, and set appropriate limits, all by the consent of the governed) and due to the “compact” or “contract” nature of that agreement, they had the right, under the Laws of Nature and God’s Law, to establish a new government, of their own design and suited to serve them accordingly (“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them….”)

Compact Theory, as will be discussed below, follows the same legal theories as contract law, which is one of the oldest areas of law. There are parties to a compact, there are assigned obligations and benefits, there are consequences for a breach, and there are remedies. In the case of the Constitution, the parties are the individual States. The government is NOT a party but is the creature – it being created by the Constitution. The federal government was “created” to serve the States – to perform those common functions that each state would have to perform alone but could be more efficient, more effective, and uniform, when performed for all. The federal government was created as an Agent for the States – against, to serve their interests, thus making it easy to form and remain together in the form of a Union (a “confederation” of sovereign states). Being the rightful parties to the compact (ie, the “contract”), the obligations and benefits are reserved to them only. The obligations are that each State delegate some their sovereign powers (listed in Article I) to the federal government for the good of the Union and respect that the federal government will govern supremely on those objects. And the benefits are those mentioned – the federal government would serve as the Agent, mainly providing safety and defense, dealing with foreign nations, ensuring regular commerce, and providing a common currency. A compact is a formal, and stable embodiment of the terms on which a group of people decide to live together in a community. It creates their government and represents the “consent of the governed.” The compact retains the same meaning and terms until the people agree to change it.

So, one benefit of a Social Compact is that the parties have a right and an expectation that the terms will remain the same. In the case of the Constitution, the government created is one of limited powers, with those powers expressly listed for each branch. All remaining government power is reserved to the States (both implied by the limited nature of the delegation of power and expressly by the Tenth Amendment). So when the federal government exceeds its powers under the Constitution and passes an unconstitutional law, establishes an unconstitutional policy, or renders an unconstitutional court “opinion,” the States, as the parties to the compact, have a RIGHT to ensure that the government exercises only those powers given it and to PREVENT such unconstitutional law, policy, or court opinion from being enforced on We the People. After all, when the government assumes powers not delegated to it, it naturally usurps them from their natural possessor, which is either the States or the People themselves.

James Madison explained this concept best, when he articulated the doctrines of Nullification and Interposition in his Virginia Resolves of 1798, which were written for the Virginia legislature in order to nullify the Alien & Sedition Acts, which were clearly unconstitutional, and prevent the residents of the state from being subject to them. The Virginia Resolves read: “That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.” In his term “interpose,” he encompasses “nullification’ as well, which is the doctrine that says any law made without the proper authority (ie, an unconstitutional law) is automatically null and void and therefore unenforceable. Of course the federal government will never admit on its own that any of its actions are unconstitutional. It is up to the sovereign States to do that. In this manner, government can be kept in check.

It is Compact Theory that provides this level of protection against government tyranny for We the People.

Besides keeping the federal in check with regard to its rightful powers, States like South Carolina also believed it had the right to intervene when the government violated the basic nature and purpose of its being – to govern for the individual States equally; that is, not to operate government primarily for the benefit of certain States or certain regions over others.

When South Carolina, at the end of 1832, took strong action to oppose the high protective tariffs supported by Andrew Jackson’s administration, the Tariffs of Abomination (of 1828 and then 1832), which were exceedingly burdensome and crushing on the economy of the state, it looked to the compact nature of the Constitution for justification: On January 22, 1833, Senator John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, submitted the following resolutions:—

Resolved, That the people of the several States composing these United States are united as parties to a constitutional compact, to which the people of each State acceded as a separate sovereign community, each binding itself by its own particular ratification; and that the union, of which the said compact is the bond, is a union between the States ratifying the same.

Resolved, That the people of the several States thus united by the constitutional compact, in forming that instrument, and in creating a general government to carry into effect the objects for which they were formed, delegated to that government, for that purpose, certain definite powers, to be exercised jointly, reserving, at the same time, each State to itself, the residuary mass of powers, to be exercised by its own separate government; and that whenever the general government assumes the exercise of powers not delegated by the compact, its acts are unauthorized, and are of no effect; and that the same government is not made the final judge of the powers delegated to it, since that would make its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among sovereign parties, without any common judge, each has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure of redress.

Resolved, That the assertions, that the people of these United States, taken collectively as individuals, are now, or ever have been, united on the principle of the social compact, and, as such, are now formed into one nation or people, or that they have ever been so united in any one stage of their political existence; that the people of the several States composing the Union have not, as members thereof, retained their sovereignty; that the allegiance of their citizens has been transferred to the general government; that they have parted with the right of punishing treason through their respective State governments; and that they have not the right of judging in the last resort as to the extent of the powers reserved, and of consequence of those delegated,—are not only without foundation in truth, but are contrary to the most certain and plain historical facts, and the clearest deductions of reason; and that all exercise of power on the part of the general government, or any of its departments, claiming authority from such erroneous assumptions, must of necessity be unconstitutional,—must tend, directly and inevitably, to subvert the sovereignty of the States, to destroy the federal character of the Union, and to rear on its ruins a consolidated government, without constitutional check or limitation, and which must necessarily terminate in the loss of liberty itself.”

South Carolina, in convention on November 24, 1832, adopted an Ordinance of Nullification which protested the constitutionality of the tariffs and stated that it would not provide the federal government with said tariff revenue. This would become the so-called Nullification Crisis of 1832. President Jackson threatened to invade South Carolina with federal troops and collect the revenue by force, but a compromise tariff bill was quickly reached in Congress which averted the crisis and which eventually lowered the tariff to pre-1828 levels. Nullification worked !! It prevented government abuse on the people and businesses of Virginia. (The tariff was discriminatory on southern states, particularly South Carolina and the Gulf States; the North did not pay tariffs because of the items that had duties attached; the North manufactured those items – that’s why the tariff was a “protective” tariff… it protected the industries and products of the North !!!!)

Another benefit of characterizing the Constitution as a Social Compact is that if the compact is violated, the State, as a party, has the option to resume its powers. Actually, it has the option of resuming those powers even if there is no violation, but merely because the compact is frustrating its “happiness.” We know the States viewed the Constitution as a compact when they debated it in their ratifying conventions, because all used that term. And we know they believed they had the inherent right to resume the powers delegated because three states, Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island, explicitly included Resumption Clauses in their ratification decisions. They reserved the right to withdraw from the compact. Other states had less strongly-worded reservations, but no state would have ratified the Constitution if they believed that in doing so they would be surrendering their newly-won independence.

When New York delegates met on July 26, 1788, their ratification document read, “That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same.”

On May 29, 1790, the Rhode Island delegates made a similar claim in their ratification document. “That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same.”

On June 26, 1788, Virginia’s elected delegates met to ratify the Constitution. In their ratification document, they said, “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.”

The most extreme benefit of a Social Compact is the right of a State, as a party, to secede from the compact.

In adopting her “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” on December 24, 1860, the Palmetto State explained her right to do so based on the compact nature of the Constitution.

“The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act…….

The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority.

If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were– separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.

By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May , 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.

Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.

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.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: ‘No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.’

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that ‘Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,’ and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.”    [For the full Declaration, go to: ]

Note that South Carolina’s real issue with the federal government was the tariff issue; it was the immediate issue. Lincoln promised to support a new protective tariff (which Buchanan has just signed it in his waning days) which would elevate the tariff to its highest levels ever. But legally, the federal government has the authority under the Constitution to erect such tariffs. South Carolina agreed to that authority in adopting the document and joining the Union. It very well could not try to make a legal argument for secession based on its opposition to the high discriminatory tariff. But the slavery issue is a constitutional issue. And it represented an actual, palpable breach of the compact which would justify its withdrawal from the union.

In adopting the Constitution, the states understood that they would be free to leave the Union, as situations dictated. After all, they left the Union established by the Articles of Confederation to establish a new Union under the Constitution. But that Union was different and only those states that adopted would be members of that new Union and bound by the Constitution. Article VII states that 9 states needed to ratify the Constitution in order for it to go into effect.

So, to recap, the particular benefits of a Social Compact lie in the remedies it provides the parties should the compact be violated, or breached. The consequences for a breach of the compact are simple: If a State breaches, the others, acting alone, can decide whether to consider the compact broken which then would allow it to be relieved of its obligations (ie, the State would no longer be bound by the Constitution). If the federal government attempts to assume powers not delegated to it, the States have a right, even an obligation, to identify that unconstitutional act and prevent its enforcement.

And an extreme remedy is always available – the right of rescission. Rescission is the right of one of the parties to rescind or cancel the contract for cause. It is the right of a party, if there are many parties, to withdraw from the agreement. This is the remedy of secession. The abrogation, or cancellation of a contract, or withdrawal or secession from a compact, is a remedy designed to restore the parties to the positions they would have been in if no contract or compact had ever been formed. As explained above, once a State decides to secede, it resumes all the powers it had delegated away and resumes its natural station under the Laws of Nature. It is then free to establish a new form of government that suits is purposes. As to the remaining States, they are free to remain in the compact, which at that point would be a new Union. That Union is free to remain on the same terms and under the same conditions.

The Constitution was roundly understood and recognized as a Social Compact up until the years leading to the Civil War. Again, all our founding documents and primary documents explaining the Constitution and referring to it characterize it as a Social Compact. But something happened in the years when South Carolina started to become contentious with regards to the high protective tariffs. The protective tariffs had became a hallmark of the Whig Party platform and then the Republican Party platform. Leading Whig (House Speaker, then Senator) Henry Clay initiated a new government plan to help businesses. It was called the “American System” and included protective tariffs and internal improvements. The money raised by high protective tariffs would be used not only to fund the government (about 1/3 of the revenue), but it would also go to the North, for internal improvements to further industrialize those states. In other words, the protective tariffs, according to the South (and particularly South Carolina, led by Senator John C. Calhoun), were nothing more than a government scheme to plunder the wealth of the South and transfer it to the North for its benefit. When the government realized that South Carolina was not playing along smoothly, was bucking the system, and was threatening to even leave the Union over the tariff situation (perhaps other Southern States would follow suit), and they had just causes under compact theory, suddenly the notion of the Constitution as a Social Compact became a liability. All of a sudden, political leaders began asserting that the Constitution was not a Social Compact, including Senator Daniel Webster and then Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln came up with a new theory of the Constitution – based on a treatise on the Constitution, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, written in 1833 by then Supreme Court associate Justice Joseph Story. He would classify the Constitution as establishing a “perpetual Union” that the States had fully intended to create. [It should be noted that Story’s treatise was highly criticized by leading constitutional experts of the day – including Henry St. George Tucker, Sr., John Randolph Tucker, Abel Parker Upshur, James Kent, and John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was revered as an expert on the Constitution and perhaps even more “Jeffersonian” than Jefferson himself.] In 1833, after spending almost all of his life referring to the Constitution as a compact, leading politician and powerful orator (a “thundering” orator), Senator Webster took to the Senate floor and delivered a speech expressly denouncing the Constitution as a compact. [That speech, by the way, was given in response to the Resolutions introduced on Jan. 22 by Senator John Calhoun (shared earlier) to explain why South Carolina nullified the federal tariff].

It should be noted that years earlier, Senator Webster’s position was quite different: “But, sir, there is a compact, and no man pretends that the generation of today is not bound by the compacts of the fathers. A bargain broken on one side is a bargain broken on all; and the compact is binding upon the generation of today only if the other parties to the compact have kept their faith.” Works of Daniel Webster

If the Constitution is not characterized as a Social Compact, in total disregard of history and ignoring all of our historic documents, then we do not have the relationship between the government and the States, and the government and the People, as the States and our Founders intended. Liberty would not be safe. If is not a Social Compact, then the government is just one more group of people living in this broad general geographical territory. If we reject the status of the Constitution as a Social Compact, as liberals and progressives would like (because they favor a strong central government with plenary powers), then we must get used to the permanent notion that the federal government as the creature is more powerful than its creators. The powers “reserved to the States” would be usurped whenever the government deems it beneficial to do so. The powers surrendered to it by the States and by the People could not be resumed by them and the government would have total control over any object and over any individual or group it wishes. It would effectively mean the end to federalism – the only option left to limit the federal government. It would leave the States at the mercy of the intentions of DC politicians. The government would have a total monopoly over the meaning and scope of its powers (sorta like the monopoly it has now!) and our rights and the States’ rights would be exercised only at the good graces and designs of the federal government.

Lastly, if the Constitution is not characterized as a Social Compact, then the States do not have the remedies articulated earlier. Then the States truly have no option to secede and Lincoln’s Union will have become a reality – one that is perpetual. It will be perpetual because the government now has the right to seek its own longevity; under Compact theory, government only exists as long as it rightfully protects the rights of the individuals and serves them well.

II. DEFINITION & ORIGIN of the SOCIAL COMPACT (This section comes from: Martin Kelly, “The Social Compact,” ThoughtCo.)

The term “social contract” refers to the belief that the state exists only to serve the will of the people, who are the source of all political power enjoyed by the state. The people can choose to give or withhold this power. The idea of the social contract is one of the foundations of the American political system.

The term “social contract” can be found as far back as the writings of Plato. However, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes expanded on the idea when he wrote his classic, Leviathan, which was his philosophical response to the English Civil War. In the book, he wrote that in the earliest days there was no government. Instead, those who were the strongest could take control and use their power over others at any time. Hobbes’ theory was that the people mutually agreed to create a state, giving it only enough power to provide protection of their well-being. However, in Hobbes’ theory, once the power was given to the state, the people then relinquished any right to that power. In effect, that would be the price of the protection they sought.

Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke each took the social contract theory one step further. Rousseau wrote The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right, in which he explained that the government is based on the idea of popular sovereignty. The essence of this idea is that the will of the people as a whole gives power and direction to the state. John Locke also based his political writings on the idea of the social contract. He stressed the role of the individual and the idea that in the ‘State of Nature,’ people are essentially free. However, they might decide to form a government to punish other individuals who go against the laws of nature and harm others.

It follows that if this government no longer protected each individual’s right to life, liberty, and property, then revolution was not just a right but an obligation.

The idea of the social contract had a huge impact on the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The U.S. Constitution itself starts with the three words, “We the people…” embodying this idea of popular sovereignty in the very beginning of this key document. Thus, government that is established by the free choice of its people is required to serve the people, who in the end have sovereignty, or supreme power to keep or get rid of that government.

III. THE SOCIAL COMPACT and CONSTITUTION REPUBLICS (This section comes entirely from the Constitution Society, 2007)

Between 1787 and 1791 the Framers of the U.S. Constitution established a system of government upon principles that had been discussed and partially implemented in many countries over the course of several centuries, but never before in such a pure and complete design, which we call a constitutional republic. Since then, the design has often been imitated, but important principles have often been ignored in those imitations, with the result that their governments fall short of being true republics or truly constitutional. Although these principles are discussed in civics books, the treatment of them there is often less than satisfactory. This section will attempt to remedy some of the deficiencies of those treatments.

The Social Contract and Government –

The fundamental basis for government and law in this system is the concept of the social contract, according to which human beings begin as individuals in a state of nature, and create a society by establishing a contract whereby they agree to live together in harmony for their mutual benefit, after which they are said to live in a state of society. This contract involves the retaining of certain natural rights, an acceptance of restrictions of certain liberties, the assumption of certain duties, and the pooling of certain powers to be exercised collectively.

The social contract is very simple. It has only two basic terms: (1) mutual defense of rights; and (2) mutual decision by deliberative assembly. There are no agents, no officials, that persist from one deliberative assembly to another. The duties of the social contract are militia. There may be customs that persist from assembly to assembly, such as customs for due notice, parliamentary procedure, judicial due process, and enforcement of court orders by militia. This second term could be called the constitution of society, but it precedes a constitution of government and should not be confused with it.

There is also a constitution of nature that precedes both the constitution of society and the constitution of government. It is also convenient to speak of a constitution of the dominion that follows the constitution of society and precedes the constitution of government. It arises after a society is created (by adopting the social contract), and after it acquires exclusive dominion over a well-defined territory. That is when we get things like a right to remain at and to return to one’s birthplace, which makes no sense for a society with no territory (such as nomads).

A constitution of government, such as the Constitution of 1787, is the next step in the development. It is to establish institutions, offices, procedures, duties, and structures that persist from one assembly to another that are not just customs. It is at that point that we begin to get things like laws, and paid agents and officials, whose jobs continue beyond transient assemblies. We also get taxes, standing armies, and professional law enforcers. Such pooled powers are generally exercised by delegating them to some members of the society to act as agents for the members of the society as a whole, and to do so within a framework of structure and procedures that is a government. No such government may exercise any powers not thus delegated to it, or do so in a way that is not consistent with established structures or procedures defined by a basic law which is called the constitution.

While it is possible in principle for such a constitution to consist entirely of a body of unwritten practices, traditions, court decisions, and long-established statutes, in practice no such basic order can be considered secure against confusion or corruption if it is not primarily based on a written document, which prescribes the structure, procedures, and delegated powers of government, and the retained rights of the people, and which is strictly interpreted according to the original intent of the framers.

Although in principle the procedures may allow for the direct adoption of legislation by vote of the people, this is both impractical and potentially dangerous, especially to the rights of minorities, so that it is generally best that most legislation require approval at some point in the legislative process by a deliberative assembly, a body of elected representatives rather than by direct popular vote, and that any such legislation be subject to judicial review, whereby legislation not consistent with the constitution can be voided. Such a form of government is called a republic, as distinct from a democracy, in which all legislation is adopted solely by direct popular vote. And if it operates under a well-designed constitution, it is a constitutional republic.

It is important that the deliberative assembly fairly represent all the competing interests of the people, so that the concerns of minorities can be weighed and not ignored. But fair representation is insufficient if deliberation is not effective in analyzing and anticipating all the consequences of any decisions that might be made. The consent of the majority should be necessary for action, but that consent should never be sufficient for action.

Origins of the Social Contract –

Critics of social contract theory argue that almost all persons grow up within an existing society, and therefore never have the choice of whether to enter into a social contract. Not having a choice, they say, makes any such contract void.

The original proponents of the social contract theory, John Locke, David Hume, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, answered these critics, but not in a way that is entirely satisfactory. To understand how the social contract comes about, we need to look at the kinds of contract that prevail during each stage in the development of a human being in society.

Each of us begins life under the terms of a special kind of social contract called a filial contract, between a child and his parents, and by extension to his siblings. That contract is established at the moment of bonding between parents and child following birth, and the terms of the contract are that the child will provide the parents certain pleasures that come with parenthood, particularly the satisfaction of helping to form a happy and admirable adult, and support for the parents in their later years, and in turn receives their love, support, guidance, and protection during childhood.

Although a filial contract can exist in a family that is isolated from any larger society, when the parents join a society, they pool their rights and duties as parents with other members of that society, and thereby become agents of the larger society in the raising of their own children, and accountable to that larger society for doing so properly.

As a child grows, it encounters other members of the larger society, usually beginning with other children. Whenever any two or more individuals meet with the understanding and expectation that they will live together in harmony and not fight with one another using any available means, they are establishing a social contract among themselves. In most cases they will be contracting with persons who have already established such a contract with still other persons, so that the terms of the contract are not only to live in harmony with those in direct contact, but also with all those with whom each of the parties is already engaged in a social contract, and by extension, to all others that those are in a social contract with, and so on. In other words, the social contract is transitive: if a is in a social contract with b, and b with c, then a is in a social contract with c. In this way each of us is bound under a social contract with all the other members of the society, most of whom we have never met.

As a person makes the transition from childhood to adulthood, his obligations change to match his abilities, and the filial contract gives way to the larger social contract and obligations to larger communities at the local, provincial, national, and global levels.

Of course, the social contracts of several societies may not extend to one another, giving rise to tribes or nations, whose members are bound by social contract within their membership, but are in a state of nature with respect to one another. If that state of nature involves active conflict, whether at the individual, tribal, or national level, it is said to be a state of war.

Breaches of the Social Contract —

Although the situation of there never having been a social contract is a fairly simple one, the situation of either deceiving another into thinking there is a social contract between them, or of entering into a social contract and then violating its terms, can be much more complicated, and much of law and government is concerned with dealing with such situations.

In his treatment of the subject, Locke tended to emphasize those violations of the social contract that are so serious that the social contract is entirely broken and the parties enter a state of war in which anything is permitted, including killing the violator. Today we would tend to place violations on a scale of seriousness, only the most extreme of which would permit killing. Some would even go so far as to exclude killing for any transgression, no matter how serious, but that extreme view is both unacceptable to most normal persons and subversive of the social contract itself, which ultimately depends not on mutual understanding and good will, but on a balanced distribution of physical power and the willingness to use it. Sustaining the social contract therefore depends in large part on so ordering the constitution and laws as to avoid unbalanced or excessive concentrations of power, whether in the public or the private sector.

Checks and Balances –

The framers of the U.S. Constitution addressed the problem of avoiding unbalanced or excessive concentrations of power in government by adopting a constitution in which legislative, executive, and judicial powers are largely divided among separate branches, with each having some power to check the abuses of the others. Legislative powers were further divided between two legislative bodies. Some powers were delegated to the central national government, which others were reserved to the component states or the people.

Around the end of the 19th century, however, it became increasingly apparent that excessive and unbalanced concentrations of power in the private sector could subvert the system of checks and balances in government, and the first anti-trust laws were passed to try to provide a check on those undue influences. Unfortunately, such legislation has not been entirely effective, and we now face a situation in which to an intolerable degree the real powers of government are being exercised not by constitutional bodies but by secret cabals based in the private sector but extending throughout government, cabals which are increasingly coherent and increasingly abusive of the rights of the people, including the right to have government be accountable to them and not to a power elite. The continued constitutional development of this society will therefore require the development of a new, more sophisticated system of checks and balances that extends throughout the private sector as well as the public and does not entirely rely on market forces.

Much of the abuse that has developed arises from the assumption by the national or central government of powers not delegated to it under the Constitution, and the erosion of the powers of the States with respect to that central government. Some of those powers are arguably best exercised by the central government, but without constitutional authority even the exercise of reasonable powers becomes an abuse and leads to an escalating cycle of abuses as more and more people resist such intrusions, creating a crisis of legitimacy not only for those unconstitutional activities but for the constitutional ones as well. If government is to be brought into compliance with the Constitution, then there will have to be a carefully planned program of repealing or overturning unconstitutional legislation and official acts, combined with a number of amendments that will provide the needed authority for legislation and acts which are best exercised by the central government, and the re- enactment of legislation based on such amendments. That will leave a difficult problem of dealing with all those actions conducted without constitutional authority before the amendments are adopted. Making the amendments retroactive is not permissible under constitutional principles, which exclude not only ex post facto laws but ex post facto amendments as well.

Of Rights Natural and Constitutional –

Under the theory of the social contract, those rights which the individual brings with him upon entering the social contract are natural, and those which arise out of the social contract are contractual. Those contractual rights arising out of the constitution are constitutional rights. However, natural rights are also constitutional rights.

The fundamental natural rights are life, liberty, and property. However, it is necessary to be somewhat more specific as to what these rights include. Therefore, constitution framers usually expand them into such rights as the right of speech and publication, the right to assemble peaceably, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to travel over public roadways, and so forth. The exercise of such natural rights may be restricted to the extent that they come into conflict with the exercise of the natural rights of other members of society, but only to the minimum degree needed to resolve such conflict.

Such natural rights are inalienable, meaning that a person cannot delegate them or give them away, even if he wants to do so. That means that no constitutional provision which delegated to government at any level the power to take away such rights would be valid, even if adopted as an amendment through a proper amendment process. Such rights apply to all levels of government, federal, state, or local. Their enumeration in the constitution does not establish them, it only recognizes them. Although they are restrictions on the power of government, the repeal of the provisions recognizing them would not remove the restrictions or allow the delegation of any power to deny them. The people do not have that power, and therefore cannot delegate it to government.

Yet constitutions recognize the power to deprive persons of their rights under due process of law. Strictly speaking, a person may not be deprived of such rights in the sense of taking them away. Natural rights are never lost. Their exercise can, however, be restricted or, to use the proper legal term, disabled. While some might question the practical distinction between losing a right and having it disabled, that distinction is important. A right which is disabled under due process may also be re- enabled by the removal of that disability, and the disability is removed if the social contract is broken and persons return to the state of nature.

Due process is not defined in the written U.S. Constitution, which points out the fact that the constitution consists not only of the written document itself, but the body of court precedents, legal definitions and traditions, and prevailing civic processes as of the date the written document was ratified, which is called pre-ratification Common Law. It also includes the commentaries and records of the debates of the framers and ratifiers insofar as they provide guidance on how to interpret the provisions of the written document. The constitution is further expanded to include the body of court precedents since ratification which interpret its provisions, called post-ratification common law, but only insofar as those court precedents are consistent with the written document, pre-ratification Common Law, and the original intent of its framers and ratifiers.

Certain rights, therefore, such as the rights of due process and the right to vote, are contractual. They have no meaning in a state of nature, only within the context of a civil society. And they are defined within Common Law rather than in the written Constitution.

Due process requires, among other things, that any disablement of a right be done only by a court of competent jurisdiction in response to a petition to do so, and after arguments and evidence are heard from all sides to support or refute the granting of such petition. The only rights which may be disabled by statute and without a specific court proceeding are the rights of majority, or adulthood. Common Law recognizes that persons are born with disabilities of minority, and constitutions and laws typically define some age at which those disabilities are removed, such as age 18 in the United States for purposes of voting, although it may allow for such disabilities to be removed earlier, or retained past the usual age of majority, upon petition to do so. Due process therefore requires that each and every right which is to be disabled be argued separately on its merits, and the ruling or sentence of the court explicitly disable each such right.

This requirement therefore comes into conflict with legislation which prescribes the disablement of certain rights for persons convicted of certain types of crimes, such as the right to vote or to keep and bear arms, without that disablement being made an explicit part of the sentence or the sentencing hearing. Such legislation must be considered unconstitutional, for even though there may be due process in the case which results in the explicit disablement of the rights to certain liberties or properties, those disablements are openly stated and argued, and the statutory inclusion of other disablements that are not made explicit or separately argued is a denial of due process.

Duties under the Social Contract –

While a constitution prescribes the legal rights of individuals and the powers of government, the social contract also includes certain duties which members assume upon entry. Those duties include the duty to avoid infringing on the rights of other members, to obey just laws, to comply with and help enforce just contracts, to serve on juries, and to defend the community.

It is important to recognize that although individuals have a right of self-defense in the state of nature, when they enter into society under the social contract, the pooling of that right transforms it into a duty to defend the community, and therefore to risk or sacrifice one’s life, liberty, or property if such defense should require it. The right of self-defense is no longer supreme, although it survives the transition to society as a duty to defend oneself as part of the community. Pacifism in the face of mortal danger to oneself or others is therefore not consistent with the social contract, and persons who insist on that position must be considered not to be members of society or entitled to its benefits, and if they live in the same country, have the status of resident aliens.

This duty implies not only individual action to defend the community, but the duty to do so in concert with others as an organized and trained militia. Since public officials may themselves pose a threat to the community, such militias may be subject to call-up by officials, but may not be subject to their control except insofar as they are acting in accordance with the constitution and laws pursuant thereto, and in defense of the community. Since any official designated to call up the militia may be an enemy of the constitution and laws, and may fail to issue a call-up when appropriate, militias must remain able to be called up by any credible person and independent of official control.

Another important duty is jury duty. Since officials may be corrupt or abusive or their power, grand jurors have the duty not only to bring an indictment upon evidence presented to it by a prosecutor, but to conduct their own investigations and if necessary, to appoint their own prosecutors to conduct a trial on the evidence. Petit jurors have the duty to not only follow the instructions of the judge to bring a verdict on the “facts” in a case, but to rule on all issues before the court, overriding the judge if necessary. No matter how despicable an accused defendant might be or how heinous his acts, they have the duty to find that accused not guilty if the court lacks jurisdiction, if the rights of the accused were seriously violated in the course of the investigation or trial, or if the law under which the accused is charged is misapplied to the case or is unconstitutional; and to find the law unconstitutional if it is in violation of the constitutional rights of the accused, if it is not based on any power delegated to the government, if it is unequally enforced, or if it is so vague that honest persons could disagree on how to obey or enforce it. Since most jury instructions now discourage petit juries from exercising that duty, almost all convictions brought by such juries in which there was an issue in law must be considered invalid, due to jury tampering by the court.

Governmental Powers and Duties –

Some critics of social contract theory argue that there are some powers of government that are not derived from powers of the people or delegated to the government by them. However, a careful analysis will show that all powers exercised by government derive either from the people as a whole, or from some subset of the people, or from one person, and that only the first are legitimate. The power to tax? Persons in the state of nature have the power to tax themselves, although they would not ordinarily think of it that way.

Most written constitutions prescribe the powers delegated to government, but are not always explicit about the duties. It is implied that the government has the duty to exercise its powers wisely and pursuant to the purposes of the social contract. But some persons argue that the power to act is also the power not to act. Could the government choose not to exercise its power to conduct elections, or to defend the country, or to maintain a sound currency, or to organize and train the militias of each state? No. Except in case of emergency, and only for the duration of the emergency, government must exercise the powers delegated to it according to their purposes to the best of its ability. That is its duty. Just as it is the duty of every member of society to exercise his or her powers in service of the community.

References: Ernest Barker, ed., Social Contract, Oxford U. Press, London, 1960. Contains the essays: John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government; David Hume, Of the Original Contract; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract.

James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention. The definitive record of the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, The Federalist.

Bernard Schwartz, The Roots of the Bill of Rights, Chelsea House, New York, 1980.

Leonard W. Levy, Original Intent and the Framers’ Constitution, 1988, Macmillan, New York. Scholar examines “original intent” doctrine and its alternatives.

Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed, 1984, Independent Institute, 134 98th Av, Oakland, CA 94603.

Clarence Streit, Atlantic Union Now, 1962, Freedom & Union Press, Washington, DC.

**** The Constitution Society gives its permission for this last section (“The Social Compact & Constitutional Republics”) to be copied with attribution for noncommercial purposes.

This post includes a compilation of two previous works:
I. My original composition

II. The Intro about Social Compact: Martin Kelly, “The Social Compact,” ThoughtCo., June 26, 2017. Referenced at:

III. “The Social Compact & Constitutional Republics,” 2007 Constitution Society.

Other Resource: “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” (The Avalon Project; Yale Law School) —


A Government of the People, By the People, For the People… How it Really Works, According to Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON - Time magazine cover

by Diane Rufino, September 20, 2017

Thomas Jefferson articulated the absolute right of a state to secede from the Union. He did so in 1798, in 1799, in 1816, and up until his death in 1826 (July 4, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). The right of self-determination was proclaimed in the Declaration as a founding principle and was never surrendered in the Constitution. In fact, Jefferson and Madison (1798 and 1800, in his written documents explaining the nature of the agreement known as the US Constitution) both agreed that such an inherent right can never be contracted away, although it should be reserved for extreme cases.

For Jefferson in 1816, the States had a clear right to leave the union. Government power, he reasoned, should never be concentrated at the top but rather at the bottom, closest to the people. If such were the case, there should never arise the level of tyranny that would warrant the drastic remedy of secession. The key, therefore, is to keep government closest to the people. Jefferson explained that the way to do this is to vest government only with those responsibilities that are absolutely necessary and those which people, in their individual capacity, cannot do or cannot be trusted to do and then to divide those responsibilities accordingly – with the governmental bodies closest to the people (localities) being responsible for the interests and affairs that touch on their lives most directly – their property, their livelihoods, their customs and communities, their education concerns, etc – and the government farthest away from them (Washington, DC) being responsible for the matters that are most external to their everyday lives, such as national security, international affairs and diplomacy, inter-state commerce, etc.

From Kevin Gutzman’s exceptional book, THOMAS JEFFERSON, REVOLUTIONARY:

Explaining the subdivision of government power, into “ward republics,” Jefferson wrote: “The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but rather to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the National government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations, the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the state generally, and the Counties with the local concerns of the counties; each Ward directs the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm and affairs by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best…. I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that Man shall never be free (and it is blasphemy to believe it) that the secret will be found to be in the making of himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetic process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers, in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. The elementary republics of the Wards – the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union – would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one of its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental checks and balances for the government. Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs not merely at an election, one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the state who will not be a member of one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power he wrenched from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.”

The Roman Empire fell when its ruling authority in Rome presided over too large and diverse of a group to represent them and their interests properly in a concentrated government body. And the same is happening here in the United States. If we hope to make this country the one that it was originally destined to be, the country that Thomas Jefferson dreamed of and worked his life to guide, then we need to push for solutions that return power back to the people…  In my favorite movie, GLADIATOR, Emperor Marcus Aurelius confides in his loyal general, Maximus, and conveys his dying wish: “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter…….. There is one more duty that I ask of you before you go home. I want you to become the protector of Rome after I die. I will empower you to one end alone, to give power back to the people of Rome and end the corruption that has crippled it. It must be you. it must be you. You have not been corrupted by her politics.”

We are Rome. We are a republic in name only, and have been for a very long time now.  We must acknowledge that. Each congressman represents too large and diverse of a group of people (at least 700,000 individuals per congressional district) to act as a meaningful advocate in government, and each senator, representing each person in his or her state, has the same problem. And so, our elected representatives no longer work for us or our interests;  they become agents for the interests and preservation of the federal government – a government that becomes more interested in “the common good” with each year of its existence. Republics are only successful when they are relatively small, when the ratio of elected representatives to the constituency remains workable. The solution to returning power to the people is to subdivide our one great republic into smaller republics (as Jefferson called them, “ward republics”) – to subdivide government power with the greatest control over the individual and his or her everyday life vested in those government bodies most local and closest to the people.

A big government is not our friend, although it likes to portray itself as such. We’ve seen its violations against us over the years, including collecting our personal information, lying to the American people, refusing to punish those in office who have broken criminal laws (and have even skirted on treason), taxing us excessively (including to support terrorist regimes such as Iran and Pakistan), forcing people to purchase health insurance not because they need it but because others need it, opening our borders to leave our communities and jobs vulnerable, judicial activism from the courts, obstruction in our attempts to legitimize the election process, and most recently, wiretapping political a presidential candidate to undermine the success of a threatening political movement. Ask yourself one question: What power do We the People think really have over the governing of our states and our country?  The key to the security of freedom is the control the people have in their government. James Madison once wrote: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

The era of King George III is here. Americans have a history of how to respond to such tyranny…. Unless, of course, we have truly become Rome.

Edward Snowden, labeled both a patriot by many and a traitor by some, said: “Being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen, from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.”


Reference:  Kevin Gutzman, Thomas Jefferson – Revolutionary, St. Martin’s Press, NY (2017).


Rethinking the Southern Secession Movement of 1861

SECESSION - Union is Dissolved

by Diane Rufino, July 23, 2017

The question is: Was the Civil War fought over the issue of Slavery?  I won’t deny that slavery was an issue that inflamed the passions of both sections of the country and put each at odds with one another, but it was NOT the cause of the conflict that I will refer to as the War of Northern Aggression, a war which claimed the lives of over 650,000 young Americans.

At the end of 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the Union was on the verge of dissolution. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated on April 4, seven states had already seceded and a new nation had been formed, the Confederate States of America (complete with a new constitution).  Following South Carolina’s lead (December 1860), Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and then Texas formally severed political ties with the Union. On April 4, Virginia held a state convention to consider secession but voted it down, 89-45. (North Carolina would do the same). Lincoln could not allow the Union to be split; he could not lose the tariff revenue supplied by the agrarian South which, in 1859, not only supplied approximately 80% of the federal revenue, but was used to enrich the industrialized North. And so, something had to be done to give Lincoln a “pretext” to restore the Southern states to the Union.

On April 12, 1861, Lincoln tricked South Carolina militia forces into firing on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, even after South Carolina had demanded, and even tried negotiating for, the transfer of the fort to the Confederacy. The attack on Fort Sumter would provide the pretext he needed. He used the incident to characterize the southern states as being in a state of active rebellion and thus ordering troops to subdue them. On April 15, President Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion and to defend the capital.  With that proclamation, four more Southern states left the Union. The first was Virginia.

Virginia did not leave the Union because of slavery; same with North Carolina. We should take particular note of this piece of history.

Virginia looked at President’s Lincoln’s Proclamation and demand for troops, and just as her leaders did when President John Adams passed the Sedition Act, she saw serious constitutional violations and contemplated how she needed to respond.

In reading the responses by Virginia’s Governor John Letcher below, you will see that he exercised all the remedies implied in the concept of State Sovereignty, Tenth Amendment, and even the Declaration of Independence:  First, he refused to comply with Lincoln’s decree – Virginia would not supply troops. That is Nullification and Interposition. And then, because the proclamation evidenced the will of a maniac, a tyrant, and an enemy of the Constitution, and evidenced the transformation of the federal government into something Virginia could no longer trust her sovereignty with and no longer wanted to be associated with, her people decided to sever the bonds which held her in allegiance. Virginia seceded.

On April 16, Virginia’s Governor John Letcher made the following dispatch to Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Simon Cameron:


HON. SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War:

SIR: I received your telegram of the 15th, the genuineness of which I doubted. Since that time (have received your communication, mailed the same day, in which I am requested to detach from the militia of the State of Virginia “the quota designated in a table,” which you append, “to serve as infantry or riflemen for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.”

In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object — an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795 — will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited towards the South. Respectfully,


The following day, Governor Letcher issued the following proclamation, which was published for the people of Virginia to read:

Whereas, Seven of the States formerly composing a part of the United States have, by authority of their people, solemnly resumed the powers granted by them to the United States, and have framed a Constitution and organized a Government for themselves, to which the people of those States are yielding willing obedience, and have so notified the President of the United States by all the formalities incident to such action, and thereby become to the United States a separate, independent and foreign power; and whereas, the Constitution of the United States has invested Congress with the sole power “to declare war,” and until such declaration is made, the President has no authority to call for an extraordinary force to wage offensive war against any foreign Power: and whereas, on the 15th inst., the President of the United States, in plain violation of the Constitution, issued a proclamation calling for a force of seventy-five thousand men, to cause the laws of the United states to be duly executed over a people who are no longer a part of the Union, and in said proclamation threatens to exert this unusual force to compel obedience to his mandates; and whereas, the General Assembly of Virginia, by a majority approaching to entire unanimity, declared at its last session that the State of Virginia would consider such an exertion of force as a virtual declaration of war, to be resisted by all the power at the command of Virginia; and subsequently the Convention now in session, representing the sovereignty of this State, has reaffirmed in substance the same policy, with almost equal unanimity; and whereas, the State of Virginia deeply sympathizes with the Southern States in the wrongs they have suffered, and in the position they have assumed; and having made earnest efforts peaceably to compose the differences which have severed the Union, and having failed in that attempt, through this unwarranted act on the part of the President; and it is believed that the influences which operate to produce this proclamation against the seceded States will be brought to bear upon this commonwealth, if she should exercise her undoubted right to resume the powers granted by her people, and it is due to the honor of Virginia that an improper exercise of force against her people should be repelled.

Therefore I, JOHN LETCHER, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, have thought proper to order all armed volunteer regiments or companies within this State forthwith to hold themselves in readiness for immediate orders, and upon the reception of this proclamation to report to the Adjutant-General of the State their organization and numbers, and prepare themselves for efficient service. Such companies as are not armed and equipped will report that fact, that they may be properly supplied.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Commonwealth to be affixed, this 17th day of April, 1861, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth.


On April 17, in a newly-called convention, Virginia, the traditional leader of the South, made the decision to secede – 88 to 55, on the condition of ratification by a statewide referendum. Neither Virginia nor any of the other later-seceding states understood the federal government to authorize violence against member states.

Virginia’s ordinance of secession was ratified in a referendum by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 on May 23.

On April 4, Virginia decided to remain in the Union. How did that decision preserve or extend slavery?  Virginians had been willing to endure a crushing protective tariff under President Lincoln, the likes of the Tariff of Abominations (1828). And they understood that remaining in the Union would mean that slavery would continue to be under attack by his administration. Virginia was loyal to the Union even when the government was antagonistic to her.  No, slavery wasn’t the reason the Southern states of Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina (and probably others), left the Union. It would be Lincoln’s demand for troops that would change their minds. To these states, remaining in the Union was to abandon every principle of confederation that they valued. Continued loyalty to a Union that would attack member states and being forced to take up arms against her neighbors was inconceivable and intolerable.

Slavery was the issue that caused the North to become aggressively hostile to the states of the South and to cause the South to question whether the two regions could ever have enough of a common interest to remain joined together with a government that was to serve each equally and fairly. But the independent ambitions of the federal government and the schemes and twisted ideology of its president were the direct cause of its violent course the division would take.



“Governor Letcher’s Proclamation: His Reply to Secretary Cameron – State of Affairs Norfolk,” New York Times, April 22, 1861.  Referenced at:



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


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.”


2017 Independence Day Reflection

The Liberty Bell

by Diane Rufino, July 4, 2017

“My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died; Land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from ev’ry mountainside, Let freedom ring!

Every successful experiment starts with a great hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a testable answer to a scientific question; an educated guess. One can say that our great American experiment started with a profound hypothesis. That hypothesis held that liberty is most secure when it is recognized and accepted that human rights are endowed by the Creator — not by government — and are therefore inalienable; that governments are creations or creatures of the People, instituted primarily to secure their rights and to serve them as they seek to establish an ordered society; and that once government becomes destructive of its ends, the People have the natural and inherent right to alter or abolish it and establish another form of government in its place.

That hypothesis was our Declaration of Independence.

Those who read the Declaration and think it stands merely for the notion that “All Men are Created Equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” are missing the bigger picture. They are missing out on perhaps the most revolutionary, the most profound, the most important political statement ever made. It is the document that has changed the world.

And yet, in planning to declare independence from Great Britain, our Founders could not know that this document, in all its grandeur and espousing such profound and enlightened principles, would be the vehicle. Perhaps history put the right man in the right place at the right time, for the right purpose.

Once hostilities broke out between the colonies and Great Britain, the colonies sought to use the opportunity to issue a simple declaration, stating that they regarded themselves as no longer a part of the British Empire but rather as free and independent States.  Thomas Jefferson would give us much more than a simple declaration.

On June 7, 1776, acting under the instruction of the Virginia Convention and particularly its presiding officer Edmund Pendleton (who had served as the President of the First Continental Congress), Richard Henry Lee on introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the colonies. The Lee Resolution contained three very simple parts: a declaration of independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and “a plan for confederation.”

Resolved, 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.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

On June 11, the Second Continental Congress appointed three concurrent committees to address Lee’s Resolution – one to draft a declaration of independence, a second to draw up a plan to form foreign alliances, and a third to plan a form of a confederation for the colonies. To draft the declaration, Congress named a five-member committee comprised of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Although Adams was deemed best qualified to write the draft, he urged Jefferson to write it. Jefferson had approached his friend Adams to confirm that he would be drafting the declaration. But Adams responded: “I will not. You should do it. You ought to do it.”  When Jefferson asked why, Adams explained: “Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”  [Adams was indeed unpopular; he had represented the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre

That very day, Jefferson would begin work on the Declaration of Independence. He moved into a small house -two blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress had been meeting – in order to write in seclusion. Because several members of the Congress wanted to seek instruction from their colonies before addressing such an extreme measure, the vote was deferred until July 2.

On July 2, the Congress voted on independence. It adopted the Lee Resolution, which, as reproduced above, declared the individual states independent from Great Britain. “Resolved, 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.”   But the Congress decided it needed to draft a document explaining the move to the public (“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world…”)  Such a draft had been proposed and submitted by the Committee of Five (written by Jefferson), and it took two days for the full Congress to agree on the edits. That is why we see the words “IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” at the top of the Declaration, because that is the day the last version was approved and signed in Philadelphia, at Independence Hall.

Once the final version was approved, the actual Declaration on Independence document that was signed on July 4 was sent to a printer named John Dunlap. About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed and sent to the states, including to General George Washington.

The document was not titled “Declaration of Independence” nor does the term appear anywhere in the document, yet that was clearly its intention. The declaration justified the independence of the colonies by first asserting their collective understanding of the relationship between the individual and government, as well as the purpose and limits of government, then listing the colonists’ grievances against King George III (summing up with the line: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”), and finally asserting certain natural and legal rights, including the right of secession (“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”).

The Declaration of Independence was a transformative document.  No longer would individuals have to petition or plead with government to respect their rights. Going forward, government would be established for the primary purpose of securing and enlarging their rights, guaranteeing that an ordered society would be possible while still allowing individuals to exercise the rights that they were born with; governments would no longer treat individuals like “subjects.” They would not be subject to the good graces or generosity of a King or his wrath or insecurity. “Inalienable” would now characterize the rights that their forefathers, Englishmen, could only enjoy if the King allowed it.

I love how exquisitely the Declaration of Independence explains how government is grounded in God’s Law and Nature’s Law and that it is always a creature of the people, for the people. For that reason, governments are always “temporary” in nature, enduring only as long as they protect and secure certain essential individual rights and as long as they serve productive ends. When a government ceases to serve either end, nature and Thomas Jefferson tell us that people have the right, the natural right (the right of self-determination, which is equally as “inalienable” as the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”) to alter or abolish it. And that is what the people of the American colonies, chose to do. The Declaration made the case for that decision, explaining that the “government” of Great Britain – the King and Parliament – had become destructive and abusive of their rights, which had been set forth in the great Magna Carta and solidified in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. As Jefferson made clear, because “the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” it was their natural right to sever political bonds with it, declare independence, to secede from Great Britain), and to establish a new government better suited to serve them and to respect and exemplify their ideals. The founding principles so brilliantly laid out in the Declaration form a foundation as strong as bedrock for our individual rights. If they are endowed by the Creator, who dare have the authority to take them away?  Similarly, if they are natural rights, belonging to us at our birth, we don’t lose them – just as we don’t lose the ability of our bodies to reproduce and have children and just as a falling body will always be acted on by the force of gravity. Some things are simply absolutes. Nature dictates life since it is from nature that we exist.  Jefferson grounded our rights in both God’s Law and Nature’s Law (some will argue that they are, in fact, one and the same), as the first paragraph of the Declaration makes clear: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

If we only took the time to read this magnificent document, to study it, and to truly understand and appreciate every phrase that Jefferson included, we would have a far deeper sense of gratitude for our Founders and their inspired wisdom and foresight and a far deeper appreciation for what this country stands for (or “stood for”). Perhaps people might even realize that being an American is a far greater privilege that they had ever bothered to contemplate and that maybe, just maybe, such a privilege carries an obligation to conduct oneself in a respectful and dignified manner, always mindful of what he or she represents as a citizen and always ready to defend and exemplify the best that the country stands for. I love our Declaration of Independence, and to me, it is, and has always been, the most important of all founding documents – serving as our nation’s moral compass and forever shining a light on the reasons and principles of our existence.

Jefferson’s profound hypothesis still stands. But has our experiment steered away from hypothesis so that the ultimate question can no longer be answered?  That is the question.  What does the future hold when we’ve loosened the moorings that once tied Liberty to the principles in the Declaration?


PHILLY 2017 - Diane in front of house Jefferson wrote Declaration #2