Great Americans on Revolution, Coercion and Secession
Instead of reading Lincoln’s confused ramblings at Gettysburg in 1863, American students are better informed of that period after studying the last two speeches of Jefferson Davis in the United States Senate. While Lincoln’s Jacobin revolutionaries saw only power and bloodlust in holding the reins of government, Davis and other responsible Americans saw the intent of the Founders and the heavy chains of the Constitution to constrain imperial notions. Once Lincoln decided upon a war against the Constitution, his fellow Americans, and ignored the decision of Chief Justice Taney, the Founders republic was dead. The Revolution was indeed fought in vain if Americans today cannot exercise self-determination, and form a more perfect union at their own discretion without the threat of brute force to restrain them from doing so.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
Great Americans on Revolution, Coercion and Secession:
"Jefferson Davis, in his farewell address to the United States Senate, expressed the sentiments of Virginia….when he said:
"Now sir, we are confusing language very much. Men speak of revolution; and when they say revolution, they mean blood. Our fathers meant nothing of the sort. When they spoke of revolution, they meant the inalienable right. When they declared as an inalienable right, the power of the people to abrogate and modify their form of government whenever it did not answer the ends for which it was established, they did not mean that they were to sustain that by brute force…Are we, in this age of civilization and political progress…are we to roll back the whole current of human thought and again return to the mere brute force which prevails between beasts of prey as the only method of settling questions between men?
Is it to be supposed that the men who fought the battles of the Revolution for community independence, terminated their great efforts by transmitting prosperity to a condition in which they could only gain those rights by force? If so, the blood of the Revolution was shed in vain; no great principles were established; for force was the law of nature before the battles of the Revolution were fought."
Robert E. Lee, writing on the 23rd of January, 1861, said:
"Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom and forbearance in its formation and surrounded it with so many guards and securities if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will….Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets and in which strife and civil war are to take he place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people—and save in defense (of Virginia) will draw my sword on none."
George Baylor, speaking on the 1st of March 1861 in the Virginia Convention, said:
"I have said, Mr. President, that I did not believe in the right of secession. But whilst I make that assertion, I also say that I am opposed to coercion on the part of the Federal Government with the view of bringing the seceded States back into the Union…I am opposed to it first because I cannot find any authority in the Constitution of the United States delegating that power to the Federal Government, and second, because if the Federal Government had the power it would be wrong to use it."
John Quincy Adams, speaking before the New York Historical Society in 1839, on the 50th Anniversary of Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States, said:
"To the people alone there is reserved as well the dissolving as the constituent power, and that power can be exercised by them only under the tie of conscience binding them to the retributive justice of Heaven. With those qualifications we may admit the right as vested in the people of every State of the Union with reference to the General Government which was exercised by the people of the United Colonies with reference to the supreme head of the British Empire of which they formed a part, and under these limitations have the people of each State of the Union a right to secede from the Confederated Union itself."
(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Secession, Beverley B. Munford, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond, VA, 1909, pp294-295)