The Immutable Political Philosophy of the South
 
From: Bernhard1848@att.net
 
The debates and agreements on State sovereignty which led to the Articles of Confederation, and which later found expression in the Bill of Rights and the distinct, specific delegation of powers to the federal agent, still rung in the ears of American statesmen in 1861.
 
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
www.CFHI.net
 
The Immutable Political Philosophy of the South:
 
"If the plan now proposed should be adopted, nothing less than ruin to some Colonies will be the consequence of it. The idea of destroying all Provincial Distinctions and making everything of the most minute kind bend to what they call the good of the whole, is in other terms to say that these Colonies must be subject to the Government of the Eastern Provinces…I am resolved to vest the Congress with no more Power than that is absolutely necessary, and, to use a familiar expression to keep the Staff in our own Hands; for I am confident if surrendered into the Hands of others a most pernicious use will be made of it."
Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, letter to John Jay, June 29, 1776)
 
Here then at the very outset is sounded the key-note of what for a hundred and sixty years—has been the immutable political philosophy of the South. It is not of course to be assumed that Southern Statesmen alone in those early days of our national upbringing took their stand firmly against any and every encroachment of the central power upon the God-given rights of the States. What had stirred these grave fears in the breast of Edward Rutledge was an exceptional rather than prevailing sentiment. Now and then, it is true, some speaker, chiefly in the North, less frequently of the South, would permit himself to be torn loose from his customary anchorage and let fall sentiments that seemed to point toward a shriveling of State and a fattening of central power; but Northern as well as Southern statesmen, then and long afterward were wont to cling to the doctrine of State sovereignty and independence as tenaciously as grim death in the fable clung to the deceased African.
 
As we listen to the chatter, the bickering, the declamation behind the Congressional curtain…one note rises above the din: every State, whether North or South, would beware the pitfalls and the snares that might light lurk in the path of a centralized government. They would approach such a government with extreme caution. The good of the whole was a noble sentiment—and there were no lips from which it did not fall—but would that whole be merely the sum of all its parts—or something more? It were well to make sure.
 
(In the Winter and Spring of 1777, Thomas Burke of North Carolina) sought to draw Congress back to solid ground (on the proposed Confederation) and to first principles. Burke made several speeches in the course of these discussions…and much of what he said and wrote is good gospel for the cause of State’s rights even to this day. In a letter to Governor Caswell…Burke wrote: "The more experience I acquire, the stronger is my Conviction, that unlimited Power can not be safely Trusted to any man or set of men on Earth"; and he went on to speak at some length of "the Delusive Intoxication which Power naturally imposes on the human Mind….(and noted that) the same persons who on one day endeavor to carry through some Resolutions, whose Tendency is to increase the Power of Congress, are often on another day very strenuous advocates to restrain it." In conclusion he declares, "Power will sometime or another be abused unless men are well watched, and checked by something which they cannot remove when they please."
 
"(In Burke’s summary of the Confederation debate in April 1777) We have agreed to three articles," he wrote, "one containing the name; the second a declaration of the sovereignty of the States, and an express provision that they be considered as retaining every power not expressly delegated; and the third an agreement mutually to assist each other against every enemy."
 
(Southern Statesmen and the Confederation, Edmund Cody Burnett, NC Historical Review, October 1937, excerpts, pp. 349-354)