Macon State history professor needs education
Below is my email response to Matt Jennings and his letter published in The Macon Telegraph August 7th (posted below).
Rebuttal to your Letter of August 7
Your letter published in the Aug. 7 Macon Telegraph presented the truly skewed views you apparently hold regarding the immoral invasion, looting, conquest and occupation of the southern states from 1861 to the early 1870s.
First, let’s address your views on secession.
Any reasonable reading of The Federalist Papers (and other pre-Ratification correspondence of the Founders) and the Declaration of Independence and even such post-Ratification State resolutions as those issued by Kentucky and Virginia make it abundantly clear that the States did not surrender their sovereignty to the central government to whom they delegated only specific, enumerated and limited powers.
Your use of the word “treason” is way out of line. The Southern states followed legal form when they seceded. Their declaration of independence from the government in D.C. was arguably more legal and well-supported than the original secession from the British Empire. It was not an “attempted” secession, it was real and legal and rescinded only at the point of a bayonet some years later.
“Governments derive their just powers from the Consent of the Governed…”
Clearly, the Southern States withdrew their consent and no amount of force or sophistry can make the subsequent northern conquest morally or legally right.
The northern states on numerous occasions threatened secession to protest events they disliked. The New England states saw the Louisiana Purchase as a threat to their economic dominance and shipping trade, so they threatened secession in 1803, and again in 1811 (when Louisiana convened to discuss becoming a State), and again in 1814 (the Hartford Convention) when the War with Britain stifled their shipping trade, and again in 1845 when Texas was considered for statehood.
Those New England State’s plans were not widely condemned as treasonous per se; everyone viewed it as a State’s right to withdraw as it saw fit. It might be argued that New England’s plans to make peace with Britain (while the Constitutional government was at war with them) might be viewed as treasonous…but they had the right to secede.
Even Abraham Lincoln made a compelling case for secession. In 1847, when Lincoln was a U.S. Representative in the House, Lincoln made the following remarks in a speech to the House in the context of the war with Mexico and the declaration of Independence of the Republic of Texas:
"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. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with , or near about them, who may oppose their movement. Such minority, was precisely the case, of the Tories of our own revolution." –Abraham Lincoln, from the Congressional Record, Jan. 12, 1847.
Just 13 years later, Lincoln was singing another tune and claiming with bogus argument that the States did NOT have the right to secede. His latter argument was logically ridiculous. He claimed that somehow the union came before the states which formed the union by ratifying the Constitution. That’s like saying that a marriage came before the two people who were joined in the marriage.
Lincoln argued in his 1861 Inaugural address that "Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments." Note that the Framers specifically avoided the use of the words "national" and "perpetual" and struck them from proposed documents. James Madison made it clear that the people, their liberties and their "safety and happiness" were more important than any form of government when he said, "The safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions must be sacrificed."
James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy, in their book Was Jefferson Davis Right? expressed scorn for Lincoln’s ridiculous proposition that the union was perpertual.
"From his statement, it appears that Lincoln viewed government as having some form of everlasting life. Adolph Hitler predicted a mere one thousand years duration for his Third Reich; Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, contemplated his government lasting forever."
Stated plainly, the Framers never intended for the government to be perpetual. In fact, they viewed occasional government "reform" to be healthy. Remember, from the Declaration of Independence, "…it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government…." Abraham Lincoln himself expressed the concept very clearly and convincingly in his speech to Congress in 1847 (see above). From this, we can only conclude that Lincoln understood very clearly that secession was a right. Any 1861 arguments to the contrary were sophistry.
Abolitionist Lysander Spooner made clear in his book that secession was not treason and that the war was unnecessary to end slavery.
Thomas DiLorenzo on Lysander Spooner’s fiery attack on Abe.
Why were there not numerous convictions for treason following the war?
President Jefferson Davis was held WITHOUT TRIAL for two years in Fortress Monroe (in shackles despite his failing health) following the war. Davis wanted nothing more than his day in court. Federal authorities decided against going to trial for they knew an acquittal (which was VERY likely, almost certain) would be catastrophic to their plans to punish the Southern states then being occupied. Furthermore, said acquittal would destroy their feigned pupose for prosecuting the war (the abolition of slavery). Abolition was adopted as a "cause" several years into the war but only as a political strategem to keep European powers from intervening.
They released Davis without a trial. If they could have assembled anything resembling a reasonable case for Treason charges, don’t you think they would have tried Davis?
The Southern States were held in limbo –they were told that they never left the union (the Lincoln Administration called it a rebellion)….so, even though the D.C. government claimed that the Southern States never left, they were held as “prisoners” with no rights until they ratified a collection of Amendments to the Constitution.
Though Lincoln had signed off on the Amendment to forbid federal interference with slavery, after his assassination, the original 13th Amendment and its partially ratified successor (the ‘slavery forever’ amendment) were abandoned in favor of the final 13th Amendment.
Among the other so-called “Reconstruction Amendments,” the ratification of the 14th is highly questionable and the others (17th) further degraded the rights of the States relative to the central government.
Now, let us address the occupation so glibly styled “Reconstruction.”
Far from the rosy period of “hopefulness” as you described it, it was nothing more than cheap vengeance on the part of Northern states leaders. Racial attitudes were fairly uniform across America (and Europe) at that time—blacks were not well regarded and were not considered “equal” — not even by the “Great Emancipator” as Lincoln mythology teaches.
Lincoln, the slain “emancipator” was in favor of removing all blacks (by force if necessary) in a program he called “colonization” back to Africa or to South America. His plans for the ultimate “segregation” are well documented. But, he was killed and never had the chance to implement them. Meanwhile, northern states were passing laws to forbid the immigration of free blacks into their borders.
Northern “leaders” in Congress did not promote “equality” out of any concern for the new black citizens. Freed blacks were “elected” to office in Southern states (only) and allowed to vote while white southerners were denied voting rights for one purpose only: To punish and spite the Southern people. Illiterate former slaves were elected as puppets to mock the Southern people while the carpetbaggers swarmed about looting property and using government force to take lands. It was a grotesque mockery of justice.
This unconscionable exploitation was motivated by the desire to continue looting the South of its treasure and the petty desire to punish the South for defending itself against invasion. This suppression and mockery of Southern whites, using Southern blacks as pawns, led directly to making race relations far worse than they would have been absent “Reconstruction.” Once the occupation ended, the backlash was felt by blacks across the South. Racial harmony was made almost impossible for decades to come.
Speaking of equality, just ask the plains Indians about the concern the Washington government showed for people of color. The Yankee armies took their “total war” methods (honed on the Southern people) westward and implemented them with great “success” against a people with stone age technology…..all to make way for the transcontinental railway the Yankee industrialists wanted.
Mr. Poulnott’s letter, far from a skewed view, was merely making the point that reparations cannot fairly be made for past injustices of this scope and scale. Just as it’s impossible to fairly make whole the former slaves, it is equally impossible to make whole the Southern people who were raped, pillaged, looted and oppressed by the occupation army and puppet governments it imposed.
I have no idea how widely read you are on the ‘Reconstruction’ period, but your brief letter in the Telegraph makes it apparent that you lack the big picture. I encourage you to speak with Bill Bragg at GC&SU whose knowledge on that period is substantial. Check out his book on the subject.
In "Reparations for Southerners," Telegraph readers were treated to a skewed and dangerous interpretation of the years following the Civil War. The states of the Confederacy committed treason and broke the law when they attempted to secede from the United States, so to call Congress’ actions illegal or corrupt seems inappropriate at best.
The years after the failed rebellion constitute an imperfect, but noble attempt on the part of Republicans in Congress and African Americans in the South to hold America up to its founding promises of equality and freedom. It also bears mentioning that Reconstruction rested particularly lightly on Georgia.
White Georgians were remarkably effective at rolling back and eventually crushing the limited gains achieved by African Americans in this state. By the early 1870s, white supremacist Democrats were in control of state politics. Finally, one must assume that the phrase "people of the South" includes only white people in the the letter-writer’s imagining.
For African Americans in Georgia, as elsewhere in the formerly rebellious states, Reconstruction was a time of hopefulness, though fraught with the danger posed by white vigilantism.
Assistant professor of history, Macon State College