Secession Wasn’t Treason

Secession, and the knee-jerk reactions to it, have been of interest to me ever since I got into historical research. Yankee politicians, in 1861, portrayed secession by the Southern states as the most monstrous of crimes ever visited upon the human race – conveniently forgetting that earlier Yankee politicians had entertained exactly the same thoughts as they gathered at the Hartford (Connecticut) Convention in 1814, regarding New England secession from the rest of the country because New England did not approve of the War of 1812.

Between 1814 and 1861, secession went from a favoured possibility to a horrendous crime, especially if the South did it. Even in our day, many of our revisionist ‘historians’ howl about how secession was treason and about how the Confederate States sought to overthrow the Northern government – all of which is patent hogwash – and most of them know it in their hearts. All the Southern states wanted was to go in peace. They had no interest whatever in overthrowing the government in Washington; they just wanted to depart and set up their own government.

When the ‘late unpleasentness’ was over and the Confederacy, which never officially surrendered, by the way, was in ruins, the benevolent Yankee government took Jeff Davis, President of the Confederate States and tossed him into prison at Fortress Monroe, Virginia for two years, planning at the outset to bring him to trial for treason and secession, which they claimed were one in the same. After two years of political horseplay, the Union government finally decided it could not afford to bring Davis to trial because should that event transpire, it might well be proven in court that Davis and the South had been right – secession was not at all illegal, nor was it unconstitutional.

A few years ago

[1995, I think] I wrote a short 26 page booklet on secession. In it I quoted an author by the name of James Street, who had written a book entitled simply The Civil War. Street had a few comments about what happened to Jeff Davis at the end of the war. He said: "The North didnt dare give him a trial, knowing that a trial would establish that secession was not unconstitutional, that there had been no ‘rebellion’ and that the South had got a raw deal." That’s pretty straightforward.

Recently, I picked up another book, written by Burke Davis [no relative to Jeff that I know of,] and entitled The Long Surrender. It dealt with much of what happened and with the characters involved during the final days of the Confederacy, when Richmond fell and the Confederate government fled the city and tried to set up somewhere else to carry on the struggle.

After Jeff Davis was captured, the vindictive radical Yankee Secretary of War Edwin Stanton [who some feel may have known more about Lincoln’s assassination than is admitted] wanted to implicate Davis both as a co-conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination and as a traitor for leading the secessionist government in Richmond, even though secession had not been original with Davis. Try as they might, the radical Republicans in Washington couldn’t quite bring it off. Burke Davis notes, on page 204 of his book, a quote by Chief Justice Salmom P. Chase, telling Stanton "If you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion….His [Jeff Davis’] capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason. Secession is settled. Let it stay settled." Burke Davis continued on page 214 of the book, noting that a congressional committee proposed a special court for Davis’ trial, headed by Judge Franz Lieber. Davis noted: "After studying more than 270,000 Confederate documents, seeking evidence against Davis, this court discouraged the War Department: ‘Davis will be found not guilty,’ Lieber reported, ‘and we shall stand there completely beaten’." What the radical Northern politicians were admitting among themselves [but not for the historical record] was that they had just fought a ‘civil war’ that had taken or maimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans, both North and South, and they had no constitutional justification for having done so, nor had they had any constitutional right to impede the Southern states when they chose to withdraw from the constitutional compact. They had fought solely for the right to keep an empire together. Call it ‘manifest destiny’ or whatever other noble-sounding euphemism you may tack onto it, either way, they had been wrong. Now they could not afford to let Jeff Davis go to trial, else their grievous crime would become public knowledge and beget them even more problems in the future. Needless to say, you probably have not read much about this in most of your ‘history’ books. As the narrator at the beginning of the movie Braveheart so correctly stated: "History is written by those who’ve hanged heroes."

Human rights in both North and South had been trampled on, and have continued to be so up until this day. What the Lincoln administration started and the radical/abolitionist Republicans kept up during ‘reconstruction’ has finally come to full fruition in our day, with such legislation as ‘the Patriot Act’ which effectively cancels out much of the Bill of Rights. The War of Northern Aggression started a trend in this country in which politicians have ever sought to usurp the rights of individual Americans, and to rule over us rather than to represent us as they were originally delegated the responsibility for. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

Copyright ©, Al Benson Jr.
P.O. Box 1883
Arlington Heights, IL 60006

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