So You’ve Been Told Secession Was Illegal–guess what? It wasn’t!
By Al Benson Jr.
So you were told in your government school “history” class that Southern secession was illegal–that Jeff Davis and all those nasty Southern folks were really nothing but traitors to the glorious Union. You see the same thing in “news” articles and on the Internet. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve heard many born and raised in the South parrot the same line. They should know better, but thanks to the benefits of a government school “education” they don’t have a clue.
Frank Conner, in his excellent book The South Under Siege 1830-2000 which I read back in 2003, dealt in some detail with the alleged treason of Jefferson Davis. In referring to the leadership in the North he noted: “They believed the most logical means of justifying the North’s war would be to have the federal government convict Davis of treason against the United States. Such a conviction must presuppose that the Confederate States could not have seceded from the Union; so convicting Davis would validate the war and make it morally legitimate.” Interesting thought, if you are a Yankee with a Marxist mindset. However, in truth, nothing could validate the War of Northern Aggression in such a way as to give the North moral legitimacy.
Although the Northern leaders planned to seize the moral high ground with a trial for Davis, that prolific South-hater, Thaddeus Stevens, couldn’t keep his big mouth shut, and he was wont to let the cat out of the bag. Stevens’ rants against the South and her people had become legend, and Stevens, at his most charitable, said “The Southerners should be treated as a conquered alien enemy…This can be done without violence to the established principles only on the theory that the Southern states were severed from the Union and were an independent government de facto and an alien enemy to be dealt with according to the laws of war…No reform can be effected in the Southern states if they have never left the Union…” And, although he did not plainly say it here, what Stevens really desired was that the Christian culture of the Old South be “reformed” into something compatible with his personal beliefs. Stevens would have made Robespierre look like a right-winger! No matter how you cut the mustard, the feds tried to have it both ways–they claimed the South was “in rebellion” and had never left the Union, but then they claimed the South had to do certain things, pass certain amendments–in order to get back into the Union they had never been out of. Strange, is it not, that the “history” books never seem to pick up on this. But, then, they give us “all the history that fits” (the agenda).
At any rate, the Northern government prepared to try President Davis for treason while they had him in prison. Mr. Connor observed that: “The War Department presented its evidence for a treason trial against Davis to a famed jurist, Francis Lieber, for his analysis. Lieber pronounced ‘Davis will not be found guilty and we shall stand there completely beaten’.” According to Mr. Conner, U.S. Attorney General James Speed appointed a renowned attorney, John J. Clifford, as his chief prosecutor. Clifford, after studying the government’s evidence against Davis, withdrew from the case. He said he had ‘grave doubts’ about it. Not to be outdone, Speed then appointed Richard Henry Dana, a prominent maritime lawyer, to the case. Mr. Dana also withdrew. He said basically, that as long as the North had won a military victory over the South, they should be satisfied with that. In other words–you won the war, boys, so don’t push your luck beyond that!
Conner also informed his readers that: “In 1866 President Johnson appointed a new U.S. attorney general, Henry Stanburg. But Stanburg wouldn’t touch the case either. Thus had spoken the North’s best and brightest jurists re the legitimacy of the War of Northern Aggression–even though the Jefferson Davis case offered blinding fame to the prosecutor who could prove that the South had seceded unconstitutionally.” None of these bright legal lights from Yankeedom would touch this case with a ten-foot pole. It’s not that they were all dumb, in fact, the reverse is true. These men had sense enough to know a dead horse when they saw it–and they were not about to climb aboard and attempt to ride it across the treacherous stream of illegal secession. They knew better. In fact, a Northerner from New York, Charles O’Connor, became the legal counsel for Davis–without charge! That, plus the celebrity jurists from the North that held their noses and walked away from the case, told the federal government that they, in reality, had no case against Davis or secession and that Davis was merely being held as a political prisoner. Most folks, even in the North, already knew that.
Author Richard Street, writing in The Civil War back in the 1950s, said exactly the same thing. Referring to Jeff Davis, Street wrote: “He was imprisoned after the war, was never brought to trial. The North didn’t 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.” You can’t say it much more directly than that.
At one point, the federal government intimated that it would be willing to offer Davis a pardon, should he grovel a little and ask for one. Davis refused–to his credit. He demanded that the government either give him a pardon or give him a trial. Mr. Street said: “He died, unpardoned, by a government that was leery of giving him a public hearing.” If Davis was as guilty as they claimed–why no trial???
Had the federal government had any possible chance to convict Davis and therefore declare secession unconstitutional, they would have done so in a heartbeat. The fact that they hemmed and hawed around for two years and finally released him without benefit of a trial that he wanted, proves that the North had no real case against secession. Over 600,000 boys, North and South, were killed or maimed so the North could fight a war of conquest and class struggle over something the South did for self-preservation, that was neither illegal or wrong. Yet the North claims the moral high ground because they, supposedly, “freed the slaves” when all they really did was to transfer ownership from private to federal hands. What a farce!
Content ©2010 Al Benson Jr