DIALOGUE ON WHO STARTED THE WAR/WHO WAS THE AGGRESSOR
Mike: Ok, so you’re a typical Lincoln apologist, the kind that someone is likely to encounter in the online Civil War discussion groups.
Mike: Ok, how can you say the South started the war when the South tried to establish peaceful relations with the U.S., sent a peace delegation to negotiate those relations and also to establish close trade relations, offered to pay compensation for all federal installations in the South, offered to pay its share of the national debt, and was not the one to send an unwanted military force into territory that the other side claimed as its own?
Ulysses: Fort Sumter! The Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.
Mike: But no was killed. Plus, the South offered to pay for the fort, allowed the federal troops there to leave in peace, and continued to express its desire to be allowed to go its own way in peace. How was that event a justification for a massive invasion? The U.S. has suffered far more serious attacks on federal entities without resorting to an invasion in response. So how does the bloodless attack on Sumter mean the South started the war?
Ulysses: The South fired the first shot.
Mike: Well, yes, in response to the pending arrival of an unwanted, armed federal naval convoy.
Ulysses: Well, uh. . . .
Mike: And why was that convoy heading toward Sumter anyway? Why did it include a warship, hundreds of troops, and a huge amount of ammo? Why didn’t Lincoln just withdraw the garrison from the fort and accept the Confederacy’s offer for peaceful relations and close trade relations?
Ulysses: The South was resisting federal authority! Lincoln was bound by law to enforce federal authority!
Mike: Where in the Constitution was Lincoln prohibited from allowing the Southern states to leave in peace as long as they paid their share of the national debt and paid compensation for federal installations in the South? Where in the Constitution does it say a state can’t revoke its ratification? Or that ratification is irrevocable? Or even that the Union was supposed to be permanent? Or that the federal government had the right to force a state to remain in the Union against its will?
Ulysses: Uh, ummm, well, uh . . . oh yeah, the Supremacy Clause!
Mike: That just says the Constitution is the supreme law of the land for all states that belong to the Union.
Ulysses: It doesn’t say “for all states that belong to the Union”!
Mike: But that’s the clear meaning in the context of the rest of the document. When Rhode Island and North Carolina still had not ratified the Constitution, were they bound by the Supremacy Clause?
Ulysses: Well, no, of course not. They hadn’t joined the Union yet. But once they joined the Union, they were bound by it forever!
Mike: Again, where in the Constitution does it say that a state could not revoke its ratification? Where does it say the Union was supposed to be permanent?
Ulysses: Ummm, well, hold on. . . . Uh, well, uhhh. . . .
Mike: Let me save you some time: The Constitution contains not word about prohibiting a state from rescinding its ratification. And twice at the constitutional convention the founding fathers rejected proposals to allow the federal government to use force to compel the obedience of a state. Further, the 10th Amendment says that all rights and powers not granted to the federal government remain with the states and with the people. Since the power to compel a state to remain in the Union is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, the logical conclusion is that the states retained the right to withdraw from the Union. So what right did Lincoln have to send an unwanted armed naval convoy to Fort Sumter?
Ulysses: Well, the South had seized several federal installations!
Mike: Only after Major Anderson’s garrison destroyed the guns at Fort Moultrie and occupied Fort Sumter.
Ulysses: Garrison was merely moving his men to another *federal* installation.
Mike: But the citizens of SC had voted to rescind their ratification and to resume the independent status that they possessed before ratification. Under the original American concept of the people’s sovereignty, the citizens of each state were the ultimate sovereign for their state. So once they exercised their sacred right to determine the governance of their state and to withdrew their state from the Union, federal authority ceased to exist in their state.
Ulysses: No, the people’s sovereignty meant that the people of all the states as a whole were sovereign, not as citizens of their respective states.
Mike: Where do you see that in the Constitution?
Ulysses: Uh, well, Daniel Webster and then Abraham Lincoln talked about it.
Mike: But no such concept is found in the Constitution. When the Constitution was ratified, what concept of the people’s sovereignty was in operation? Madison explained at length that the decision of the citizens in one state was not binding on the citizens of any other state and that the Constitution was not ratified by the people as a whole but by the people as citizens of their respective states.
Ulysses: Huh? Where did he say that?
Mike: Federalist Paper No. 39: “. . . this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. “
And years later he corrected Webster on this very point when Webster was spouting the “one people” nonsense:
“It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as embodied into the several States, who were parties to it; and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity.” (Letter from James Madison to Daniel Webster, March 15, 1833)
And notice that he added that the Constitution was “therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity.”
Ulysses: Uh . . . ummm . . . well, but the states weren’t sovereign before they joined the Union. Lincoln said so!
Mike: But the federal union was created when nine states ratified the Constitution, and Madison said the states made the Constitution “in their highest authoritative capacity.” In fact, there would have been no constitutional convention in the first place if the states hadn’t called one and sent delegates to it.
Ulysses: Uh . . . humm . . . . uhhhhh. . . . But the Union existed before the Constitution. The Union was created when the Declaration of Independence was issued. And then there was the union under the Articles of Confederation.
Mike: But the DOI itself said the states were “free and independent states.” Have you read the DOI? Do you know it says that?
Ulysses: Ummm, well. . . .
Mike: Indeed, the states themselves argued they were sovereign before the DOI was issued, and several of them functioned as sovereign entities well before the DOI was published. Additionally, the AOC union was very different than the federal union. Furthermore, the Articles of Confederation acknowledged that each state “retained” its *sovereignty.* You can’t “retain” what you don’t already have.”
Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a justice on the Supreme Court under George Washington, said that even as colonies the states were "each of them . . . a sovereign and independent state” and “that each of them had a right to govern itself by its own authority and its own laws, without any control from any other power on earth” (Ware v. Hylton, 1796, 3 Dallas 224).
In addition, Madison said the states formed the federal union “in their sovereign capacity” and that “there can be no tribunal above their authority to decide” if the “compact made by them” had been violated:
“The constitution of the United States was formed by the sanction of the states, given by each in its sovereign capacity. It adds to the stability and dignity, as well as to the authority, of the constitution, that it rests upon this legitimate and solid foundation. The states, then, being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal above their authority to decide, in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated and consequently that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.” (The Virginia Report of 1799-1800, Report on the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798)
Ulysses: Umm, well, uh, but that’s only if all the states act in unison.
Mike: You’re simply restating the “one people” heresy. That’s directly contrary to the original concept of the people’s sovereignty and to how the Constitution itself was ratified. You’re simply assuming that Madison intended to imply that all the states had to act to interpose or none of them could, just because he used the plural. However, he used the plural when he said “formed by the sanction of the states” and “made by them” but specified that the union was formed “by the sanction of the states, GIVEN BY EACH IN ITS SOVEREIGN CAPACITY.”
The “states” plural formed the Union, but “each” state, singular, did so in its sovereign capacity. So plural usage does not mean only plural action. Look what Madison said in Federalist Paper No. 39:
“Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act.”
So, if each state gave its assent “in its sovereign capacity” and if “Each State, in ratifying the Constitution” was considered “as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act,” how, then, can you argue that no state could withdraw from the Union without the consent of all the other states? If each state had the sole and absolute right to decide to join the Union, then each state has the sole and absolute right to decide to leave the Union. That’s just basic logic.
Ulysses: Uh. . . . Uh. . . . But the South still fired the first shot! So the South started the war!
Mike: Using this logic, we should label the American Patriots as the aggressors and the British as the peacemakers, and blame the Patriots for starting the Revolutionary War.
Ulysses: Now that’s absurd. The Patriots would not have fought if the British hadn’t tried to keep the colonies in the empire against their will. . . . Uh . . . wait . . . uh, hold it! Ummm. . . .
Mike: A very good point. And would the South have fought if Lincoln had not sent armies into the South to try to force the Southern states to remain in the Union against their will?
Ulysses: That’s different!
Ulysses: The Patriots agreed that they were rebels. There’s a right of revolution but not of secession.
Mike: One, the Patriots did not agree that they were rebels. They resented that label. The Patriots called the British “unjust invaders,” even though the British claimed they were merely enforcing British authority. Two, the Patriots claimed the colonies had a natural right to be independent and that the British should let the colonies go in peace. Sound familiar?
Ulysses: Uh. . . . Humm. . . . The South shouldn’t have fired the first shot. When they did that, they gave Lincoln the right to invade.
Mike: So resisting the control of a government that you have democratically voted to leave gives that government the right to invade you? Using that logic, the British were morally in the right and the Patriots were morally wrong. Why didn’t Lincoln just allow the South to leave in peace as it wanted to do?
Ulysses: Firing on a federal fort isn’t a “peaceful” act!
Mike: But we’ve already established that the fort was no longer federal property after the citizens of SC voted to revoke their ratification of the Constitution. And the Confederates only fired on the fort when they found out that an armed federal naval convoy was en route to the fort.
Let’s put it this way: If the Patriots had attacked Long Island outside Charleston harbor after the British seized it on June 7th, 1776, if they had found out that a British convoy was en route to resupply the occupying garrison, would that have made the British invasion morally justified? Would the sending of an unwanted armed British naval convoy have been a “peaceful act” or an act of aggression?
Ulysses: Uh. . . . Ummm. . . . Well, but . . . uh. . . . You see, uh. . . .
Mike: Be honest, did Lincoln have any intention of allowing the South to leave in peace?
Ulysses: Well, uh, no.
Mike: Right. Exactly. And did the South have any intention of invading the North to force the Northern states to join the Confederacy?
Ulysses: Well, uh, actually, uh, no.
Mike: That’s right, they didn’t. So what was Lincoln really trying to accomplish by sending an armed naval convoy to Sumter? I mean, if this was really about enforcing federal authority at Fort Sumter, why didn’t Lincoln simply send down a large naval force and retake Sumter after the Confederate attack? Why did he launch an invasion of Virginia in response to a bloodless attack on Fort Sumter?
Ulysses: Uh. . . .
Mike: And, furthermore, isn’t it true—obviously true–that Lincoln sent the convoy because he wanted to provoke an attack so he could use the attack as an excuse to invade? Why did Lincoln tell his friend Orville Browning, “The plan succeeded. They attacked Sumter — it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could” (Oliver Browning Diary, July 3, 1861)? Why did he tell Gustavus Fox, “You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result” (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Gustavus Fox, May 1, 1861)?
I mean, come on. We can both read English: “The plan succeeded. . . . You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter.” So Lincoln’s sending the convoy to Sumter really had nothing to do with getting food to the garrison there, did it?
Ulysses: Uh. . . . Well. . . .
Mike: So let me ask you again, since Lincoln had no intention of letting the South go in peace, and since he sent the convoy to Sumter precisely in order to provoke an attack so he could use it as a pretext for an invasion, how can you say the South started the war? Didn’t the war really start when Lincoln decided not to let the South go in peace? Wasn’t the first act of real act of aggression Lincoln’s sending an unwanted, armed naval convoy to Sumter?
Ulysses: Uh . . . . Humm. . . .
Mike: I mean, again, if Lincoln had not sent federal armies into the South, would there have been a war?
Ulysses: Well, no.
Mike: Exactly. The side that starts the war is the side that provokes the other side and then uses the response to that provocation as a pretext to invade the other side. That side is the aggressor, not the side that is provoked and that defends itself against an invasion.
Ulysses: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. . . .
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