Southern Secession Was Lawful: Uncovering the Truth in American History
August 31, 2017
Columnist: Mike Scruggs
By Mike Scruggs – The Southern secessions of 1860 and 1861 were not only lawful but based on foundational American principles. This flies in the face of the willful ignorance of American history perpetrated by those who have a vested interest in continuing a false historical narrative of the “Civil War” and Reconstruction to achieve thoroughly un-American past and current political agendas. No reasonably informed and reputable historian believes secession was treason or that the Civil War was primarily a crusade to end slavery.
On July 4, 1776, thirteen British colonies announced their Secession from Great Britain and declared to the world their just reasons:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.”
The Declaration of Independence goes on to say that,
“…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
The Declaration goes on to list numerous grievances against the British Crown and Parliament. Most of these had to do with the British Crown and Parliament usurping the powers of the colonial legislatures. Among the most prominent of these were unjust taxes and taxation without representation. They also asserted that the British Crown and Parliament would not listen to their complaints and pleas for relief. In other words, the colonists felt the Crown and Parliament had usurped their States Rights.
The grievances against the British stated in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are very similar to Southern protests over the Tariffs of Abomination in 1828 and 1832 and the even more outrageous and unjust Morrill Tariff of 1860 that made secession of South Carolina and the Gulf States an inevitable economic necessity.
The closing statement of the Declaration of Independence declares that the colonies are “Free and Independent States.” This paragraph also contains the words, “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World” and “with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Note that the United States of America were not formed into a single national state, but into a confederation of independent and sovereign states.
Previous to the Declaration of Independence, both North Carolina (May 15, 1775) and Virginia (early 1776) had already declared their independence from Great Britain. The right of self-determination for people seeking independence is firmly established in international law. With U.S. backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903. In the United States, the right of self determination and therefore secession is supported by the precedence of the Declaration of Independence which declared our own secession from Great Britain.
Furthermore, the right of secession was very well stated by none other than Congressman Abraham Lincoln himself in 1848:
“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 and most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world….Any people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much territory as they inhabit.”
While the Declaration of Independence is of immense importance as a founding document, it is the Constitution of 1787 and the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791 that are the official founding documents. The Constitution was made official by the approval of the people of each state acting independently in convention, not by the people of the United States in general. Nor did these states surrender their sovereignty to the United States. Only limited governmental powers were delegated to the Federal Government and every state reserved the right to withdraw these powers. In fact, three states—Rhode Island, Virginia, and New York—specifically stated in their ratifications that they reserved the right to withdraw. Other states had less strongly worded reservations, but no state would have ratified the Constitution if they believed that in doing so they would be surrendering their newly won independence. It was to guarantee the sovereignty of the states that the ninth and tenth amendments were added to the Bill of Rights.
The Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
The Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
New Hampshire’s constitution of 1792 contains very strong words reserving its sovereign powers as a state. In 1798, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison circulated the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions among the states. Known as the “Principles of 98,” these resolutions strongly supported the Doctrine of States Rights and nullification and secession as rightful remedies. No states disagreed!
The New England states threatened secession on five occasions: in 1803 because they feared the Louisiana Purchase would dilute their political power; in 1807 because the Embargo Act was unfavorable to their commerce; in 1812 over the admission of Louisiana as a state; in 1814 (the Hartford Convention) because of the War of 1812; and in 1845 over the annexation of Texas (which had seceded from Mexico). From 1803 to 1845, any time New England felt their political power or commercial dominance might suffer, they threatened secession. Many New England abolitionists favored secession because the Constitution allowed slavery.
As early as 1825, the right of secession was taught at West Point. William Rawle’s View of the Constitution specifically taught that secession was a right of each state and was used as a text at West Point in 1825 and 1826 and thereafter as a reference. Rawle was a friend of both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and his 1825 text was highly respected and used at many colleges. A subsequent text by James Kent maintained the same position and was used at West Point until the end of the war in 1865
The right of secession was almost universally accepted until 1861, when Lincoln came up with a new theory of the Constitution based on an 1833 text by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Story’s theory was that there was an American nation in the minds of the people before the states were formed. Lincoln adopted Story’s constitutional humbug as an expedient argument against secession and for holding the Southern States in the Union against their will.
So Lincoln characterized the orderly secession conventions of South Carolina and the Gulf States, conducted in accordance with Rawle’s text on the Constitution, as a rebellion perpetrated by a small minority and commenced a path every member of his cabinet knew meant war.
The function of the Constitution is to define and limit the powers of the Federal Government. It was ratified by the people of the States. From this ratification and consent by the people of the respective States, the Constitution derives its validity. The Tenth Amendment was meant as a final reinforcement and written guarantee that the powers of the Federal Government would be limited to those enumerated in the Constitution. This was a safeguard against the infringement of rights and powers retained by the States and their people. It was also a safeguard against the tyranny, despotism, and abuses which have so often evolved from unchecked centralized power.
Southern historian Clyde Wilson notes that the people of the States do not derive their rights from the federal judiciary, nor have they by any means delegated that power to federal judges. The people of the States have reserved the power to determine their unalienable rights to themselves. The Tenth Amendment thus cannot be left to the Federal Government and its courts to ignore or interpret for themselves. A defining characteristic of a constitutional government is that power must not be allowed to define its own limits. Power must be checked and restrained by an equal or greater power.
I rest the case for lawful secession with two final quotes:
“If you bring these [Southern] leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion….We cannot convict him [ CSA President, Jefferson Davis] of treason”—Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1867.
“The principal for which we contend is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form.”—Jefferson Davis