Posted by: danielfee | March 23, 2013

Civil War 2.0: Round Three – The Civil War

Round Three – The Civil War

For most of the country the nullification crisis was resolved with the passage of the Compromise Tariff of 1833 and the Force Bill, which made it clear the President was authorized to use whatever force necessary, including military, to enforce Federal tariffs. In March 1833, South Carolina’s Nullification Convention was reconvened and they repealed their Ordinance of Nullification. However, while the compromise brought a temporary suspension to the North-South tensions, it did not resolve the anti-Federalist sentiments of the nullifiers, who would later become known as the “fire-eaters” leading up to the start of the Civil War.

Ominously, in the aftermath of the nullification crisis, President Andrew Jackson wrote, “the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question.” He would ultimately be proven correct.

The remaining resentment of the South, in particular in South Carolina, was summed up by Robert Barnwell Rhett, who was one of the most radical of the nullifiers and the South Carolina Attorney General. In 1832 he warned that,

“A people, owning slaves, are mad, or worse than mad, who do not hold their destinies in their own hands,” he continued, “Every stride of this Government, over your rights, brings it nearer and nearer to your peculiar policy. …The whole world are in arms against your institutions … Let Gentlemen not be deceived. It is not the Tariff – not Internal Improvement – nor yet the Force bill, which constitutes the great evil against which we are contending. … These are but the forms in which the despotic nature of the government is evinced – but it is the despotism which constitutes the evil: and until this Government is made a limited Government … there is no liberty – no security for the South.”

Rhett confirmed Jackson’s prediction. To the fire-eaters, liberty meant their freedom to own other people as property. Any encroachment by the federal government into the issue of slavery was viewed as tyranny.

The term “limited government” has long been the euphemism used by the anti-Federalists, nullifiers, confederates, segregationists and today’s Tea Party activists, who have sought a weak federal government in order to maintain their local jurisdiction authority over slavery, segregation and discrimination.

By 1850, Rhett had become a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and was one of the leading fire-eaters at the Nashville Convention of 1850, which was called but failed to endorse Rhett’s aim of secession for the whole South. The term “fire-eaters” refers to the group of extremist pro-slavery politicians from the South who argued for the separation of southern states into a new nation. For the fire-eaters, the conflict was over the legitimacy of democracy itself. The South Carolinian L.W. Spratt, one of the signers of the The Ordinance of Secession, wrote,

“It is obvious that two distinct and antagonistic forms of society have met for the contest upon the arena of this Union. The one assumes that all men are equal and that equality is right, and, forming upon that theory, is staining its members to the horizontal plain of a democracy. The other assumes that all men are not equal, that equality is not right, therefore, and forming upon this theory, is taking upon itself the rounded form of a social aristocracy.”

These fire-eater secessionists believed that secession was perfectly legal under the Constitution and not a radical view. The core of their argument was based on the “states’ rights” theory that was developed by John C. Calhoun. The so-called “states’ rights” argument went as follows: The states existed before the Union. The Constitution did not alter the states’ powers and prerogatives as autonomous governments. Therefore by seceding the states, were merely reasserting their sovereignty that they had exerted in creating the Union.

However Calhoun’s “states’ rights” argument was fatally flawed from the beginning based on the plain language contained in the powers given to Congress in the Constitution. The states powers were explicitly altered when they entered into the Union. This was specifically addressed in Article IV, Section 1 known as the “full faith and credit” clause which read,

“Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.” and in Article 2 which read, “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.”

The states were no longer free to set their own course, ignore the public acts of other states, and deny their citizens the rights and privileges that citizens of other states enjoyed.

The fire-eaters had been stoking the fears of the southern slave holders for more than a decade and the concept that a state or states had the authority under the Constitution to secede had been around for more than three decades. All that was missing was a triggering event. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was the trigger they were looking for. Immediately following Lincoln’s election, the South Carolina legislature began the process of secession and by December 20, 1860 they had seceded from the Union even before Lincoln could take office. Five more southern states seceded in January 1861 and Texas joined in on the first day in February. Then on April 12, 1861, the Civil War broke out when the confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina.

Knowing that their “states’ rights” argument stood on shaky ground, delegates from six of the seceding states gathered for a confederate convention in Montgomery, Alabama in February 1861 and drafted the Constitution of Confederate States of America which was adopted on the 8 of February. The adoption of this Confederate Constitution reflected a monumental shift in American politics. It was a shift away from the “traditional conservatism” of federalism which existed for more than seven decades since the ratification of the Constitution towards a “southern conservatism”, which was based on the supreme power of the local elites and the proclaimed virtue of “small government.” Essentially it was a return to the Articles of Confederation which the anti-federalists had sought to maintain.

If you compare the difference between the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Confederate States of America, it is very clear what terms like “limited government”, “free markets” and “fiscal responsibility” meant to the 19th-century secessionists and their decedents, who are known today as the Tea Party.

Starting with the preamble of the Confederate Constitution, it omitted two important phrases found in the U.S. Constitution: “in Order to form a more perfect Union” and “promote the general Welfare.” In lieu of these phrases they inserted: “each state acting in its sovereign and independent character” and “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God” into the Confederate Constitution. It is clear that the secessionists did not believe in America as a “united” country nor in the central government’s role in promoting the general welfare of its citizens. Instead they were establishing a loose confederation with strong state governments and a weak central government that was subordinate to the states. This approach had been tried and failed during the Revolutionary War and before the ratification of the Constitution. But the confederates were returning to the same old anti-federalist arguments against the Constitution. This is the essence of what is meant by “states’ rights” both then and now. The addition of Almighty God into the Confederate Constitution is a tacit admission that the southern states knew the U.S. Constitution was a secular document for the civil administration of government. So when you hear today’s conservative Tea Party member saying they believe in a constitutionally limited government, promoting states’ rights and claiming that the Constitution is based on Judeo-Christian principals, just remember they are referring to the Confederate Constitution, not the United States Constitution.

Continuing the comparison, the first power given to the Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution is the “Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” However, in the Confederate Constitution the ability to tax for the general Welfare was removed. And it further stated that,

“no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry” and it restricted the commerce clause even further with an additional provision stating, “but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce; except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, and buoys, and other aids to navigation upon the coasts, and the improvement of harbors and the removing of obstructions in river navigation; in all which cases such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated thereby as may be necessary to pay the costs and expenses thereof.”

The confederates were acutely aware of the extensive powers that the U.S. Constitution provided to the Federal government, particularly when it came to taxation, regulating commerce and providing for the General Welfare of the country, which is why they removed and restricted these provisions in their Confederate Constitution. But the Confederate Constitution went even further to hamstring the ability of a central government to function by requiring,

“No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State, except by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses.” and “Congress shall appropriate no money from the Treasury except by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses.”

It also prohibited the states from making “anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts” or adopting any “law impairing the obligation of contracts.” And of course it made slavery legal throughout the confederate states.

So when you hear today’s conservative Tea Party members saying they are for “free markets,” “limited government” and “fiscal responsibility”, that gives you a good understanding of what they mean by those terms. They mean a government that has no ability to regulate or engage in commerce (i.e. Obamacare) or the ability to promote any industry which might benefit the country as a whole (i.e renewable energy). In practice this would have meant no interstate highways, no major utility projects such as the Hoover Dam or Tennessee Valley Authority, or no Internet, just to name a few of the things that resulted from the federal governments promotion and engagement in commerce.

So in order to raise revenue or approve expenditures, the confederates required a super majority for anything to be passed. Does this sound familiar? Haven’t we heard some Tea Party activists making the same argument that all new tax laws should require a two-thirds vote for approval? The confederates also made gold and silver coins the only legal tender. Does this also sound familiar? Isn’t this the same argument that we hear from Ron Paul and his supporters? In 2011, Utah passed a law that recognizes gold and silver coins issued by the federal government as tender and requires a study on adopting other forms of legal currency. In February 2013, the Virginia’s House voted 65-32 to approve a measure to study whether the state should adopt its own currency, moving it one step closer to returning to the gold standard. Four other states are considering similar proposals. In 2012, eleven states had considered bills involving the gold standard. Of course all of these states were controlled by conservative Republican legislatures.

Those in the conservative movement, and particularly the Tea Party wing of the movement, are making the same old arguments which were made by the confederates, nullifiers, and anti-federalists. They are attempting to revive the old Confederate Constitution which led directly to the Civil War. Although they are not attempting to bring back slavery, there are strong undercurrents and even a few overt statements with respect to returning to the pre-civil rights era of segregation and discrimination, which will be discussed in Round Four – The Segregationists in the next post.



  1. […] Civil War 2.0: Round Three – The Civil War ( […]

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