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Nobody Actually Cares About “Federalism,” Post-Reconstruction Edition

[ 121 ] November 30, 2010 |

LizardBreath on the upcoming celebrations of treason in defense of slavery that are trying to leave out the slavery part:

I think what gets to me is the Orwellian nature of it all; that it’s a power play. If Confederate-worshippers can make it seem aggressively impolite to insist on straightforwardly, obviously true historical facts, then we can’t rely on facts to establish anything, which is exactly how politics has been feeling lately. Not, of course, that stamping out Civil War revisionism solves anything, but it’d make me feel better.

On one level, however, the people who say that the war was about “states’ rights” are correct, if we use revealed preferences to define “states’ rights” as “federal enforcement of the rights of racial minorities is illegitimate, while federal powers that might serve or protect the interests of wealthy southern whites should be interpreted as expansively as possible.” I think Ulysses S. Grant’s acid response to the idea that Southern opposition to Reconstruction reflected a principled resistance to the use of federal military authority characterizes actually existing doctrines of “states’ rights” nicely:

During my two terms of office the whole Democratic press, and the morbidly honest and “reformatory” portion of the Republican press, thought it horrible to keep U.S. troops stationed in the Southern States, and when they were called upon to protect the lives of negroes — as much citizens under the Constitution as if their skins were white — the country was scarcely large enough to hold the sound of indignation belched forth by them for some years. Now, however, there is no hesitation about exhausting the whole power of the government to suppress a strike on the slightest intimation that danger threatens.

Alternatively, I could cite three words: “Fugitive Slave Act.” Justice Harlan, as the Court’s sole defender of Congress’ authority to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1875, I believe you have some incisive thoughts about this:

With all respect for the opinion of others, I insist that the national legislature may, without transcending the limits of the Constitution, do for human liberty and the fundamental rights of American citizenship what it did, with the sanction of this court, for the protection of slavery and the rights of the masters of fugitive slaves. If fugitive slave laws, providing modes and prescribing penalties whereby the master could seize and recover his fugitive slave, were legitimate exercises of an implied power to protect and enforce a right recognized by the Constitution, why shall the hands of Congress be tied so that — under an express power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce a constitutional provision granting citizenship — it may not, by means of direct legislation, bring the whole power of this nation to bear upon States and their officers and upon such individuals and corporations exercising public functions as assume to abridge, impair, or deny rights confessedly secured by the supreme law of the land?

Strange how the federal authority southerners found in the Constitution in 1850 suddenly vanished after three amendments that explicitly expanded relevant federal powers had passed. Whatever could explain it?

So, in a sense, today’s Confederate nostalgists and apologists are part of a consistent tradition. “States’ rights” has always been an utter fraud.

…I wonder how long it will take this time for an after-the-fact Dunning School stooge to explain that running a typical 19th century government made Grant — the best civil rights president between Lincoln and LBJ — the Most Corrupt President Ever.

Comments (121)

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  1. Matt says:

    The funny thing is, despite constant ‘bagger whining about “the Lost Cause” and other such nonsense, they’ll never look hard at the reasons *why* the South collapsed. If they did, they’d note that by the tail end of the war several states were threatening to secede *again* because they didn’t like paying taxes. Ultimately, it’s awfully hard to run a nation-scale war with a bunch of states that insist that the central government should have virtually no power.

    • Brad Potts says:

      Ultimately, it’s awfully hard to run a nation-scale war with a bunch of states that insist that the central government should have virtually no power.

      Score one for the secessionists.

      • L2P says:

        I think most agree the ability to fight a nation-scale war is basically what lets you be a nation. Otherwise, you have to get used to saying “I, for one, welcome our new [fill in your Nazi o' the day] Overlords.” A lot.

        • Brad Potts says:

          How do you define the ability to fight a nation-scale war?

          Can Switzerland fight a nation-scale war? Is China’s position on Taiwan decided first and foremost by relative military strength?

          You are relying on some pretty arcane logic there, and I am not going to count the Union’s greater relative ability to wreak havoc on citizenry to be a point for a strong central state.

          • Anonymous says:

            Can Switzerland fight a nation-scale war?

            Yes.

            • Brad Potts says:

              Against who?

              It spends about a tenth of the average military expenditures of France, Germany, Italy, or the UK.

              • Aardvark Cheeselog says:

                Notice that nobody has attacked Switzerland in a long time. This is due in part to the expense that would be involved, if the Swiss resisted at all.

                The point is that the Swiss Government collects enough taxes to arm its citizens.

              • Brad Potts says:

                The south also armed its citizens and imposed a rather exacting toll on the union.

                Again, it seems the difference between the two is not the ability to defend itself, but the ability to wage sustained (and relatively unpopular) aggressive war.

                I will put it this way, if the US hadn’t squashed the rebellion, would the CSA have capitulated to any other military?

              • DrDick says:

                Switzerland both taxes its citizens sufficiently to finance a military and has universal mandatory conscription. Every adult Swiss is a member of the reserves and has a uniform and military rifle in their home. This makes invasion a very costly affair.

              • Anderson says:

                The story goes that Goering met with the Swiss ambassador and teased him a little.

                “Mein Herr,” goes Goering, “your country’s armed forces are only 20,000 men. What if Germany were to invade with a force of 20,000 troops?”

                The Swiss replies that “every Swiss soldier will have to do his duty.”

                “But,” smiles Goering, “what if Germany were to invade with 40,000 troops instead of 20,000?”

                The Swiss replies, deadpan, and you have to imagine a guy with round spectacles, high collar, etc: “Then, Herr Feldmarschall, every Swiss soldier would have to shoot twice.”

              • Ilya says:

                Not to mention that Switzerland is surrounded by mountains, with very few and very narrow passes. Any invasions would be a repeat of “300 Spartnas at Thermopylae”, except with much less disparity in numbers.

              • Brad Potts says:

                What do you guys think would be more of a deterrent to any of Switzerland’s neighbors from attacking them:

                1. Their military and mountainous terrain.

                2. Their financial system and economy.

          • ajay says:

            Is China’s position on Taiwan decided first and foremost by relative military strength?

            Yes.


            I am not going to count the Union’s greater relative ability to wreak havoc on citizenry to be a point for a strong central state.

            No one’s arguing that wreaking havoc is a morally good thing here, Brad. Just that if you can’t do nation-scale things then you are not really a nation, and one of the core nation-scale things to be able to do is fight wars.

            • Brad Potts says:

              And the Confederacy managed pretty well to wage a nation-state war. I have a feeling that a Mexican invasion of the CSA probably wouldn’t have had much success.

              The point made is easily reducible to the fact that the stronger central state of the US was better at war than the CSA.

              The proposal that the CSA couldn’t manage a national-level war is plainly false, as it did for a few years (successfully for a number). Obviously, the problem was that the south couldn’t maintain the impetus for total, humanity-destroying war like the north could.

              Are you seriously arguing that the US’s ability military ability to bring economic ruin upon entire societies is a benefit of Federal governments?

              Remember that, had roles been reversed and the confederacy had fought to outlaw slavery, the might of the Federal government would have came down and destroyed the south in the name of slavery.

              • timb says:

                Actually, they did for about two and a half years. By then, the Confederacy was cut in half. there weren’t no Okies or Floridians at the Battle of the Wilderness, Brad.

                By the way, the Articles of Confederation called. they need a spokesperson

              • Brad Potts says:

                Again, I cannot understand how the ability of Okies and Floridians to avoid the horror that was the Battle of the Wilderness counts as a negative for the CSA.

                I will offer a different way of wording this:

                If the CSA had managed the capability of waging a successful invasion of the north that resulted in the devastation of Washington DC and any number of lesser US cities, basically terrorizing and economically ruining the population of the north, would it give you a higher opinion of it?

              • I don’t see anyone suggesting that the CSA “couldn’t manage a national level war.” It could and did–as long as member states supported the effort.

                Matt claimed that central states with little power cannot wage national war, hinting that he thinks ultimately the CSA would have collapsed as its member states withdrew financial support for the Confederate central government.

              • Brad Potts says:

                I understood that clearly at the time I responded to Matt.

                And as I said before, if the CSA couldn’t manage to sustain a morally bankrupt war on the same level as the US, that is a point for secessionists.

              • Malaclypse says:

                And as I said before, if the CSA couldn’t manage to sustain a morally bankrupt war on the same level as the US, that is a point for secessionists.

                The fact that the CSA were incompetent at secession is itself a point in favor of secession?

              • Superking says:

                Obviously, the problem was that the south couldn’t maintain the impetus for total, humanity-destroying war like the north could.

                Yeah, the South really only had the ability to maintain a humanity destroying economic system. War was another matter–one where they were all valiant and noble!

                Are you seriously arguing that the US’s ability military ability to bring economic ruin upon entire societies is a benefit of Federal governments?

                Economic ruin in the form of freeing humans from personal bondage? The greatest economic asset of the South at the beginning of the war were slaves, i.e. human property. I’m sure sad that economy was ruined.

                Remember that, had roles been reversed and the confederacy had fought to outlaw slavery, the might of the Federal government would have came down and destroyed the south in the name of slavery.

                If the South had been fighting to outlaw slavery, there would have been no Civil War. This is a redonkulous counterfactual because the differences in the economies was largely dependent on the differences in the wages paid to manual laborers. In the north, people were paid wages and called employees. In the south, they were paid in the absolutely minimum amount of food and shelter necessary to sustain life and they were called slaves. What exactly are you imagining here, that the South could have developed an industrial society through slavery? Doesn’t seem likely to me.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Remember that, had roles been reversed and the confederacy had fought to outlaw slavery, the might of the Federal government would have came down and destroyed the south in the name of slavery.

                Harry Turtledove called. He’d like his premise back.

              • Brad Potts says:

                I don’t get the reference, but are you arguing that centralized state power is not used on the behalf of evil interests?

              • Malaclypse says:

                I don’t get the reference, but are you arguing that centralized state power is not used on the behalf of evil interests?

                All power, centralized or not, can be used for evil purposes. However, a large centralized government must juggle a lot of power bases, in a way that local governments do not. Historically, the best way to for a central government to do this is to adopt broad rights so that no actors are completely excluded.

                And before you go all Godwin again, please note that the Third Reich was not, by any stretch, a stable arrangement.

              • Hogan says:

                if the CSA couldn’t manage to sustain a morally bankrupt war on the same level as the US, that is a point for secessionists.

                And if it still existed, I’m sure the CSA would be proud. I’m just not sure why you insist on making the jump from “nation-states are better than confederations at waging lage-scale war” to “nation-states are morally preferable to confederations.” Or rather, why you keep insisting that other people are making that jump when they’ve given you no reason to think they are.

              • Brad Potts says:

                Historically, the best way to for a central government to do this is to adopt broad rights so that no actors are completely excluded.

                And I have no problem with this, but I won’t pretend the US governs by “adopting broad rights so that no actors are completely excluded”.

                And before you go all Godwin again, please note that the Third Reich was not, by any stretch, a stable arrangement.

                I don’t understand what that has to do with anything.

                Could any ideological group murdered millions of people if not for the power concentrated under a central government?

                Face it, if Mississippi secedes, they aren’t going to march all over the continent enslaving every black person they can find.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Could any ideological group murdered millions of people if not for the power concentrated under a central government?

                The word “pogrom” originated in feudal, decentralized Russia. Yes, the Nazi’s murdered millions. Nobody here is defending that. We are, however, pointing to numerous other historical examples where millions were killed in non-centralized actions. It is a simple historical fact that human rights are more likely to be defended by a robust central government than by small-town cops. If you want to convince people otherwise, please find a second example.

                Face it, if Mississippi secedes, they aren’t going to march all over the continent enslaving every black person they can find.

                Only because 1) we will kick their ass again and 2) they are not viable economically.

              • Brad Potts says:

                And if it still existed, I’m sure the CSA would be proud. I’m just not sure why you insist on making the jump from “nation-states are better than confederations at waging lage-scale war” to “nation-states are morally preferable to confederations.” Or rather, why you keep insisting that other people are making that jump when they’ve given you no reason to think they are.

                I never said anything like that. I have only said that the central nation-state’s ability to lead and/or coerce a population to war should not be counted as a strength of centralized government.

              • Hogan says:

                I have only said that the central nation-state’s ability to lead and/or coerce a population to war should not be counted as a strength of centralized government.

                “Strength” in the sense of “virtue,” or “strength” in the sense of “survival trait”? Because the latter is all anyone here has been arguing, and I’m going to need some serious convincing that it’s not the case.

              • Brad Potts says:

                And I am going to need some convincing that the CSA couldn’t have mustered at least survival-level military strength.

              • Malaclypse says:

                And I am going to need some convincing that the CSA couldn’t have mustered at least survival-level military strength.

                Appomattox does not speak for itself?

              • Hogan says:

                And I am going to need some convincing that the CSA couldn’t have mustered at least survival-level military strength.

                I’m generally a look-forward-not-backward kind of guy, but it might be worth revisiting what Matt actually said:

                “Ultimately, it’s awfully hard to run a nation-scale war with a bunch of states that insist that the central government should have virtually no power.”

                The CSA could have mustered such strength, and for a while did. Eleven separate states could not muster (and coordinate) such strength, and the more the CSA acted like eleven separate states (as they insisted was their right), the less able they became to keep fighting. Agree or disagree?

              • Brad Potts says:

                Being able to repulse a neighbor with whom you share an extremely long border and who has a tremendous advantage in population and economic development is a very high standard for survival military strength.

                Would you also say that Canada does not have the capability of mounting sufficient military might because America could suppress it in a war?

              • Brad Potts says:

                The CSA could have mustered such strength, and for a while did. Eleven separate states could not muster (and coordinate) such strength, and the more the CSA acted like eleven separate states (as they insisted was their right), the less able they became to keep fighting. Agree or disagree?

                Agree, but again, I consider the US’s ability to coerce a population to keep fighting an unpopular and devastating war to be far more of a problem than the CSA’s inability to coerce a population to keep fighting.

              • Hogan says:

                Would you also say that Canada does not have the capability of mounting sufficient military might because America could suppress it in a war?

                Lacking resources and lacking the ability to mobilize resources are not the same thing. Canada has the same capacity as the US to mobilize resources. The CSA didn’t.

              • BigHank53 says:

                And I am going to need some convincing that the CSA couldn’t have mustered at least survival-level military strength.

                There were single factories in New England that supplied more firearms than the entire CSA could produce. Once the Union blockaded the South’s ports and they could no longer obtain foreign aid, the writing was on the wall for the CSA.

  2. Brad Potts says:

    It is a shame how true this post is.

    It seems very plain to me that, all else equal, the more localized and decentralized government is, the more representative it is of its citizens and the less domineering it can be.

    “States rights” advocates have basically crippled the underlying argument through inconsistent application and refusal to accept the egregious sins of past advocates.

    The very real concern over the inefficiencies and infringements of a large central government is now an afterthought. The only debate that occurs now is just how much power the federal government needs to keep states from being bad.

    What else is new, though? As a libertarian I am usually left out of most policy discussion anyways.

    • firefall says:

      It seems very plain to me that, all else equal, the more localized and decentralized government is, the more representative it is of its citizens and the less domineering it can be.

      This is absolutely not true in our current society. The more localised and decentralised the government, the less oversight, and the less the cost and danger of corruptions and abuse of power. Compare the way the federal government operates to that of City governance, parish governance and other local organs of governance. Or just consider how often home owners’ associations and condo boards wind up being ruled by a petty claque who delight in throwing their weight around.

      • Brad Potts says:

        Compare the way the federal government operates to that of City governance, parish governance and other local organs of governance. Or just consider how often home owners’ associations and condo boards wind up being ruled by a petty claque who delight in throwing their weight around.

        Two points:

        1. You mention issues that are directly related to the amount of concern the population has for the workings of government. Certainly more responsibilities for local governments will cause greater oversight, and local oversight is more effective than national oversight.

        2. Or just consider how often home owners’ associations and condo boards wind up being ruled by a petty claque who delight in throwing their weight around.

        I would bet it is less frequent than federal offices being occupied by a petty claque who delights in throwing his/her weight around. At least homeowner’s associations have to suffer the consequences of their petty posturing.

        When the asshole three houses down becomes HOA president, you may be stuck cutting a tree down. When an asshole becomes US president, hundreds of thousands of people die.

        • Malaclypse says:

          It seems very plain to me that, all else equal, the more localized and decentralized government is, the more representative it is of its citizens and the less domineering it can be.

          Which is why, logically, this never happened.

          • Brad Potts says:

            Why, when I make a comparison between a central state and more localized governments, do people seem to think that they can ignore one part of the comparison and still counter my argument.

            I see your civil rights abuses, and raise you one holocaust.

            • Malaclypse says:

              We are debating the representativeness of the Nazi regime? You had implied we were discussing democracies. There is a whole lot of ceteris paribus not happening here.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            The white hobbits ran the black hobbits out of the Shire before our story begins. Because of the magic of local governance and some unexpectedly uninhabited fertile land about a hundred miles away, the black hobbits were free to settle elsewhere without displacing any other people, and suffered no harm from the exodus.

            And it was lucky for the black hobbits that they’d been expelled, because several years later, multinational corporation Sauron, Inc., acting through front-hobbit Lotho Sackville-Baggins, used its vast resources to buy up most of the farmland in the Shire and exported successive years’ harvests to Men away south who could pay more. The white hobbits starved to death, or migrated to work as labor for the Men, or worked as sharecroppers on the Chief’s big farms. And that was right and proper, because respect for property rights and minimal government is at the core of the hobbit theory of government.

            • Malaclypse says:

              The white hobbits ran the black hobbits out of the Shire before our story begins.

              Okay, I have to ask: had you read about this before writing that?

              • Holden Pattern says:

                Nope.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Brilliant anyway, although technically the multi-national in question was Saruman, Inc, which was spun off of Sauron, Inc. This allowed Saruman Inc to survive the unfriendly takeover of Sauron Inc by Gondor & Co. Sadly, Saruman himself went Galt when Frodo (who never did produce a long-form birth certificate) raised marginal tax rates by 2%.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                I always thought that Saruman, Inc. was actually a shell corporation incorporated in the Grey Havens for the purpose of reducing the tax liability Sauron, Inc. — a mere accounting fiction with no separate governance structure.

                Incidentally, one has to remember that Sauron, Inc. was actually the successor entity to Morgoth Corp. put its remaining assets before bankruptcy.

                Oh, the geekiness, it burnsss usss.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Incidentally, one has to remember that Sauron, Inc. was actually the successor entity to Morgoth Corp. put its remaining assets before bankruptcy.

                Yes, but Morgoth Corp went into bankruptcy because all of their IP was stolen from Feanor & Sons LTD.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                Touché.

              • cleter says:

                Actually, Morgoth Corp. went bankrupt because of legacy costs associated with the reorganization of Melkor & Associates, and the colossal failure of Morgoth Corp’s attempted leveraged buy-out of Arda Real Estate Holdings.

                Of course, the IP problems with Feanor & Sons didn’t help.

            • Brad Potts says:

              I think you have managed to top yourself in your words to idea ratio, HP.

              Note: I am giving you credit for an idea because you seem to possess something that resembles an idea, although it seems to be based on what you think you should say on this blog, rather than what is true.

              Otherwise, I can’t detect a fully formed thought in that entire comment.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                Otherwise, I can’t detect a fully formed thought in that entire comment.

                I really think that doesn’t say as much about me as you think it does.

        • David Nieporent says:

          At least homeowner’s associations have to suffer the consequences of their petty posturing.

          This. I’ll bet that when HOAs enact such bad rules that only 1-in-5 residents approves of their work, that they don’t have 85% reelection rates.

    • timb says:

      What else is new, though? As a libertarian I am usually left out of most policy discussion anyways.

      And, as a person who thinks libertarianism is silly, I think that is an appropriate decision

    • mpowell says:

      Yeah, this is just wrong. But I can see how a libertarian would make this mistake. A lot of local politics revolves around concentrating political power in a local unit that can push externalities off onto other actors. So you get wealthy communities splitting off from a major city so they don’t have to help pay for the infrastructure that supports their existence. There is certainly a case to be made for certain functions to be localized, but it is far too complicated to say that it is universally better for all functions.

      The real problem here is that the debate over localized versus centralized control always revolves around the interests of various stake-holders disguised as principled positions instead of a debate about what would be better for everyone.

      • Brad Potts says:

        The real problem here is that the debate over localized versus centralized control always revolves around the interests of various stake-holders disguised as principled positions instead of a debate about what would be better for everyone.

        Exactly.

        I am basically saying that I am frustrated that the debate over state’s rights has devolved into a discussion of the rights of blacks, gays, and abortion.

        I fall very far to the liberal side of all of those former issues, but I support secession. So that means that, when I side on the side of secessionists I become an intolerant bigot solely due to the way the popular debate is framed.

        That’s how it works when you are a libertarian. You mostly just spend all your time explaining why you aren’t an evil person.

        • Brad Potts says:

          Latter issues, I mean.

        • Malaclypse says:

          I am basically saying that I am frustrated that the debate over state’s rights has devolved into a discussion of the rights of blacks, gays, and abortion.

          There is a reason for this. In the real world, the alternative to a centralized nation-state is not independent yeoman farmers. We can dress this up in Jeffersonian language if we want to make it sound respectable, or we can pull HP’s hobbit trick, but in the real world it does not happen. It has never happened. It will never happen. The theories that say it should work are no more, and no less, viable than the theories that say the state will wither away under communism.

          Even if you somehow start off with a bunch of yeoman farmers, some of them will manage to become landlords, in the original sense of the word. They will then extract rents, in the original sense of that word. In the real world, the alternative to a nation-state is feudalism. And feudalism has a whole lot of victims. And without a nation-state, those victims have no redress.

          If you want broad, universal human rights, you need a broad-based, centralized government.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            All of which has been pointed out to Mr. Potts before, though less patiently than you have done so here.

            The yeomen-farmer libertarian fantasy fails completely to take into account tipping into classic dynastic feudalism or corporate neofeudalism, the corruption of judiciary (this under any libertarian model, but as an ancillary matter, one might recall that the aristocracy and judiciary are always the same in feudal systems), the tendency of humans to act like vicious tribalists if not restrained, the question of intergenerational justice, etc. etc.

            The yeomen-farmer fantasy is, in short, exactly that. Most of us would like to live in the Shire. It sounds idyllic, because it was written to be so, and part of the fantasy and the fiction of it is the essentialist assumptions of hobbit nature which are not realistic assumptions about human beings as we see them in the wild. If men were angels, etc.

            • Malaclypse says:

              It sounds idyllic, because it was written to be so, and part of the fantasy and the fiction of it is the essentialist assumptions of hobbit nature which are not realistic assumptions about human beings as we see them in the wild.

              Okay, here’s where I go full-on geek: when confronted by the Men in the Battle of Bywater as to where he got the authority to confront them, Pippin replied that he was a Knight of the rightful King. Even in the fantasy Shire, a central government was needed to restore rights.

              Once again, libertarianism is less realistic than Tolkien.

              • Holden Pattern says:

                Also recall that Aragorn mentions that it is only by dint of much striving by the Rangers — the rump representatives of the rightful king, acting as a self-policing JSOC strike force — that the borders of the Shire are kept as secure as they are.

                IOW, Tolkien imagined that the idyll of the Shire could only be kept safe by men like the Operative acting under color of benevolent dictatorship, a notion anathema to libertarianism.

                Ah ha! Crossover geekery!

          • Brad Potts says:

            There is a reason for this. In the real world, the alternative to a centralized nation-state is not independent yeoman farmers. We can dress this up in Jeffersonian language if we want to make it sound respectable, or we can pull HP’s hobbit trick, but in the real world it does not happen. It has never happened. It will never happen. The theories that say it should work are no more, and no less, viable than the theories that say the state will wither away under communism.

            Even if you somehow start off with a bunch of yeoman farmers, some of them will manage to become landlords, in the original sense of the word. They will then extract rents, in the original sense of that word. In the real world, the alternative to a nation-state is feudalism. And feudalism has a whole lot of victims. And without a nation-state, those victims have no redress.

            If you want broad, universal human rights, you need a broad-based, centralized government.

            HP states that this has been pointed out to me before, and he is right. I just don’t know how this constitutes a passable argument.

            First off, my passing statement that I idealize agricultural lifestyles does not imply that I actually expect or pursue an economic system composed of “Yeoman Farmers”. I lean towards a mutualist sort of society, and I have an aesthetic taste for agricultural communities.

            Second off, I have not once called for the end of the nation-state. I have mentioned how the nation-state is more capable of directing and coercing populations into war. I have mentioned how local governments tend to be more accountable. I have mentioned how individuals have more of a say within local governments.

            This all goes to the point that strong central governments have more ability to screw over people on a grand scale. This does not imply that local or state governments cannot. It does not imply that central governments serve no useful purpose.

            Lastly, even if your argument was properly directed at my own, it is basically loaded with “this will happen” or “this can’t happen” statements with absolutely no support.

            If I were willing to accept that there is only a choice between a powerful central state and feudalism, we wouldn’t be having a discussion. Since you provided absolutely no basis for this, however, there is little I can offer in terms of rebuttal.

            • Malaclypse says:

              I have mentioned how local governments tend to be more accountable.

              Have you ever been pulled over by a small-town cop having a bad day?

              I have mentioned how individuals have more of a say within local governments.

              Unless those individuals are members of a systematically disenfranchised group.

              Here is an iconic image of local governance. Notice anything missing?

              If I were willing to accept that there is only a choice between a powerful central state and feudalism, we wouldn’t be having a discussion.

              Then by all means list counter-examples drawn from the real world. For extra credit, confine your examples to societies where most people live above subsistence-level.

              • Brad Potts says:

                Have you ever been pulled over by a small-town cop having a bad day?

                Yes. He called me an asshole for driving so fast, gave me a ticket, and I paid it.

                Have you visited Iraq or Afghanistan post 9/11?

                Unless those individuals are members of a systematically disenfranchised group.

                You mean like 90% of the people governed by the US Federal government?

              • Malaclypse says:

                Have you visited Iraq or Afghanistan post 9/11?

                Yes, Brad, the US, like any powerful actor, commits atrocities. I am not arguing otherwise. What I am arguing is that the modern nation-state is the only political entity that makes any real effort to safeguard the rights of citizens.

                Unless those individuals are members of a systematically disenfranchised group.

                You mean like 90% of the people governed by the US Federal government?

                Okay, let us imagine you are not a white male. You can be anything you want, but not a white male, with the sole requirement being that you are a citizen. Are you better off having your rights be primarily guarded by the federal government in 2010, or by state governments in 1859?

                I’m not arguing that the US, particularly post 9-11, is a paragon of virtue regarding civil rights. I am not arguing that we do not commit atrocities. What I am arguing is that, all else being equal, life inside a nation-state is better than life in any real alternative. You say Iraq and Afghanistan are hell-holes? I agree. Part of why they are hell-holes is that one has never been a nation-state, and the other is not a nation-state any longer.

                Then by all means list counter-examples drawn from the real world. For extra credit, confine your examples to societies where most people live above subsistence-level.

                Still waiting. Do you see that your inability to list examples is why HP discusses the Shire?

              • Anonymous says:

                Yes, Brad, the US, like any powerful actor, commits atrocities.I am not arguing otherwise.

                Yes, and the greater the power the greater the potential atrocity. That was my point. The asshole cop called me an asshole and wrote me a ticket. The asshole POTUS kills hundreds of thousands.

                Yes, decentralization removes some degree of enforceability of basic morality. But I really question the necessity of that violent enforcement in modern society.

                The polar, which I am arguing, is that when we invest the power of that enforceability to one authority, we have to know that the central authority will have the ability and often the incentive to enforce horrible things.

                Of course, we were lucky to have a wise group of guys establishing a government of decentralized checks and balances.

                What I am arguing is that the modern nation-state is the only political entity that makes any real effort to safeguard the rights of citizens.

                Did you really think through that last sentence? “The modern nation-state is the only political entity that makes any real effort to safeguard the rights of citizens”?

                Let me ask you, and I’m not trying score political points, just making argument: Do you think Barack Obama’s policy on safeguarding rights of citizens falls on the liberal side or the authoritarian side of popular opinion?

                Who do you consider to be working harder to safeguard my rights, the Obama DOJ and the Pentagon, or the litany of private institutions bringing the best media, legal, and scholarly refutations of their policies?

                Are you better off having your rights be primarily guarded by the federal government in 2010, or by state governments in 1859?

                Why handicap my side of the argument? If you are interested, I would prefer federal government protection in 2010 to state government protection in 2010, but only by a sliver. I can tell you that I would have moved from Georgia by now.

                Yes, central state can keep broad control over local governments in order to protect rights. I have never argued otherwise.

                But it is important to note that the structure necessary to maintain legal enforcement of rights is dramatically smaller than the typical nation-state, and every state structure places a responsibility on the collective electorate.

                Most importantly, though, is why I should accept that a central nation-state is more likely to protect rights than a local government? Why should I accept that a federal government is always a net benefit to civil liberties?

                Part of why they are hell-holes is that one has never been a nation-state, and the other is not a nation-state any longer.

                You do get the irony here, right?

                You say they are hell-holes because of their lack of political structures, when their lack of political structure is entirely due, at this point, to the aggressive actions of the two largest central governments in history. We have no clue what sort of political structure would have developed in either of those countries.

                Its the same thing worldwide: the modern nation-state is the White Man’s Burden. You ask me to provide examples of alternatives to the nation-state, but what modern country’s political structure has not been overwhelmingly influenced by the early nation-state colonial empires.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Let me ask you, and I’m not trying score political points, just making argument: Do you think Barack Obama’s policy on safeguarding rights of citizens falls on the liberal side or the authoritarian side of popular opinion?

                Nice strawman. What part of this:

                I’m not arguing that the US, particularly post 9-11, is a paragon of virtue regarding civil rights. I am not arguing that we do not commit atrocities.

                did you not read? Please find any point ever at which I have defended Obama’s civil rights record.

                You say they are hell-holes because of their lack of political structures, when their lack of political structure is entirely due, at this point, to the aggressive actions of the two largest central governments in history

                Yes. But the citizens of Iraq had their nation-state obliterated, while the citizens of Panama did not. One nation recovered from US aggression, the other is unlikely to. Part of that is the existence of a nation-state.

                Most importantly, though, is why I should accept that a central nation-state is more likely to protect rights than a local government? Why should I accept that a federal government is always a net benefit to civil liberties?

                Well, you should accept this because you learn from history. I am not optimistic on this.


                You ask me to provide examples of alternatives to the nation-state, but what modern country’s political structure has not been overwhelmingly influenced by the early nation-state colonial empires.

                The Shire, apparently, since you cannot name anywhere else.

              • The Perfect Guest says:

                Have you visited Iraq or Afghanistan post 9/11?

                Wait, what? The collapse of Iraq’s central government and failure of the CPA to effectively replace it plunged the entire nation into sectarian, tribal, and political multisided civil war.

                You sure had local governance all right: neighborhood militias conducting ethnic and religious cleansing.

                This is your example of local governments’ greater accountability and ability to protect individuals’ rights? Really?

                My days of not taking libertarians seriously are certainly coming to a middle.

              • Brad Potts says:

                To The Perfect Guest,

                Every attempt at Iraqi self-governance has been cut miserably short by brutal foreign conquest and occupation.

                I am under no delusion that local self-governance is easy or that the transition to it would be smooth. But Iraq’s ascent into the modern era has basically been a story of empires taking control of it, whether it would be the Ottoman empire, the British Empire, or the American and Soviet Empires.

                Maybe if Iraq didn’t have their infrastructure blown up every generation, they could have a functioning decentralized government.

    • djw says:

      For the record, that while I disagree with you to some extent about what, precisely, the benefits of local governance are, I do agree that some democratic benefits exist.

      Let me challenge you to think a bit more critically about your own premises. You characterize the advantages of local governance as essentially, universal in theory if not in practice facts about local governance. You characterize the disadvantages of local governance, on the other hand, as an unfortunate historical contingency of a particular time and place. I think a pretty good case can be made that to think clearly about the value of local governance you need to explore the possibility of a more unified approach. In other words, the unfortunate contingent facts of America’s peculiar history of slavery, incomplete civil war, and racism are best understood particular case of a larger generalizable tendency about local governance: to the extent that various unpopular minorities exist, they’re more likely to have their rights violated and interests not taken into account by an uneven set of localities.

      • Brad Potts says:

        There is not really a whole lot to disagree with here.

        I will reword th It seems very plain to me that, all else equal, the more localized and decentralized government is, the more representative it is of its citizens and the less domineering it can tends to be.

        I didn’t mean to imply that local governments cannot be oppressive.

        But when the commenters on a progressive political blog argue that the war-making abilities of a central state are a benefit of the state, I have to think that I am not the one who is avoiding the unified approach.

        • L2P says:

          You continue to assume that progressives oppose the ability of a country to effectively defend itself. But that’s a plus, not a minus. We don’t get any civil rights if we’re busy working the fields for our communist overlords because our decentralized state couldn’t raise a fortieth tank division.

          Most progressives recognize that, and it’s among the reasons a central, federal government was desired in the Constitution in the first place. This is an era of national wars, and if a nation is to decentralized to fight one it won’t have be much use when the rubber meets the road.

          • Brad P. says:

            You continue to assume that progressives oppose the ability of a country to effectively defend itself.

            No, I continue to question the assumption that a country can only effectively defend itself through a strong central government.

        • djw says:

          But when the commenters on a progressive political blog argue that the war-making abilities of a central state are a benefit of the state, I have to think that I am not the one who is avoiding the unified approach.

          I’d be willing to go along with ‘necessary evil’ rather than a benefit.

          Have you considered the possibility that if states were not efficiently war-capable entities, they might not have persisted as the world’s central form of political organization lo these many years?

          • Anonymous says:

            Have you considered the possibility that if states were not efficiently war-capable entities, they might not have persisted as the world’s central form of political organization lo these many years?

            Have you considered the possibility that if states were not efficiently war-capable entities, they might not have persisted as the world’s central form of political organization lo these many years?

            • Malaclypse says:

              I love the argument from italics. Have you ever considered the possibility it does not make any argument at all?

              • Brad P. says:

                Its perfectly reasonable turnabout.

                We both agree that the nation-state dominates the modern political landscape because of its military efficiency.

                I find it very likely, however, that is due to the states efficiency in fighting aggressive foreign wars than defensive wars.

                So yes, what he said has occurred to me, but I don’t think it has fully occurred to him.

  3. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Thanks for beating this unfortunately not-dead-enough horse, Scott.

    Apropos of your final sentence I wanted to take George Packer to task. In a harsh New Yorker review of George W. Bush’s recently published memoirs (a review that has been getting much attention on the interwebs), Packer compares Bush’s book unfavorably with Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs. But even in praising Grant, Packer can’t keep himself from repeating the old, neo-Confederate canards about his presidency:

    Grant marches across the terrain of his life (stopping short of his corrupt failure of a Presidency) with the same relentless and unflinching realism with which he pursued Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

    This is how falsehoods become accepted as truths: slightly lazy, but serious and basically well intentioned, folks like Packer keep repeating them.

    It’s pretty imperative that those who know better call them out whenever they come up…perhaps especially when they are uttered in good faith and incidentally.

    • Brad Potts says:

      I admire some of what Grant did as president, and he seems to be near the top of the list of presidents as far as relative noble intentions go.

      But is it really all that controversial that Grant had trouble controlling the corruption within his administration? I thought that Grant was a layman who put too much trust in his appointees and paid a pretty harsh price for it. Is that not true?

      His positions on the treatment of blacks and Native Americans are certainly commendable, but that doesn’t mean that his administration wasn’t very, very corrupt.

      • firefall says:

        No, it’s not true. Grant’s administration was no more corrupt than any of the 19th century presidencies – however he made the cardinal mistake of crossing the powers-that-be, resulting in the most sustained and determined smear campaign of that sorry, sordid century, resulting in his ongoing reputation.

        BTW, anyone who thinks Grant’s life (pre-Civil War) demonstrates ‘relentless and unflinching realism’ has clearly not read any biography of him, as he clearly demonstrated a total lack of purpose or goal, and drifted randomly through a series of dead-end jobs, til the bitch-goddess finally beckoned.

        • mark f says:

          Packer says Grant’s memoirs demonstrate “relentless and unflinching realism” in examining “the terrain of his life”; that the rest of the article is more of a Sherman’s march through Bush’s unreflective memoir would seem to place Packer’s (not to mention Grant’s) understanding of Grant’s failures in line with yours.

        • Joe says:

          I find this somewhat dubious. No other President was better on that level, huh? Seems too high of a test. Also, by his time, there was more potential for corruption without truly modern things like a civil service system and so forth to temper them some. No need to go too far in either direction here.

          • timb says:

            The money and power the post-War government had in just the areas of railroads was [arguably] exponentially more power and money than the entirety any antebellum budget (I’m sure that exaggerates the point). The power to hand private property over to private companies who made unbelievable profit was too great for that system to sustain. Somewhere Robert Todd Lincoln, bastard, is chuckling

        • Jon H says:

          “and drifted randomly through a series of dead-end jobs”

          As befits someone named Ulysses.

    • rea says:

      Grant marches across the terrain of his life (stopping short of his corrupt failure of a Presidency) with the same relentless and unflinching realism with which he pursued Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

      What–he left the tactical execution of the book to Meade, Burnside, Butler and Sheridan?

  4. smintheus says:

    Here’s another constitutional issue that 19th century states-righters and their modern progeny tend to ignore when it suits them: That the results of elections need to be respected.

    The South seceded because it didn’t like how the election of 1860 turned out. Much of modern conservatism is built on the principle that elections don’t really matter whenever Democrats win them.

    • jsmdlawyer says:

      Much of m Modern conservatism is built on the principle that elections don’t really matter whenever Democrats win them.

      Fixed.

  5. Joe says:

    NYT online has an ongoing non-treason take of the times. Pretty good stuff.

  6. Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    Guess it’s time for a re-enactment of Sherman’s March, since they seemed not to get the point the first time.

    • Brad Potts says:

      Im pretty sure the lesson on slavery has been learned by this point.

      If you are referring to the lesson that withdrawing from the Federal government will result in the complete devastation of your general geographic region, then yes, the lesson may be wearing off. Its that whole consent thing.

      • Aardvark Cheeselog says:

        I was referring to the point that the anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter should be an occasion for the wearing of sackcloth and ashes and not for dancing and drinking champagne.

      • DocAmazing says:

        Actually, given that much of the slavery that has been uncovered in the US in the past decade has been in Florida fields, I think that the lesson did not take.

      • wengler says:

        Consent of a majority of the agricultural oligarchy?

        You know the word libertarian has at its root the latin word liber meaning the “free one”. The masters of totalitarian slave states took it upon themselves to secede and make a new tyranny calling itself the Confederate States of America.

        As a liberty-loving person where does the appeal in this scenario lie? There was no implied violence for staying in the US, only a likely steady erosion of political power concerning the expansion of slavery. Once again I fail to see how American libertarianism ends in anything but the idea that everyone can be their own petty tyrant.

        • Brad Potts says:

          From a libertarian perspective, it was a hideous war on all sides.

          It was a war between one side that wanted to legitimize slavery, and one side that wanted set a precedent that membership in the union would be maintained by force.

          Read the nuanced works of Lysander Spooner. He was a 19th century proto-libertarian, extreme abolitionist who supported violence in furthering that cause, yet was vehemently opposed to Union suppression of secession.

          From the introduction to “No Treason”:

          The question of treason is distinct from that of slavery; and is the same that it would have been, if free States, instead of slave States, had seceded.

          On the part of the North, the war was carried on, not to liberate slaves, but by a government that had always perverted and violated the Constitution, to keep the slaves in bondage; and was still willing to do so, if the slaveholders could be thereby induced to stay in the Union.

          The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.

          No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom. Yet it triumphed in the field, and is now assumed to be established. If it really be established, the number of slaves, instead of having been diminished by the war, has been greatly increased; for a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle, but only in degree, between political and chattel slavery. The former, no less than the latter, denies a man’s ownership of himself and the products of his labor; and asserts that other men may own him, and dispose of him and his property, for their uses, and at their pleasure.

          Previous to the war, there were some grounds for saying that in theory, at least, if not in practice our government was a free one; that it rested on consent. But nothing of that kind can be said now, if the principle on which the war was carried on by the North, is irrevocably established.

          If that principle be not the principle of the Constitution, the fact should be known. If it be the principle of the Constitution, the Constitution itself should be at once overthrown.

          • Malaclypse says:

            The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.

            There’s a great big item missing in this: we can presume that the slaves themselves did not consent to secession in support of furthering the slave system. “Consent” in this context mean only the consent of white male property owners. The CSA states were perfectly okay with the principle “[t]hat men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want,” as long as the compelled people were not white.

            So, given that the entire flipping premise of the CSA was systematic oppression, forgive me, but fuck their “right” to do that. Nobody should have the freedom to enslave another.

            Let’s try another hypothetical: do I have the right to seceed from both Massachusetts and the Union – me, personally, my own property, with the unanimous consent of all my family?

            What if I convince 51% of my town to come along?

            Given that both of those scenarios are silly, why would it be less silly if I could convince 51% of MA voters? It would be especially silly if I first applied strict tests for who could and could not vote.

            It would be morally fucking reprehensible if I first said minorities cannot vote, got a majority of white voters to go along with that, then seceeded based on the idea that whites had the right to enslave blacks. There is no sane theory of democracy that believes that consent of the governed vaguely applied in South Carolina. If you think antebellum South Carolina had a right to seceed, that is a point against your theory of consent.

          • Brad Potts says:

            There’s a great big item missing in this: we can presume that the slaves themselves did not consent to secession in support of furthering the slave system. “Consent” in this context mean only the consent of white male property owners. The CSA states were perfectly okay with the principle “[t]hat men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want,” as long as the compelled people were not white.

            So, given that the entire flipping premise of the CSA was systematic oppression, forgive me, but fuck their “right” to do that. Nobody should have the freedom to enslave another.

            Agreed, but that is a separate issue.

            Lysander Spooner, in 1858, wrote “A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery”, which called for non-slave holding southerners to bring arms in defense of slaves. From the pamphlet:

            Perhaps some may say that this taking of property, by the Slaves, would be stealing, and should not be encouraged. The answer is, that it would not be stealing; it would be simply taking justice into their own hands, and redressing their own wrongs. The state of Slavery is a state of war. In this case it is a just war, on the part of the negroes—a war for liberty, and the recompense of injuries; and necessity justifies them in carrying it on by the only means their oppressors have left to them. In war, the plunder of enemies is as legitimate as the killing of them; and stratagem is as legitimate as open force. The right of the Slaves, therefore, in this war, to take property, is as clear as their right to take life; and their right to do it secretly, is as clear as their right to do it openly. And as this will probably be their most effective mode of operation for the present, they ought to be taught, encouraged, and assisted to do it to the utmost, so long as they are unable to meet their enemies in the open field. And to call this taking of property stealing, is as false and unjust as it would be to call the taking of life, in just war, murder.

            It is entirely possible to separate the moral question of slavery and the moral question of secession and maintain a consistent libertarian ideal. It has been revisited by libertarians over and over again: civil disobedience and sometimes violence in the face of oppression.

            The opposition to slavery and the opposition to federal enforcement of unconsented government are consistent application of principle. As Spooner said:

            And there is no difference, in principle, but only in degree, between political and chattel slavery.

            And at no point did I or Spooner ever commend the CSA. Unfortunately, as I mentioned a couple of times, the issue of secession has become intractably overwhelmed by the issue of civil rights and slavery.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Agreed, but that is a separate issue.

              No, it is not. I don’t care how much you want to ignore the issue, but the Civil War was about the right to own people as property.

              It is entirely possible to separate the moral question of slavery and the moral question of secession and maintain a consistent libertarian ideal.

              Okay, so do I have the right to seceed from Massachusetts? If not, why not? Please be sure and maintain those consistent libertarian ideals.

              If I can freely convince the white voters of my town that we should 1) disenfranchise blacks, 2) enslave them, 3) vote to seceed, do we have that right? Straight up, yes or no. If no, then how is my town any different from South Carolina?

              I don’t give a crap what some proto-libertarian 19th century person thought. I want to know if you, today, are really willing to argue that a political entity has the right to seceed, especially when the reasons for secession are morally reprehensible. Pretending that you can ignore the reasons for secession is bullshit. In the real world, people do things for reasons, and the things they do cannot be judged separately from the reasons they have.

              Look, India had different reasons to leave the British Empire than South Carolina’s reasons for leaving the Union. Treating them both as some ahistorical abstract “right of secession” leaves you unable to understand either event.

              • Brad Potts says:

                No, it is not. I don’t care how much you want to ignore the issue, but the Civil War was about the right to own people as property.

                The Civil War was about fighting to keep slaves on one side, and fighting to keep all states under the authority of US government on the other side.

                My point is that, while the Civil War may be an example of secession, the case for secession is not made based on the facts surrounding the Civil War.

                If I can freely convince the white voters of my town that we should 1) disenfranchise blacks, 2) enslave them, 3) vote to seceed, do we have that right? Straight up, yes or no. If no, then how is my town any different from South Carolina?

                I believe you fully have the right to cast off unrepresentative and/or harmful governance. I do not believe you have the right to enslave others when you do it.

                If you were to attempt to declare your independence from the government, I believe that no one has the right to come to your door and violent force you to commit to the government.

                If you were to attempt to keep slaves, I believe that anyone, including me, as full rights to violently prohibit you from holding slaves at the time and for any time in the future, including killing you in your sleep.

                Violence in pursuit of liberty is perfectly fine, but neither side of the Civil War were killing the other side in pursuit of liberty. One was fighting for chattel slavery, and one was fighting for political oppression.

                Is secession unjustified in situations where it serves to improve rights? For example, if New England broke off from the union, we could expect it to be a better guardian of rights.

              • Malaclypse says:

                If you were to attempt to keep slaves, I believe that anyone, including me, as full rights to violently prohibit you from holding slaves at the time and for any time in the future, including killing you in your sleep.

                Good. So the Union was justified in kicking the ass of the CSA.

              • Brad Potts says:

                Yes, to put an end to slavery, but not to squash secessionary political activity.

                Just as there is little doubt that the south seceded over slavery, there is little doubt that the US fought to preserve the authority of the federal government.

                The position of the US government was (at least publicly) you can keep your slaves as long as you continue to subvert yourself to the federal government. That is an absolutely reprehensible position to take.

          • The Perfect Guest says:

            If it really be established, the number of slaves, instead of having been diminished by the war, has been greatly increased; for a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle, but only in degree, between political and chattel slavery.

            See, living a government you don’t like is exactly the same thing as being property.

            That’s not an overstatement of his case, no parody or satire; that is literally his argument.

            Yes, a very serious argument from your proto-libertarian.

  7. rea says:

    There were, in fact, Florida Troops fighting for the Confederacy at the Battle of the Wilderness.

  8. Western Dave says:

    It’s amazing how quickly the topic moves from people celebrating a specific secession to people celebrating abstract notions of state’s rights. These folks aren’t celebrating non-specific state’s rights, they are celebrating treason in the defense of slavery. That’s why they celebrate the anniversary of this particular decision. You want to celebrate state’s rights? Fine, I’ll take you seriously, when you hold a mock funeral for whatever federal law it is that over-rules California’s attempts at stricter environmental regulation of automobiles, stiffer critieria for organic food labelling etc.

    And as for statements like this”Face it, if Mississippi secedes, they aren’t going to march all over the continent enslaving every black person they can find.”
    um, Let’s see Fugitive Slave Act, Dred Scott, Filibustering, Grandfather Clauses, Separate but Equal, Extreme sentences at hard labor for petty crimes, high incarceration rates in prison for profit systems. All I can conclude is “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me; fool me more call me a Confederate apologist.

  9. cleter says:

    If the Confederacy and secession and whatnot was really about state’s rights and not slavery, you would expect the Confederate constitution to have a different enumeration of federal vs state power than the US constitution–but it doesn’t. The only new state right in the Confederate constitution is…the right to slavery. The Confederate government could’t regulate state’s rights to have slaves.

    • dave says:

      And that wasn’t even a right – it was an obligation to maintain the institution.

      • Linnaeus says:

        Right. Even if the good citizens of, say, Alabama decided that they wanted to outlaw slavery in Alabama, they could not do so under the Confederate constitution. That’s a state right that no state had in the CSA.

  10. Western Dave says:

    While Brad Potts is right that the North wasn’t fighting about slavery in the South, he is totally wrong about the Unions motivations for stopping secession. The Civil War is about slavery in the territories. Lincoln and the Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery into Western territories because they believed that the North could not function as a society without supplies of “free soil, free men, free labor.” The South likewise believed that slavery could not endure unless new territory were constantly acquired as cotton and tobacco used up the soil. Thus the War to Save the Union wasn’t really about not letting states secede, it was about who would control the Western territories and thus the future. If the Confederate government had no claims on federal territories, then perhaps they would have been allowed to walk (and thus the Fort Sumter siege isn’t really about the fort, it’s about would Confederates claim federal territory, to which they answered: yes). So the North is faced with a choice, fight the South now for it’s very survival, or fight the South later after it has allies and a more developed infrastructure for it’s very survival. Clearly choice one, fight now makes more sense. The Confederates, for their part, were perfectly clear about having aspirations in the West and Texans promptly invaded New Mexico (again) to try to turn it into slave territory with an eye on gold and silver fields in Colorado to boot. They were defeated (again) in one of the key but lesser known battles of the war. It’s no accident that the War was won/lost in the West first because that’s where the stakes were highest for the Union and Confederacy.

    So when you hear “the war to save the union” don’t think oh it’s about secession and the right to secede, think “whoever controls the West controls the continent, if the South controls it, we’re doomed and they ain’t giving up their claims.” It is a war of self-preservation as the North understands it in 1861, not union for the sake of union.

    • Brad Potts says:

      Thank you.

      I hadn’t looked at it in that manner before. It doesn’t change my opinion on secession itself, but it definitely makes me rethink my opinion on the Union’s actions.

      • Brian says:

        Couple of points, necessarily brief because of the forum. We have to distinguish between the right of revolution, enshrined in the D of I, and the issue of secession. The South could not, in my opinion, claim the right of revolution, since per the D of I, that right exists when a government denies that all men are created equal, and fails to secure the right to liberty. The new government is supposed to secure these rights. The Confederate government was founded precisely on the denial of equality and liberty, and so had no right of revolution (see the writings of Harry Jaffa, brilliant scholar and, pace Brad’s libertarianism, at one time a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater.)

        I would contend that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution precludes secession forever. As Lincoln himself said, no country’s organic document contains the seeds of its own destruction. If secession of states from the Union is permissible, why might cities or counties not secede from their states? This would not be libertarianism, it would be anarchy, and was clearly not the position of the Founders or the Framers. Remember that Washington, whose views on the matter are pretty damn authoritative, took the field as C in C of 15,000 troops to put down the Whiskey rebellion.

        The right of secession, if it is indeed a right, could only be based on what 19th century figures like Calhoun referred to as the “compact” theory of the Union. That is, the Constitution is a compact between sovereigns, basically a contract. If one or more parties is denied the benefit of the bargain by the others, that voids the contract. Southerners were eloquent in asserting that their rights and honor were being denied by the North, but were woefully short on specifics. I’ve never seen a convincing case, either from the secessionists or their modern apologists, laying out the denial of a single right promised in the Constitution.

        Absent that, the Southern states had no right to bail on their contract, at least without the consent of the Northern states. And secession would do real damage to the Northern states. The loss of the port of New Orleans alone would be potentially catastrophic for midwestern states dependent on the Mississippi to export their products. The competition over the West mentioned above, and the general weakening of the Union caused by the loss of the Southern states and their economic and military potential, would have precluded the US from becoming the world power it became.

        So if the South had neither the right of revolution or of secession on its side, and was fighting only to continue to enslave millions, the North had every right, and indeed the duty, to stop the rebellion.

  11. [...] should first of all be noted that, as is pretty much always the case, attempts to claim that these disputes are really arcane theoretical disputes about federalism are [...]

  12. [...] against a woman who poisoned a woman who was impregnated by her husband.   Like most people, I don’t much care about “federalism”; unlike many people, I’m candid about it.    But even to me, this is an exceptionally [...]

  13. [...] first term, even though applying such logic would seem to. Well, I have a solution! In keeping with the true spirit that almost always animates invocations of federalism, I believe that these amendments harken back to the golden age of the true sage of federalism, John [...]

  14. [...] “States’ rights” were never “sacred.” Jim Crow politicians didn’t care about state autonomy; they cared about segregation.    Gilded Age judges who tried to enforce ridiculously narrow readings of the commerce clause also invented doctrines that constrained the ability of the states to regulate the economy, because they cared about laissez-faire capitalism, not about states’ “rights.”     Form the Louisiana Purchase to the Fugitive Slave Act southern “strict constructionists” always managed to find room in their hearts for constitutionally dubious expansions of federal power so long as they entrenched the slave power.   Etc. Etc. Etc.   Of course the federal government didn’t believe that “rights” nobody actually cares about trumps fundamental human rights.   What this has to do with the First Amendment I have no idea. [...]

  15. [...] of the most enduring manifestations of perhaps the longest-running farce in American politics is the idea that public officials who vote for every federal abortion regulation to ever come down [...]

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