150 Years Ago

One hundred and fifty years ago today, delegates from around the Virginia voted to withdraw the state from the United States of America.

Now, unlike the states of the Deep South, Virginia did not leave the Union once Abraham Lincoln was elected President.  Instead, it first sought a nonviolent solution to the disagreements plaguing the nation through the Peace Conference of 1861.  However, the conference proved to be a failure, as it did not satisfy hardliners in either the North or the South.

Although it might come as surprising news, the first time Virginia delegates met to consider the question of secession, on April 4th, 1861, the idea failed by a vote of 45 in favor with 90 opposed.  Later events changed public opinion.  With the capture of Fort Sumter on April 13th, Lincoln called for troops from each loyal state to crush the rebellion.  According to D.C., Virginia’s commitment to the war effort was to be 2,340 men, but Governor Letcher refused to honor this request/demand.  Taking in mind these new developments, by a vote of 88 to 55, state delegates adopted the ordinance of secession.  On May 23rd of that same year, Virginia voters overwhelming approved the idea with 132,201 in favor and 37,451 against.

Although Virginia did not choose to withdraw from the Union in late 1860 or early 1861, they clearly recognized the right of their southern brethren to do so.  Only when asked to take up arms against the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, did they finally reject the Union.  Although we are free to argue about the motives of Virginians, perhaps they realized that a nation tyrannically held together through the force of arms destroyed the concepts of the Republic, the freedoms they cherished, and the original purpose of the war of independence from Great Britain.

With the anniversary of this document, I believe it would serve all Virginians to reflect upon it.  Not only should one pause to consider the causes of secession, but also the causes and terrible costs of the resulting war.

This copy currently hangs in the Capitol Building in Richmond, VA

Given that the original is a bit difficult to read here, the text is as follows:


To Repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution:

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.

Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain that the Ordinance adopted by the people of this State in Convention, on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying or adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong to a free and independent State. And they do further declare that the said Constitution of the United State of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

This Ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this State, cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.

Done in Convention, in the city of Richmond, on the seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Sec’y of Convention.

Reflections on Lincoln

Image from The Library of Congress
Image from The Library of Congress

As two days ago was the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, I thought it fitting to write about him.  Now most Republicans I know hold a particular fondness for Lincoln, choosing to hold some sort of dinner in his honor around this time of year.  After all, he was the first Republican candidate elected president.  Don’t some people call the Republican Party the “Party of Lincoln?”  A faithful reader of this blog would guess that my viewpoint would be quite a bit different.  If you were to ask me, “Who were the worst presidents to date, I would answer, “Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Abraham Lincoln.”

Now hold on a minute!  Other than Lyndon Johnson the other three are generally held in a positive light and many Republicans compared George W. Bush to Lincoln.  Why do you dislike him so?  The answer is simple; all four of these presidents massively and unconstitutionally increased the size and scope of the federal government.  In addition, all four used the pretext of the nation at war (or “conflict” in the case of Vietnam) to justify further centralization of power under the executive branch.  But let’s focus on the man of the hour, Mr. Lincoln.

I think that there are generally two reasons why people hold Lincoln in high regard: he won a particularly brutal and bloody war and he freed the slaves.   First, and likely most controversial, is the subject of the war.  Now I’ve written quite a bit on the subject already, but let me cover a few points.  Between the time Lincoln was elected and when he took office, the states of the Deep South: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, all withdrew from the United States.  Immediately following secession, South Carolina demanded the surrender and withdrawal of troops from Fort Sumter, the federal fort in Charleston Harbor.  As they no longer considered themselves part of the USA, to have Union troops stationed in South Carolina made about as much sense to the South Carolinians as stationing British troops in Boston Harbor.  President Lincoln, however, disagreed and was unwilling to surrender the fort.   After the fort fell, he requested volunteers from each loyal state to quell the rebellion.  Virginia, who had previously rejected secession, now joined the young Confederacy rather than embrace Lincoln’s order to take up arms against her southern brethren.

Now some people will say that this war was necessary to preserve the Union, and, in a way, they are right.  The war was quite effective at preserving the physical integrity of the nation, but the spirit of the nation has forever been tarnished as a result.   As was the case in the Vietnam conflict, supporters adopted the mentality that “in order to save the village, we had to destroy it” indicating that the only means by which a people could be saved from the scourge of communism was to raise the village and slaughter the inhabitants.  The concepts of limited government, states rights, unalienable liberties, self-determination, and the 10th Amendment, were dealt a critical blow as a result of Lincoln’s actions and successive presidents have continued to disregard and erode these national underpinnings.   Unconstitutionally suspending habeas corpus in Maryland, creating an illegal income tax, waging war against civilians, censoring the press, what’s not to like about Lincoln?

Next, let’s move on to point number two:  Lincoln as the great emancipator.  Numerous people view Lincoln as a hero because he supposedly ended slavery, but such a viewpoint is false.  But…but, what about the Emancipation Proclamation, you might say.  Well, what about it?  How many slaves did it free?  Zero.  Huh?  The proclamation freed slaves only in states and territories not presently controlled by the federal government and their armies.  Anywhere that Lincoln had the power to free the slaves (i.e. in Union lands) he did not.

Don’t believe me?  Simply read the document.  The proclamation itself frees “all person held as slaves held within any state” in the following areas: “Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”  Therefore Lincoln freed slaves only in areas over which he had no power and left enslaved individuals over which he could exercise control.   It was a ploy, pure and simple, to gain points with who those who opposed slavery and really accomplished nothing.   However, retrospectively speaking, politically it was a brilliant move.

As a result, in today’s society, if one embraces the mantle of states’ rights, as the Confederacy did, one could be labeled a racist.  It makes little difference whether in truth one espouses racial prejudices.  After all…the Union fought to end slavery while the Confederacy fought to preserve the institution.  Now one would be naive or downright dishonest if he or she did not acknowledge that slavery did play a part in the war, but to claim that the war was primarily fought to abolish or promote the “peculiar institution” is also extremely erroneous.   Did not Lincoln say, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists?  I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” (First Inaugural Address, 1861)?   And then in 1862 in a letter to Horace Greeley, repeated the claim stating, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

Still not convinced?  Recently, I discovered a story of particular interest on the subject.  Have you heard of Giuseppe Garibaldi?  Unless you are an Italian, or a student of Italian history, most likely not, and yet if the Civil War was fought (as some claim) primarily to end slavery, his name would have been enshrined in American history alongside Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was an accomplished strategist and a key leader for Italian unification.  Apparently, according to an article by Rory Carroll in the British publication, The Guardian (found here), President Lincoln offered him the command of the Union forces during the early part of the war.  “Garibaldi was ready to accept Lincoln’s 1862 offer but on one condition, said Mr. Petacco: that the war’s objective be declared as the abolition of slavery.  But at that stage Lincoln was unwilling to make such a statement lest he worsen an agricultural crisis.”

Sure, there is plenty more available that you can read about our sixteenth president, and the vast majority of Americans will contend that Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents, but many of his supposed heroics are either exaggerated or outright untrue.   I do believe he was a skilled politician, but he seemed to hold little regard for the principles of a limited constitutional government.  He favored high protective tariffs, a federal income tax, a national bank, federal spending on internal improvements, a violation of civil liberties of his political enemies, and curtailing the free press.  Although one would expect such policies from say, a Soviet Premier or a Middle Eastern dictator, I honestly believe that the lasting legacy of Abraham Lincoln has been a steady march to an unrestrained unitary state where both the people, their liberties, and their property, are all subservient and dominated by the government.  Are these American values?

So, if given the chance today, would you vote for such a leader?