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.

Those Racist Southerners!

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Virginian, a conservative, and a Southerner is the persistent and mistaken notion that we are nothing more than a bunch of backwards racists who long for a return to the days of slavery and keeping minorities “in their place”.  However, for a great many of us nothing could be farther from the truth.  To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I believe that a person ought to be judged by the content of his or her character, not the color of his or her skin.  Therefore, regardless of whether it would benefit or hinder me, I strongly oppose using race to determine rights, employment, or political representation.

Although I would be nothing short of a boldfaced liar if I were to say that racists and racism did not exist in the South, I have found that it is no more a widespread epidemic in my adventures in the region than it is in either the Northeast or Southwest.

And yet, due in part to the chivalrous and false notion that the Civil War (or more accurately called the War Between the States) was fought entirely over slavery, some of those in the North to this day hold the erroneous viewpoint that they are more civilized and righteous than their barbarous neighbors to the South.  For that reason along with the memory of “southern” Jim Crow laws (which existed decades before I was born and manifest themselves in some facet in most states in the Union), so much of the South, Virginia included, is penalized to this very day.

As you can see, a vast majority of Virginia is under electoral supervision.

The Justice Department requires us to create gerrymandered districts like the 3rd congressional district of Virginia due to supposed racial prejudice.

So is Virginia a heavily segregated state?  Recently, one of my friends shared a Salon article that listed the 10 most segregated urban areas in America.  Guess how many were in the South.  That’s right.  Zero (or one, if you count the state of Missouri).  Counting from ten to one we have:  Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Milwaukee.   But really, what does it matter?  If a government were segregating people, I would clearly object to such a practice.  On the other hand, if a person of his or her own free will chooses to live in communities of primarily one race or another, should the government take an active role to correct this supposed problem?  Absolutely not.

De jure segregation, like “separate but equal”, is a blight upon humanity.  De facto segregation, either done consciously or unconsciously, is just people exercising their rights to live where they choose.  Now to change this issue, should the city, state, or feds forcibly uproot families and individuals from Milwaukee and the surrounding counties and mix them together to create more racially diverse communities?  I would dread to see a government with such a grotesque amount of power.

Of course, maybe my opinions are in the minority here.  After all, according to the above map, I’m from the “racially enlightened” Shenandoah Valley.  That must explain it.  We all know that a majority of Virginians are just plain ignorant and hostile when it comes to race.  But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, these huge pockets of racists are not only separated from the rest of the nation, but also treated unequally under the law.  But it’s OK because we just can’t trust the rest of the Virginians outside the specially designated zones!

Although I firmly believe skin color should not be a defining characteristic, for those who consider Southerners horrible racists, need I remind you that Virginia was the first state to elect a black Governor?  Just for fun let’s compare Virginia to our neighboring state to the west that until his recent death kept electing a Senator who was once a member of the KKK.  As West Virginia isn’t under the same burden as our Commonwealth, that must mean that by comparison Byrd was never a racist nor were any of the people who put him in office!

Anyway, with the 150th anniversary of the war fast approaching, I wanted to share with you a recent video from Jack Hunter addressing this issue.  Enjoy!

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?

If At First You Don’t Secede

If you have spent anytime at all in the western part of Virginia, you’ll find that monuments dedicated to U.S. Civil War are just about everywhere.  For example, there are historical markers, statues, even an occasional flag or two.  Generally, a lot of people who are native to the Shenandoah Valley are quite suspicious of the government in Washington due, in part, to the events before, during, and after that conflict.  After all, a number of battles took place here and tales of the brutal actions of General Sheridan linger in the minds of many to this very day.

But now time for a bit of history, eh?  The idea of secession was integral to the formation of the United States of America.  After all, the War for American Independence against Great Britain was a secessionist movement.  The thirteen colonies (or states) no longer sought redress or a greater sway in the matter of the government of Great Britain, but instead wished to break free of that government and to rule themselves as they saw fit.   Once they achieved victory, out of concern over a strong federal government, the states first came together to create a very weak united federal government under a document called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.   This largely ineffective “perpetual” government was soon replaced by our present Constitution.  But with this new government did the states reserve the right to secede if they so chose?   There was no clear-cut answer.  During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a number of New England states threatened secession over the issue of the Louisiana Purchase.  His response? “Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part. Those of the Western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the Eastern.” Jan. 29, 1804.  And “God bless them both, & keep them in Union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.” August 12, 1803.  Andrew Jackson took the opposite viewpoint when faced with prospect of South Carolinian secession over the issue of tariffs.  “The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same.  It is a government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States; they retained all the power they did not grant.  But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union. To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that the United States are not a nation” Dec. 10, 1832.  In neither of these two cases, of course, did any state or states secede from the union.

Then, on December 24, 1860, after the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina issued the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union (the full text of which can be found here).  In the ensuing weeks, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all withdrew from the Union.  In response, on April 15, President Lincoln issued a call for troops to put down what he saw as an illegal and unconstitutional rebellion.  Although an earlier effort by some Virginians to secede failed, the government was quite unwilling to take up arms against its Southern neighbors and therefore passed an ordinance of secession two days later.  (text found here).  This act was followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina all removing themselves from the Union.  Perhaps the history you learned in high school would lead you to believe that everyone thought secession was illegal and that war was the only solution.  Not so.  For example, consider the mixed opinions of the then living former Presidents of the country.  Martin Van Buren (8th, New York) opposed secession and was an advocate for war.  John Tyler (10th, Virginia) supported peaceful secession and was even elected to represent Virginia in the Confederate Congress.  Millard Fillmore (13th, New York) initially in favor of the war later opposed Lincoln and supported the Democrats and peace in 1864. Franklin Pierce (14th, New Hampshire) although against secession was a heavy critic of the war and Lincoln, saying, “‘I will never justify, sustain, or in any way or to any extent uphold this cruel, heartless, aimless unnecessary war.’  He opposed just as firmly Lincoln’s violations of civil rights, and thought the Emancipation Proclamation showed, his biographer states ‘that the true purpose of the war was to wipe out the states and destroy property.’”  (Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart, page 360).  James Buchanan (15th, Pennsylvania) spoke against secession but also against a war to prevent it.  In an 1860 message to Congress he stated, “Our union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war.” After the bloody and costly war ended one would expect the issue of secession to be as dead as the mounds of fallen soldiers.  In 1869, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that secession was unconstitutional, stating, “The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.”

Let us flash back to the present.  I cannot recall ever meeting a Virginian who called for secession, at least orally.  The phrase “the South will rise again” was more of a metaphor than a true call for action and I assumed that such was the same in other former confederate areas as well.  No one actually advocates secession these days.  Boy, was I wrong and my experiences in Tennessee and South Carolina taught me otherwise.  Like so many Virginians, a lot of Tennesseans and South Carolinians maintain a healthy distrust of the federal government.  But some go further, advocating secession for his or her home state or region.  Of these people and movements, the most organized that I found was the League of the South.  They maintain chapters are not only in the traditional south, but also claim members in California, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, and West Virginia (who would think?).  I would suspect, however, that most of their branches outside of the Deep South are quite small.  After all, how many of you knew about the Virginia group?  The purpose of this organization, according to their website, is “To advance the cultural, social, economic, and political well-being and independence of the Southern people by all honourable means.”  But the ideas of secession permeate more than just nostalgic Southerners.  For example, in Hawaii and Alaska, the two most recent additions to the American Union, there are dedicated secessionist movements.  Then you also have the neighboring New England states of Vermont and New Hampshire.  As a handful in Vermont look to create a quasi-socialist paradise, two groups vie for control of New Hampshire, activist libertarians and theocratic Christians.  Will any of these efforts succeed and break away?  And if they attempt a feat, what will be the federal government’s response?  Will we be engulfed or torn asunder as a result of another Civil War?

So what are my thoughts on this subject?  My theory on American government, be it local, state, or federal, is that the primary focus is and should be to protect the lives, liberty, and property of her citizens.  Should any government fail its critical duties, then the people (ideally, through their elected representatives) have the right to withdraw from this corrupt and worthless government.  Way too radical, you think?  Do these thoughts not hearken back to the ideas which founded this great nation?  Did Thomas Jefferson not write similarly in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”?  Secession, in my mind, serves as final tool to bulwark against the threat of tyranny.  Like war, it should not be used lightly or without cause, but if a state (or locality) feels as if the federal (or state) government has usurped power or has repeatedly violated the Constitution then it can and should exercise this extreme option.  It should serve as a last resort to advance the cause of liberty, freedom, and self-determination.  Does the government exist to serve the people or do the people exist to serve the government?  Don’t local, state, and federal governments serve at the pleasure of the citizenry?  How much closer would the government adhere to the agreed upon rules if they could be punished with the loss of revenue and constituents?  Say that Massachusetts wished to become its own nation to better promote their liberal values.  Although I would think such a move terribly foolish, regardless of the reasoning, I would respect the will of the people of Massachusetts and could not neither take up arms against them nor advocate reaffixing the state to the nation under threat of violence.  To do so would undermine the spirit of liberty and the right of the men and women of Massachusetts to consent to their own governance.  All this being said, I truly hope that American government can be restored rather than broken apart.  Despite the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of secession, I predict that the issue will resurface in the mainstream within the next 25 years. Will the American experiment crumble into fifty separate nations or will the issue be resolved through peaceful diplomacy…or bloody warfare?  Are we, or will we be, a Republic of fifty United States or an Empire of provinces?  Therein lies our answer.  If we lay aside or are stripped of the principles and values under which this nation was founded, then I have little choice but to say, “If at first you don’t secede…”

Update: I’ve got a poll about this subject up in a recent post, so head on over and cast your vote.