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Who Started the War?

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Michael T. Griffith 2004 @All Rights Reserved

 

The standard textbook answer to this question is that the South obviously started the war because it “fired the first shot” by attacking Fort Sumter, which was located in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Most textbooks don’t mention several facts that put the attack in proper perspective. For example, after the Fort Sumter incident, the Confederacy continued to express its desire for peaceful relations with the North. Not a single federal soldier was killed in the attack. The Confederates allowed the federal troops at the fort to return to the North in peace after they surrendered. South Carolina and then the Confederacy offered to pay compensation for the fort. Lincoln later admitted he deliberately provoked the attack so he could use it as justification for an invasion. The Confederates only attacked the fort after they learned that Lincoln had sent an armed naval convoy to resupply the federal garrison at the fort. The sending of the convoy violated the repeated promises of Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, that the fort would be evacuated. Seward continued to promise the Confederacy that the fort would be evacuated even after he knew that Lincoln had decided to send the convoy. Major John Anderson, the Union officer who commanded the federal garrison at the fort, opposed the sending of the convoy, because he felt it would violate the assurances that the fort would be evacuated, because he knew it would be viewed as a hostile act, and because he did not want war. Several weeks before the Fort Sumter incident, Lincoln virtually declared war on the South in his inaugural address, even though he knew the Confederacy wanted peaceful relations.

 

 

In his inaugural speech, given weeks before the attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln threatened to invade the seceded states if they didn’t continue to pay federal “duties and imposts” (the tariff) and/or if they didn’t allow the federal government to occupy and maintain all federal installations within their borders. Imagine what the American colonists would have thought if the British had said to them, “We want peace. But, we’re going to invade you if you don’t keep paying our tariff and/or if you don’t allow us to occupy and maintain all British installations within your borders.” The colonists would have rightly regarded this as a virtual declaration of war. Of course, in effect, the British did say this to the colonies. This was the same position that Lincoln presented to the Confederate states weeks before the Fort Sumter attack. Furthermore, five months earlier, some Republicans in Congress publicly swore “by everything in the heavens above and the earth beneath” that they would convert the seceded states “into a wilderness” (James McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, New York: Ballantine Books, 1988, p. 251).

 

 

If Lincoln had desired peace, he knew all he had to do was evacuate Fort Sumter, as his own secretary of state had been promising would be done for weeks. When the Confederate authorities were told the fort was going to be evacuated, Confederate forces stopped building up the defenses around the harbor and celebrated. Across the harbor, Major Anderson was grateful the fort would be evacuated and that therefore North and South would separate peacefully (Cisco, Taking A Stand, pp. 105-106).

 

 

But, sadly, Lincoln didn’t pursue peace with the Confederacy. For a while it seemed as though he was prepared to evacuate Fort Sumter, in spite of his earlier statements to the contrary. Initially all but two of his cabinet members urged evacuation, as did his general-in-chief, General Winfield Scott. However, Radical Republicans and influential Northern business interests applied intense pressure on Lincoln and on his cabinet not to evacuate the fort. Radicals in the Senate threatened impeachment if the fort were evacuated (Catton and Catton, Two Roads to Sumter, p. 277). Once the low Confederate tariff was announced, powerful Northern business interests came out strongly opposed to peace with the Confederacy. As the pressure for aggression mounted, Lincoln decided to provoke an attack on the fort in order to use the attack as a pretext for invasion and to whip up a majority of the Northern public into a war frenzy against the South. Lincoln himself later admitted in two letters that he provoked the attack so he could use it as justification for waging war (Francis Butler Simkins, A History of the South, Third Edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963, pp. 213, 215-216; J. G. Randall and David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Lexington, Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1969, p. 174).

 

 

Some Northern leaders who wanted peace urged that Fort Sumter be evacuated. Among those leaders was General-In-Chief Winfield Scott and Senator Stephen Douglas, one of the most prominent Northern members of the U.S. Senate. Scott and Douglas both recognized that the continued federal occupation of Fort Sumter was a virtual declaration of war against the Confederacy. Any country on earth would strongly resent the unwanted occupation of an island in one of its major harbors.

 

 

Republicans protested loudly over the fact that several Southern states seized numerous federal installations before Lincoln assumed office and in a few cases before the state had voted to secede. Modern critics tend to make a mountain out of a molehill over this issue, as if those seizures alone justified a brutal invasion. Nearly all the seizures occurred after the state had already seceded, so in those cases the state arguably had every right to assume control of federal facilities within its borders. Most of the relatively few pre-secession seizures took place when there was no doubt the state was going to secede. In one case, local citizens seized a federal installation on their own initiative. When the governor learned of the seizure, he ordered the citizens to leave the facility. Not one of the seizures involved the loss of life. A number of the federal facilities that were seized were of little consequence and were manned only by small garrisons. Admittedly, the pre-secession seizures, though few in number, were unwise and arguably illegal. However, let’s keep in mind that these seizures posed no threat to the federal government, that they were bloodless, and that the Confederacy offered to pay compensation for all federal installations in the South. The seizures certainly didn’t provide any credible justification for a federal invasion, and they were hardly what one could call “aggression” in any meaningful sense of the word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Caused the War?

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Michael T. Griffith 2004 @Rights Reserved

 

The war was fought because Lincoln refused to allow the South to go in peace. Other Republican leaders and certain Northern business interests played key roles in the decision to use force, but ultimately Lincoln was the one who had to make the decision, and he chose to launch an invasion. The fighting and dying started when federal armies invaded the South. That’s why nearly all the battles were fought in the Southern states. The Confederacy did not want war. One of the first things Jefferson Davis did after assuming office as president of the Confederacy was to send a peace delegation to Washington, D.C., in an effort to establish friendly ties with the federal government (Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, pp. 360-362; Kenneth Davis, Don’t Know Much About the Civil War, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996, pp. 156-157). The Confederacy offered to pay the South’s share of the national debt and to pay compensation for all federal installations in the Southern states (Charles Roland, The Confederacy, University of Chicago Press, 1960, p. 28; Patrick, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet, p. 77; William C. Davis, Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America, New York: The Free Press, 2002, p. 87). The Confederacy also announced that Northern ships would continue to enjoy free navigation of the Mississippi River (Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, p. 138; Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1, pp. 210-213). Yet, Lincoln rejected all Confederate peace offers and insisted that federal armies would invade if the Southern states didn’t renounce their independence and recognize federal authority.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did the South Have the Right to Secede?

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Michael T. Griffith 2004 @All Rights Reserved

 

I believe the evidence is clear that the South had the right to secede. None other than Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union army for much of the Civil War and later a president of the United States, admitted he believed that if any of the original thirteen states had wanted to secede in the early days of the Union, it was unlikely the other states would have challenged that state’s right to do so. Grant also conceded he believed the founding fathers would have sanctioned the right of secession rather than see a war “between brothers.” Said Grant, If there had been a desire on the part of any single State to withdraw from the compact at any time while the number of States was limited to the original thirteen, I do not suppose there would have been any to contest the right, no matter how much the determination might have been regretted. . . .If they [the founding fathers] had foreseen it, the probabilities are they would have sanctioned the right of a State or States to withdraw rather than that there should be war between brothers. (The Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses S. Grant, Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Konecky & Konecky, 1992, reprint of original edition, pp. 130-131).  There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a state from peacefully and democratically separating from the Union. Indeed, the right of secession is implied in the Tenth Amendment, which reads, The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. The Constitution does not give the federal government the power to force a state to remain in the Union against its will. President James Buchanan acknowledged this fact in a message to Congress shortly before Lincoln assumed office. Nor does the Constitution prohibit the citizens of a state from voting to repeal their state’s ratification of the Constitution. Therefore, by a plain reading of the Tenth Amendment, a state has the legal right to peacefully withdraw from the Union.  Critics of the Confederacy cite certain clauses in the Constitution about the supremacy of federal law or about states not being allowed to enter into treaties with foreign powers, etc., etc. However, it goes without saying that such clauses only apply to states that are in the Union. There’s simply nothing in the Constitution that says a state can’t peacefully and democratically revoke its ratification. If a state’s citizens were to vote in a legitimate democratic process to revoke the state’s ratification of the Constitution, either by direct vote or by convention, then that state would no longer be bound by the Constitution. The citizens of each state are the ultimate sovereign, not the federal government. The federal government is supposed to be servant of the people, not their master. Even Lloyd Paul Stryker, who opposed secession, admitted the Southern states had an “arguable claim that no specific section of the Constitution stood in their way,” i.e., no section of the Constitution prohibited peaceful, democratic separation (Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930, p. 447). The great early American constitutional scholar William Rawle said a state had the right to secede. Rawle was a contemporary of founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and was appointed by George Washington as the first U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania. Rawle’s book A View of the Constitution of the United States was used as a legal textbook at a number of universities, including West Point, Dartmouth, and Harvard. To this day, scholars who debate legal issues relating to the First and Second Amendments refer to Rawle’s work. On the issue of secession, Rawle said, It depends on the state itself to retain or abolish the principle of representation, because it depends on itself whether it will continue a member of the Union. To deny this right would be inconsistent with the principle on which all our political systems are founded, which is, that the people have in all cases, a right to determine how they will be governed. This right must be considered as an ingredient in the original composition of the general government, which, though not expressed, was mutually understood. . . . (A View of the Constitution of the United States, 2nd Edition, 1829, Vol. 4, p. 571). 

Another early American legal giant, George Tucker, also said a state had the right to secede. Like Rawle, Tucker was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and corresponded with the former. Tucker came to be known as the “American Blackstone.” Tucker was a professor of law at the University of William and Mary. He served as the chief justice of the Virginia supreme court and was appointed as a federal district court judge by James Madison. Tucker’s 1803 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries, which he annotated to American law, was widely used for the teaching of law in the United States for years. On the issue of secession, Tucker wrote that the states’ participation in the Union was voluntary and that each state had the right to resume to “the most unlimited extent” the functions that it had delegated to the federal government.  The federal government, then, appears to be the organ through which the united republics communicate with foreign nations and with each other. Their submission to its operation is voluntary: its councils, its engagements, its authority are theirs, modified, and united. Its sovereignty is an emanation from theirs, not a flame by which they have been consumed, nor a vortex in which they are swallowed up. Each is still a perfect state, still sovereign, still independent, and still capable, should the situation require, to resume the exercise of its functions as such in the most unlimited extent. (Tucker, editor, Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States, Volume 1, Philadelphia: William Birch and Abraham Small, 1803, Appendix: Note D, Section 3:IV). 

The Union was never meant to be held together by force. The Southern states joined the Union voluntarily, and they should have been able to leave it voluntarily. A key principle of Americanism is the sacred right of self-government, that government should only govern “with the consent of the governed.” This noble idea is expressed in the Declaration of Independence. America came into existence by secession from England. There was only a war because England wouldn’t allow the American colonies to leave in peace. George Washington’s secretary of state, Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, rightly said that America was founded on the principle of secession. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, said in a letter to William Crawford in 1816 that if a state wanted to leave the Union, he would not hesitate to say “Let us separate,” even if he didn’t agree with the reasons the state wanted to leave.  The principle of peaceful separation was as American as apple pie. But Lincoln, relying on an utterly erroneous understanding of the founding of the Union, declared that secession was “treason,” “insurrection,” and “rebellion.” If Lincoln had been alive during the Revolutionary War and had used the same kind of reasoning that he used against Southern secession, he would have sided with the British.

The South had no desire to overthrow the federal government. The South seceded in a peaceful, democratic manner, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Southern citizens. The Southern states used the same process to secede that the original thirteen states used to ratify the U.S. Constitution, i.e., by voting in special conventions comprised of delegates who were elected by the people. The one exception was Tennessee, which, instead of holding a convention, passed a secession resolution in the state legislature and then held a referendum in which secession won by a margin of more than two to one. Furthermore, most Southerners believed secession would be peaceful. In fact, it’s revealing that the early correspondence of the first Confederate secretary of war, Leroy Walker, "clearly indicates he did not expect war" (Rembert Patrick, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet, Louisiana State University Press, 1944, p. 106)

 

 

 

 

 

 


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