Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“We have received provocation enough. . . .”

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on July 1, 2013

OldPete3On the first day of July 1863, Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet (left), writing through his adjutant, ordered General George Pickett to bring up his corps from the rear to reinforce the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. The lead elements of the armies of Robert E. Lee and George Meade had come together outside a small Pennsylvania market town called Gettysburg. The clash there would become the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and would be popularly regarded as a critical turning point not just of that conflict, but in American history. More about Longstreet’s order shortly.

I was thinking about the central role of the Battle of Gettysburg in our memory of the war when I recently read an essay by David G. Smith, “Race and Retaliation: The Capture of African Americans During the Gettysburg Campaign,” part of Virginia’s Civil War, edited by Peter Wallenstein and Bertram Wyatt-Brown. All but the last page and a few citations is available online through Google Books.

It’s not a pleasant read.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, soldiers in the the Army of Northern Virginia systematically rounded up free blacks and escaped slaves as they marched north into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Men, women and children were all swept up and brought along with the army as it moved north, and carried back into Virginia during the army’s retreat after the battle. While specific numbers cannot be known, Smith argues that the total may have been over a thousand African Americans. Once back in Confederate-held territory, they were returned to their former owners, sold at auction or imprisoned.

That part of the story is well-known. What makes Smith’s essay important is the way he provides additional, critical background to this horrible event, and reveals both its extent across the corps and divisions of Lee’s army, as well as the acquiescence to it, up and down the chain of command. The seizures were not, as is sometimes suggested, the result of individual soldiers or rouge troops acting on their own initiative, in defiance of their orders. The perpetrators were not, to use a more recent cliché, “a few bad apples.” The seizure of free blacks and escaped slaves by the Army of Northern Virginia was widespread, systematic, and countenanced by officers up to the highest levels of command. This event, and others on a much smaller scale, were so much part of the army’s operation that Smith argues they can legitimately be considered a part of the army’s operational objective. Smith is blunt in his terminology for these activities; he calls them “slave raids.”

These ugly episodes did not spring up spontaneously; it was a violent and entirely predictable result of multiple factors that had been building for months or years. For a long time, there was growing resentment in Virginia over escaped slaves seeking refuge in Pennsylvania, where there was considerable sympathy for the abolitionist cause, and stops on the Underground Railroad. These tensions increased substantially after the outbreak of the war, as Virginia slaves learned that they could expect to be safe as soon as they reached Union territory, where they would be considered contraband. White Southerners’ resentment of this situation redoubled again in the fall of 1862, with the news that the Lincoln administration would issue the Emancipation Proclamation. This further encouraged slaves to flee to the North, and made it clear to slaveholders—had it not been clear before—that defeat would put an end to the “peculiar institution,” and upend the economy and culture that went with it.

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SlavesDrivenSouth
A November 1862 Harper’s Weekly (New York) illustration showing Confederates driving slaves further south, to put them out of reach of the Federal armies in advance of the Emancipation Proclamation. The accompanying article told of two white men who escaped to Union lines and:

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upon being questioned closely, they admitted that they had just come from the James River; and finally owned up that they had been running off “niggers” having just taken a large gang, belonging to themselves and neighbors, southward in chains, to avoid losing them under the emancipation proclamation. I understand, from various sources, that the owners of this species of property, throughout this section of the State, are moving it off toward Richmond as fast as it can be spared from the plantation; and the slaveholders boast that there will not be a negro left in all this part of the State by the 1st of January next.

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Against this backdrop, the organization of Federal units of black soldiers, comprised of both escaped slaves and free men, was taken as an outrage. It struck a raw nerve, never far off in the Southern psyche: fear of a slave insurrection. The prospect of African American men in blue uniforms was taken as an extreme provocation, so much so that it was proposed in the Confederate congress—and endorsed by General Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter—that all Federals captured, black or white, should be summarily executed. This proposal was never adopted, but the Confederate congress did eventually pass, in May 1863, a proclamation instructing President Jefferson Davis to exercise “full and ample retaliation” against the North for arming black soldiers.

Finally, there was simple revenge. The Union army’s shelling of Fredericksburg several months before had been a particular sore point, that festered for months as the Confederate army went into winter quarters nearby. One officer, determined to fix the destruction there in his mind’s eye, made a special visit to that town one last time before setting out on the road north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

So when Lee’s army finally marched north in June 1863, it was fully infused with the intent to exact “full and ample retaliation” on Union territory as it passed. Lee issued orders against the indiscriminate destruction of civilian property, but made no mention of seizing African Americans, whether free or former slaves. In his essay, Smith points out that diaries, letters and even official reports from every division in Lee’s army mention Confederates rounding up African Americans and holding them with the army. The practice was tolerated—when not actively encouraged—by officers at all levels of the army. Some, in fact, saw it as not only justified, but a legitimate tactic to meet the Confederacy’s military objectives. Smith quotes a private letter to his wife from Major General Lafayette McLaws, whose division would bear the brunt of the action on the assault on the Peach Orchard on the second day at Gettysburg. Marching north into Maryland and Pennsylvania with his division, McLaws wrote:

 
It is reported that our army will will not be allowed to plunder and rob in Pennsylvania, which is all very well, but it would be better not to publish it as we have received provocation enough to burn and take and destroy, property of all kids and even the men, women & children along out whole border.
 
In every instance where we have even threatened retaliation, the enemy have given [way]—I am strongly in favor of trying it the very first chance we get.
 

In McLaws’ view, the seizure of “even the men, women & children” was both justified as moral retribution and as an intentional escalation of tactics.

McLaws’ corps commander was Longstreet, the most senior of Lee’s officers and effectively the second-in-command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet acknowledged the practice of seizing civilians and accommodated it. In sending orders to George Pickett,  whose corps was bringing up the rear of the army, Longstreet, writing through his adjutant, G. Moxley Sorrel, sent word on July 1—the day the two armies first engaged each other—to move his troops toward Gettysburg. In closing he added, “the captured contrabands had better be brought along with you for further disposition.”

“Further disposition” here refers to imprisonment, auction, enslavement, and (often) severe punishment at the hands of a former-and-once-again master.

McLaws’ letter and the thirteen words closing Longstreet’s order are damning, in that they show full well that the seizure and abduction of African Americans was, if not written policy, widely tolerated and made allowance for, even at the highest levels of the Confederate command structure. McLaws was a division commander, and Longstreet was second-in-command; while their words do not prove Lee knew and approved of this practice, it’s hard to imagine he was unaware of it, and there’s no evidence that he publicly objected to it, or made any effort to curtail it. My intent here is not to single out either McLaws or Longstreet  alone for condemnation—the de facto policy did not originate with either—but to demonstrate that the forcible abduction of free African Americans and escaped slaves was known and tolerated throughout the Confederate army, from the lowest private to the most senior generals.

There are many questions, many aspects, of the Civil War that are legitimate sources of controversy and dispute. There are questions that serious historians will argue about as long as anyone remembers this conflict, saying that this politician’s actions were justified by that event, or that general made the right decision because he didn’t know those troops were on the other side of the river. The abduction of free blacks and escaped slaves from Maryland and Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg campaign is not one of those events. It cannot be justified, or rationalized, or denied. It can only be ignored.

But it shouldn’t be.

____________

This essay first appeared in this form on August 11, 2010 at The Atlantic. That, in turn, was an expansion of a July 1, 2010 blog post here.

GeneralStarsGray

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  1. Foxessa said, on July 1, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Actually, what it is, is denied. I.e. none of this ever happened and Lee chivalrously paid for everything they might have taken. I never get an answer though when I ask with what did he pay? There was a lot of looting by the Army of Northern Virginia on this campaign.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      The Confederates spent most of the war fighting on Confederate territory. One of the themes that comes up again and again in Confederate soldiers’ memoirs is that of “foraging” which generally refers to appropriating property — chickens, pigs, fence rails for firewood, etc. — from local property owners, generally without their permission. (One of the better-known figures at Confederate reunions in the 1920s was an African American man, Howard Divinity, who paraded around with live poultry and was billed as the “Champion Chicken Thief of the Confederacy.” Who did they think he was stealing from?) This is not a uniquely Confederate habit, as all armies through history do it, even when they’re not outright looting. But I do wonder if the aggregate property stolen or involuntarily taken from Southern citizens over the course of four years isn’t substantially higher than that taken or destroyed by Uncles Billy’s bummers.

      • M.D. Blough said, on July 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm

        Andy-Jacob Hoke, a Chambersburg merchant who witnessed what his later account in its title called “The Great Invasion”, says that Ewell requisitioned massive amounts of supplies from the area and paid in Confederate scrip. Locals were compelled to print the scrip along with a massive number of blank parole slips for what the Confederates believed would be needed not only for AOP POWs but for local citizens On pages 146-147 of his book, Hoke says, “The execution of this work of printing took several days, and when it was completed war prices were charged and the bill was paid in Confederate scrip. Rev. Dr. Fisher, whose financial ability was unsurpassed, succeeded in disposing of this worthless paper at the rate of twenty-five cents on the dollar to one of our tanners, who paid it to one of the commissary officers for the hides of the cattle they slaughtered for their army.”

  2. M.D. Blough said, on July 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve seen nothing that indicates that the Confederates made any effort to identify Blacks who were legally free under Pennsylvania law and there was considerable contemporary record since white residents of the area were genuinely shocked at seeing an army act as a slavecatching patrol and the methods they used, including cavalry running down women and children who were attempting to flee into fields. Longstreet may have partially redeemed himself after the war for this atrocity by accepting Reconstruction and even blacks having a role in it (although he clearly believed whites should remain in charge. However, the Boston Brahmins, etc who let immigrants into the political system at the lowest levels never suspected that they’d end up being displaced by them either but at least the newcomers learned the political system) and paying an extraordinarily high price for it. I can’t imagine, for one minute, that Longstreet would have been so open about the contrabands if Lee was not aware, but it’s not limited to that. The cavalry troopers who were observed riding down defenseless blacks into fields in order to capture them were from Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ brigade which were assigned to Richard Ewell’s Second Corps, not James Longstreet’s First Corps. These two corps took very different paths into Pennsylvania. That indicates an understanding by the corps commanders that this was policy for the army.

  3. Clarissa said, on July 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    This is similar to the reaction the Southern white citizens had while witnessing the Union soldiers act as rape patrols. James McPherson describes these ruthless atrocities in detail, with black women being not only raped, but savagely tortured as they too, frantically tried to flee from their rapists.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 1, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      I don’t recall McPherson describing “rape patrols” or describing such events “in detail.” In This Mighty Scourge, though, he does rely heavily on the work of Mark Grimsley, who’s specialized in Sherman’s campaigns. It does seem that, contra your “rape patrols” language, the sexual assaults that did occur with the result of lax discipline and against standing orders, as opposed to the policy (acknowledged at least up to corps level) on the seizure of African Americans on free soil in Pennsylvania. Both events are horrific, but one was policy. That’s an important difference.

  4. Clarissa said, on July 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom) graphically describes marauding union soldiers ruthlessly raping a small Black child between the ages of 7-9, after their first intended managed to flee and escape. I, for one, am not persuaded the child being raped by the union soldiers understood that it wasn’t policy, or appreciated the distinction. And I am sure the citizens were shocked to see an Army used in this way.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      Horrific. No one in their right mind would defend such actions.

      But the seizure of African Americans on free soil during the Gettysburg campaign was acknowledged policy, arguably extending to Jefferson Davis’ call to exercise “full and ample retaliation” against the North for arming black soldiers. Very different thing.

  5. Clarissa said, on July 1, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    Insofar as the escaped slaves are concerned, there really is no cause for complaint. They were the private property of the citizens of the Confederacy, and were properly being returned to their rightful owners. The case with the free black citizens of Pennsylvannia is more difficult. On the merits, and in a vacuum, it would be both immoral and illegal to capture civilians and take them prisoner. The Confederates, however, and as the article mentions, were infuriated and outraged by the lawless looting, mayhem, plunder, thievery, violence, and destruction perpetrated by the union army during the Fredericksburg campaign. It is unfortunate, but they retaliated.

    If the Lincoln administration had conducted civilized warfare, or better still, if it had simply respected the Confederate right to independence, and let them go in peace, it would never have happened. None of it would have.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 1, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      Insofar as the escaped slaves are concerned, there really is no cause for complaint. They were the private property of the citizens of the Confederacy, and were properly being returned to their rightful owners. The case with the free black citizens of Pennsylvannia is more difficult. On the merits, and in a vacuum, it would be both immoral and illegal to capture civilians and take them prisoner. . . .

      It remains both immoral and illegal.

      • Jimmy Dick said, on July 2, 2013 at 8:36 am

        Just another Lost Causer trying to deflect the criticism of Confederate policy by dredging up an example of an illegal act and trying to make it seem like it was sanctioned when it was not.

        Can we say straw man?

        I really love how she defends slavery and justifies the actions and policy of Confederate troops. She also ignores the reality that it was Confederate troops that were responsible for the lawless looting, mayhem, plunder, thievery, violence, and destruction throughout Northern Virginia as well as the rest of the states just as much if not more than Union troops. But then those that wear rose colored glasses never see things they don’t want to see.
        She also ignores the fact that secession was and still is illegal. She ignores all kinds of facts because that would conflict with that rosy picture of the Antebellum South.

    • M.D. Blough said, on July 2, 2013 at 12:12 am

      There were no blacks in the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg. Yet the actions of the Army of Northern Virginia towards civilians were directed, with few exceptions, at blacks, including women and infants. The white males captured were treated as prisoners, harsh as that was. Blacks faced a lifetime of slavery, but for the defeat of the Confederacy, that’s what they would have endured and their families. It was the Army of Northern Virginia acting as a slave patrol, not as retaliation.

      As for trying to blame this on the Lincoln administration, if the slave states had respected the results of a presidential election that even they did not contest was legal and constitutional (and which they had done a LOT to bring about by deliberately throwing the Democratic National Convention into turmoil, and, ultimately throwing the party into a schism that virtually guaranteed a Republican victory), and used their still considerable voting power in Congress to thwart Lincoln and ensure his defeat in 1864, if he got renominated, there would have been no war.

  6. BorderRuffian said, on July 2, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Not believable. At least not to the degree the author claims. He tends to accept anything – anything – that supports his idea of “slave raids” -of course, accepting anything at face value that defames the Confederacy seems to be the trend with today’s academics.

    “in all colors, ages, sizes, sexes, and from all nations.” (p.143)

    Really? Kidnapped whites and foreigners too?

    *

    See account of Charles C. Cummings (Confederate Veteran, Vol IV, p.153). It doesn’t jive with Mr. Smith.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

      That quote, “in all colors, ages, sizes, sexes, and from all nations,” is from a primary source, not the author of the essay. I’d also like to know exactly what that Confederate soldier meant when he wrote that. Let us know what you find out.

      It’s also fair to point out that Cummings’ account doesn’t refute anything in Smith’s essay; it simply doesn’t mention the seizure of African Americans one way or another. Nor is it a general account of Cummings’ experience in the Gettysburg campaign, but a very traditional “faithful slave” narrative about a personal servant who, according to Cummings, met an unfortunate and undeserved fate because “he was dressed in gray and [the Yankees] took him for a combatant.”

      • BorderRuffian said, on July 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

        “That quote, ‘in all colors, ages, sizes, sexes, and from all nations,’ is from a primary source, not the author of the essay.”

        He uses the quote. Where did I say it was by the author?

        *

        “It’s also fair to point out that Cummings’ account doesn’t refute anything in Smith’s essay.”

        Article (from the beginning): “As the Army of Northern Virginia marched north from Virginia in June 1863, it engaged in mass captures of civilians. From Pennsylvania, scores, perhaps hundreds, of African Americans—fugitive slaves and free blacks—were seized and sent south.”

        Cummings states that he (and the Confederate army) passed a free black community on the way to Gettysburg and inidicates it was still there after the battle. Yeah, that refutes Smith…and the whole tone of his article.

        • Andy Hall said, on July 2, 2013 at 2:10 pm

          Let us know when you find out what the Confederate soldier meant by “‘in all colors, ages, sizes, sexes, and from all nations.”

  7. Clarissa said, on July 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Still didn’t see any accounts of Confederates brutally gang-raping small black children like the Union soldiers did. Or torturing black women by turning them upside and shoving cigarettes in their anus. No, those works of sadistic cruelty were performed by union “men”. As far as respecting the results of the election goes, the slaves states most certainly did that. Some slave states, like Missouri, Kentuky, Delaware, and Maryland, remained in the United States (one of those states-Missouri-even produced a General who beat a helpless slave girl to death).Other States chose to follow the principles and rights established by Thomas Jefferson and the founders by exercising their right of self-determination. In no case did any State seek to prevent Lincoln from occupying the Presidency. Not sure why you think they did.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Does this count?

      Near Boonsboro, Md.,
      July 15th, 1863

      Dear Wife,

      I seat myself to pen you a line, not knowing when I shall have another
      opportunity. We marched to this place today from Williamsport & a very
      hot day it has been too. Yesterday morning it was found that the rebels
      had left our front, & we marched to the river at Williamsport. Our Cavalry
      came on some of them on this side of the river & captured a few
      hundred of them & two pieces of Artillery. They kept their doings a secret
      or I recon they would have not got over as well as they did. I suppose
      some will blame Gen. Meade for letting them cross the river, but it is
      impossible to tell the doings of the enemy unless you attack in force or
      have means of getting around them for a thousand will make as good a
      show as 100 thousand. I don’t know what our movement will be now,
      but make a guess that in a week we will be in the vicinity of Centerville &
      Fairfax….

      I saw a sight yesterday that beats all I ever saw. A Negro boy that the
      Rebels left in a barn, entirely naked. His breast cut & bowels were scratched
      or cut & the Dr. said that turpentine had been put on him & also his privates
      had been cut off. I went in the barn to see him but it was rather dark.
      He lay on his back, his legs bent, knees up, & grinding his teeth & foaming
      at the mouth & seemed to take no notice of anything & breast & bowels
      looked as if they had been cut & then burned all over. I understand the
      reason of the act to be because he would not go over the river with them….

      Yours,
      C.K. Leach

      C. K. Leach was 1st Lieutenant Chester K. Leach, Company H, 2nd Vermont Infantry. His letter was published in Ted Alexander’s 2001 North & South article, “A Regular Slave Hunt: The Army of Northern Virginia and Black Civilians in the Gettysburg Campaign.”

      Horrific atrocities do happen in war, and there is no excuse to be made for acts like these. One can find plenty of examples. But if you want to take individual examples and apply them in broad strokes to an entire army, or nation (“like the Union soldiers did”), then understand that that’s a sword that cuts both ways. If “the Union soldiers” collectively bear the moral opprobrium for the event described in McPherson, then all Confederates share equally in the guilt of the men who committed the act Lt. Leach described.

      You write:

      “In no case did any State seek to prevent Lincoln from occupying the Presidency. Not sure why you think they did.”

      Maybe because Lincoln was kept off the ballot completely in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

      • Clarissa said, on July 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm

        You must remember that no particular candidate has a right to be placed on a ballot. That is entirely up to the state election process. And the obvious meaning of my comment was that no state tried to prevent Lincoln from the Presidency once he had won the election. And no state did.

    • M.D. Blough said, on July 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      >>In no case did any State seek to prevent Lincoln from occupying the Presidency. Not sure why you think they did.<< Because even South Carolina did not dispute that Abraham Lincoln had been legally and constitutionally elected President of the United States, which, at the time of his election, consisted of 33 states (Kansas was admitted in July 1861). The states that rebelled certainly seek to acted to prevent him from occupying the office to which he had been elected.

      • Clarissa said, on July 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm

        Just as I said, no state tried to prevent Lincoln from the Presidency. Had the Confederate States not been violently prevented from independence, Lincoln still would have been President of the United States. He would not, of course, have been President of the Confederate States.

        • Andy Hall said, on July 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm

          “He would not, of course, have been President of the Confederate States.”

          Thanks for clearing that up.

  8. Clarissa said, on July 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Oops. I somehow managed to overlook the rather absurd comment that secession is “illegal”. That is such a peculiar thing to say in a country which was founded on the right of secession. I know that a frequent response is that the Southerners sacrificed their moral right to independence and self-determination because they were a nation of slave owners. But hellooooo, so were the founders. Slavery was legal in 12 of thirteen states at the time the Declaration was written (by a slave owner) and the state in which it was illegal (Massachusetts) was still heavily engaged in the ugly and barbaric slave trade, which was perfectly legal. So it is clear that the Southerners,by the standards of the DoI, had a perfect right to secede. If the answer is that King George and Lincoln both had a right to prevent the respective secessions, that simply means there is no right of the people to alter and abolish government, and the DoI is a useless nullity. For as New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley asked, how can someone have a right to prevent someone else from exercising their right (paraphrased)?

    Furthermore, there was no federal legislation at the time making secession illegal, and there is absolutely no language at all in the constitution stating that the union of states is perpetual (like there was in the Articles of Confederation-I think perpetuity was declared three specific times). Also, even though the AoC was emphatically said to be perpetual, the states decided to change that system of government and adopt the constitution. So it is just so odd to say that secession is illegal.

    • M.D. Blough said, on July 2, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      The Declaration of Independence had nothing to do with a legal right of secession. It was a declaration of causes for an act of revolution which the signers knew perfectly well would be considered treasonous if they failed. I see you are busy setting up straw men. The illegality of secession under the Constitution had nothing to do with slavery but was part of the nature of the Constitution requiring no legislation and the natural right of a nation state to protect itself. President James Madison was prepared to use military force to suppress a rebellion if the Hartford Convention had resulted in a rebellion in New England.

      The act of changing from the AOC to the Constitution was collectively decided by the states party to it which sent delegates to the convention and which later ratified it. It was also repeatedly ratified by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation by actions which included sending the Constitution to the states for ratification and providing for the transition to the federal government under the Constitution: I’ll give you their own words:

      >>By the United States in Congress assembled, September 13, 1788 : Whereas the convention assembled in Philadelphia, pursuant to the resolution of Congress of the 21st February, 1787, did, on the 17th of September in the same year, report …

      By the United States in Congress
      assembled,
      SEPTEMBER 13, 1788.
      WHEREAS the Convention assembled in Philadelphia, pursuant to the Resolution of Congress of the 21st February, 1787, did, on the 17th of September in the same year, report to the United States in Congress assembled, a Constitution for the People of the United States; whereupon Congress, on the 28th of the same September, did resolve unanimously, “That the said report, with the Resolutions and Letter accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several Legislatures, in order to be submitted to a Convention of Delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, in conformity to the Resolves of the Convention made and provided in that case:” And whereas the Constitution so reported by the Convention, and by Congress transmitted to the several Legislatures, has been ratified in the manner therein declared to be sufficient for the establishment of the same, and such Ratifications duly authenticated have been received by Congress, and are filed in the Office of the Secretary— therefore,

      RESOLVED, That the first Wednesday in January next, be the day for appointing Electors in the several States, which before the said day shall have ratified the said Constitution, that the first Wednesday in February next, be the day for the Electors to assemble in their respective States, and vote for a President; and that the first Wednesday in March next, be the time, and the present Seat of Congress the place for commencing Proceedings under the said Constitution.<< http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/bdsdcc:@field(DOCID+@lit(bdsdcc2410h))

      The preamble of the Constitution says that it is to create a more perfect union and the primary purpose of the Constitutional Convention was to create a stronger national government in order to prevent disunion (along with checks and balances within the federal government and between the federal government and the states). It would hardly be consistent with that to have a situation where individual states could unilaterally decide to leave.

      The procedures under the Constitution provided to the people to alter or abolish government are based in sending representatives and Senators to Congress, the election of president and vice-president, and, for more fundamental changes, the amendment of the Constitution itself.

  9. Clarissa said, on July 2, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    So when Jefferson wrote “…that whenever any form of government becomes destructives of these ends, it is THE RIGHT of the people to alter and abolish it…” what he really meant, according to you,was something like this:

    “… when we resist the mother country and it’s government, we will be committing treason. With luck, the force of our arms will prevail, and will will not be hung. This contest is not a question of universal principles and unalienable rights! but, rather, a question of might makes right…”.

    I wonder why he didn’t just write that? Also, the Articles of Confederation carefully stipulates a very specific process which must be followed in order to change them. That process was obviously not followed.
    In other words, Article VII of the constitution is not identical to Article XIII of the AOC, in fact they are radically different. Which means, that the states illegally left (seceded from) the AoC. Lastly, you claim that the a primary purpose of the convention was to create a stronger national government “in order to prevent disunion”. This is very puzzling, because the under the AoC disunion was impossible, inasmuch as the union was solemnly declared to be perpetual.

    • Christopher Shelley said, on April 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      If neo-Confederates like Clarissa rely on the “right to revolution,” they lose because revolution is only justified by tyranny. The Union and Lincoln had not tyrannized the slave states in any way, shape, or form. So, no tyranny, no justification for revolution.

      If you rely on an alleged “right to secession,” you lose because, as M.D. Blough correctly points out, there is no such right in the Constitution. The Founders specifically relied on ratification by We the People (not we the states) in special conventions to vote on the Constitution. The Founders were sick and tired of states’ rights, and consciously created a federal government superior to the states. And Madison clearly communicated to Hamilton in a letter that the new Union was perpetual, and states once in could not leave unilaterally.

      Relying on Jefferson for political theory is never a good idea. He had Big Ideas, but no coherent theory of government. That’s what he relied on Madison for.

      • Andy Hall said, on April 18, 2014 at 9:48 am

        “Clarissa” is one of a number of aliases of a trolling commenter from Springfield, Virginia, who’s been blocked here and on other blogs.

        Relying on Jefferson for political theory is never a good idea. He had Big Ideas, but no coherent theory of government. That’s what he relied on Madison for.

        Yes. Jefferson was great at stirring the pot, which has its place. But it doesn’t make for good and stable governance over the long haul.


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