Walter Williams is one of the few educators left in the USA that teaches the true history of this nation.
The twenty million listeners of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program have heard Walter E. Williams because he has guest-hosted behind the golden EIB microphone. As a syndicated columnist and author known for his classical liberal and libertarian conservative views, his writings frequently appear on Townhall.com, WND, Jewish World Review, and hundreds of newspapers throughout the United States. Walter Williams keeps impeccable company, as his philosophy has been influenced by both Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman.
Liberals, Progressives, and Socialists are leading America to re-fight the War Between the States. The blood of 600,000 Americans killed in war from 1861 to 1865 is insufficient to cleanse the sin of enslavement. And it is in that context that you should find Mr. Williams comments both highly interesting and instructive:
The victors of war write its history in order to cast themselves in the most favorable light. That explains the considerable historical ignorance about our war of 1861 and panic over the Confederate flag. To create better understanding, we have to start a bit before the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the war between the colonies and Great Britain. Its first article declared the 13 colonies “to be free, sovereign and independent states.” These 13 sovereign nations came together in 1787 as principals and created the federal government as their agent. Principals have always held the right to fire agents. In other words, states held a right to withdraw from the pact — secede.
During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a proposal was made that would allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. James Madison rejected it, saying, “A union of the states containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a state would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
In fact, the ratification documents of Virginia, New York and Rhode Island explicitly said they held the right to resume powers delegated should the federal government become abusive of those powers. The Constitution never would have been ratified if states thought they could not regain their sovereignty —in a word, secede.
On March 2, 1861, after seven states seceded and two days before Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, Sen. James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin proposed a constitutional amendment that read, “No state or any part thereof, heretofore admitted or hereafter admitted into the union, shall have the power to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United States.”
Several months earlier, Reps. Daniel E. Sickles of New York, Thomas B. Florence of Pennsylvania and Otis S. Ferry of Connecticut proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit secession. Here’s a question for the reader: Would there have been any point to offering these amendments if secession were already unconstitutional?
On the eve of the War of 1861, even unionist politicians saw secession as a right of states. Rep. Jacob M. Kunkel of Maryland said, “Any attempt to preserve the union between the states of this Confederacy by force would be impractical, and destructive of republican liberty.”
Both Northern Democratic and Republican Parties favored allowing the South to secede in peace. Just about every major Northern newspaper editorialized in favor of the South’s right to secede. New York Tribune (Feb. 5, 1860): “If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southerners from the Federal Union in 1861.” Detroit Free Press (Feb. 19, 1861): “An attempt to subjugate the seceded states, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil — evil unmitigated in character and appalling in content.” The New York Times (March 21, 1861): “There is growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go.”
The War of 1861 settled the issue of secession through brute force that cost 600,000 American lives. We Americans celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but H.L. Mencken correctly evaluated the speech: “It is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense.” Lincoln said the soldiers sacrificed their lives “to the cause of self-determination — that government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth.” Mencken says: “It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of people to govern themselves.”
The War of 1861 brutally established that states could not secede. We are still living with its effects. Because states cannot secede, the federal government can run roughshod over the U.S. Constitution’s limitations of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. States have little or no response.
We call the war of 1861 the Civil War. But is that right?
A civil war is a struggle between two or more entities trying to take over the central government. Confederate President Jefferson Davis no more sought to take over Washington, D.C., than George Washington sought to take over London in 1776. Both wars, those of 1776 and 1861, were wars of independence. Such a recognition does not require one to sanction the horrors of slavery. We might ask, How much of the war was about slavery?
Was President Abraham Lincoln really for outlawing slavery? Let’s look at his words. In an 1858 letter, Lincoln said, “I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion, neither the General Government nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists.” In a Springfield, Illinois, speech, he explained: “My declarations upon this subject of Negro slavery may be misrepresented but cannot be misunderstood. I have said that I do not understand the Declaration (of Independence) to mean that all men were created equal in all respects.”
Debating Sen. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”
What about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? Here are his words: “I view the matter (of slaves’ emancipation) as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.” He also wrote: “I will also concede that emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition.” When Lincoln first drafted the proclamation, war was going badly for the Union. London and Paris were considering recognizing the Confederacy and assisting it in its war against the Union.
The Emancipation Proclamation was not a universal declaration. It specifically detailed where slaves were to be freed: only in those states “in rebellion against the United States.” Slaves remained slaves in states not in rebellion — such as Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri.
The hypocrisy of the Emancipation Proclamation came in for heavy criticism.
Lincoln’s own secretary of state, William Seward, sarcastically said, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
Lincoln did articulate a view of secession that would have been heartily endorsed by the Confederacy: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. … Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Lincoln expressed that view in an 1848 speech in the U.S. House of Representatives, supporting the secession of Texas from Mexico.
Why didn’t Lincoln share the same feelings about Southern secession? Following the money might help with an answer. Throughout most of our nation’s history, the only sources of federal revenue were excise taxes and tariffs. During the 1850s, tariffs amounted to 90 percent of federal revenue.
Southern ports paid 75 percent of tariffs in 1859. What “responsible” politician would let that much revenue go?’
Walter E. Williams, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Economics, George Mason University.