George Bassett's hypothetical

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
Sometime between South Carolina's secession and Fort Sumter, George Bassett, a northern abolitionist wrote an excellent mini-book/pamphlet titled A Northern Plea for the Right of Secession. It's available for free online. I want to ask here about one particular hypothetical question/challenge he posed to those that denied the South's right to secede. I want to ask those of you that maintain that the South didn't have a right to secede (by which I mean not a legal right under the Constitution -- although I happen to think the South had an exceedingly strong constitutional case, too, but that's another discussion -- but rather an inalienable right that put anyone that disrespected that right in on the wrong side of history) how you would judge Bassett's hypothetical scenario. I'll quote Basestt first, but then I actually want to modify his scenario slightly to account for that happened at the start of the war, events which hadn't happened yet when Bassett wrote:


“Suppose the case reversed, and, instead of South Carolina desiring to secede from the Union, for the interests of slavery, Massachusetts should wish to secede, for the interests of liberty. Suppose the people of the latter should feel conscientiously bound to withdraw political fellowship and complicity with slavery, and to exercise their natural sovereignty in a just, humane, and impartial system of government,–would it not be oppression to coerce her to remain? Would not the combined tyranny of thirty-three coercing States be a more intolerable despotism than any single tyrant? Would it not be oppression for the general government to collect an involuntary tribute from an unwilling State, to support a government whose flag protects not only the crime of slavery but the African slave trade itself? … The friends of liberty and a free conscience should be careful how they sanction a principle against South Carolina, which may have equal power against the holiest instinct of humanity in the people of the Northern States.”

Or to rephrase that question as I'd like to ask it: If, as actual abolitionists (as opposed to Republicans like Lincoln that professed a willingness to defend and uphold the fugitive slave clause and for whom anti-slavery expressions were just a false pretense for pushing crony capitalism) mostly advocated in the years before the war, any of the Northern states had sought to secede rather than maintain a union with slaveholders and uphold the Constitution's protections of slavery, and if a Southern president had refused to allow a minority (or even a majority) of anti-slavery states to secede, and if Massachusetts had fired the first shots at a federal fort in Massachusetts that a Southern president had refused to give up, would you be defending Massachusetts and condemning that Southern president? If not, what would your argument be in defense of the pro-slavery South's war effort against the seceding abolitionists?
 

GwilymT

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Messages
883
Location
Pittsburgh
Sometime between South Carolina's secession and Fort Sumter, George Bassett, a northern abolitionist wrote an excellent mini-book/pamphlet titled A Northern Plea for the Right of Secession. It's available for free online. I want to ask here about one particular hypothetical question/challenge he posed to those that denied the South's right to secede. I want to ask those of you that maintain that the South didn't have a right to secede (by which I mean not a legal right under the Constitution -- although I happen to think the South had an exceedingly strong constitutional case, too, but that's another discussion -- but rather an inalienable right that put anyone that disrespected that right in on the wrong side of history) how you would judge Bassett's hypothetical scenario. I'll quote Basestt first, but then I actually want to modify his scenario slightly to account for that happened at the start of the war, events which hadn't happened yet when Bassett wrote:


“Suppose the case reversed, and, instead of South Carolina desiring to secede from the Union, for the interests of slavery, Massachusetts should wish to secede, for the interests of liberty. Suppose the people of the latter should feel conscientiously bound to withdraw political fellowship and complicity with slavery, and to exercise their natural sovereignty in a just, humane, and impartial system of government,–would it not be oppression to coerce her to remain? Would not the combined tyranny of thirty-three coercing States be a more intolerable despotism than any single tyrant? Would it not be oppression for the general government to collect an involuntary tribute from an unwilling State, to support a government whose flag protects not only the crime of slavery but the African slave trade itself? … The friends of liberty and a free conscience should be careful how they sanction a principle against South Carolina, which may have equal power against the holiest instinct of humanity in the people of the Northern States.”

Or to rephrase that question as I'd like to ask it: If, as actual abolitionists (as opposed to Republicans like Lincoln that professed a willingness to defend and uphold the fugitive slave clause and for whom anti-slavery expressions were just a false pretense for pushing crony capitalism) mostly advocated in the years before the war, any of the Northern states had sought to secede rather than maintain a union with slaveholders and uphold the Constitution's protections of slavery, and if a Southern president had refused to allow a minority (or even a majority) of anti-slavery states to secede, and if Massachusetts had fired the first shots at a federal fort in Massachusetts that a Southern president had refused to give up, would you be defending Massachusetts and condemning that Southern president? If not, what would your argument be in defense of the pro-slavery South's war effort against the seceding abolitionists?
I think that the method of secession is important. Unilateral secession, regardless of the reason, strikes me as illegal.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Messages
10,545
Massachusetts would have met the same problems as SC, et. al., the question of secession was a political question, not a moral one. There is no prohibition, per se, against secession, only the question of its method.

The Constitution has no provision for unilateral secession, only secession with consent.

Lincoln would no more accept Massacusetts unilateral secession against slavery, than he did South Carolina's, et. al., for slavery.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
Unilateral secession, regardless of the reason, strikes me as illegal.
the question of secession was a political question, not a moral one
Except neither Bassett nor I are making legal (political) arguments here, so although I think the South had an extremely strong legal case, that's a separate question. The question here isn't the legal question but rather the question of inalienable rights. Bassett never talks about constitutional rights but rather "natural" rights (as in "natural sovereignty"), so the question really is much more a moral (ethical) one than a legal (political) one. It may be true that Bassett implies an absence of any valid constitutional barriers to secession, but constitutional/legal questions are really beside the point here.

The Constitution has no provision for unilateral secession, only secession with consent.
What part of the Constitution do you interpret as making provision for secession with consent?
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,982
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
Sometime between South Carolina's secession and Fort Sumter, George Bassett, a northern abolitionist wrote an excellent mini-book/pamphlet titled A Northern Plea for the Right of Secession. It's available for free online. I want to ask here about one particular hypothetical question/challenge he posed to those that denied the South's right to secede. I want to ask those of you that maintain that the South didn't have a right to secede (by which I mean not a legal right under the Constitution -- although I happen to think the South had an exceedingly strong constitutional case, too, but that's another discussion -- but rather an inalienable right that put anyone that disrespected that right in on the wrong side of history) how you would judge Bassett's hypothetical scenario. I'll quote Basestt first, but then I actually want to modify his scenario slightly to account for that happened at the start of the war, events which hadn't happened yet when Bassett wrote:


“Suppose the case reversed, and, instead of South Carolina desiring to secede from the Union, for the interests of slavery, Massachusetts should wish to secede, for the interests of liberty. Suppose the people of the latter should feel conscientiously bound to withdraw political fellowship and complicity with slavery, and to exercise their natural sovereignty in a just, humane, and impartial system of government,–would it not be oppression to coerce her to remain? Would not the combined tyranny of thirty-three coercing States be a more intolerable despotism than any single tyrant? Would it not be oppression for the general government to collect an involuntary tribute from an unwilling State, to support a government whose flag protects not only the crime of slavery but the African slave trade itself? … The friends of liberty and a free conscience should be careful how they sanction a principle against South Carolina, which may have equal power against the holiest instinct of humanity in the people of the Northern States.”

Or to rephrase that question as I'd like to ask it: If, as actual abolitionists (as opposed to Republicans like Lincoln that professed a willingness to defend and uphold the fugitive slave clause and for whom anti-slavery expressions were just a false pretense for pushing crony capitalism) mostly advocated in the years before the war, any of the Northern states had sought to secede rather than maintain a union with slaveholders and uphold the Constitution's protections of slavery, and if a Southern president had refused to allow a minority (or even a majority) of anti-slavery states to secede, and if Massachusetts had fired the first shots at a federal fort in Massachusetts that a Southern president had refused to give up, would you be defending Massachusetts and condemning that Southern president? If not, what would your argument be in defense of the pro-slavery South's war effort against the seceding abolitionists?
@Patrick Cleburne ,

Could you please post the website where George Basset's book/pamphlet may be found and viewed in it's entirety?

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

GwilymT

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Messages
883
Location
Pittsburgh
Except neither Bassett nor I are making legal (political) arguments here, so although I think the South had an extremely strong legal case, that's a separate question. The question here isn't the legal question but rather the question of inalienable rights. Bassett never talks about constitutional rights but rather "natural" rights (as in "natural sovereignty"), so the question really is much more a moral (ethical) one than a legal (political) one. It may be true that Bassett implies an absence of any valid constitutional barriers to secession, but constitutional/legal questions are really beside the point here.



What part of the Constitution do you interpret as making provision for secession with consent?
Certainly anyone can appeal to the natural right of revolution. That doesn’t make their cause just.
 

Horrido67

Private
Joined
Sep 29, 2019
Messages
86
It is the same argument that abolitionists made against slavery. People like Lysander Spooner argued that slavery was actually unconstitutional since the document was formulated based on the philosophy that every man has some inalienable natural rights. Hence, some of those anti-slavery folks & abolitionists applied the same logic to unilateral secession and insisted that the slave states had also natural rights to secede from the Union. However, after reading their writings and essays, I conclude Spooner was wrong. I think George Bassett was wrong. I think they were all wrong.

1. Slavery was constitutional. It was legal within the state where it allowed the practice.
2. A state wasn't sovereign. The US government was. The Union was meant to be 'perpetual'. Washington already set up an example with the Whiskey Rebellion.

'Honest Abe' knew it. He was a pragmatic lawyer who correctly understood those LEGAL implications. However, Lincoln was a staunch anti-slavery. Even though he was often criticized by people like William Lloyd Garrison (who was also abolitionist and advocated 'disunionism') for allegedly not being radical enough.

However, Lincoln was committed to the anti-slavery cause more than you might imagine. Hence, Lincoln and the Republican Party had to find other LEGAL ways to end slavery. Therefore, they sought to 'put slavery in course of ultimate extinction' by using the Federal government's power to restrict the expansion of slavery into Federal territories.

'Honest Abe' stick with the plan and never backed down. At the end, it was Lincoln achieved the unthinkable task of destroying slavery and keeping the Union together, not some radical abolitionists like Spooner and Bassett who would have argued all days that slavery was unconstitutional in the court and wouldn't have made meaningful changes.

I only wish it hadn't costed that many lives and property damages. Then again, any peaceful resolution was no longer an option when South Carolina fired on Ft. Sumter and turned their slavers' rebellion into a violent confrontation.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
there is indeed a natural right to revolution.
How does that differ from what Bassett was calling a "right of secession"? It seems like maybe you're suggesting two categories, a legal right of secession and an inalienable right of revolution. Are those the only two categories you see? To me, it makes sense to call it all secession so long as there's some kind of geographical separation, and then we're just left to say whether we recognize a natural right for peoples to secede and whether that natural right is legally recognized in any given context.

Bassett's argument clearly seems to be based on natural rights, and his argument clearly seems to be an argument for what's just, i.e. that not recognizing the South's natural right to "secede" (as Bassett referred to it) would be unjust. So when you say appealing to those natural rights -- please correct me if I'm misinterpreting your view -- "doesn't make their cause just," hasn't Bassett just made an argument for what is just? It seems to me that either (1) Bassett has just made the case for why the North couldn't justly deny the South its natural right to secede (or whatever you want to call it), or (2) there's some flaw in his argument. So the question, then, for those that would deny that the South had a natural right to secede is what's the flaw in Bassett's natural rights argument?

the philosophy that every man has some inalienable natural rights. Hence, some of those anti-slavery folks & abolitionists applied the same logic to unilateral secession and insisted that the slave states had also natural rights to secede from the Union. However, after reading their writings and essays, I conclude Spooner was wrong. I think George Bassett was wrong. I think they were all wrong.

1. Slavery was constitutional. It was legal within the state where it allowed the practice.
2. A state wasn't sovereign. The US government was. The Union was meant to be 'perpetual'. Washington already set up an example with the Whiskey Rebellion.
The trouble I see with that argument, even if your premises were true, is that you seem to be suggesting that what was constitutional (which was your point #1) and how the US government had been set up or what some founding fathers had intended and what precedents they had set (which was your point #2) can be used to determine what our "inalienable natural rights" are or aren't. As it relates to inalienable rights and to Bassett's argument it seems to me to make as much sense to say states don't have a natural right to secede because the constitution didn't recognize any basis for such a right as to say slaves didn't have a natural right to freedom because slavery was constitutional. Whether the premises are true or false, the conclusions just don't follow.

As to your further comments, there's lots to dispute there, but I don't see that any of it has any real bearing on Bassett's argument, and I want to limit my comments here to that subject (although I would be glad to discuss those other points in another thread.)
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Messages
10,545
Except neither Bassett nor I are making legal (political) arguments here, so although I think the South had an extremely strong legal case, that's a separate question. The question here isn't the legal question but rather the question of inalienable rights. Bassett never talks about constitutional rights but rather "natural" rights (as in "natural sovereignty"), so the question really is much more a moral (ethical) one than a legal (political) one. It may be true that Bassett implies an absence of any valid constitutional barriers to secession, but constitutional/legal questions are really beside the point here.
What part of the Constitution do you interpret as making provision for secession with consent?



The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land(Oganic Law) and if your moral rights tries to override legal rights, then you have a conflict of Law, not morality.

The best way to secede legally, is to get congress to allow it, probably by Constitutional Amendment or bring suit in Courts claiming that some violation of Constitutional law, prevents your remaining in the Union.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
OpnCoronet, As far as I remember, Bassett didn't discuss the questions of what legal process states desiring to secede ought ideally to go through, at least not in the one mini-book/pamphlet I've read (and linked). Maybe it was just my own bias, but I did get the impression that he thought the right of secession was very consistent with American traditions and the laws built on those traditions, so I would guess he didn't share your legal theories. But whatever the case may be, the question remains whether you would defend the same policy if the situation were reversed. In other words, given that you apparently believe the President should use the force of the army and militias to whatever extent necessary to prevent secession apart from a constitutional amendment (which requires 3/4 of state legislatures to ratify), would you, in the name of 'legal rights should override moral rights' -- correct me if I misunderstood you on that point -- take the side of a President that used force to prevent abolitionist disunionists from seceding from a union that was seeking to maintain and protect the institution of slavery? How would you answer the three questions Bassett asked in the excerpt I quoted?
 
Last edited:

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,982
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
OpnCoronet, As far as I remember, Bassett didn't discuss the questions of what legal process states desiring to secede ought ideally to go through, at least not in the one mini-book/pamphlet I've read (and linked). Maybe it was just my own bias, but I did get the impression that he thought the right of secession was very consistent with American traditions and the laws built on those traditions, so I would guess he didn't share your legal theories. But whatever the case may be, the question remains whether you would defend the same policy if the situation were reversed. In other words, given that you apparently believe the President should use the force of the army and militias to whatever extent necessary to prevent secession apart from a constitutional amendment (which requires 3/4 of state legislatures to ratify), would you, in the name of 'legal rights should override moral rights' -- correct me if I misunderstood you on that point -- take the side of a President that used force to prevent abolitionist disunionists from seceding from a union that was seeking to maintain and protect the institution of slavery? How would you answer the three questions Bassett asked in the excerpt I quoted?
And why should I give Bassett any historical weight concerning this issue? Why do you find him so attractive as a source for this topic?
 
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
Mainly because the arguments he makes are themselves so compelling. And that's evidenced in part by the fact that no one here (or anywhere else that I've seen) has pointed to any flaw in any of Bassett's natural rights arguments. Can you find any such flaws yourself?

The reason I was attracted to Bassett in the first place, though, is because he was an abolitionist that seemed to show more intellectual integrity than the unprincipled abolitionists that called for disunion for years and years and then argued against the same principles they had been advocating when the people they hated appealed to those same principles. Consistent principles are attractive, especially when they're even applied to one's enemies.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Aug 4, 2019
Messages
114
Both the Fire Eaters and Bassett are wrong for advocating an armed insurrection from the Union. The only grounds to seceded from the Union is when the Federal Government because so violently abusive and despotic that it is unbearably oppressive and unjust to the General Public. The said Government was not in that condition to justify an armed insurrection for the Fire Eaters or Bassett. Note moral issues plays a role in fomenting political policy but that is done lawfully within the Republic. The Confederates had no moral issue and their actions were illegal in their armed insurrection.
 
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
The Confederates had no moral issue and their actions were illegal in their armed insurrection.
The North had become so hostile to the "domestic tranquility" of the South that it was even willing to broadly applaud a terrorist attack against random Southern civilians and to protect from justice participants in the attack that escaped to the North. But even if the terrorist attack hadn't happened, broad Northern hostility to the "domestic tranquility" of the South would have been just as real. You might try to defend this sort of hostility and even terrorist attacks, but can you really say the Confederate states had no moral issue?

As to whether their actions were illegal, I'll repeat that I don't see any reason to interpret Bassett's question in a legal framework, so that's a question that can be disputed elsewhere, and Bassett's argument stands or falls independent of any such legal questions.

The relevant question here is whether if Massachusetts had gotten behind the abolitionist cause enough to support disunion, as a large majority of abolitionists had been advocating, (in which case we could all presumably agree that there would have been a "moral issue" behind the secessionists), and if things had proceeded in Massachusetts the same way they did in South Carolina -- it's worth noting that although it didn't really affect his position, the quote from Bassett comes from something written before any shots were fired at Fort Sumter -- whether those opposing the right to independence would defend it in that reversed situation? The answer is apparently not, which just goes to show how twisted and perverse those principles really are, even though they try to look respectable hiding behind the false pretenses that they do.
 
Joined
Aug 4, 2019
Messages
114
You are of an opinion that the North became hostile to the domestic tranquility of the South. That is a very broad sweeping phrase (ignoring the northern Copperhead movement and others). Yet even here you failed to reach the level of oppression/violence/injustice/corruption needed to justify an armed insurrection by the Slaveholders/Bassett/Mass./Abolitionists to be heaped upon the Federal Republic. You give one incident of John Brown and his tiny crew who were crushed easily. You are disturbed that a segment of the Northern opinion supported John Brown’s action, yet you fully known that an opinion itself does not justify an armed insurrection. You have nothing of a significant nature to present because none exist.
We may both agree that Bassett’s argument does not fall within a legal framework. It is because Bassett does not project a legal framework as he knows a legal framework does not exist. Bassett is a religious militant who base his framework upon a religious/moral/philosophical grounds not legal law. That is why your fasciation with Bassett is phony because he is not relevant to your theme projected in this Thread. Bassett is all about moral/religious/philosophical grounds while your slaveholder insurrectionists are devoid of such obstructions to their purely profit driven enterprise.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Oct 18, 2019
Messages
73
You are disturbed that a segment of the Northern opinion supported John Brown’s action, yet you fully known that an opinion itself does not justify an armed insurrection.
There was no "armed insurrection" (even if that's what you want to call it) when Bassett wrote what I quoted here, so the question at the point he wrote what he wrote was whether the North should respect the Deep South's desire to secede peacefully on reasonable terms. Should it have (at that point, before the onset of any armed conflict, which would, of course, have gone a long way to avoiding any armed conflict)? If not, why not? And would those reasons apply equally to Bassett's hypothetical situation? That's the central point of discussion for this thread, but I haven't heard a clear answer from you on that central question.

As to whether a mere hostile opinion of one section toward the other section justifies secession, I think you've misrepresented a lot of the relevant facts there (which I'd be glad to point out if you'd like to start another thread to discuss the relevance of Harpers Ferry and the North's broader connections and reactions to that terrorism), but those questions are really off topic and irrelevant here, because I understand Bassett's argument to be that the South's secession was justified simply by the existing (and recognized) state governments declaring their desire/intention to secede and that nothing more is necessary to justify secession.

As to the legal questions, I don't see any evidence that Bassett recognized, even implicitly, any legal failing on the part of the original (7) Confederate states, and I challenge you to present any such evidence -- I'm sure you can't -- but I do think you're right to note that Bassett is fundamentally appealing to inalienable rights, and so those questions of inalienable rights are the real issue here.

Bassett is a religious militant
What does that mean? And what evidence is there to support whatever that does mean?

your fasciation with Bassett
Fascination? Why shouldn't I bring up an argument for discussion that I find compelling? And why can't you respond to the argument itself without feeling the need to ridiculously imply that I've drunk some kind of Bassett coolaid? If Bassett's argument is so weak on its own merits, show us the flaw in his argument! In any case, throwing petty personal insults at me only exposes the weakness of your counter argument.

he is not relevant to your theme projected in this Thread
I never said he was relevant. Why are you so intent on discussing him as opposed to his argument which I quoted? (Because the counter argument is too weak, of course.) I'd be just as glad to discuss the argument as if it were my own, but I thought he laid out the argument well, and so I thought it was worth quoting his exact words, and then I thought it was necessary to attribute the quote appropriately.

Bassett is all about moral/religious/philosophical grounds while your slaveholder insurrectionists are devoid of such obstructions to their purely profit driven enterprise.
Do you mean that the seceding states didn't let moral/religious/philosophical considerations get in the way of their pursuit of profit? And is the implication then that because the people in the seceding states were evil that they had forfeit whatever rights they might otherwise have had and that no one, particularly not the North or those in power in DC, had any legitimate obligation to respect any of their rights which they had forfeit by being evil? If that's not your argument, please clarify.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
29,982
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
Mainly because the arguments he makes are themselves so compelling.

Not to me. If anything, he seems to be of the "too little, too late," school.

And that's evidenced in part by the fact that no one here (or anywhere else that I've seen) has pointed to any flaw in any of Bassett's natural rights arguments. Can you find any such flaws yourself?

He creates a definite feeling of non-interest, another lone voice in the chorus of "we're right and everybody else is wrong," song.

The reason I was attracted to Bassett in the first place, though, is because he was an abolitionist that seemed to show more intellectual integrity than the unprincipled abolitionists that called for disunion for years and years and then argued against the same principles they had been advocating when the people they hated appealed to those same principles. Consistent principles are attractive, especially when they're even applied to one's enemies.
Principles? What "principles" did you deduce from his ranting? Could you list them, one-by-one, the one's you feel are worth reading?
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top