Hartford Convention and Southern secession

trice

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unionblue said:
Did the Hartford Convention in 1815 actually recommend secession? Were there any articles or resolutions printed by the convention that advocated secession? It was my impression that a few delegates to the convention brought the idea up, but were by far in the minority, and none of their ideas were supported concerning secession.

But my final question is, why didn't any New England States secede over 'Mr. Madison's War?' And did any of the delegates of the convention advoce unilateral secession from the Union in 1815?
The Hartford Convention grew out of the Federalist secession movement. This had begun to be discussed in secret in 1804 in reaction to the policies of President Jefferson. Support for it grew rapidly as Republican policies aggravated the situation (Embargo Act of 1807 and Non-Intercourse Act of 1809). President Madison was even less popular in New England than President Jefferson.

The first attempt to convene a New England Convention was made in 1808-09. The next was made in 1812 when the War Hawks led the way into "Mr. Madison's War" with Great Britain. Neither succeeded.

When Madison was re-elected, a furor arose. The last dozen years of Jefferson-Madison leadership had damaged New England maritime interests greatly (far worse than anything Southern planters ever endured at the hands of their government before secession in 1860). Now they had been dragged into a war where their ships and sailors were most exposed to the enemy, and where their borders and coasts were subject to raids and invasion.

In this situation, the New England states refused to put their militia under Federal control, fearing they would be sent off into the disasters on the Canadian border, leaving their coasts even more vulnerable to British raids. Madison therefore refused to pay their expenses, which led to further financial pain in New England. That may seem natural, but Madison was being inconsistent here. While other state governors were allowed to control their militia for home defense, Madison had tried to take that away from governors in New England, leading to angry suspicion. MA appropriated $1,000,000 to fund a 10,000 man army.

Both sides were acting badly by this point. Most Federalist papers in New England were crying out for the expulsion of the western states that had dragged the nation into this war under the War Hawk leadership. Harrison Gray Otis of MA led the call for a Convention to meet on December 14, 1815 in Hartford.

Otis was actually a conservative. He thought the Madison regime was faltering (this is late 1814: Napoleon has fallen, the British have turned to America, the blockade is tightening, Washington is burned, etc.). He blocked most of the radical ideas (like seizing the Boston Customs House -- contrast that with how LA actually did seize the New Orleans Custom House, the Mint, etc.) Meanwhile, and unknown to Otis, the Governor of MA, Caleb Strong, had secretly sent a delegation to the British to sound them out on peace terms for a separated New England (otherwise known as treason, IMHO).

Three state legislatures sent official representation: MA (12 delegates), RI (4), CT (7). NH and VT legislatures refused to do so, but three more delegates came from those 2 states, selected by country conventions in great acrimony. In all, 26 men attended. They met in Hartford from Dec. 15 1814 to Jan. 5, 1815. A US Army officer arrived in Hartford at the same time, mission unstated, but obviously sent by the government to watch the proceedings. General outrage and suspicion on their purposes is obvious in the speeches and editorials of the rest of the country at the time.

The Hartford Convention met in secret secession only. No records were kept of what was discussed. There is no rollcall of yeas and nays on votes, no text of matters voted on, not even a description kept of the motions.

The Convention ended with by delivering a report and several resolutions. The report said that New England had a "duty" to resist unconstitutional infringement of its sovereignity (much like the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798 by Madison and Jefferson). The resolutions recommended a series of amendments to the Constitution that would have limited the power of the central government and weakened the stranglehold the South seemed to have on power.

The 5 proposed amendments would:
1) Limit all trade embargo acts to 60 days
2) Require a 2/3rds majority in Congress to declare war, admit a state, or interdict commerce as in #1
3) Repeal the 3/5ths slave clause
4) Limit Presidents to a single term
5) Prohibit a new president from being elected from the same state as his predecessor

Those first 2 are obviously aimed at the Jefferson/Madison/War Hawk policies that had crippled New England trade, started the war with Great Britain, and were moving the center of power further and further from New England.

The last 3 were aimed squarely at Southern (particularly Virginian) dominance of US politics.

To the best of anyone's knowledge, and as far as almost 2 centuries of investigation have revealed, there never was a resolution to secede voted at the Hartford Convention. The Democratic-Republican Party of Madison, under heavy criticism for their failed policies and fiascos during the war, seems to have "spun" this out as very effective and long-lasting propaganda. However, there undoubtedly were politicans in New England advocating such a course.

Historians speculate as to the real purpose of this. It is believed that the resolutions and report were intended to start the ball rolling on negotiations with the rest of the country, and to form a platform for New England's position in the bargaining. That might easily have led to secession or to a compromise -- just as the great dispute over slavery would lead to the Missouri Compromise five years later. It is generally thought that the more conservative members, like Otis, were really seeking to get a better deal from the rest of the country, were not really in favor of secession, and were trying to control and channel the debate to keep the radicals among them from causing a catastrophe.

The state of MA -- not New England as a whole or the Hartford Convention -- sent three delegates to Washington to meet with the government and discuss this situation. They arrived in February, right after the news of Jackson's victory at New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent. It was obvious the moment had passed. The war was over, most problems already resolved. The delegates returned to MA and nothing was done.

While people like to point to the Hartford Convention when speaking of Southern secession in 1860-61, it is really not a very good example to use. No state ever did vote to secede, although the possibility was surely being discussed. An attempt was actually being made to negotiate with the Federal government and the other states that would resolve issues inside the Union -- where none was made by the Southern states in 1861. No New England state seized Federal forts, arsenals, customs houses, ships, or menaced Federal troops/employees. It is like comparing a loud-voiced debate in a pub with a car-bombing in the streets: they are not the same beast at all.

Regards,
Tim
 

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OpnDownfall

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Hartford Convention &.......

The leaders of the Hartford Convention at least 'seemed' to be conscious that they were playing with fire and were properly cautious in their 'actions' if not their words.
To whatever extent the Hartford Convention was involved with secession' it failed, as did all other attempts at secession up to and including 1860
 

Freddy

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In my opinion it is the idea of secession that is key and it is clear that it first sprung from the New England Federalists. The fact that no overt action or even specific votes concerning secession happened in 1807-1809 and 1814-1815 in New England is simply that,
a fact. Where and when did the Southerners get the idea of secession? Was it by the time of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act 1854, Bleeding Kansas 1850's, Harper's Ferry 1859, Lincoln's election 1860?

It appears the Federalists began talking about secession in 1803 over the Louisiana Purchase and then President Jefferson did not argue against it. From the link:

"In 1803, Federalists objected to the Louisiana Purchase because it would make the nation too large. True democracies must be small, according to received wisdom, and a nation so large as the United States were becoming would either lose its institutions or split. The idea did not bother Thomas Jefferson. "Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part. Those of the Western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the Eastern." He wrote that if those of the Mississippi valley should "see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Mississippi descendants? It is the elder and the younger son differing. God bless them both, & keep them in Union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better." [1]
http://www.etymonline.com/cw/secession.htm
 

trice

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OpnDownfall said:
The leaders of the Hartford Convention at least 'seemed' to be conscious that they were playing with fire and were properly cautious in their 'actions' if not their words.
To whatever extent the Hartford Convention was involved with secession' it failed, as did all other attempts at secession up to and including 1860
Certainly. Undeniably, there was talk of it in New England -- just as there was talk of expelling the Western states from the Union. As I noted, the first discussions of secession began in 1804 in New England, and the Governor of MA sent out feelers to the British about making a separate peace.

But no state attempted to secede. No declarations were made to that effect by any government or convention. If the war had continued, or if it had ended with British conquest of New Orleans, or some other disaster had led to a further confrontation between New England and the rest of the nation, the concepts expressed by the Convention might indeed have led to it.

The main difference is that -- despite greater provocation by the central government -- not only did nothing happen, the New Englanders were actually attempting to reach a compromise through selected Constitutional action and/or negotiation. Southern secessionists chose to simply take the law into their own hands and grab what they pleased. They would only negotiate after the fact. These are not instances of the same courses of action.

Regards,
Tim
 

trice

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Freddy said:
In my opinion it is the idea of secession that is key and it is clear that it first sprung from the New England Federalists. The fact that no overt action or even specific votes concerning secession happened in 1807-1809 and 1814-1815 in New England is simply that,
a fact.
What it comes down to is this: some New Englanders talked of it, but never came close to actually doing anything about it, and ended by abandoning the idea. Various Southerners pushed for secession for more than 30 years, finally taking action after years of attempts/threats, and finally took the law into their own hands to secede, starting a war.

Freddy said:
Where and when did the Southerners get the idea of secession? Was it by the time of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act 1854, Bleeding Kansas 1850's, Harper's Ferry 1859, Lincoln's election 1860?
Rhett, the South Carolina Fire-Eater who led the secession movement into the Civil War and hoped to be the first Governor of an independent SC, was a supporter of secession in his first campaign for public office, which was about 1827, IIRR, when he was still going by the name of Smith. The idea was obviously being bandied about then in SC, the poster-child of Southern secession. By the early 1840s, Rhett had linked secession to the protection of slavery and always maintained that from that point on.

Writing in late 1860, Robert E. Lee pointed out that Virginian leaders had called the idea nothing but treason in 1814-15. Of course, much of the idea of secession then was clearly aimed at breaking with Southern leadership and dominance in Congress. SC in particular was the leader of Southern secessionism, but Charleston had once been the richest city in America, often compared to London. By 1860, the great cities of America were all far to the North, and political power was passing that way as well.

Regards,
Tim
 

trice

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unionblue said:
Tim,

Thank you for this thread. It's nice to see the Hartford Convention in the historical context it deserves.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
No problem.:smile:

While it makes a good reference for the development of the idea, the actions actually taken were far different than Southern secession in 1861.

Regards,
Tim
 

elektratig

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On the aftermath of the Hartford Convention, I like this:

"The proposed amendments to the Constitution descended to such pettiness . . . [that] Madison laughed out loud when he read them -- partly, no doubt, in relief that the volcanic mountain had produced such a mouse."

Gary Wills, James Madison (Times Books 2002), at 146.
 

cash

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Freddy said:
Where and when did the Southerners get the idea of secession?

Probably when they threatened it in the constitutional convention if slavery were not protected in the Constitution.

Regards,
Cash
 

cash

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"The character of the twenty-six delegates at the convention also boded well. George Cabot, Nathan Dane, and [Harrison Gray] Otis headed the Massachusetts delegation; Chauncey Goodrich and James Hillhoun, the Connecticut delegation; and Daniel Lyman and Samuel Ward the Rhode Island delegation. Except for Timothy Bigelow and perhaps one or two others, all the delegates were moderates, hardly the sort to promote violent measures. Radicals like Blake, Quincy, and Fessenden were purposely excluded from the meeting." [Donald R. Hickey, _The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict,_ University of Illinois Press, 1989, page 275]

The convention, dominated by moderates, had perhaps as many as three radicals. "The only known radical, Bigelow, was given no committee assignments and apparently did not play a major role in the proceedings. Nor was there any sign of disunion." [Hickey, _The War of 1812,_ p. 277]

"The Hartford Convention pressed the administration to explain its inattention to the immigrant problem: 'Why admit to a participation in the government,' asked the convention report, 'aliens who were not parties to the compact--who are ignorant of the nature of our institutions and have no stake in the welfare of the country but what is recent and transitory?' " [James M. Banner, Jr., _To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815,_ 1969, page 94]

"Although the election of 1800 dashed their hopes of constitutional and statutory revision, they persisted throughout the Jeffersonian era in their plans. The Hartford Convention culminated their efforts to gain a hearing for an amendment to prohibit naturalized citizens from holding 'any civil office' under national authority. In the convention report which it is generally agreed he wrote, Otis, the undisputed champion of American nativists, attacked 'the easy admission of naturalized foreigners, to places of trust, honour or profit, operating as an inducement to the malcontent subjects of the old world to come to these States, in quest of executive patronage, and to repay it by an abject devotion to executive measures.' " [Banner, _To the Hartford Convention,_ p. 98]

"The case of the Hartford Convention appears, then, to be summarily as follows:--It was legitimate in its origin, in no respect violating any provisions of the constitution of the United States, either in its letter or its spirit. The commissions given to the members were scrupulously guarded against any unconstitutional conduct on the part of the Convention, giving them authority only to confer together, and recommend such measures to their principals as they might deem expedient, taking care to govern themselves by a regard to the duties and obligations which the states owed to the United States. The account of their proceedings shows that they punctiliously observed the injunctions contained in their instructions; and the result of their deliberations proves their conduct to have been, in every respect, strictly constitutional.

"Notwithstanding the vast amount of calumny and reproach that has been bestowed upon the Hartford Convention by the ignorant and the worthless, it will not be a hazardous assumption to say, that henceforward no man who justly estimates the value of his character for truth and honesty, and who, of course, means to sustain such a character, will risk his reputation by the repetition of such falsehoods respecting that body, as have heretofore been uttered with impunity. No man, with the facts before him, can do this, without sacrificing all claim to veracity, and, of course, to integrity and honour. Nor will the subterfuge that the journal and report of the Convention do not contain the whole of their proceedings, save him from the disgrace of wilfully disregarding the truth. Nearly nineteen years have elapsed since the Convention adjourned, and no proof has been adduced, and nothing nearer proof, than the unsupported assertions of the corrupt journals of political partizans [sic], of any measure having been adopted or recommended by the Convention, besides those contained in the journal and the report. If there was any treason, proposed or meditated, against the United States, at the Convention, it must have been hidden in as deep and impenetrable obscurity, as the fabulous secrets of free masonry are said to be buried, otherwise some traces of it would have been discovered and disclosed to the public before this late period." [Theodore Dwight, _History of the Hartford Convention: With a Review of the Policy of the United States Government, Which Led to the War of 1812,_ New York, 1833, pp. 401-402]

Regards,
Cash
 

Freddy

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cash said:
Probably when they threatened it in the constitutional convention if slavery were not protected in the Constitution.

Regards,
Cash
How could delegates to the Constitutional Convention threaten secession if the Constitution was not ratified at the time? Did they only threaten not to ratify it and it would not go into effect due to a lack of nine states ratifying it? After rereading the Articles of Confereration and Perpetual Union, ratified 1781, I could not find any right of secession in it. The Articles do say alterations to them can be made through the Confederation Congress and then by all the states. This was done albeit the Constitution went into effect on the ratification of the ninth state, but all thirteen states eventually did ratify it which made it ligitimate with the Articles. Another argument against secession is the Northwest Ordinance forbids new states from leaving the Union.
 

cash

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Freddy said:
How could delegates to the Constitutional Convention threaten secession if the Constitution was not ratified at the time? Did they only threaten not to ratify it and it would not go into effect due to a lack of nine states ratifying it?
There was a Union before the Constitution was ratified. They threatened to not be a part of the Union under the Constitution unless slavery were protected. That would be a secession from the Union.

As Madison said, "The result is seen in the Constitution. S. Carolina & Georgia were inflexible on the point of the slaves." [James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 24 Oct 1787]

William R. Davie of North Carolina spoke about it in the convention:

"Mr. DAVIE, said it was high time now to speak out. He saw that it was meant by some gentlemen to deprive the Southern States of any share of Representation for their blacks. He was sure that N. Carola. would never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as 3/5 . If the Eastern States meant therefore to exclude them altogether the business was at an end." [Madison, _Notes on the Federal Convention,_ 12 Jul 1787]

Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania responded:

"Mr. Govr. MORRIS. It has been said that it is high time to speak out, as one member, he would candidly do so. He came here to form a compact for the good of America. He was ready to do so with all the States. He hoped & believed that all would enter into such a Compact. If they would not he was ready to join with any States that would. But as the Compact was to be voluntary, it is in vain for the Eastern States to insist on what the Southn. States will never agree to. It is equally vain for the latter to require what the other States can never admit; and he verily believed the people of Pena. will never agree to a representation of Negroes. What can be desired by these States more than has been already proposed; that the Legislature shall from time to time regulate Representation according to population & wealth." [Ibid.]

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina then chimed in:

"Genl. PINKNEY desired that the rule of wealth should be ascertained and not left to the pleasure of the Legislature; and that property in slaves should not be exposed to danger under a Govr. instituted for the protection of property." [Ibid.]

The next day, Pierce Butler of South Carolina was blunt:

"Mr. BUTLER. The security the Southn. States want is that their negroes may not be taken from them, which some gentlemen within or without doors, have a very good mind to do. It was not supposed that N. C. S. C. & Geo. would have more people than all the other States, but many more relatively to the other States than they now have. The people & strength of America are evidently bearing Southwardly & S. westwdly." [Madison, _Notes on the Federal Convention, 13 Jul 1787]


Freddy said:
After rereading the Articles of Confereration and Perpetual Union, ratified 1781, I could not find any right of secession in it. The Articles do say alterations to them can be made through the Confederation Congress and then by all the states.
Article II: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

If a state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, then it may leave the union at will anytime it desires. Such a condition does not exist under the Constitution.

Regards,
Cash
 

Freddy

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cash said:
There was a Union before the Constitution was ratified. They threatened to not be a part of the Union under the Constitution unless slavery were protected. That would be a secession from the Union.

As Madison said, "The result is seen in the Constitution. S. Carolina & Georgia were inflexible on the point of the slaves." [James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 24 Oct 1787]

William R. Davie of North Carolina spoke about it in the convention:

"Mr. DAVIE, said it was high time now to speak out. He saw that it was meant by some gentlemen to deprive the Southern States of any share of Representation for their blacks. He was sure that N. Carola. would never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as 3/5 . If the Eastern States meant therefore to exclude them altogether the business was at an end." [Madison, _Notes on the Federal Convention,_ 12 Jul 1787]

Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania responded:

"Mr. Govr. MORRIS. It has been said that it is high time to speak out, as one member, he would candidly do so. He came here to form a compact for the good of America. He was ready to do so with all the States. He hoped & believed that all would enter into such a Compact. If they would not he was ready to join with any States that would. But as the Compact was to be voluntary, it is in vain for the Eastern States to insist on what the Southn. States will never agree to. It is equally vain for the latter to require what the other States can never admit; and he verily believed the people of Pena. will never agree to a representation of Negroes. What can be desired by these States more than has been already proposed; that the Legislature shall from time to time regulate Representation according to population & wealth." [Ibid.]

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina then chimed in:

"Genl. PINKNEY desired that the rule of wealth should be ascertained and not left to the pleasure of the Legislature; and that property in slaves should not be exposed to danger under a Govr. instituted for the protection of property." [Ibid.]

The next day, Pierce Butler of South Carolina was blunt:

"Mr. BUTLER. The security the Southn. States want is that their negroes may not be taken from them, which some gentlemen within or without doors, have a very good mind to do. It was not supposed that N. C. S. C. & Geo. would have more people than all the other States, but many more relatively to the other States than they now have. The people & strength of America are evidently bearing Southwardly & S. westwdly." [Madison, _Notes on the Federal Convention, 13 Jul 1787]




Article I: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

If a state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, then it may leave the union at will anytime it desires. Such a condition does not exist under the Constitution.

Regards,
Cash
You need to read the entire document. I have never heard any scholar suggest that a state could leave the Confederation without the approval of the other states.
 

ole

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Freddy:
If I'm reading you right, and I think I am. The "Founders" or "Framers" if you prefer, I'm joining you in a conviction that these guys didn't go go all that work to create a coalition that could be disbanded easily, if at all.
Ole
 

cash

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Freddy said:
You need to read the entire document.
I have. Have you?

Article III: "The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other ... "

A "firm league of friendship" is one from which one can secede at any time, especially when the states retain all of their sovereignty, freedom, and independence. That's why the Constitution doesn't use these words.


Freddy said:
I have never heard any scholar suggest that a state could leave the Confederation without the approval of the other states.
You haven't consulted very many, then.

Have you heard of the Founding Fathers? Read the Federalist Papers. They saw the Constitution as necessary because the AoC weren't sufficient to preserve the Union.

Ever hear of James Madison?

"In some of the States the Confederation is recognized by, and forms a part of the constitution. In others however it has received no other sanction than thta of the Legislative authority. From this defect two evils result: 1. Whenever a law of a State happens to be repugnant to an act of Congress, particularly when the latter is of posterior date to the former, it will be at least questionable whether the latter must not prevail; and as the question must be decided by the Tribunals of the State, they will be most likely to lean on the side of the State. 2. As far as the Union of the States is to be regarded as a league of sovereign powers, and not as a political Constitution by virtue of which they are become one sovereign power, so far it seems to follow from the doctrine of compacts, that a reach of any of the articles of the confederation by any of the parties to it, absolves the other parties from their respectivie obligations, and gives them a right if they chuse [sic] to exert it, of dissolving the Union altogether." [James Madison, "Vices of the Political System of the United States," April, 1787]

"A strong realpolitik answer was that sovereign states sometimes broke their pledges in order to safeguard their vital interests. If repudiation of the Articles would violate the niceties of international law, so be it. The very violation of the Articles implicit in the Constitution's ratification by a supermajority of nine or more states would only prove that the Confederation was a failed experiment.

"A more legalistic answer was that the material breaches of promised state performance under the Articles gave each compacting party--each state--a right to rescind the agreement under general principles of contractual and international law. Blackstone's influential _Commentaries_ had noted that in the case of a nononfederate 'incorporate union' such as the 1707 union of England and Scotland (the very kind of more perfect union that, as we shall see, the Constitution would later propose) no rescission option existed: 'The two contracting states are totally annihilated [qua sovereign states], without any power of revival; and a third arises from their conjunction, in which all the rights of sovereignty ... must necessarily reside.' But in the case of a simple 'foederate alliance'--that is, a mere confederation or league of sovereign states--an infringement of fundamental conditions 'would certainly rescind the compact.'

"Nor did the language in the Articles of Confederation that 'the union shall be perpetual' doom this legal analysis. This language was itself yoked to a mandate that the Articles 'shall be inviolably observed by every state.' Under standard principles of international law, each of these yoked mandats was a condition of the other. When inviolable observation lapsed, so did the obligation of perpetual union. Indeed, international law principles helped explain why perpetuity and inviolability were so pointedly paired. As the influential jurist Vattel made clear, 'Treaties contain promiss that are perfect and reciprocal. If one of the allies fails in his engagements, the other may ... disengage himself from his promises, and ... break the treaty.' Thus, the legalistic argument went, the decisive fact about the Confederation was that it was a self-described league, a multilateral treaty. The word 'perpetual' merely specified what kind of league it would be: the firmest of leagues, but a league nonetheless." [Akhil Reed Amar, _The Constitution: A Biography,_ pp. 30-31]

and

"But the United States did not become an indivisible nation prohibiting unilateral state secession--the crux of the Gettysburg contest--until 1788." [Ibid., p. 39]

Regards,
Cash
 

trice

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Freddy said:
How could delegates to the Constitutional Convention threaten secession if the Constitution was not ratified at the time? Did they only threaten not to ratify it and it would not go into effect due to a lack of nine states ratifying it? After rereading the Articles of Confereration and Perpetual Union, ratified 1781, I could not find any right of secession in it. The Articles do say alterations to them can be made through the Confederation Congress and then by all the states. This was done albeit the Constitution went into effect on the ratification of the ninth state, but all thirteen states eventually did ratify it which made it ligitimate with the Articles. Another argument against secession is the Northwest Ordinance forbids new states from leaving the Union.
The people were building the nation from scratch in those days. It was an experiment, and there was a great deal of controversy about what was meant by what language in the "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union" as well as the the Constitution. There was substantial debate about what powers and rights the national government had, what powers and rights the individual states had, and whether or not the states could reclaim and powers and rights they passed to the central government.

Personally, I would hold to something close to the opinion of the Chief Justice in the post-Civil War case of White v. Texas. His opinion (written as the majority opinion) was roughly that the United States had pre-existed the Constitution, that there was no right to leave the "Perpetual Union" under the Articles, and that it was hard to see how you could form a "more perfect" version of a "Perpetual Union" by allowing states to leave willy-nilly. However, I can also see where it could be argued that he was wrong. I just do not believe the argument would be compelling enough to get me to agree with it.

Essentially, the basis for a "right of secession" is that the 13 original states were independently sovereign, that while they passed many of the aspects of sovereigity to the central government under the Articles and the Constitution, they could withdraw them and again be independently sovereign.

Everyone must agree that, if they ever were independently sovereign, they did pass many aspects of sovereignity to the US government. The history of the nation from the 1770s to 1860 proves it. Even then, though, opinion is not unanimous.

For example, one of the men charged with actually writing the Constitution in Philadelphia believed that the original 13 had never been independently sovereign (that is never, as in not once, not ever). He felt the 13 had only achieved the state of sovereignity as a group and could not claim to be independently sovereign. His was not what history records as a majority opinion. However, he was a well-respected legal mind of the time, a man of strong background and impressive credentials. He might have been right in his argument.

That said, and accepting the concept that the states had been independently sovereign at some time, the argument over the "right of secession" boils down to whether or not the rights and powers of sovereignity yielded by the states could be reclaimed by the states. Were they given up for ever -- or were they merely loaned out, to be reclaimed at any time? Had they merely been "parked" in Federal care, to be used freely while they were there? Or had the title to them been surrendered to the central government for all time?

Perhaps more to the point, why should all the obvious methods by which the separation of a state can be accomplished under the Constitution be ignored (as was done by the Southern secessionists in 1860-61)? Why should all the checks and balances built in the system suddenly be treated as if they do not exist? Why, when all the states have agreed to submit all such disputes and controversies to the Supreme Court, should a state be able to disregard their promise?

IMHO, it is quite possible for a state to leave the Union, and there are several methods available by which it might be accomplished. The one chosen by the secessionists of 1860-61 just is not one of them.

Regards,
Tim
 

cedarstripper

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trice said:
Perhaps more to the point, why should all the obvious methods by which the separation of a state can be accomplished under the Constitution be ignored (as was done by the Southern secessionists in 1860-61)? Why should all the checks and balances built in the system suddenly be treated as if they do not exist? Why, when all the states have agreed to submit all such disputes and controversies to the Supreme Court, should a state be able to disregard their promise?
Perhaps, because at the end of the day, might makes right, and the secessionist leaders were of an opinion that the land size, wealth of King Cotton, and political solidarity of a confederacy of all the slave states together assured them that they were too much for the North to tangle with. And had all the slave states run to join their sister states in the very beginning, and they did little things like peacefully let Anderson run out of food, they might have been right.

Cedarstripper
 

trice

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cedarstripper said:
Perhaps, because at the end of the day, might makes right, and the secessionist leaders were of an opinion that the land size, wealth of King Cotton, and political solidarity of a confederacy of all the slave states together assured them that they were too much for the North to tangle with.
I understand what you are saying, but this is not the legal "right of secession" Southerners were claiming. This is the "natural right of revolution", which exists only for those who have the power to make it work (a common concept in such theories in the 19th century) or, at best, the right to TRY to make it work. It is little different than disputes being settled by the knight-champions in the lists in long ago days, with the marshal crying "May God defend the right!" as the battle is joined.

In any event, the history of Southern secession and the Civil War shows that the Southern secessionists badly miscalculated the real balance of might here. In retrospect, their cause seems doomed, although it was not quite so obvious at the time.

cedarstripper said:
And had all the slave states run to join their sister states in the very beginning, and they did little things like peacefully let Anderson run out of food, they might have been right.
Possibly. I personally believe that a true attempt at legal secession in 1860-61 would have either resulted in a) a peaceful splitting of the nation (however long that lasted) or b) a negotiated compromise with the states remaining within the Union.

But the whole point of Lincoln's April mission to resupply Ft. Sumter is that he was not going to allow that to happen. He was sending supplies to Anderson, and the secessionists would have to either a) allow that peaceful re-supply or b) take action to prevent it. Lincoln was not going to accept the loss of the Fort and everything else by default. Of course, by then the secessionists had already performed so many egregious acts that almost any other nation would have already taken military action against them earlier.

Regards,
Tim
 

trice

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Just to bring this old thread back to the top for those who have not seen it.

Tim
 


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