Should the Founders Be Blamed for the Civil War?

Should the Founders be blamed for the Civil War?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Partially


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Norm53

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the founders wanted their sons to address this situation. People like John Quincy Adams did address it. I voted No because it was the next generation after the founders.
Maybe that is a speculative statement, but very generous of you to give the CC delegates a pass. What you say about JQA is true: He was a paragon as a House member. More needs to be said about that curmudgeon of lofty principles, but I've already dragged this thread far from its intended objective, so he needs to wait for another OP.
 

gentlemanrob

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I feel if viewing this from the 19th century. John C. Calhoun did more to errupt slavery then any of the founders. Does anyone not remember that it was South Carolina who wanted to leave the union way before 1861? I am not saying the founders couldnt have done more but why didnt Benjamin Franklin do more? Some considered him a strong choice for the first President? My question why did it have to be James Madison when any delegate from anywhere could have proposed an end to slavery? If you study the convention you can learn a lot. 1. The people were worried another monarchy could occur, 2. Theres no army at this point, 3. The Articles of Confederation are not strong enough. How do you fix these problems but by working together. Obviously many knew the constitution was not perfect and would need amendments.
 

Dead Parrott

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The question of Slavery caused Secession.
But the question of the legality Secession caused the war.

If a clear procedure for secession had been part of the Constitution... war might not have happened

So adding a very very clear procedure for how a state can lave the union to the Constitution would have solved a lot.
(might have ended in a war anyway, but it would more likely have been a war between to internationally recognized states)

The failure to do so result in the people involved in both writing the text and ratifying it carry a lot of the blame.
Sometimes an exclusion says more about intention than an inclusion.
 

Norm53

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I feel if viewing this from the 19th century. John C. Calhoun did more to errupt slavery then any of the founders. Does anyone not remember that it was South Carolina who wanted to leave the union way before 1861? I am not saying the founders couldnt have done more but why didnt Benjamin Franklin do more? Some considered him a strong choice for the first President? My question why did it have to be James Madison when any delegate from anywhere could have proposed an end to slavery? If you study the convention you can learn a lot. 1. The people were worried another monarchy could occur, 2. Theres no army at this point, 3. The Articles of Confederation are not strong enough. How do you fix these problems but by working together. Obviously many knew the constitution was not perfect and would need amendments.
I agree about JCC and nullifying SC. Take it easy on Ben. He was 81 at the CC, ancient by the standards of that time. It's a wonder he was even able to attend. He died in 1790 at 84, so the Presidency would have killed him for sure.

No sensible person will argue against your #s 1, 2, and 3 statements.

Without having read Madison's convention notes, the abolition of slavery must have been proposed by someone because it is recorded that GA and SC would not sign up without slavery. We already discussed why slavery was begrudgingly allowed by the 10: to keep GA and SC part of the union.
 

Nathanb1

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Well, I can pack up and go home. All my discussion points have been covered. Although...I can't resist summarizing what I taught.

1) You can wave goodbye to SC and GA--but those states had wealth--and that was something the infant nation needed (plus, there was Florida sitting down there on the GA border. Remember Spain was still in control of that territory until 1810--and despite the help from Spain during the Revolution, they were still liable to pop up and cause big problems.

2) That pesky upcoming cotton gin. There's a reason it gets tested in 8th grade! Even if they'd pressed for abolition, here comes a reason slavery will grow. Without it (and with an early introduction of the boll weevil), slavery becomes a non-issue like they thought (hoped) it might. That and the growth of slaveholding territories and the discussion of the Missouri Compromise, as evidenced by Jefferson's quote...

"But this momentous question. Like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror."
(Jefferson discussing the Missouri question to John Holmes April 22, 1820. Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 12. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905, p. 158.)

3) England outlaws the slave trade. Well. That squarely puts the Founders on the wrong side, doesn't it? All of this is worth a hill of beans, as none of them was psychic and all were focused on being able to hold off acquisitive nations--especially England (see War of 1812), and to actually create trade relationships with them (we had no dinero--they needed our raw materials).

It's complicated. I have to vote no, despite having at least one Loyalist ancestor. By 1820, those still alive were realizing it was probably a boo-boo. Having made many myself, I can't get too irritated. Hindsight is great, isn't it?
 

gentlemanrob

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whats interesting about GA is William Few my ggggg uncle was a Delegate from GA after he was US Senator from GA he leaves and goes to NY and lives. Nothing today is named after him in GA. Abraham Baldwin on the other hand has a college, county and city named after him.
 

Carronade

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GA and SC may have been the most outspoken, but were other slave states willing to accept a Constitution that significantly restricted slavery? Let alone put the nation on a path towards total abolition?

Were the people who were beginning to turn against slavery so adamant about it that they would break up their new nation? That seems to be where we end up if we say the founders should have resolved the issue. If some of the delegations are telling others "You cannot be in our nation if you do not abolish slavery", what would their response be?

Granted, splitting the country in 1787 would have avoided a secession crisis in 1861.......
 

byron ed

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"Blamed" is just not the right word. "Were the Founders in part responsible for the Civil War" is the only correct way to put it, so I won't vote.
 
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The question of Slavery caused Secession.
But the question of the legality Secession caused the war.

If a clear procedure for secession had been part of the Constitution... war might not have happened

So adding a very very clear procedure for how a state can lave the union to the Constitution would have solved a lot.
(might have ended in a war anyway, but it would more likely have been a war between to internationally recognized states)

The failure to do so result in the people involved in both writing the text and ratifying it carry a lot of the blame.
I concur. Note how even after the war and after CJ Chase's comments people still argue over this. So what if there were three ratification letters saying they wanted secession, more to the point unilateral secession at that, it was still not put in writing as in the ONE document that matters, the US Constitution. DoI and those letters only give an idea of possible intent. To say well then but they would not have ratified it if not. Next time you get a job make sure you do not getting it in writing and then once you start working try to get those things. How many of the FFs were lawyers? You always get it in print and not assume. This is so generations down the road do not assume as well.

They actually argued over the legality of leaving the AoR and forming a new constitutional govt because the AoC was a perpetual Union. One word, perpetual. What they did was throw legality aside and say it was out of necessity to form the new govt. Ok but why? Why was it necessary to form a new govt? I always understood it to be because they wanted a stronger central govt but think of unilateral secession in a democracy, yes we are one, our Republic is representative democracy. So you have these <insert state> delegates, ie Congress and they vote on what cake to get for the President for his birthday. Delegates from one state who will lose the vote if it goes to a vote says well we will pick up our crayons and go home if you do not vote for what we want. We want yellow cake and the majority consent is for double chocolate cake. Well we do not want that cake and we hold the mills who make the flower. We will break up this AoC and leave it. BAM, no more AoC if the rest of you do not change your consent and we all vote for yellow cake. Lousianna could not agree with homosexuals getting married so says nope we are out of here and now we block the mouth of the Mississippi. There is no treaties between these two entities, what about commerce, money, etc. I see the allowance of unilateral secession as nothing more than tantamount to saying votes do not matter. Vote my way or it is the highway.

So the issue was unilateral secession, secession by consent of the States or the natural right of rebellion. We like to say revolution because we do not want to think of ourselves rebelling against the crown and them seeing us as treasonous dog whores. Madison purposely designed the Federal govt to have separation of powers to prevent many things such as a return to a monarchy. I do not believe any of them would have said no state if it felt the central govt was tyrannical could exercise its right to revolution. But in the Constitution it states how one becomes a state in depth. You cannot unilaterally say BAM I am a state now nor can any state say we are this many states, *holds up fingers on one hand*. Think about it, vote not going your way so you meet to say we are dividing our state up so we get more senators in congress. Every state could just keep breaking itself up into small chunks to pad the Senate. States cannot form with other states to make larger states. etc

But then this caveat is put in there.

"without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress."

So to become a state the territory itself must vote for it then Congress must vote with POTUS signing it I presume. It is pretty clear language. No room for future generations to say well gee I think any territory can say it is a state when it wants to or divide itself up if it wants to. PR voted yes locally but nothing from Congress. PR is still not a state and remains a US territory.

Some want to say the silence speaks for itself referring to what? It does not say one cannot unilaterally leave therefore it is legal. Then why can't a state split? Isn't that one part seceding from the other part? Shouldn't this be what sovereign states be allowed to do? Does not sound very sovereign to me. "possessing supreme or ultimate power." The States certainly do not have this EVEN THEN. The US Constitution is the supreme law of the land and it is We the People not We the States. The sovereignty is with the People as they have the vote, ie a voice. I was reading some even suggested there was no such think as a US Citizen and that everyone one of us was a citizen of our State. It is another reason for the 14th Amendment. Not only did it make all freed slaves citizens it defined what a US Citizen was because the US Constitution does not. The 14th made one a citizen of the US first then of your state.

If it takes the consent of the people of the territory and the consent of Congress for the territory to become a state then logically and with reason the reverse must be as well. So states can leave through their natural right of revolution, ie rebellion or get the consent of Congress. SC et al did not do the latter. They assumed but then open fired on Sumter putting them and the US into a state of war which then enacted Lincoln's wartime powers. Whole lot of people in the North saw it as a rebellion so it was not lightly disputed over unilateral secession but heavily disputed.

So I put this on the shoulders of those who wrote the US Constitution for not putting in clear language, handshakes and outside letters do not suffice.

We may still had gone to war but the legality of just being a hothead and taking your crayons home would have been much clearer.
 

Norm53

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The question of Slavery caused Secession.
But the question of the legality Secession caused the war.

If a clear procedure for secession had been part of the Constitution... war might not have happened

So adding a very very clear procedure for how a state can lave the union to the Constitution would have solved a lot.
(might have ended in a war anyway, but it would more likely have been a war between to internationally recognized states)

The failure to do so result in the people involved in both writing the text and ratifying it carry a lot of the blame.
This is the way I interpret the CC actions that culminated in the Constitution. The delegates intended that the states be united forever (irrevocably), but they could not state that intent in writing because if they did, then the required 9 states (which had to include NY and VA, the most populous states) would not have ratified the Constitution, they being fearful that the new and powerful executive branch would become dictatorial. In hindsight, they should have included what they ultimately had to include - the substance of the 10 amendments. If they had done that, which would made a strong executive palatable to the states, then additional words amounting to irrevocability of the states might have been acceptable to the states when they deliberated during the ratification process.
 
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thomas aagaard

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This is the way I interpret the CC actions that culminated in the Constitution. The delegates intended that the states be united forever (irrevocably), but they could not state that intent in writing because if they did, then the required 9 states (which had to include NY and VA, the most populous states) would not have ratified the Constitution, they being fearful that the new and powerful executive branch would become dictatorial. In hindsight, they should have included what they ultimately had to include - the substance of the 10 amendments. If they had done that, which would made a strong executive palatable to the states, then additional words amounting to irrevocability of the states might have been acceptable to the states when they deliberated during the ratification process.
They could have added a clearly described procedure for how a state can leave with the consent of the other states.
(As I personally believe is legal... both before 1861 and today. Congress can add a new state by passing a bill about it. So they should be able to allow a state to leave by the same procedure...)

Or they could have defined how a state could leave, without asking permission.
(Like how the EU have it... )
 

Dead Parrott

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This is the way I interpret the CC actions that culminated in the Constitution. The delegates intended that the states be united forever (irrevocably), but they could not state that intent in writing because if they did, then the required 9 states (which had to include NY and VA, the most populous states) would not have ratified the Constitution, they being fearful that the new and powerful executive branch would become dictatorial. In hindsight, they should have included what they ultimately had to include - the substance of the 10 amendments. If they had done that, which would made a strong executive palatable to the states, then additional words amounting to irrevocability of the states might have been acceptable to the states when they deliberated during the ratification process.
I think this is closest to the truth (just my opinion). If there had been a "any state can just leave if it decides on its own there's a breach" clause, the Constitution wouldn't be worth the paper it was printed on. It would have highlighted the exact problem the AOC faced. The mere threat of "then I'll take my ball and go home" from the larger powerful states would ruin the union. So arguing that the states had that right 'inherently in the constitution' is pretty ridiculous. Really.

If a proviso was included, what exactly would it say? First, like an overly-focused prenup, it would suggest the parties don't expect the marriage to last. Second, it would take the emphasis off 'designing and working within mechanisms for dispute resolutions' and put the emphasis on 'and here is how you simply walk away'. After all, if I can get out of it, why put as much effort into resolution mechanisms, especially on tough questions (which are bound to occur in any nation's future)? Third, imagine a proviso is included: say requiring 9 states, similar to the ratification rule. This would mean that a state wanting to leave would be encouraged to ACTIVELY SOLICIT dissolution - and wow, that's really how you want to run a country, isn't it? The mere solicitation efforts, even if only a power ploy, would cause tremendous disorder and render the functionality of said government pretty crippled.

So no, I think the FF knew what they were doing by keeping the focus on UNION over DISUNION. - collective interests over selfish interests. They developed a pretty ingenious method for dispute resolution, as well, considering how much of it was new, untested and designed from scratch.

With 200 years of distance from their actual environment, we say they should have put it in. When you immerse yourself in the writings, thoughts and issues of their actual environment, I contend it's kinda clear why they didn't. Politics is the Art of the Possible, and I'm not wholly convinced they could have gotten a successful proviso in place.

I also content that (while it would have cleared up the secession issue, assuming they even could have gotten it passed back then) such a proviso would still not have stopped the ACW. The slave owners who ran the slaveholding states in the 19th century were simply not going to give up slavery without a fight - vote or no vote.

- K.
 

Civil War DO

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Slavery was the proverbial elephant in the room during the early days of our nation. There would never have been ratification of the US Constitution by the southern states who relied heavily on slave labor.
Please recall that some New England states were not at all happy about the purchase of Louisiana from France because that would result in the southern states having more representation in congress.
As Jefferson stated "We cannot judge the past by the standards of today."
 

Mistel

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View attachment 320378
Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison.
The American Civil War is at the heart of the mid-19th century and this forum has numerous threads dedicated to how our Victorian friends dealt with it. I recently enjoyed a visit to Montpelier and since have enjoyed contemplating some of James Madison’s writings and their implications (if any) on the Civil War. Should Madison and the other Founders be blamed for the Civil War?

I think the Constitutional Convention likely had enough to do without trying to solve the complicated issue of slavery. Slavery was already 168 years old as a North American institution. The Founders no doubt had their hands full just trying to unite half a continent under a singular government. Nonetheless this question hangs over the head of men such as James Madison. In the Virginia Resolutions written by James Madison he says that the states "have the right of political protest." Did our Confederate ancestors think he was trying to assert more?

I certainly don't place all the blame for the Civil War on James Madison or his contemporaries, the Founding Fathers. However, I think they may have sowed a few seeds. What do you think folks in the late 19th century would have said about that? Share your opinions, but please remember to view it from the perspective of a 19th century citizen and not as yourself today.

View attachment 320380
(Had to include this pic for @USS ALASKA and our other CWT railroad fans.)
Maybe I should have asked President Madison instead of reading over his shoulder. :giggle:
Since Lincoln didn't make slavery an issue in the War until 1863, of course the Founders had nothing to do with it. This is just one more disparagement aimed at the Founders, and the usual avoidance of the actual cause of the War. The new PC demands that we go back 150 or 1,500 years for blame of everything.
 

Florida Rebel

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This is where we continue to get into trouble. Because even though we're not supposed to think about people and slavery like we do today, too many people do just that! What do we know today? The North and South didn't much care for each other - never have and probably never will. And it was true during the American Revolution. Because of slavery and the regional differences, a lot of people felt there would have to be a second war later. It was just a question of "when." But who among us really knows how they would have felt had they been alive back then, before the war? If any of us would have been average southerners, not slave owners, how would we have felt about secession? Would we have wanted our own country? I'm thinking YES. And what about slavery? In my mind, I don't believe the majority of southerners liked slavery; Jefferson, Madison and Lee especially. But since they were born and lived in that era, I'm thinking most of them preferred it would go away on it's own. But how? I'm fascinated by the topic!
 


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