The Doctrine of State’s Rights by Jefferson Davis

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Andersonh1

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In response to Unionblue's charge that Davis changed his views after the war, consider this letter from 1847, where he all but says that secession may be the only remedy against the "thirst for political dominion" over the South by the North. This is very consistent with his later views.


That it might become necessary to unite as southern men, and to dissolve the ties which have connected us to the northern Democracy: the position recently assumed in a majority of the non- slave holding states has led me to fear. Yet, I am not of those who decry a national convention, but believe that present circumstances with more than usual force indicate the propriety of such meeting. On the question of Southern institutions and southern rights, it is true that extensive defections have occurred among Northern democrats, but enough of good feeling is still exhibited to sustain the hope, that as a party they will show themselves worthy of their ancient appellation, the natural allies of the South, and will meet us upon just constitutional ground. At least I consider it due to former association that we should give them the fairest opportunity to do so, and furnish no cause for failure by seeming distrust or aversion.​
I would say then, let our delegates meet those from the north, not as a paramount object to nominate candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, but before entering upon such selection, to demand of their political brethren of the north, a disavowal of the principles of the Wilmot Proviso; an admission of the equal right of the south with the north, to the territory held as the common property of the United States; and a declaration in favor of extending the Missouri compromise to all States to be hereafter admitted into our confederacy.​
If these principles are recognized, we will happily avoid the worst of all political divisions, one made by geographical lines merely. The convention, representing every section of the Union, and elevated above local jealousy and factious strife, may proceed to select candidates, whose principles, patriotism, judgement, and decision, indicate men fit for the time and the occasion.​
If on the other hand, that spirit of hostility to the south, that thirst for political dominion over us, which within two years past has displayed such increased power and systematic purpose, should prevail; it will only remain for our delegates to withdraw from the convention, and inform their fellow citizens of the failure of their mission. We shall then have reached a point at which all party measures sink into insignificance, under the necessity for self-preservation; and party divisions should be buried in union for defence.
But until then, let us do all which becomes us to avoid sectional division, that united we may go on to the perfection of Democratic measures, the practical exemplification of those great principles for which we have struggled, as promotive of the peace, the prosperity, and the perpetuity of our confederation.​
Though the signs of the times are portentous of evil, and the cloud which now hangs on our northern horizon threatens a storm, it may yet blow over with only the tear drops of contrition and regret. In this connection it is consolatory to remember, that whenever the tempest has convulsively tossed our Republic and threatened it with wreck, brotherly love has always poured oil on the waters, and the waves have subsided to rest. Thus may it be now and forever. If we should be disappointed in such hopes, I forbear from any remark upon the contingency which will be presented. Enough for the day will be the evil thereof, and enough for the evil, will be the union and energy and power of the south.
 

Andersonh1

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And then there's this letter from 1850, in which Davis asserts that the federal government has been granted powers, and that it is the agent of the states, who must have the power to safeguard their reserved powers for their own self-protection. He also contemplates disunion if the North continues to push the South into a corner. This is a decade before secession and war.


The federal government is a creature of grants; its powers are not limited by prohibition, but are only co-extensive with the authority conferred. If the right of the States to interpose begins only on the palpable infraction of the letter of the Constitution, then they have no power to guard their reserved powers, none to confine the agent in the use of the grant to the purpose for which it was granted, and it would be difficult to conceive of a case such as is contemplated by the phrase, palpable violation of the Constitution, in which the Supreme Court of the United States would not furnish an adequate remedy. It is exactly in the case where the rights of the States and of the people thereof are withheld by evasion, or invaded by fraud, which deprive them of redress by appeal to the Supreme Court as the Constitutional arbiter, that the States have a right, which may become a duty, to interpose. Such is the refusal to give protection to slave property in the territories held by the federal government as the common property of the States. Such was the admission of California as a State, in order that slaves might be excluded from the whole territory acquired on the Pacific coast, not merely as effectually but more effectually than could have been done by the "Wilmot Proviso," and such was the partition of Texas. The violation of the guarantee of the Constitution against the citizens of private property, as presented in the bill to abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia, is one for which we might look to the Supreme Court for a remedy, and I cannot believe the court would sustain a law which declared a forfeiture of property, because the owner brings it into the district ceded to the States for their common use, intending at some future time and at some other place to sell that property. Yet there are those who speak of others as "ultra," and who declare that a violation of the letter of the Constitution justifies, if it does not demand, a dissolution of the Union. On the other hand, we, the so-called "ultras," contend that it is only where Constitutional remedies fail, and after all other means have been tried in vain, that State interposition should be invoked and the last alternative be resorted to. It is then because we will not shut our eyes to the fact that this last alternative may be forced upon us, that the attempt is made fraudulently to conceal the true issue and substitute that of Union or Disunion as one which we had presented? Is it because a self-sustaining, sectional anti-slavery majority in violation of justice, of State equality and the spirit of the Constitution, have denied us the protection and tranquility the Union was designed to secure?​
---------------------​
it is necessary that we should show our attachment to principles, not to forms; and that at whatever hazard we should maintain the institutions and the equality which was bequeathed to us. If for this it be necessary to assert our soverign rights even to the extent of disunion, the responsibility of a catastrophe we will sincerely deplore, will rest, not on our heads, but upon those who regardless of social and political obligations, have undermined the foundation on which our Union was erected.​

His worry that the the power grab he is discussing might be sustained by force is especially interesting.

Our Union was not formed by men who suppliant bent the knee to power; and loved a government only as it was powerful and glorious; nor did they leave us institutions which would be practicable in the hands of men forgetful or careless of the principles on which they were founded. They are the true friends of the Union who resist by all means every invasion on the Constitution, and seek to strengthen every barrier which is found insufficient for the use to which it was appropriated. In the struggle for right against aggressive power, the South will not be alone if she meet the conflict as becomes her cause. The resistance of the colonies made Chatham eloquent in the defence, how much more will every noble spirit be aroused among our Northern brethren, when it shall be attempted to sustain federal usurpation by force, or conquer sovereign States of the Union, and reduce them to territorial subserviency.​
 
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Potomac Pride

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The leading advocates of the Compact Theory of the U.S. Constitution originated primarily from Virginia and other southern states. In addition, the Compact Theory existed before slavery even became a national issue. Some of the early proponents of the Compact Theory included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and later on Jefferson Davis. Furthermore, the Virginia Resolution of 1798, written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, discussed the compact theory of the Constitution. The Compact Theory states that the Constitution was a voluntary agreement among the states to create a federal government that is delegated certain powers as their agent. The states still retain their sovereignty and can withdraw from the compact if the federal government abuses the power that is delegated to it. However, prominent politicians from the northern states such as Daniel Webster and Abe Lincoln believed in the Contract Theory of the Constitution. This theory argues that the states do not have the authority to determine the federal scope of power and can’t withdraw from the contract.
 
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trice

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Certainly you could not get a wider contrast between Lincoln's view that the states were never sovereign vs. Davis who believed that they were sovereign since they had declared independence and had never relinquished that sovereignty.
Here is the view of another Southerner:
"Let us, then, consider all attempts to weaken this Union, by maintaining that each state is separately and individually independent, as a species of political heresy, which can never benefit us, but may bring on us the most serious distresses."

This is Charles Cotesworth Pinckney:
  • educated at Christ Church, Oxford
  • studied law at the Middle Temple in London
  • studied briefly at a military academy in France
  • practiced law in London briefly before returning to set up his own practice in Charleston
  • elected to a seat in the colonial legislature in 1770
  • regional attorney general in 1773
  • married 1st wife Sarah Middleton in 1773 (her father was 2nd president of the Continental Congress; her brother signed the Declaration of Independence).
  • joined the Patriots side, served in the 1st South Carolina Provisional Congress, setting up the State government
  • served in both houses of the South Carolina legislature during the Revolution
  • Captain in the 1st South Carolina at the Battle of Sullivan's Island
  • promoted to Colonel of the 1st South Carolina, went north, at Brandywine and Germantown
  • returned south in 1778, saw action in East Florida, the Siege of Savannah and the Siege of Charleston.
  • POW from the Fall of Charleston in 1780 to 1782. "If I had a vein that did not beat with the love of my Country, I myself would open it. If I had a drop of blood that could flow dishonorable, I myself would let it out."
  • Brevet Brigadier General in Continental Army, promoted to Major General of Militia. Returned to his law practice. He and his brother became political powerhouses in South Carolina.
  • represented South Carolina at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. He was a strong force behind the fugitive slave clause, the requirement for Senate ratification of treaties, and the compromise on ending the Atlantic Slave imports.
  • appointed Ambassador to France in 1796, he was one of the US representatives Talleyrand hit up for a bribe in the XYZ affair.
  • Federalist Vice Presidential nominee in 1800
  • Federalist Presidential candidate in 1804 and 1808.
  • president of the Society of the Cincinnati, 1805-1825.
Perhaps it would be interesting to compare the opinion on state sovereignty of this Southern American patriot, soldier and statesman to that of Jefferson Davis.
 

Andersonh1

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Here is the view of another Southerner:
"Let us, then, consider all attempts to weaken this Union, by maintaining that each state is separately and individually independent, as a species of political heresy, which can never benefit us, but may bring on us the most serious distresses."

This is Charles Cotesworth Pinckney:
  • educated at Christ Church, Oxford
  • studied law at the Middle Temple in London
  • studied briefly at a military academy in France
  • practiced law in London briefly before returning to set up his own practice in Charleston
  • elected to a seat in the colonial legislature in 1770
  • regional attorney general in 1773
  • married 1st wife Sarah Middleton in 1773 (her father was 2nd president of the Continental Congress; her brother signed the Declaration of Independence).
  • joined the Patriots side, served in the 1st South Carolina Provisional Congress, setting up the State government
  • served in both houses of the South Carolina legislature during the Revolution
  • Captain in the 1st South Carolina at the Battle of Sullivan's Island
  • promoted to Colonel of the 1st South Carolina, went north, at Brandywine and Germantown
  • returned south in 1778, saw action in East Florida, the Siege of Savannah and the Siege of Charleston.
  • POW from the Fall of Charleston in 1780 to 1782. "If I had a vein that did not beat with the love of my Country, I myself would open it. If I had a drop of blood that could flow dishonorable, I myself would let it out."
  • Brevet Brigadier General in Continental Army, promoted to Major General of Militia. Returned to his law practice. He and his brother became political powerhouses in South Carolina.
  • represented South Carolina at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. He was a strong force behind the fugitive slave clause, the requirement for Senate ratification of treaties, and the compromise on ending the Atlantic Slave imports.
  • appointed Ambassador to France in 1796, he was one of the US representatives Talleyrand hit up for a bribe in the XYZ affair.
  • Federalist Vice Presidential nominee in 1800
  • Federalist Presidential candidate in 1804 and 1808.
  • president of the Society of the Cincinnati, 1805-1825.
Perhaps it would be interesting to compare the opinion on state sovereignty of this Southern American patriot, soldier and statesman to that of Jefferson Davis.
I have a lot of respect for Pinckney, but it's fair to point out that his views were formed in a different era and under a different set of circumstances than the ones that shaped the views of Jefferson Davis. Pinckney was a loyal British subject until circumstances dictated that he change that allegiance to the United States, so he was a revolutionary who fought against his former government.

But Pinckney's point of view is important and valid, and I appreciate you bringing him to our attention.
 

trice

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Joined
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Messages
11,916
I have a lot of respect for Pinckney, but it's fair to point out that his views were formed in a different era and under a different set of circumstances than the ones that shaped the views of Jefferson Davis. Pinckney was a loyal British subject until circumstances dictated that he change that allegiance to the United States, so he was a revolutionary who fought against his former government.

But Pinckney's point of view is important and valid, and I appreciate you bringing him to our attention.
Certainly his views were formed in a different era -- but it is the exact era that the secessionists of "the South" were trying to use as the basis of support for their 1860 position. Clearly they were skipping Pinckney in their accounts of what was believed when the nation was formed.
 
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unionblue

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In response to Unionblue's charge that Davis changed his views after the war, consider this letter from 1847, where he all but says that secession may be the only remedy against the "thirst for political dominion" over the South by the North. This is very consistent with his later views.


That it might become necessary to unite as southern men, and to dissolve the ties which have connected us to the northern Democracy: the position recently assumed in a majority of the non- slave holding states has led me to fear. Yet, I am not of those who decry a national convention, but believe that present circumstances with more than usual force indicate the propriety of such meeting. On the question of Southern institutions and southern rights, it is true that extensive defections have occurred among Northern democrats, but enough of good feeling is still exhibited to sustain the hope, that as a party they will show themselves worthy of their ancient appellation, the natural allies of the South, and will meet us upon just constitutional ground. At least I consider it due to former association that we should give them the fairest opportunity to do so, and furnish no cause for failure by seeming distrust or aversion.​
I would say then, let our delegates meet those from the north, not as a paramount object to nominate candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, but before entering upon such selection, to demand of their political brethren of the north, a disavowal of the principles of the Wilmot Proviso; an admission of the equal right of the south with the north, to the territory held as the common property of the United States; and a declaration in favor of extending the Missouri compromise to all States to be hereafter admitted into our confederacy.​
If these principles are recognized, we will happily avoid the worst of all political divisions, one made by geographical lines merely. The convention, representing every section of the Union, and elevated above local jealousy and factious strife, may proceed to select candidates, whose principles, patriotism, judgement, and decision, indicate men fit for the time and the occasion.​
If on the other hand, that spirit of hostility to the south, that thirst for political dominion over us, which within two years past has displayed such increased power and systematic purpose, should prevail; it will only remain for our delegates to withdraw from the convention, and inform their fellow citizens of the failure of their mission. We shall then have reached a point at which all party measures sink into insignificance, under the necessity for self-preservation; and party divisions should be buried in union for defence.
But until then, let us do all which becomes us to avoid sectional division, that united we may go on to the perfection of Democratic measures, the practical exemplification of those great principles for which we have struggled, as promotive of the peace, the prosperity, and the perpetuity of our confederation.​
Though the signs of the times are portentous of evil, and the cloud which now hangs on our northern horizon threatens a storm, it may yet blow over with only the tear drops of contrition and regret. In this connection it is consolatory to remember, that whenever the tempest has convulsively tossed our Republic and threatened it with wreck, brotherly love has always poured oil on the waters, and the waves have subsided to rest. Thus may it be now and forever. If we should be disappointed in such hopes, I forbear from any remark upon the contingency which will be presented. Enough for the day will be the evil thereof, and enough for the evil, will be the union and energy and power of the south.
"Thirst for political domination" for a South that had dominated the federal government for nearly sixty years before the election of Lincoln. Not seeing what Davis had to fear in 1847 from the North.
 

Andersonh1

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South Carolina
Certainly his views were formed in a different era -- but it is the exact era that the secessionists of "the South" were trying to use as the basis of support for their 1860 position. Clearly they were skipping Pinckney in their accounts of what was believed when the nation was formed.
Pinckney turned against his former government and adopted a new allegiance, and afterwards was fiercely devoted to that new allegiance. I can see exactly why the Southerners of 1861 would draw a parallel with an experience like that.
 

trice

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Pinckney turned against his former government and adopted a new allegiance, and afterwards was fiercely devoted to that new allegiance. I can see exactly why the Southerners of 1861 would draw a parallel with an experience like that.
There is no doubt at all that George Washington, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and a host of other people were rebels and revolutionaries -- traitors in fact under British law. If you are saying that Jefferson Davis and all those serving or supporting the Confederacy were rebels and revolutionaries -- traitors in fact under American law -- then of course I agree with you. I completely believe that the people of the Confederacy during the American Civil War were in revolt against the United States of America and that their actions should be seen as attempting to exercise the Natural Right of Revolution.

The problem with the supposed "right of secession" is that it is claimed as a legal right. No such legal right existed AFAIK. To the extent that Jefferson Davis, the Fire-Eaters, the leaders of "the South" claim that such a legal right existed, they are wrong.

As to the concept of justifying the American Civil War under the Natural Right of Revolution, that comes down to a discussion of "Just War" concepts. Any attempt to use the Natural Right of Revolution comes down to determining the validity of the revolution de facto as a trial by combat. That is what the American Civil War was -- and "the South" lost.

The de juris decision always comes later. That gets us into the 1869 Texas v. White, et al decision by the Supreme Court and the restrictions against ex-Confederates and debts incurred by Confederates in the Fourteenth Amendment -- which indicate that there is no legal "right of secession" such as the South" claimed in 1860-65 in the United States of America.
 
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