Thomas Jefferson, Secession, and States Rights

jgoodguy

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The fact that whenever you quote a historical player you are catching them at one moment in time, is always an important consideration to be mindful of.

I don't see much foundation to the assertion that Jefferson was inconsistent regarding the role of the States in the Union, despite it being a common accusation, however. At least from what I can see, he seems to have been consistent. This issue did not arise again during his administration, in this form, as far as I have ever seen.

Good points, but IMHO, Jefferson's view of liberty depended a lot on if he was President or not.
 

NathanTowne

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Good points, but IMHO, Jefferson's view of liberty depended a lot on if he was President or not.

The other issue that you raised was that the Founders did not always agree on the applicability of the terms of the Constitution relating to specific issues or questions. Of course, this is true, but I think that the real problem here is far less this and more has to do with the political point that you raised several days ago about the Constitution. We can have disagreements on how certain provisions should be applied in different situations, as the Founders did, but it is something entirely different to find completely new answers to constitutional questions. So, I would say that while there is room for disagreement, I think that that is less the problem than some electing to simply make it up as they go.

That isn't the pertinent issue in this discussion, but it is the issue regarding the larger point that you are making here.
 
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wausaubob

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As noted above, Jefferson suddenly found a lot nationalist impulse when the Barbary pirates were capturing New Englanders and holding sailors for ransom, and Napoleon announced that the French might give up their rights in North America.
Everybody was very nationalistic between 1812 and 1815. Clay, Calhoun, Madison and Monroe were all on the same side.
 

jgoodguy

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The other issue that you raised was that the Founders did not always agree on the applicability of the terms of the Constitution relating to specific issues or questions. Of course, this is true, but I think that the real problem here is far less this and more has to do with the political point that you raised several days ago about the Constitution. We can have disagreements on how certain provisions should be applied in different situations, as the Founders did, but it is something entirely different to find completely new answers to constitutional questions. So, I would say that while there is room for disagreement, I think that that is less the problem than some electing to simply make it up as they go.
Noted.
 

NathanTowne

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As noted above, Jefferson suddenly found a lot nationalist impulse when the Barbary pirates were capturing New Englanders and holding sailors for ransom, and Napoleon announced that the French might give up their rights in North America.
Everybody was very nationalistic between 1812 and 1815. Clay, Calhoun, Madison and Monroe were all on the same side.

I think that you should be careful not to conflate vastly different issues. The two don't seem to bear much resemblance to one another.
 
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wausaubob

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Kindly be careful about referring to members and not their posts.
Sticks and stones are far away so the advice offered above is harmless.
Nonetheless, nationalism is a very flexible concept, which can be employed to rally support against a foreign enemy, or even to define what might otherwise appear to be an internal enemy into the hated foreigner.
 

jgoodguy

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Sticks and stones are far away so the advice offered above is harmless.
Nonetheless, nationalism is a very flexible concept, which can be employed to rally support against a foreign enemy, or even to define what might otherwise appear to be an internal enemy into the hated foreigner.

As a Staff member, I like politeness for forum's sake.
 

OpnCoronet

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I also would like to point out that the Founding Fathers not only had different opinions among themselves, but at they also varied at time of life, career or even different points in a debate. Jefferson famously changed his opinion once he was President. We used to have lengthy dueling lists of opinions about secession and nationalism that went nowhere. That is why I look for Constitutional provision, statute or court decisions because they are tangible law.




Very true, in fact, the OP notes that early in his career in the United States, when it consisted of only the original States, including the NW Territories, Jefferson, was not too troubled by the idea of the sanctity of the Union. Later, after he saw the advantages to enlarging the Union through his La. Purchase, he later bemoaned the very idea of the likelihood of disunion.
 

Bruce Vail

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Considering the disdain that I already have for Mr. Jefferson, I find myself hoping that it can be proved that he supported secession.
This is the same man who minded not at all that the Terror executed tens of thousands of innocent people, calling it the cost of freedom.
Who said that Shay's Rebellion was no cause for alarm, as the tree of liberty required the blood of patriots from time to time.
In all honesty, I do not much care for his views on most any subject.

Jefferson as slaveowner comes in for rather harsh judgement even at his home at Monticello. I visited last month and was surprised that the presentation on slavery at the plantation was so unsparing of Jefferson.
 

CW Buff

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I think Jefferson had some pretty wild ideas on government, and Madison often dissuaded him from pursuing them. At least that’s the picture Joseph Ellis paints in American Sphinx.

[Note: the first sentence in the quote actually comes between the other two sections; I placed it first as a brief summary of Jefferson's generational sovereignty idea] "The notion that all laws, contractual obligations and hard-won constitutional precedents would lapse every 19 or 20 years was a recipe for disaster. . . . In the course of presenting his argument, Jefferson had asked Madison to imagine 'a whole generation of men to be born on the same say, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day.' Here, Madison observed not so diplomatically, was the chief clue that Jefferson was engaged in magic more than political philosophy. For there is not, and never can be, a generation in Jefferson's pure sense of the term. . . . Like Jefferson's earlier remark about wanting to see 'a little rebellion now and then,' which it seemed to echo, the generational argument struck Madison as an utterly irresponsible and positively dangerous example of indulged speculation and just the abstract kind of reasoning that gave French political thinkers a reputation for building castles in the air. As usual, Jefferson listened to Madison's advice. He never put forward his generational argument as a serious legislative proposal, and he refrained from ever mentioning the matter to Madison again."

That quote should note leave the impression that Jefferson was a fool, perhaps his forte was inalienable rights, not effective government. I can almost imagine Jefferson presenting his resolutions to the KY legislature before running them by Madison (unlike his views on generational sovereignty). I’m wondering if anyone has a good book reference on the Resolutions (something that includes details on their drafting, and the responses from other states). I’ve read a book on the Alien and Sedition Acts, but I haven’t found one yet on the VA & KY Resolutions.

Personally, I find nullification to be a simpler issue than secession. From what I see, it is absolutely, categorically, unconstitutional, for all of the reasons which Madison specified. The issue of secession gets a little bit more complicated.

Regarding the Resolutions, George Washington called it when he referred to them as follows: “...when measures are systematically and pertinaciously pursued, which must eventually dissolve the union or produce coercion.” - Letter to Patrick Henry, 15 January, 1799

As far as nullification, Daniel Webster said that trying to throw off particular US laws while remaining in the Union wasn’t even the right to revolution for just cause. "The proposition that, in case of a supposed violation of the Constitution by Congress, the states have a constitutional right to interfere and annul the law of Congress is the proposition of the gentlemen. I do not admit it. If the gentleman had intended no more than to assert the right of revolution for justifiable cause, he would have said only what all agree to. But I cannot conceive that there can be a middle course, between submission to the laws, when regularly pronounced constitutional, on the one hand, and open resistance, which is revolution or rebellion, on the other. I say the right of a state to annul a law of Congress cannot be maintained but on the ground of the inalienable right of man to resist oppression; that is to say, upon the ground of revolution. I admit that there is an ultimate violent remedy, above the Constitution and in defiance of the Constitution, which may be resorted to when a revolution is to be justified. But I do not admit that, under the Constitution and in conformity with it, there is any mode in which a state government, as a member of the Union, can interfere and stop the progress of the general government, by force of her own laws, under any circumstances whatever."

So, as far as Webster was concerned, there was no such thing as constitutional unilateral secession either. I see nullification and secession in the same manner: defiance of and in violation of the Supremacy Clause.

The purpose of the Resolution of 1800 was to defend the Virginia Resolution on the grounds that it had not attempted to nullify Federal law, a declaration that I believe Madison was honest in making.

I agree entirely. I view Madison’s VA Resolutions in an entirely different light than Jefferson’s KY Resolutions. Madison never went into great detail on interposition. It could mean, I think, no more than discussing an issue with other states, and either getting the people to exert pressure on the Fed, or pursuing a constitutional amendment. That’s similar to how the Patriots initially proceeded in their opposition to parliamentary taxation, via committees of correspondance. There is nothing overtly illegal, or contrary to the Supremacy Clause, or the rest of the Constitution, with that.
 

CW Buff

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Good points, but IMHO, Jefferson's view of liberty depended a lot on if he was President or not.

As noted above, Jefferson suddenly found a lot nationalist impulse when the Barbary pirates were capturing New Englanders and holding sailors for ransom, and Napoleon announced that the French might give up their rights in North America.
Everybody was very nationalistic between 1812 and 1815. Clay, Calhoun, Madison and Monroe were all on the same side.

I agree with both, but would, in fairness, apply this to the nationalists as well, who tend to become more statists, and find a newfound respect for minority vies, once they find themselves in the minority. In my own example (prior post), Washington complained about the VA & KY Resolutions. To my knowledge, he didn't comment negatively on the Alien and Sedition Acts.
 

CW Buff

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Jefferson as slaveowner comes in for rather harsh judgement even at his home at Monticello. I visited last month and was surprised that the presentation on slavery at the plantation was so unsparing of Jefferson.

Another subject on which his views seemed to change with time. He championed the cause of containment during the Confederation (if only his 1784 proposal had passed, what a different history it might have been), asked Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves the second the moratorium ended, but seemed more 'leave slavery to the slave states' by the time of the death knell. Was there any mention of his earlier efforts at Monticello?
 

Bruce Vail

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Another subject on which his views seemed to change with time. He championed the cause of containment during the Confederation (if only his 1784 proposal had passed, what a different history it might have been), asked Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves the second the moratorium ended, but seemed more 'leave slavery to the slave states' by the time of the death knell. Was there any mention of his earlier efforts at Monticello?

Yes. This was not discussed in detail, but it was mentioned that his criticism of slavery seemed to lessen as he got older.

The quality of the presentations at Monticello was just excellent.
 

HeyJosh13

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This is the same old backwards argument. It would have been extremely odd indeed if they had said such a thing, since they did not consider unilateral secession from a sovereign society legal.

But since you raised the idea, when was unilateral secession discussed during the Constitutional Convention or ratification debates? It was not even an option under the Articles of Confederation. How could it become an option under the Constitution without any specific mention?

As far as the Supremacy Clause, if secession is something in the laws of a state that affects the supremacy of the Constitution, or US laws, or US treaties (the answer of course is yes to all three), then the Clause prohibits secession, whether they specifically had secession in mind or not. If they intended any alternative, whether in general, or via the Tenth Amendment, that would have had to have been specifically mentioned.


There were like 3 states including New York where in their ratification papers they included language reserving the right to withdraw from the union but they were revised to omit that language.
 

shermans_march

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Considering the disdain that I already have for Mr. Jefferson, I find myself hoping that it can be proved that he supported secession.
This is the same man who minded not at all that the Terror executed tens of thousands of innocent people, calling it the cost of freedom.
Who said that Shay's Rebellion was no cause for alarm, as the tree of liberty required the blood of patriots from time to time.
In all honesty, I do not much care for his views on most any subject.
On the subject of the Reign of Terror in France. Jefferson was initially hopefully that the French government would transition itself from the monarchical form of government to one like the United States. He was disappointed by the turn of events there at the beginning of the Revolution, but thought that the initial bloodshed was worth the cost of freedom. He didn't have full knowledge of what was transpiring in the country after he left his ambassador role. When he realized to the extent the French were perpetrating this Terror he didn't condone the actions.

In regard to Shays, Jefferson viewed the rebellion as evidence the citizens would watch their government and he viewed the uprising against economic and civil injustices as proof that liberty was strong in the new nation. This was not long after the country was founded and Jefferson was concerned by talk by some of reverting back to a monarch form of government. He probably would have been more alarmed had no protest taken place.

For those reasons there isn't reason to care about his views on any subject and instead hope that it is proved that he supported secession? It is good to understand and accept something when presented with facts, but to hope for something to be true before irrefutable evidence is presented? That is not right. Just out of curiosity How many books/articles have you read on Jefferson to form your opinion about him?

I have found by reading Jefferson biographies and other books on the period of the American revolution that he was the most democratic of all the founders. His views on religious freedom and his views against slavery, even though he owned slaves, are enough to care about his views or at least acknowledge his contributions. I don't think he was be any means perfect and some of his actions are without excuse, but to write him off entirely really confounds me.
 
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