Restricted Debate Why did Congress "wait so long" to declare war with Secessionists?

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#1
And if any of that was an act of war, Congress (who was still in session during all that time, I believe) should have declared war. That is the constitutional duty of Congress, not the President. No one did anything to stop the actions in the Southern states. Why not?
Politics. If we stipulate that secession was illegal, that doesn't mean that particular members of Congress are going to pull the trigger to do something about it. And pulling the trigger on a civil war was a tough decision for a lame duck Congress and a lame duck president.

Modern politics shows us that even when faced when crisis situations (name one based on your political leaning), Congress will be slow to act, if they act at all. Secession was a shock trauma that basically waited for Lincoln and the 37th Congress to address.

What Congress did try to do was, how do I say it... seek a conciliation with the secessionists by, for example, approving the so-called the Corwin Amendment on March 2, 1861. It would shield "domestic institutions" of the states (which in 1861 included slavery) from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress. It was submitted it to the state legislatures for ratification.

This attempt, as well as probable others, simply did not move the needle for the secessionists. I think some Congressman (and perhaps Lincoln) believed that secession was a bluff to force a political advantage, or that Unionists sentiment would come to the fore and end secession; and therefore they could wait out on secessionist sentiment. But those were all pipe dreams. In the end there was no easy way out. And then the war came.

- Alan
 
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O' Be Joyful

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#3
Good Ol' Buck.

upload_2018-3-8_17-36-47-jpeg.jpg


Summary: In late December 1860 three commissioners from the newly seceded state of South Carolina met with lame-duck President Buchanan to negotiate for possession of Fort Sumter, a federal installation in Charleston Harbor. Buchanan's attempts to stay the situation and South Carolina governor Francis Pickens's insistence on Union evacuation of the fort are ridiculed here. Pickens (left) holds a lit fuse to a giant Union cannon "Peacemaker," which is pointed at his own abdomen. He threatens, "Mr. President, if you don't surrender that fort at once, I'll be "blowed" if I don't fire." Buchanan (right) throws up his hands in alarm and cries, "Oh don't! Governor Pickens, don't fire! till I get out of office." In the background a steamer makes its way across Charleston Harbor toward Fort Sumter. The print probably appeared early in 1861, amid mounting tensions over the fate of the fort and uneasy relations between Washington and South Carolina. Source: Reilly.
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003674566/

https://www.civilwartalk.com/thread...d-it-more-davis-or-lincoln.83268/post-1769269
 

Viper21

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#4
And then the war came.
The most important words of your post in my opinion. "And THEN the war came".

This seems to be a point lost on many. The word, then. Then bridges the statement, separating the events. Two separate events. Secession, AND War.

While it is true (in my view), no secession probably equals no war. However, it was also possible, for secession to happen without war. I realize many folks disagree with this opinion but, I still believe they are two separate events. That many folks can't separate the two is inconsequential.

I believe cooler heads (on both sides) could've prevailed, & many thousands of lives could've been sparred, along with mountains of treasure, & suffering. That it didn't work out that way, doesn't mean it had to happen the way it did. I believe culpability for war, & all that went with it, falls on both sides.
 

Carronade

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#5
"And if any of that was an act of war, Congress (who was still in session during all that time, I believe) should have declared war. That is the constitutional duty of Congress, not the President."

A declaration of war is an act between independent nations. The United States' position was there was no "Confederate" nation to declare war on. The same would be true for any other civil war or rebellion.
 
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#6
While it is true (in my view), no secession probably equals no war. However, it was also possible, for secession to happen without war. I realize many folks disagree with this opinion but, I still believe they are two separate events. That many folks can't separate the two is inconsequential.
While I agree that it was possible that secession might not lead to war, it was also, given the political context of the time, highly unlikely that a peaceful resolution would have been found once states started to secede.

The political context I am referring to is (in my view) two-fold: that is the seceding states made recognition of their independence a prerequisite for any peaceful solution; from the perspective of the government of USA there was little (or no) political or public will to allow the division of the USA.

Given these, I personally can't see how a peaceful solution could be arrived at, as (in my opinion) their positions were mutually exclusive and ultimately incompatible.

I think if one is going to take the position that secession didn't need to lead to war, the following should be examined: was either side going to back away from their position(s)? If they were open to compromise, why didn't compromise and reconciliation occur? In short, if war was to be avoided how would that happen once states started to secede?
 

MattL

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#8
I think it's simple. The Union had more reason to go to war as a last resort, to use time as a weapon for things to die down and momentum to be lost. The Confederacy in contrast quickly took advantage of a relatively peaceful scenario to force a war. They had every interest in keeping the momentum going and being the active player in events.

The Union was reactive and the Confederacy was pro-active. This was completely consistent with each of their goals, one wanting things to remain the same and normalize back, the other trying to enact dramatic change that would require dramatic actions.
 
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#9
I am familiar with many explanations for why secession was not dealt with early on.
They all boil down to the fact that there was no general attitude in the US, as it was, concerning the legality of secession.
I think, in contrast, had nullification been attempted, there would have been a strong reaction. Nullification was plainly illegal.
The fact that 7 states claimed to have formed the CSA and began functioning independently from the US does not suggest, but screams that the issue of secession was not a settled matter against it.
 

unionblue

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#10
I am familiar with many explanations for why secession was not dealt with early on.
They all boil down to the fact that there was no general attitude in the US, as it was, concerning the legality of secession.
I think, in contrast, had nullification been attempted, there would have been a strong reaction. Nullification was plainly illegal.
The fact that 7 states claimed to have formed the CSA and began functioning independently from the US does not suggest, but screams that the issue of secession was not a settled matter against it.
Four years of bloody civil war screams that the issue of secession was not a settled matter for it.
 
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#11
I am familiar with many explanations for why secession was not dealt with early on.
They all boil down to the fact that there was no general attitude in the US, as it was, concerning the legality of secession.
I think, in contrast, had nullification been attempted, there would have been a strong reaction. Nullification was plainly illegal.
The fact that 7 states claimed to have formed the CSA and began functioning independently from the US does not suggest, but screams that the issue of secession was not a settled matter against it.
OK, so, faced with a secession crisis, the president sent a detailed message to the people and leaders of South Carolina; excerpts are below:

The States severally have not retained their entire sovereignty. It has been shown that in becoming parts of a nation, not members of a league, they surrendered many of their essential parts of sovereignty. The right to make treaties, declare war, levy taxes, exercise exclusive judicial and legislative powers, were all functions of sovereign power. The States, then, for all these important purposes, were no longer sovereign. The allegiance of their citizens was transferred in the first instance to the government of the United States; they became American citizens, and owed obedience to the Constitution of the United States, and to laws made in conformity with the powers vested in Congress. This last position has not been, and cannot be, denied… it has been shown that in this sense the States are not sovereign, and that even if they were, and the national Constitution had been formed by compact, there would be no right in any one State to exonerate itself from the obligation.​
So obvious are the reasons which forbid this secession, that it is necessary only to allude to them. The Union was formed for the benefit of all. It was produced by mutual sacrifice of interest and opinions. Can those sacrifices be recalled? Can the States, who magnanimously surrendered their title to the territories of the West, recall the grant? Will the inhabitants of the inland States agree to pay the duties that may be imposed without their assent by those on the Atlantic or the Gulf, for their own benefit? Shall there be a free port in one State, and enormous duties in another? No one believes that any right exists in a single State to involve all the others in these and countless other evils, contrary to engagements solemnly made. Everyone must see that the other States, in self-defense, must oppose it at all hazards.​
Your pride was aroused by the assertions that a submission to these laws was a state of vassalage, and that resistance to them was equal, in patriotic merit, to the opposition our fathers offered to the oppressive laws of Great Britain. You were told that this opposition might be peaceably-might be constitutionally made-that you might enjoy all the advantages of the Union and bear none of its burdens. Eloquent appeals to your passions, to your State pride, to your native courage, to your sense of real injury, were used to prepare you for the period when the mask which concealed the hideous features of DISUNION should be taken off.​
But the dictates of a high duty oblige me solemnly to announce that you cannot succeed. The laws of the United States must be executed. I have no discretionary power on the subject-my duty is emphatically pronounced in the Constitution. Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their execution, deceived you-they could not have been deceived themselves. They know that a forcible opposition could alone prevent the execution of the laws, and they know that such opposition must be repelled. Their object is disunion, but be not deceived by names; disunion, by armed force, is TREASON. Are you really ready to incur its guilt? (All bolding by ForeverFree)

So... when did Lincoln issue these comments? Actually, it's not Lincoln at all. It is president Andrew Jackson, in 1832, in response to the nullification and secession threat of South Carolina. (During the so-called Nullification Crisis, the South Carolina threatened to secede if it would not be allowed to nullify federal law.)

The above is a portion of Jackson's proclamation; the entire text is here. The key point is that in 1832 President Jackson stated that as a matter of US government policy, disunion by armed force - which describes Confederate secession - would be met with a military response. He was not engaging in a theoretical debate. He was prepared to put that policy into effect. I'm sure a LOT of people knew of Jackson's stance on this subject, even decades later.

You are right to say that the legality of secession was not yet adjudicated in 1860. True enough. But it is also true that a sitting US president, 3 decades before the Civil War, stated a policy of federal military resonse to armed secession. Lincoln, therefore, simply followed a policy and precedent that was set years previously.

The secessionists of 1860-61 seized US property by armed force, a number of properties which were seized before Sumter, and secessionists declared dissolution... these were acts that Andrew Jackson made clear would not be tolerated. The secessionists were certainly aware of this policy precedent. They knew their military actions could lead to war. But they believed that what they did was right, and they assessed that the risk and consequences of failure were not prohibitive. That's why they seceded: not because the law was unsettled, but because they thought that in the end things would work out in their favor. That would turn out to be a horrible miscalculation.

- Alan
 

uaskme

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#13
Maybe, Congress didn’t want the Southerners back. Congress passed the Tariff the Republicans wanted. The fewer Southern Democrats, the better.

A little latter, when things started to be sorted out. The Yankee will determine that letting the South go, would be detrimental to their Tax base. So, then the push to Enforce the Laws, began. Lincoln is forced by the Republicans, not to compromise. Republicans believe that War is better than Compromises. So, Lincoln floats his Trojan Horse fleet of sacrifice to Charleston. The rest is History.
 

mobile_96

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#15
There had been an understanding about the "Supremacy Clause" that if a state chose not to observe Federal law, the other states no longer had to treat it as part of the Union. That state was effectively thrown out. That state was then a foreign entity. That was a selling point for the Constitution. A state had to conform to Federal law, or be treated as out of the Union. Of course, a state that willfully disobeyed Federal law was in rebellion, and the punishment was being removed from the Union, not forced to remain in the Union.
Will you, not can you, source this understanding??? First time I've ever heard of this 'understanding' that you've put forth. Will admit that I've only read a Few books on the Constitutional Convention, Federalists and Anti-Federalists papers, and on the Constitution, so would appreciate learning what book/s I need to add to my not so very small collection.
 
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#16
OK, so, faced with a secession crisis, the president sent a detailed message to the people and leaders of South Carolina; excerpts are below:

The States severally have not retained their entire sovereignty. It has been shown that in becoming parts of a nation, not members of a league, they surrendered many of their essential parts of sovereignty. The right to make treaties, declare war, levy taxes, exercise exclusive judicial and legislative powers, were all functions of sovereign power. The States, then, for all these important purposes, were no longer sovereign. The allegiance of their citizens was transferred in the first instance to the government of the United States; they became American citizens, and owed obedience to the Constitution of the United States, and to laws made in conformity with the powers vested in Congress. This last position has not been, and cannot be, denied… it has been shown that in this sense the States are not sovereign, and that even if they were, and the national Constitution had been formed by compact, there would be no right in any one State to exonerate itself from the obligation.​
So obvious are the reasons which forbid this secession, that it is necessary only to allude to them. The Union was formed for the benefit of all. It was produced by mutual sacrifice of interest and opinions. Can those sacrifices be recalled? Can the States, who magnanimously surrendered their title to the territories of the West, recall the grant? Will the inhabitants of the inland States agree to pay the duties that may be imposed without their assent by those on the Atlantic or the Gulf, for their own benefit? Shall there be a free port in one State, and enormous duties in another? No one believes that any right exists in a single State to involve all the others in these and countless other evils, contrary to engagements solemnly made. Everyone must see that the other States, in self-defense, must oppose it at all hazards.​
Your pride was aroused by the assertions that a submission to these laws was a state of vassalage, and that resistance to them was equal, in patriotic merit, to the opposition our fathers offered to the oppressive laws of Great Britain. You were told that this opposition might be peaceably-might be constitutionally made-that you might enjoy all the advantages of the Union and bear none of its burdens. Eloquent appeals to your passions, to your State pride, to your native courage, to your sense of real injury, were used to prepare you for the period when the mask which concealed the hideous features of DISUNION should be taken off.​
But the dictates of a high duty oblige me solemnly to announce that you cannot succeed. The laws of the United States must be executed. I have no discretionary power on the subject-my duty is emphatically pronounced in the Constitution. Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their execution, deceived you-they could not have been deceived themselves. They know that a forcible opposition could alone prevent the execution of the laws, and they know that such opposition must be repelled. Their object is disunion, but be not deceived by names; disunion, by armed force, is TREASON. Are you really ready to incur its guilt? (All bolding by ForeverFree)

So... when did Lincoln issue these comments? Actually, it's not Lincoln at all. It is president Andrew Jackson, in 1832, in response to the nullification and secession threat of South Carolina. (During the so-called Nullification Crisis, the South Carolina threatened to secede if it would not be allowed to nullify federal law.)

The above is a portion of Jackson's proclamation; the entire text is here. The key point is that in 1832 President Jackson stated that as a matter of US government policy, disunion by armed force - which describes Confederate secession - would be met with a military response. He was not engaging in a theoretical debate. He was prepared to put that policy into effect. I'm sure a LOT of people knew of Jackson's stance on this subject, even decades later.

You are right to say that the legality of secession was not yet adjudicated in 1860. True enough. But it is also true that a sitting US president, 3 decades before the Civil War, stated a policy of federal military resonse to armed secession. Lincoln, therefore, simply followed a policy and precedent that was set years previously.

The secessionists of 1860-61 seized US property by armed force, a number of properties which were seized before Sumter, and secessionists declared dissolution... these were acts that Andrew Jackson made clear would not be tolerated. The secessionists were certainly aware of this policy precedent. They knew their military actions could lead to war. But they believed that what they did was right, and they assessed that the risk and consequences of failure were not prohibitive. That's why they seceded: not because the law was unsettled, but because they thought that in the end things would work out in their favor. That would turn out to be a horrible miscalculation.

- Alan
The nationalist theory at work.
 
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#17
Now we have a real issue. The Founders had only hoped they had set out a workable government.
Maybe an analogy with a new automobile. The original owners were wary for a while. But the car functioned well enough. But more and more passengers were loaded. The car stops working as it had. The original owners no longer drive it, but insist it works fine. Some passengers are OK with it, others are not.
What Jackson is doing is trying to convince the SC passenger to stop trying to "back seat drive" the car. He is saying "shut up,or I'll throw you out and run over you". The SC passenger does not want out of the car, but wants to direct it.
It was Jackson who invoked "secession" not SC. There had been an understanding about the "Supremacy Clause" that if a state chose not to observe Federal law, the other states no longer had to treat it as part of the Union. That state was effectively thrown out. That state was then a foreign entity. That was a selling point for the Constitution. A state had to conform to Federal law, or be treated as out of the Union. Of course, a state that willfully disobeyed Federal law was in rebellion, and the punishment was being removed from the Union, not forced to remain in the Union. Jackson did not perform the first muddying of the understanding, that had been ongoing. But he did add to "I'll throw you out" . "Run you over" was pure Jackson, not part of any previous understanding...and he got a lot of people to buy it.
I just dont get why they wouldn't let them go in peace. For the most part they didn't care for white southerners or slaves, sectional differences, definite political differences. Comes down to one thing....$$$$$$$$$
 
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#18
Now we have a real issue. The Founders had only hoped they had set out a workable government.

Maybe an analogy with a new automobile. The original owners were wary for a while. But the car functioned well enough. But more and more passengers were loaded. The car stops working as it had. The original owners no longer drive it, but insist it works fine. Some passengers are OK with it, others are not.

What Jackson is doing is trying to convince the SC passenger to stop trying to "back seat drive" the car. He is saying "shut up,or I'll throw you out and run over you". The SC passenger does not want out of the car, but wants to direct it.

It was Jackson who invoked "secession" not SC. There had been an understanding about the "Supremacy Clause" that if a state chose not to observe Federal law, the other states no longer had to treat it as part of the Union. That state was effectively thrown out. That state was then a foreign entity. That was a selling point for the Constitution. A state had to conform to Federal law, or be treated as out of the Union. Of course, a state that willfully disobeyed Federal law was in rebellion, and the punishment was being removed from the Union, not forced to remain in the Union. Jackson did not perform the first muddying of the understanding, that had been ongoing. But he did add to "I'll throw you out" . "Run you over" was pure Jackson, not part of any previous understanding...and he got a lot of people to buy it.
RE: It was Jackson who invoked "secession" not SC.

The next to last paragraph of South Carolina's November 24, 1832 Nullification Ordinance states that if necessary, SC would "henceforth hold themselves absolved from all further obligation to maintain or preserve their political connection with the people of the other States; and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate government, and do all other acts and things which sovereign and independent States may of right do."

That was an explicit threat of secession.
**************

Were Jackson's views on the legality of secession valid? We don't know, as the issue had not been adjudicated.

The point I'm making is, it had already been made a matter of federal policy that disunion by armed force could be considered treason, and met by armed force in return. This notion was not merely an abstraction that was the subject of debates and letters. A sitting US president established this as a policy and he was ready to act on it.

The Confederate secessionists were certainly aware that the US might "go Jackson" on them (to use a phrase), and they seceded anyway. They seceded because they calculated/rationalized that in the end things would work out in their favor.

- Alan
 

BlueandGrayl

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Corona, California
#19
Probably because the United States Congress had to be careful not to declare war too early and as Eric Wittenberg said it best it would have been de facto recognition of the Confederate States of America.
 

thomas aagaard

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Denmark
#20
would be detrimental to their Tax base.
The federal government spend more money in the south that what it collected in Tariffs in the south.

The war department spend an average of 20,22 million $ over the 1856-1860 period
With 25% of the army deployed in Texas that is about 4 million, just on the defense of Texas.
Then add the expenses on the rest of the south (including fort Sumter), the navy and other expenses in the south.
["Historical Statistics of the United States 1789-1945", page 300. From the Bureau of the census, 1949]

"New Orleans was the southern port that collected the most in the tariff, and it was only $3.1 million. The total south only collected $4.0 million in tariff revenues, whereas New York City collected $34.9 million in tariff revenues and the total for northern ports was $48.3 million.
[Source: Douglas B. Ball,Financial Failure and Confederate Defeat, p. 205, Table 18, “Trade Figures by Port in 1860” and “Customs Collections by Major Port (1860)”]
 



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