Today is the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant:
After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen…
That secession in 1861 was intimately bound up with the defense of slavery in the South is a fact. It is also a fact that this was not the only issue on which the sections and the citizenry disagreed. The Union was barely in operation before one political party tried to muzzle the other with violations of the First Amendment, leading to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, authored in part by the very “Father of the Constitution” himself: James Madison. The very first whispers of secession, in 1814, were by Northern states irritated at the disastrous results of the War of 1812. And when South Carolina and President Jackson clashed in 1832 over whether States could nullify Federal law, it was over the issue of tariffs and revenue generation, not slavery. And so, while the defenders of big, consolidated government like to say, as did former Supreme Court justice Salmon P. Chase, that “States’ rights died at Appomattox,” and that we should all just bow down to ever-increasing Federal intrusion into our lives, I would simply remind them of two things:
1) The 10th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States remains in force today, despite its heavy neglect in favor of an ever-more activist Federal government, and
2) As Jefferson Davis put it, “A question settled by violence, or in disregard of law, must remain unsettled forever.”
The Lincoln administration in 1861 did NOT go to war to free the slaves. It expressly went to war to ‘preserve the Union‘ — that is, deny the ability or the right of individual States to choose to leave it. As the war dragged on, emancipation became a tool in the Union cause, but it was a means, not an end — nor the original goal. So the question of whether States have a right to secede–or to interpose themselves between their citizens and a Federal government considered to be “out of bounds,” should not be considered settled at all.
Unless one subscribes to the principles that “might makes right,” and “the ends justify the means.” Unfortunately today, all too many people do.
I will once again state my conclusion that, while the Civil War resulted in the official abolition of slavery, that came at the cost of a dramatic reversal in the relationship between States and the Federal government that leaves us all in peril of being “slaves” of a Federal government that was never supposed to have such a heavy role in our individual lives.