What It Was Was Not What They Say It Was
Commentary by Frank Conner
As we head into the sesquicentennial remembrance of the "American Civil War," and the liberal media run out all of their big guns to blast the conservative South yet again, this would be a good time to note that it was not a civil war.
A civil war is defined as a war fought between two factions within a nation for the control of that nation. Our "civil war" was fought between two sovereign nations. The sovereign United States of America invaded and conquered the sovereign Confederate States of America, to drag it back into the US, so the Southern states would then function as the dirt-poor agricultural colonies of the Northern capitalists (which they did until WWII).
Why was the Confederate States of America a real-sure-enough sovereign nation?
The USA was officially established as a country in 1781, during the Revolutionary War. Its first official charter was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which organized the US as a loose confederation of almost-sovereign states–virtually-independent nations, with a very weak central-government to wage wars and negotiate peace treaties. One of the key factors that determined how the US would be organized was the clear realization by the original Founders that the North and the South despised each other because of a gigantic culture-clash between the peoples of both regions (which persists to this day). Therefore, if either region ever gained control of the central government, it would undoubtedly use that power to grind the other region into the dirt, and the result would likely be a real civil war.
But in a confederation, the states would mostly go their own individual ways, and deal with each other only at arm’s length; and the central government would be so weak that it could not be used by one region as a hammer to bludgeon the other region. Therefore, the original Founders felt safe in constructing the US confederation as a "perpetual union," such that once a state had joined the US, it could not secede without the permission of the central government and all of the other states. Had the Southern states attempted to secede from the US of their own volition under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, their secession would have been unlawful–a rebellion against the US government.
But soon after the startup of the US in 1781, it became apparent that the Articles had some serious flaws; so in 1787, the states sent delegates to a convention in Philadelphia to determine how to fix them. But instead, the delegates decided to junk the Articles, and create a new government charter, the US Constitution. The Constitution would reorganize the US as a totally-different kind of country–a federation consisting of states tied more-closely together under a far-more-powerful central government with a president who would be given a frightening amount of power.
In working out the details of the Constitution, the new Founding Fathers also recognized that the central problem they faced was the hatred of the North and the South for one another; and this would be a far-more-serious problem under the Constitution than under the Articles. So they tried to lay out the Constitution in such a way that the political power of the North would always be perfectly balanced against the political power of the South in the federal government–into the far-distant future. But in case something unforeseen occurred, and one region did gain control of the government, there had to be a safety valve to prevent a civil war. The safety feature the Founders used was to make no mention of perpetual union in the Constitution. Thus, if one region gained total control of the government and squeezed the other region intolerably, the squeezed region could now secede from the US and form its own country, rather than wage an all-out civil war with the other region. The US Constitution was adopted in 1789, and it remains in force as the US government charter today.
What the Founders had feared might occur did occur. During the first half of the 19th century, there was a tremendous unforeseen population-shift to the North, as the new immigrants all headed there. So great was the accompanying shift of political power that in the 1860 elections, a purely-Northern political party, the Republican party, founded only six years earlier, won full control of the White House and both houses of Congress, on a platform that would squeeze the South dry financially. Abraham Lincoln had not even been on the ballot in a number of Southern states; and even had the Democratic party not split apart in the South, the Republicans would still have won everything in sight. Worse, there was no way for the South to regain population parity–thus political parity in the federal government–with the North ever again.
And so, following that election, the Southern states, seeing the handwriting on the wall, seceded from the US lawfully under the US Constitution, and formed their own sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America. Only by so doing could they continue to control their own fate.
But there was a war anyway. At this point, President-elect Lincoln, a dark-horse Whig whose only initial powerbase was the Northern capitalists, urgently needed to drag the South back into the US so that he could get reelected in 1864 (a number of the capitalists would lose fortunes if the South were allowed to remain free). And so Lincoln forced a war upon the Confederate States of America and manipulated the CSA into firing the first shots in it to give him the moral high-ground; and then he invaded and conquered the CSA and dragged it back into the US at bayonet-point. And so much for "government with the consent of the governed."
Lincoln was assassinated right after the end of the war. The new president, Andrew Johnson, believed that Mr. Lincoln’s War badly needed the stamp of approval of the U.S. Supreme Court, to convince everyone that it had been a just and constitutional war to put down a rebellion. The ex-president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, had been captured and now languished in a federal prison. President Johnson ordered that he be tried for treason by the U.S. Supreme Court. (The chief justice was Salmon P. Chase, a red-hot Radical Republican, so a conviction seemed certain.) And by convicting Davis, the Supreme Court would also be convicting the South.
President Johnson sent the US attorney general out to find a prominent Northern lawyer to prosecute the government’s case against Jefferson Davis. That seemed an easy task, because the winning prosecutor would gain eternal fame (and accompanying fortune). Yet no lawyer would ever agree to prosecute this case. Why not? Because the lawyers approached were agreed that the secession of the Southern states had been lawful under the Constitution, and there was no way to prove otherwise in a court of law. Thus, it was agreed among the legal fraternity that Mr. Lincoln’s War had been unconstitutional, and was definitely not a civil war.
Editor’s Note: – The indictments against Jefferson Davis and 19 other Confederate officials were dismissed (prosecution dropped the case) in February 1869 because the U.S. Government knew it could NOT win a conviction. Davis had been released on bail in 1867 after having been held in prison for two years after the war (captured May 1865).
"If you bring these [Confederate] leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion. Lincoln wanted Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one." —Chief Justice Salmon Chase, July 1867 (Foote, The Civil War, Vol.3, p.765)
This was an intolerably-embarrassing situation. The US government had to do something; so in an unrelated case (Texas v. White, 1869), the Supreme Court arbitrarily decreed that the secession of the South had been unconstitutional, basically because the Supreme Court now said it was unconstitutional. But the fact remains that Mr. Lincoln’s War was not a civil war; and each time the historians and other educators, and the media people, and the government officials call it a civil war, they lie through their teeth.
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