I thought this would serve as a useful follow-up to Donald’s post below. Putting aside the question of whether or not the Civil war was fought over slavery, or whether slavery served as the impetus for the war, the next logical question is: did the southern states have the right to secede? The evidence, as supplied by the writings of the men who wrote our Constitution, suggests that the answer is definitively NO.
Mac Owens has gone to the trouble of analyzing this issue in great detail already. It’s a very thorough piece, so I suggest that you read it in its entirety. I will just pull one little selection from it in order to give you all a flavor.
The main reason was that while the Founders understood the right of revolution to be an inalienable natural right of individuals antecedent to political society, Calhoun, the architect of the theory of State sovereignty used to justify secession expressly repudiated the idea of individual inalienable natural rights. Calhoun dismissed the fundamental idea of the American Founding — that “all men are created equal” — as the “most false and dangerous of all political errors.” Given the large slave population of the South, this denial of the inalienable natural rights of individuals, including the right of revolution, was no doubt prudent.
Secession constitutes a repudiation of republican government as understood by the Founders. For Calhoun, sovereignty was not a characteristic of individuals, but of collective political bodies. Individual rights, such as they were, were prescriptive, not natural. If Calhoun was right, then the Founders were wrong.
For the Founders, the purpose of government was to protect the equal natural rights of all. They understood these rights to be antecedent to the creation of political society and government. The just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed who possess the equal natural rights that republican government is supposed to protect. While the people never relinquish their right to revolution, in practice, this natural right is replaced by free elections, the outcome of which are determined by majority rule.
When the States ratified the Constitution of 1787, they pledged that they would accept the results of elections conducted according to its rules. In violation of this pledge, the Southern States seceded because they did not like the outcome of the election of 1860. Thus secession is the interruption of the constitutional operation of republican government, substituting the rule of the minority for that of the majority.
I also found this to be rather interesting:
Libertarians are correct in condemning the growing power of the federal government. However, this has less to do with Lincoln and the outcome of the Civil War than it does with the triumph of progressivism, the 19th century science of politics that substitutes “progress” for nature and justifies unlimited government power to direct and promote that progress. Like Calhoun’s political science, Progressivism dismisses the political thought of the American Founders based on equal natural rights as “false and dangerous.” Given the affinity of libertarians for Lockean liberalism, their favorable disposition towards Southern secession, an act based on Calhoun’s rejection of the principles of the American Founding, is hard to fathom.
Again, read the whole thing.
Of course we might also look to consult one of the primary authors of the Constitution to see what he thinks.
I return my thanks for the copy of your late very powerful Speech in the Senate of the United S. It crushes “nullification” and must hasten the abandonment of “Secession.” But this dodges the blow by confounding the claim to secede at will, with the right of seceding from intolerable oppression. The former answers itself, being a violation, without cause, of a faith solemnly pledged. The latter is another name only for revolution, about which there is no theoretic controversy. Its double aspect, nevertheless, with the countenance recd from certain quarters, is giving it a popular currency here which may influence the approaching elections both for Congress & for the State Legislature. It has gained some advantage also, by mixing itself with the question whether the Constitution of the U.S. was formed by the people or by the States, now under a theoretic discussion by animated partizans.
It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as imbodied into the several states, who were parties to it and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity. They might, by the same authority & by the same process have converted the Confederacy into a mere league or treaty; or continued it with enlarged or abridged powers; or have imbodied the people of their respective States into one people, nation or sovereignty; or as they did by a mixed form make them one people, nation, or sovereignty, for certain purposes, and not so for others.
The Constitution of the U.S. being established by a Competent authority, by that of the sovereign people of the several States who were the parties to it, it remains only to inquire what the Constitution is; and here it speaks for itself. It organizes a Government into the usual Legislative Executive & Judiciary Departments; invests it with specified powers, leaving others to the parties to the Constitution; it makes the Government like other Governments to operate directly on the people; places at its Command the needful Physical means of executing its powers; and finally proclaims its supremacy, and that of the laws made in pursuance of it, over the Constitutions & laws of the States; the powers of the Government being exercised, as in other elective & responsible Governments, under the controul of its Constituents, the people & legislatures of the States, and subject to the Revolutionary Rights of the people in extreme cases.
It might have been added, that whilst the Constitution, therefore, is admitted to be in force, its operation, in every respect must be precisely the same, whether its authority be derived from that of the people, in the one or the other of the modes, in question; the authority being equally Competent in both; and that, without an annulment of the Constitution itself its supremacy must be submitted to.
The only distinctive effect, between the two modes of forming a Constitution by the authority of the people, is that if formed by them as imbodied into separate communities, as in the case of the Constitution of the U.S. a dissolution of the Constitutional Compact would replace them in the condition of separate communities, that being the Condition in which they entered into the compact; whereas if formed by the people as one community, acting as such by a numerical majority, a dissolution of the compact would reduce them to a state of nature, as so many individual persons. But whilst the Constitutional compact remains undissolved, it must be executed according to the forms and provisions specified in the compact. It must not be forgotten, that compact, express or implied is the vital principle of free Governments as contradistinguished from Governments not free; and that a revolt against this principle leaves no choice but between anarchy and despotism.
Donald has also linked to another letter written by Madison that crushes the idea that secession is constitutionally permissible.
One final note. Even if one grants that there is certainly an inalienable right to revolution, there must be a very firm ground for said revolution . . . a long train of abuses, perhaps? Not liking the results of one presidential election hardly constitutes a long train of anything.