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The United States: "They Aren't What They Used to Be"
Joseph Sobran column ^ | 05-28-04 | Sobran, Joseph

Posted on 06/14/2004 5:16:34 AM PDT by Theodore R.

They Aren’t What They Used to Be

May 27, 2004

If I had to sum up American history in one sentence, I’d put it this way: The United States aren’t what they used to be.

That’s not nostalgia. That’s literal fact. Before the Civil War, the United States was a plural noun. The U.S. Constitution uses the plural form when, for example, it refers to enemies of the United States as “their” enemies. And this was the usage of everyone who understood that the union was a voluntary federation of sovereign states, delegating only a few specified powers, and not the monolithic, “consolidated,” all-powerful government it has since become.

Maybe Americans prefer the present megastate to the one the Constitution describes. But they ought to know the difference. They shouldn’t assume that the plural United States were essentially the same thing as today’s United State, or that the one naturally “evolved” into the other.

The change was violent, not natural. Lincoln waged war on states that tried to withdraw from the Union, denying their right to do so. This was a denial of the Declaration of Independence, which called the 13 former colonies “Free and Independent States.”

Washington and Jefferson at times expressed their fear that some states might secede, but they took for granted that this was the right of any free and independent state. They advised against exercising that right except under serious provocation, but they assumed it was a legitimate option against the threat of a centralized government that exceeded its constitutional powers.

Before the Civil War, several states considered leaving the Union, and abolitionists urged Northern states to do so in order to end their association with slave states. Congressman John Quincy Adams, a former president, wanted Massachusetts to secede if Texas was admitted to the Union. Nobody suggested that Adams didn’t understand the Constitution he was sworn to uphold.

But the danger to the states’ independence was already growing. Andrew Jackson had threatened to invade South Carolina if it seceded, shocking even so ardent a Unionist as Daniel Webster. Jackson didn’t explain where he got the power to prevent secession, a power not assigned to the president in the Constitution. Why not? For the simple reason that the Constitution doesn’t forbid secession; it presupposes that the United States are, each of them, free and independent.

Still, Lincoln used Jackson’s threat as a precedent for equating secession with “rebellion” and using force to crush it. This required him to do violence to the Constitution in several ways. He destroyed the freedoms of speech and press in the North; he arbitrarily arrested thousands, including elected officials who opposed him; he not only invaded the seceding states, but deposed their governments and imposed military dictatorships in their place.

In essence, Lincoln made it a crime — “treason,” in fact — to agree with Jefferson. Northerners who held that free and independent states had the right to leave the Union — and who therefore thought Lincoln’s war was wrong — became, in Lincoln’s mind, the enemy within. In order to win the war, and reelection, he had to shut them up. But his reign of terror in the North has received little attention.

He may have “saved the Union,” after a fashion, but the Union he saved was radically different from the one described in the Constitution. Even his defenders admit that when they praise him for creating “a new Constitution” and forging “a second American Revolution.” Lincoln would have been embarrassed by these compliments: He always insisted he was only enforcing and conserving the Constitution as it was written, though the U.S. Supreme Court, including his own appointees, later ruled many of his acts unconstitutional.

The Civil War completely changed the basic relation between the states, including the Northern states, and the Federal Government. For all practical purposes, the states ceased to be free and independent.

Sentimental myths about Lincoln and the war still obscure the nature of the fundamental rupture they brought to American history. The old federal Union was transformed into the kind of “consolidated” system the Constitution was meant to avoid. The former plurality of states became a single unit. Even our grammar reflects the change.

So the United States were no longer a “they”; they’d become an “it.” Few Americans realize the immense cost in blood, liberty, and even logic that lies behind this simple change of pronouns.

Joseph Sobran


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: abolitionism; centralgovt; civilliberties; civilwar; constitution; danielwebster; dixielist; jackson; jefferson; jqadams; liberalism; limitedgovt; lincoln; megastate; savedtheunion; secession; sobran; usa
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1 posted on 06/14/2004 5:16:35 AM PDT by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.

We still are united, despite what Dan Rather, CNN and John Kerry say..


2 posted on 06/14/2004 5:19:54 AM PDT by cardinal4 (Terrence Maculiffe-Ariolimax columbianus (hint- its a gastropod.....)
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To: Theodore R.

Sobran is right.


3 posted on 06/14/2004 5:20:14 AM PDT by sauropod (Which would you prefer? "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" or "I did not have sex with that woman?)
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To: Theodore R.

bumping for later


4 posted on 06/14/2004 5:22:40 AM PDT by ladtx ( "Remember your regiment and follow your officers." Captain Charles May, 2d Dragoons, 9 May 1846)
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To: stainlessbanner

Dixie Ping!


5 posted on 06/14/2004 5:24:19 AM PDT by TomServo (“I'll give you three seconds to stop licking my face." "Count slow...")
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To: Theodore R.

we lost our states Rights, and a wonderful federalist system was born, just what the founding fathers wanted to avoid.

I want to know what it would take to secede from a state, or how to form our own county.


6 posted on 06/14/2004 5:25:40 AM PDT by The Mayor (God's call to a task includes His strength to complete it.)
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Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: Theodore R.

bttt


8 posted on 06/14/2004 5:33:44 AM PDT by Liberty Valance (Time to defoliate the victory garden again - George Leroy Tirebiter LLC)
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To: Theodore R.
Well, then I guess West Virginia "seceding" from Virginia would have been legal then as well.

Then some of the southern counties could have "seceded" from West Virginia ...

... and then some of the northern townships of the "seceded" counties ...

... until, finally, Roger Snodgrass seceded from the secessionist seceded counties and formed his own country, including all four acres of the bottomland down by the river.

9 posted on 06/14/2004 5:39:59 AM PDT by BlueLancer (Der Elite Møøsënspåånkængrüppen ØberKømmändø (EMØØK))
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To: BlueLancer

I have not heard too reference to individual counties (or parts of counties) seceding from a state, but one in AL did -- Winston Co. -- during the Civil War. And Lincoln did not take exception to that secession, as I recall.


10 posted on 06/14/2004 5:47:56 AM PDT by Theodore R.
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To: All

Sobran is not even close to being right.

If the southern state Delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted the right to secede - they should have put it in the Constitution.


11 posted on 06/14/2004 5:48:36 AM PDT by rbmillerjr
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To: Theodore R.

Gee, they just laid to rest the last Civil War widow 139 years after the last bullet was fired; maybe Sobran can lay it to rest, too, some day.


12 posted on 06/14/2004 5:52:15 AM PDT by Cultural Jihad
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To: cardinal4

Perhaps but the leftists of the world would just LOOOOOVE the United States to be broken up. In fact among the EU elites they look at the united states as if it was literally still nationstates united, even in this day and age. They can't figure out how their parlimentary central government can't take federal control of the members.

I believe the founding fathers have always envisioned the Republic. Consider how the Feds speak for all with ONE unifying voice. There is no california ambasador in Saudi arabia. There is no Michigan currency.

Does anyone remember what the USSR did to America in the old miniseries AmeriKa? Broke the states up. A john kerry wet dream if republicans gain vetoproof control.


13 posted on 06/14/2004 5:52:35 AM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE!)
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To: The Mayor
"we lost our states Rights"

More specifically, the 10th amendment was invalidated by the 14th amendment.

(Proposed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868)

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;

Up to this point, the federal Congress had no legislative jurisdiction within the boundaries of a sovereign state except as described in Art I, Section 8, Cl 17 (the purchase of state land by the federal Congress with the state's permission) and Art VI, Section 2 (laws enacted to implement the terms of a treaty then become the law of the land).

Even Art I, Section 8, Cl 3 (the commerce clasue) had not been judicially "expanded" at the time immediately following the end of the war of northern aggression against the sounthern states (that happened in 1942)granting legislative jurisdiction to the federal congress within the boundaries of a sovereign state.

14 posted on 06/14/2004 5:53:00 AM PDT by tahiti
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To: TomServo
Remember when people said "these" United States?

Senator Stevens said it:"NANCY IS ONE OF THE FINEST FIRST LADIES THESE UNITED STATES HAVE EVER KNOWN." at Reagan's eulogy

15 posted on 06/14/2004 5:54:18 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: Theodore R.

Oh, I agree that none did .. except for the northern counties of Virginia becoming West Virginia. And I'm not saying that there is not a certain amount of hypocrisy on the part of the Northern States. However, where does the right to "secede" end. If carried to its logical conclusion, there is no end, meaning that any county, township, city, or conglomeration of families could secede from whatever larger area grouping they belonged to, becoming "independent" countries.


16 posted on 06/14/2004 5:54:55 AM PDT by BlueLancer (Der Elite Møøsënspåånkængrüppen ØberKømmändø (EMØØK))
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To: longtermmemmory

17 posted on 06/14/2004 5:58:55 AM PDT by Cultural Jihad
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To: tahiti

You made THE salient point. Thanks.


18 posted on 06/14/2004 5:59:21 AM PDT by jammer
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To: All


Article VI, Clause 2: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.


19 posted on 06/14/2004 5:59:37 AM PDT by rbmillerjr
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To: BlueLancer

FACT of the matter is that Mr. Snodgrass, like everyone of us, lost his individual rights to Lincoln's concept of union.


20 posted on 06/14/2004 6:02:12 AM PDT by norton
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To: rbmillerjr
Maybe you should read a little further down the document...

Article IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article X.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people
21 posted on 06/14/2004 6:02:50 AM PDT by babyface00
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To: longtermmemmory

Prior to FDR, there were different currencies. To print notes, one needed to be a member of the National Association and have sufficient reserves in legal tender.

http://www.friesian.com/notes.htm


22 posted on 06/14/2004 6:10:45 AM PDT by oblomov
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To: Theodore R.

Maybe Americans prefer the present megastate to the one the Constitution describes>>

Because the one the Constitution describes allowed human beings to be sold as slaves.

Sobran is not a conservative and should be vomited out of the mouth of the Right.


23 posted on 06/14/2004 6:10:51 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: *dixie_list; sionnsar; Free Trapper; dcwusmc; Wampus SC; Fiddlstix; Southron Patriot; ...

Sobran ping


24 posted on 06/14/2004 6:11:44 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: norton

FACT of the matter is that Mr. Snodgrass, like everyone of us, lost his individual rights to Lincoln's concept of union.>>>

And thanks be to the Risen Jesus Christ therefore, as we no longer think that black people are the moral equivalent of xerox machines.


25 posted on 06/14/2004 6:11:50 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones
Because the one the Constitution describes allowed human beings to be sold as slaves.

as we no longer think that black people are the moral equivalent of xerox machines.

Rape and murder are not addressed in the Constitution, as slavery was not addressed previous to the 13th amendment in late 1865.

Does that mean the United States is a nation of rapists and murderers?
26 posted on 06/14/2004 6:17:24 AM PDT by babyface00
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To: babyface00

Does that mean the United States is a nation of rapists and murderers?>>

That has to be stupid as hell. Rape and murder was illegal on the state level. Slavery was encouraged--in fact 11 states decided to burn themselves to the ground rather than give it up.

The evil stupidity of the true sons of the slave rapers never ceases to amaze me.


27 posted on 06/14/2004 6:19:43 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones

You need to divorce secession and slavery, then the piece will make sense.


28 posted on 06/14/2004 6:21:48 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: rbmillerjr
If the southern state Delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted the right to secede - they should have put it in the Constitution.

So, you agree with those who hold that your rights are the few listed in the Constitution? Here I thought that the Constitution enumerated certain specific powers granted to the Federal government.

29 posted on 06/14/2004 6:23:56 AM PDT by MileHi
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones
That has to be stupid as hell. Rape and murder was illegal on the state level. Slavery was encouraged--in fact 11 states decided to burn themselves to the ground rather than give it up.

The evil stupidity of the true sons of the slave rapers never ceases to amaze me.


There is nothing in the Constitution (which is a document solely to define the FEDERAL government) that prohibits states from making murder or rape illegal. It is a moral question, just as slavery is/was. The very fact that slavery was illegal in the states other than the 11 illustrates the flexibility inherent in the document.

Abortion is another moral question that was resolved at the state level previous to Roe v. Wade.

The fact that the Constitution left the moral question of slavery open to the states does not make the document somehow immoral, nor does it make defenders of that arrangement immoral.

Your anger is misplaced. The Constitution isn't some arbiter of morality over every facet of our lives. It only serves to define the limits of the federal government. Nothing more, nothing less.
30 posted on 06/14/2004 6:24:30 AM PDT by babyface00
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones
The evil stupidity of the true sons of the slave rapers never ceases to amaze me.

So, how do you feel about the genocide and ethnic cleansing committed against the native Americans?

31 posted on 06/14/2004 6:27:24 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen
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To: Vigilantcitizen

So, how do you feel about the genocide and ethnic cleansing committed against the native Americans?
>>

1) All those that committed that crime against humanity are dead.

2) Nobody around here is advocating wiping out the Indians any more.

3) I've never met an anti-Indian racist, much less one that hides his race hate behind an anti-Lincoln stance.


32 posted on 06/14/2004 6:30:09 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: babyface00

Abortion is another moral question that was resolved at the state level previous to Roe v. Wade.>>

Bullspit. The inherent equality before the law of all men (which predates the Constitution and is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence) REQUIRES that no man be allowed to kill, or enslave, or abort, another.

Abortion will be destroyed nationwide the same way that slavery was, through constitutional amendment and enforcement of the Constitution throughout the land.


33 posted on 06/14/2004 6:32:29 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: Theodore R.
Few Americans realize the immense cost in blood, liberty, and even logic that lies behind this simple change of pronouns.

Sadly, this is all too true.

34 posted on 06/14/2004 6:32:31 AM PDT by zeugma (The Great Experiment is over.)
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones

2) Nobody around here is advocating wiping out the Indians any more.>>>

That is, until they become Muslims.


35 posted on 06/14/2004 6:33:09 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: zeugma

Sadly, this is all too true.
>>

It is also irrelevant. Any state that sells human beings as slaves DESERVES to meet its Sherman.


36 posted on 06/14/2004 6:33:55 AM PDT by Ronly Bonly Jones (truth is truth)
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To: Theodore R.

Truer words have never been spoken [or written]!
The Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves over what the Nation they gave us morphed into.


37 posted on 06/14/2004 6:34:45 AM PDT by sport (bttt)
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To: cardinal4
I am starting to have my doubts about the US. Heaven forbid that 'Hanoi John' F`n Kerry wins, but just the fact that he remains close to President Bush tells me that people in the US cannot stomach a war with casualties. People have forgotten 911, this shows weakness in the eyes of the Terrorists, expect more of 911 when you show weakness...If the US losses this war (PC war), then the US will never win another, unless it is a war of total annihilation.
38 posted on 06/14/2004 6:35:26 AM PDT by forYourChildrenVote4Bush (No time for wobbly knees.)
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To: cardinal4

We still are united, despite what Dan Rather, CNN and John Kerry say..



2 posted on 06/14/2004 5:19:54 AM PDT by cardinal4


I am not united with,nor do I want to be united with the sociaists, one worlders, communists, democrats,Bush haters,u.n. worshippers, and others whose sole purpose for living is the complete and total destruction of the United States.


39 posted on 06/14/2004 6:40:02 AM PDT by sport (bttt)
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones
1) All those that committed that crime against humanity are dead.

So are the slaves and slavers. Thanks for making my point for me. You did good.

2) Nobody around here is advocating wiping out the Indians any more.

That's probably because we as a nation have already wiped them out, for the most part.

3) I've never met an anti-Indian racist, much less one that hides his race hate behind an anti-Lincoln stance.

Refer to answer number 2.

40 posted on 06/14/2004 6:47:31 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones
The inherent equality before the law of all men (which predates the Constitution and is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence) REQUIRES that no man be allowed to kill, or enslave, or abort, another.

That's not the question. The question is, whether that is the domain of the federal government. The Constitution doesn't address morality between individuals, it only defines the limits of the Federal government.

The two instances where federal power has been used to solve controversial moral questions (slavery and abortion) were disasters. Slavery existed in one form or another for 100 years after the 13th amendment in this country, and it is still practiced throughout the world (and that's not even counting the enormous cost in lives of the civil war). Abortion certainly wasn't settled by Roe v. Wade, and its likely that it will take about a century for that issue to be resolved.

It's possible, and even likely, that these two evils would have been eradicated much sooner had the federal government stayed out of the way.

I hope abortion is eradicated, but I don't hope it happens the way slavery did - an extra-Constitutional bloodbath followed by 100 years of calling it something else before it finally goes away.
41 posted on 06/14/2004 6:54:39 AM PDT by babyface00
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To: Theodore R.

Lincoln damaged the Constitution. FDR corrupted it.


42 posted on 06/14/2004 7:27:05 AM PDT by Chewbacca (There is a place in this world for all of God's creatures.....right next to the mashed potatoes.)
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To: babyface00

"The two instances where federal power has been used to solve controversial moral questions (slavery and abortion) were disasters. Slavery existed in one form or another for 100 years after the 13th amendment in this country, and it is still practiced throughout the world (and that's not even counting the enormous cost in lives of the civil war). Abortion certainly wasn't settled by Roe v. Wade, and its likely that it will take about a century for that issue to be resolved."

I believe what you've identified is the problem of how a unique political entity, that is, American democratic republicanism, has struggled to confront difficult social issues it has encountered through years. Slavery was an economic condition that was abolished in European empires by monarchical decree. The legalization of abortion was enabled in Europe through the use of parliamentary systems that reflected limited democratic participation. The mainstreaming of homosexuality was accomplished in these countries through similar means. These countries all have elitist government that doesn't allow the will of the people to be expressed to the degree of the US system.

The United States was, and is, a unique political entity that the majority of the people in this country still do not seem to appreciate. The genius of the American system was in its ability to accommodate the interests and desires of its disparate States. As a nation, we are continuing to debate and construct the framework within which we function, getting farther removed from the original plan, and to our detriment, in my opinion. There was a lot of good in the earlier framework that we have allowed to be lost through ill-conceived modification of the Constitution.

Consider the difficulties that European nations are struggling with as they attempt to create their own United States of Europe. France has a smaller GDP than the State of Georgia, fer Crissakes! But without the common religious, cultural, and political traditions that existed when the American system was implemented, I don't see any success for their efforts. I even question whether or not the US can maintain its system in the future!


43 posted on 06/14/2004 7:42:24 AM PDT by vanmorrison
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To: sport
I am not united with,nor do I want to be united with the sociaists, one worlders, communists, democrats,Bush haters,u.n. worshippers, and others whose sole purpose for living is the complete and total destruction of the United States.

Nor did I accuse you of such. The people you speak of are in a distinct minority; it looks like a lot more becuase of the media. Bush will win in November..

44 posted on 06/14/2004 7:46:30 AM PDT by cardinal4 (Terrence Maculiffe-Ariolimax columbianus (hint- its a gastropod.....)
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To: Vigilantcitizen

You sound like a professional victim.

Yes, the Indian wars were wrong, including the many in which they killed each other.

All part of man's inhumanity to man......a fact of life on every continent, without exception, for centuries.

What matters is America today. It's not perfect, just the best.


45 posted on 06/14/2004 7:48:44 AM PDT by Republic If You Can Keep It
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To: Republic If You Can Keep It
You sound like a professional victim.

Yes, the Indian wars were wrong, including the many in which they killed each other.

All part of man's inhumanity to man......a fact of life on every continent, without exception, for centuries.

You sound like someone who misinterpreted my post.

The point you bring up is exactly the point I was trying to make to Mr. Bonly Jones, with his...

The evil stupidity of the true sons of the slave rapers never ceases to amaze me.

And if you scroll down to his reply to me...you'll see he got my point.

1) All those that committed that crime against humanity are dead.

Which was precisely what I was trying to get him to say.

46 posted on 06/14/2004 7:59:16 AM PDT by Vigilantcitizen
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To: rbmillerjr
If the southern state Delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted the right to secede - they should have put it in the Constitution.

So, the government, through the Constitution, grants us our rights? We don't have a right to anything unless it's in the Constitution? You do realize that kind of reasoning is at odds with 100% of the Constitution's framers, right?

47 posted on 06/14/2004 8:00:49 AM PDT by sheltonmac ("Duty is ours; consequences are God's." -Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson)
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones

In defense of the southerners, fewer than 30 percent owned even one slave. They saw slavery as a system of stable labor by which the slave gave up participation in the private market for a lifetime of support. Southerners like John C. Calhoun thought slavery more humane than the "wage slavery" of the northern factories. Everyone is a "slave" to some extent -- a slave to something. Few people are so "free" that they can move anywhere they wish at any time for any reason. In the 1850s, it was illegal to work a slave on Sundays. How many "wage slaves" today are required to work on Sunday? Still that does not excuse slavery. But we should not judge the 1850s by the PC ideology of the 2000s.


48 posted on 06/14/2004 8:03:09 AM PDT by Theodore R.
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To: vanmorrison

Well said.

Slavery (and abortion) were (are) abhorrent. In a perfect world, they wouldn't exist. Of course, neither would murder, rape, poverty, disease, etc.

The sad fact is that we, as individuals, don't agree on many aspects of life and morality. The question is, what do we do about it?

Picking a side (however "right" it may be) and using the force of the federal government to ram it down the other side's throat hasn't worked all that well in the past. It galvanizes the other side and makes attempts to use reason, logic, and even emotion to sway the other side moot (witness the abortion debate, and the pre-war debate regarding slavery, also the pre-civil-rights legislation in the mid-60's).

It would be nice if force or legislation settled these issues, but history shows that it either prolongs the resolution, or widens the divide.

It's not a question of whether or not the intent is pure, or the intended result is good. That sort of argument brought us the horrors of the last century that linger today. In many ways, the way abortion manifest itself nationally is due in large part to the way that slavery was abolished. Abortion couldn't have been instituted by federal decree in pre-1865 America, but that sort of heavy-handed meddling was all but inevitable afterwards, much as Sobran points out.


49 posted on 06/14/2004 8:09:47 AM PDT by babyface00
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To: Ronly Bonly Jones

3) I've never met an anti-Indian racist, much less one that hides his race hate behind an anti-Lincoln stance.

The above kinda sounds to me like you indulge in a little race hatred. You seem to have race-hatred confused with hatred for those who have destroyed our constitution.


50 posted on 06/14/2004 8:11:11 AM PDT by antisocial (Texas SCV)
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