Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

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
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 181-188 next last

1 posted on 06/14/2004 5:16:35 AM PDT by Theodore R.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

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.....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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...")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: Theodore R.


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)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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.
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

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
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

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
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

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
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: TomServo
Remember when people said "these" United States?


15 posted on 06/14/2004 5:54:18 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

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))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: longtermmemmory

17 posted on 06/14/2004 5:58:55 AM PDT by Cultural Jihad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: tahiti

You made THE salient point. Thanks.

18 posted on 06/14/2004 5:59:21 AM PDT by jammer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

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
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

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
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 181-188 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson