Skip to comments.If Secession Was Illegal - then How Come...?
Posted on 06/12/2003 5:58:28 AM PDT by Aurelius
Over the years I've heard many rail at the South for seceding from the 'glorious Union.' They claim that Jeff Davis and all Southerners were really nothing but traitors - and some of these people were born and raised in the South and should know better, but don't, thanks to their government school 'education.'
Frank Conner, in his excellent book The South Under Siege 1830-2000 deals in some detail with the question of Davis' alleged 'treason.' In referring to the Northern leaders he noted: "They believed the most logical means of justifying the North's war would be to have the federal government convict Davis of treason against the United States. Such a conviction must presuppose that the Confederate States could not have seceded from the Union; so convicting Davis would validate the war and make it morally legitimate."
Although this was the way the federal government planned to proceed, that prolific South-hater, Thaddeus Stevens, couldn't keep his mouth shut and he let the cat out of the bag. Stevens said: "The Southerners should be treated as a conquered alien enemy...This can be done without violence to the established principles only on the theory that the Southern states were severed from the Union and were an independent government de facto and an alien enemy to be dealt with according to the laws of war...No reform can be effected in the Southern States if they have never left the Union..." And, although he did not plainly say it, what Stevens really desired was that the Christian culture of the Old South be 'reformed' into something more compatible with his beliefs. No matter how you look at it, the feds tried to have it both ways - they claimed the South was in rebellion and had never been out of the Union, but then it had to do certain things to 'get back' into the Union it had never been out of. Strange, is it not, that the 'history' books never seem to pick up on this?
At any rate, the Northern government prepared to try President Davis for treason while it had him in prison. Mr. Conner has observed that: "The War Department presented its evidence for a treason trial against Davis to a famed jurist, Francis Lieber, for his analysis. Lieber pronounced 'Davis will not be found guilty and we shall stand there completely beaten'." According to Mr. Conner, U.S. Attorney General James Speed appointed a renowned attorney, John J. Clifford, as his chief prosecutor. Clifford, after studying the government's evidence against Davis, withdrew from the case. He said he had 'grave doubts' about it. Not to be undone, Speed then appointed Richard Henry Dana, a prominent maritime lawyer, to the case. Mr. Dana also withdrew. He said basically, that as long as the North had won a military victory over the South, they should just be satisfied with that. In other words - "you won the war, boys, so don't push your luck beyond that."
Mr. Conner tells us that: "In 1866 President Johnson appointed a new U.S. attorney general, Henry Stanburg. But Stanburg wouldn't touch the case either. Thus had spoken the North's best and brightest jurists re the legitimacy of the War of Northern Aggression - even though the Jefferson Davis case offered blinding fame to the prosecutor who could prove that the South had seceded unconstitutionally." None of these bright lights from the North would touch this case with a ten-foot pole. It's not that they were dumb, in fact the reverse is true. These men knew a dead horse when they saw it and were not about to climb aboard and attempt to ride it across the treacherous stream of illegal secession. They knew better. In fact, a Northerner from New York, Charles O'Connor, became the legal counsel for Jeff Davis - without charge. That, plus the celebrity jurists from the North that refused to touch the case, told the federal government that they really had no case against Davis or secession and that Davis was merely being held as a political prisoner.
Author Richard Street, writing in The Civil War back in the 1950s said exactly the same thing. Referring to Jeff Davis, Street wrote: "He was imprisoned after the war, was never brought to trial. The North didn't dare give him a trial, knowing that a trial would establish that secession was not unconstitutional, that there had been no 'rebellion' and that the South had got a raw deal." At one point the government intimated that it would be willing to offer Davis a pardon, should he ask for one. Davis refused that and he demanded that the government either give him a pardon or give him a trial, or admit that they had dealt unjustly with him. Mr. Street said: "He died 'unpardoned' by a government that was leery of giving him a public hearing." If Davis was as guilty as they claimed, why no trial???
Had the federal government had any possible chance to convict Davis and therefore declare secession unconstitutional they would have done so in a New York minute. The fact that they diddled around and finally released him without benefit of the trial he wanted proves that the North had no real case against secession. Over 600,000 boys, both North and South, were killed or maimed so the North could fight a war of conquest over something that the South did that was neither illegal or wrong. Yet they claim the moral high ground because the 'freed' the slaves, a farce at best.
First Republican President ping
The shame, I think, is that so many men died fighting the inevitable. Had the South successfully separated, I believe there would have been a reunion within 50 years, if only for economic reasons.
That said, I consider the issue closed.
Southern Culture is just fine by me, but re-fighting the late unpleasantness is getting to be a waste of bandwith.
But the Supreme Court did declare secession as practiced by the southern states unconstitutional in 1869? Didn't Mr. Benson do any research in this?
In my garage I have two bricks that are all that's left of a fine family home in the Shenandoah. That house belonged to my people until Sheridan's men burned it. They also dragged a kinswoman of mine from her childbed and gang-raped her when she had recently given birth. Her injuries were severe. These events had implications for my family that have lasted to the present day. Under these circumstances it's sort of hard to simply forget the War.
With this background, maybe you can understand the mental set some Southerners have. It's understandable that many of us of Southern heritage wonder about the rights and wrongs of the War, try to figure out how it came about, and try to comprehend what justice was, what God's will was, how we should feel about our ancestors. That combination of confusion and righteous anger at injustice form the basis for many of the discussions of the War on this site.
In addition, you know, we feel our culture under attack from the centralization of the federal government as well as from left-wing influences. Many of the best aspects of Southern life and culture are being lost along with the bad. For some of us, discussing the War is part of an attempt to rekindle Southern pride and fight off the forces of destruction that began to attack us in the late 1850s and continue to do so today.
I can't read Mr. Benson's mind but I would assume that he considered it irrelevent. Mr. Benson was concerned with what was the case in 1860 and up to the time of Davis' release in 1867. The 1869 decision had no relevence to that. The 1869 opinion on secession merely provided a convenient way for the Chase court to protect a favoured moneyed interest. It has no relevence to the larger question of the right of secession.
If you don't know the answer to that, I think you'd better go back and study some history.