In this thread, I'm going to lay out the facts as I see them. I freely admit to being a Unionist and ardent anti-Confederate, but feel that these are positions borne out by the objective facts of the matter rather than damaging biases. Make of that what you will.
First, the motives behind secession.
Too often, you will see apologists for the Confederacy claiming that the South did what it did because they saw that Abraham Lincoln was a despotic tyrant in the making, that he would subjugate the rights of the people and crush the states beneath the boot of the federal government. "Lincoln the Tyrant" is a popular trope, spurred onward by the usual grain of truth that gives such things their lasting appeal: Abraham Lincoln did, as President, suspend habeas corpus, raise an army without the consent of Congress, and, yes, ordered the forfeit of property on the part of Confederates (i.e. freed the slaves, though it's not often put like that in a criticism for obvious reasons). You see this repeated over and over in neo-Confederate and anarchocapitalist circles; for instance, a look through the titles of Thomas DiLorenzo's essays shows an obsession with writing extensive character attacks on President Lincoln, and while probably the most prolific, he's not the only one.
There are obvious problems with this approach, however. The most glaring is that none of the things that Lincoln did that earn so much scorn could have been done outside the context of the Civil War. In other words, far from predicting Lincoln's behavior and seceding to avoid it, the southern states were the catalyst for his behavior! After all, had there been no insurrection, there would have been no need to arrest insurrectionists, raise an army to suppress the insurrection, and emancipate the slaves in Confederate-held territory as a war measure. (More on the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation later.)
The other problem, of course, is that there is no shortage of primary source documents from the Confederate governments themselves stating exactly why they seceded. I see no reason to disbelieve them, so without further ado, the various Declarations of the Causes of Secession from several Confederate states. I have excerpted them for brevity's sake, but the complete text of each may be found at the links provided.
Texas: Declaration of the Causes of Secession wrote:A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.
The government of the United States, by certain joint resolutions, bearing date the 1st day of March, in the year A.D. 1845, proposed to the Republic of Texas, then a free, sovereign and independent nation, the annexation of the latter to the former, as one of the co-equal states thereof,
The people of Texas, by deputies in convention assembled, on the fourth day of July of the same year, assented to and accepted said proposals and formed a constitution for the proposed State, upon which on the 29th day of December in the same year, said State was formally admitted into the Confederated Union.
Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association.
When we advert to the course of individual non-slave-holding States, and that a majority of their citizens, our grievances assume far greater magnitude.
The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions-- a provision founded in justice and wisdom, and without the enforcement of which the compact fails to accomplish the object of its creation...
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.
By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress,
Yeah, that's kind of what the majority does in a republic. Moving on.
Texas: Declaration of the Causes of Secession wrote:and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.
They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a 'higher law' than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.
They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.
They have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens, and through the press their leading men and a fanatical pulpit have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes, while the governors of several of their States have refused to deliver parties implicated and indicted for participation in such offenses, upon the legal demands of the States aggrieved.
And, finally, by the combined sectional vote of the seventeen non-slave-holding States, they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States.
In view of these and many other facts, it is meet that our own views should be distinctly proclaimed.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.
South Carolina also chimes in, with this gem.
South Carolina: Declaration of the Causes of Secession wrote:Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.
The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."
This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.
The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.
The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.
And most egregiously, Mississippi:
Mississippi: Declaration of the Causes of Secession wrote:A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.
The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory.
The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.
The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.
It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.
It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.
It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.
It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.
It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.
It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.
It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.
Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.
Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.
Even for those seceding states that did not publish official Declarations of Causes, we may learn much from their secession convention delegates. For instance, this address of George Williamson, a Commissioner for the state of Louisiana, to the Texas secession convention, March 9, 1861. Illustrates slavery as a secession aim.
To the Hon. O.M. Roberts, President of the Convention of the People of Texas.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the people of Texas.
I have the honor to address you as the commissioner of the people of Louisiana, accredited to your honorable body.
The people of Louisiana were unwilling to endanger their liberties and property by submission to the despotism of a single tyrant, or the canting tyranny of pharisaical majorities. Insulted by the denial of her constitutional equality by the non-slaveholding States, outraged by their contemptuous rejection of proffered compromises, and convinced that she was illustrating the capacity of her people for self-government by withdrawing from a union that had failed, without fault of hers, to accomplish its purposes, she declared herself a free and independent State on the 26th day of January last. History affords no example of a people who changed their government for more just or substantial reasons. Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery, and of the free institutions of the founders of the Federal Union, bequeathed to their posterity. As her neighbor and sister State, she desires the hearty co-operation of Texas in the formation of a Southern Confederacy. She congratulates herself on the recent disposition evinced by your body to meet this wish, by the election of delegates to the Montgomery convention. Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws and institutions. Between the citizens of each exists the most cordial social and commercial intercourse. The Red river and the Sabine form common highways for the transportation of their produce to the markets of the world. Texas affords to the commerce of Louisiana a large portion of her products, and in exchange the banks of New Orleans furnish Texas with her only paper circulating medium. Louisiana supplies to Texas a market for her surplus wheat, grain and stock; both States have large areas of fertile, uncultivated lands, peculiarly adapted to slave labor; and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence, and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. ...
The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery, if Texas either did not secede or having seceded should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy. If she remains in the union the abolitionists would continue their work of incendiarism and murder. Emigrant aid societies would arm with Sharp's rifles predatory bands to infest her northern borders. The Federal Government would mock at her calamity in accepting the recent bribes in the army bill and Pacific railroad bill, and with abolition treachery would leave her unprotected frontier to the murderous inroads of hostile savages. Experience justifies these expectations. A professedly friendly federal administration gave Texas no substantial protection against the Indians or abolitionists, and what must she look for from an administration avowedly inimical and supported by no vote within her borders. Promises won from the timid and faithless are poor hostages of good faith. As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slaveholding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery. The isolation of any one of them from the others would make her a theatre for abolition emissaries from the North and from Europe. Her existence would be one of constant peril to herself and of imminent danger to other neighboring slave-holding communities. A decent respect for the opinions and interests of the Gulf States seems to indicate that Texas should co-operate with them. I am authorized to say to your honorable body that Louisiana does not expect any beneficial result from the peace conference now assembled at Washington. She is unwilling that her action should depend on the border States. Her interests are identical with Texas and the seceding States. With them she will at present co-operate, hoping and believing in his own good time God will awaken the people of the border States to the vanity of asking for, or depending upon, guarantees or compromises wrung from a people whose consciences are too sublimated to be bound by that sacred compact, the constitution of the late United States. That constitution the Southern States have never violated, and taking it as the basis of our new government we hope to form a slave-holding confederacy that will secure to us and our remotest posterity the great blessings its authors designed in the Federal Union. With the social balance wheel of slavery to regulate its machinery, we may fondly indulge the hope that our Southern government will be perpetual.
Commissioner of the State of Louisiana
City of Austin Feby 11th 1861.
To hear from yet another Deep South state, a speech of E.S. Dargan to the Secession Convention of Alabama, January 11, 1861.
I wish, Mr. President, to express the feelings with which I vote for the secession of Alabama from the Government of the United States; and to state, in a few words, the reasons that impel me to this act.
I feel impelled, Mr. President, to vote for this Ordinance by an overruling necessity. Years ago I was convinced that the Southern States would be compelled either to separate from the North, by dissolving the Federal Government, or they would be compelled to abolish the institution of African Slavery. This, in my judgment, was the only alternative; and I foresaw that the South would be compelled, at some day, to make her selection. The day is now come, and Alabama must make her selection, either to secede from the Union, and assume the position of a sovereign, independent State, or she must submit to a system of policy on the part of the Federal Government that, in a short time, will compel her to abolish African Slavery.
Mr. President, if pecuniary loss alone were involved in the abolition of slavery, I should hesitate long before I would give the vote I now intend to give. If the destruction of slavery entailed on us poverty alone, I could bear it, for I have seen poverty and felt its sting. But poverty, Mr. President, would be one of the least of the evils that would befall us from the abolition of African slavery. There are now in the slaveholding States over four millions of slaves; dissolve the relation of master and slave, and what, I ask, would become of that race? To remove them from amongst us is impossible. History gives us no account of the exodus of such a number of persons. We neither have a place to which to remove them, nor the means of such removal. They therefore must remain with us; and if the relation of master and slave be dissolved, and our slaves turned loose amongst us without restraint, they would either be destroyed by our own hands - the hands to which they look, and look with confidence, for protection - or we ourselves would become demoralized and degraded. The former result would take place, and we ourselves would become the executioners of our own slaves. To this extent would the policy of our Northern enemies drive us; and thus would we not only be reduced to poverty, but what is still worse, we should be driven to crime, to the commission of sin; and we must, therefore, this day elect between the Government formed by our fathers (the whole spirit of which has been perverted), and POVERTY AND CRIME! This being the alternative, I cannot hesitate for a moment what my duty is. I must separate from the Government of my fathers, the one under which I have lived, and under which I wished to die. But I must do my duty to my country and my fellow beings; and humanity, in my judgment, demands that Alabama should separate herself from the Government of the United States.
If I am wrong in this responsible act, I hope my God may forgive me; for I am not actuated, as I think, from any motive save that of justice and philanthropy!
Abolition would force them to commit murder, nay, genocide in his view, because that would be better than being "degraded" by having free blacks in their midst.
And to put the final nail in the coffin, we go to the Vice President of the Confederate States, speaking of the new Confederate Constitution.
Alexander H. Stephens: Cornerstone Address wrote:March 21, 1861
We are in the midst of one of the greatest epochs in our history. The last ninety days will mark one of the most memorable eras in the history of modern civilization.
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other-though last, not least: the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions-African slavery as it exists among us-the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly used against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it-when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."
Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It is so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North who still cling to these errors with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind; from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is, forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics: their conclusions are right if their premises are. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights, with the white man.... I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the Northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery; that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle-a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of man. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds we should succeed, and that he and his associates in their crusade against our institutions would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as well as in physics and mechanics, I admitted, but told him it was he and those acting with him who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.
As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are, and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo-it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not therefore look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first Government ever instituted upon principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many Governments have been founded upon the principles of certain classes; but the classes thus enslaved, were of the same race, and in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws. The negro by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, [note: A reference to Genesis, 9:20-27, which was used as a justification for slavery] is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite-then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is the best, not only for the superior but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances or to question them. For His own purposes He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made "one star to differ from another in glory."
The great objects of humanity are best attained, when conformed to his laws and degrees, in the formation of Governments as well as in all things else. Our Confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders "is become the chief stone of the corner" in our new edifice.
And just as a reminder of what change in the Confederate Constitution he referred to:
Constitution of the Confederate States, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4 wrote:No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.
Parts in red are relevant. The section of the Texas Declaration in blue admits that Texas surrendered her separate national character.
I should think that this lays to rest claims that the southern states were benevolently attempting to avoid general oppression; they rather acted in order to keep a large segment of their own populations oppressed.
Ah, but regardless of their reasons, moral or immoral, it was the right of the states to end the compact of the Constitution, cries out the Libertarian circle! It was never the intention of the Founders to forever bind the states against their wills, and they intentionally left the door open to secession by not explicitly banning it in the Constitution! Lincoln's actions, therefore, forever and improperly removed a natural right of the states, a safeguard against future tyranny.
Well, no. Let's look at the intentions of the Founders. Secession did indeed occur to them; after all, the Hartford Convention at which a minority of New England delegates advocated secession had happened during their lifetimes and many were still alive during the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s. There are therefore many writings from several Founding Fathers to draw from. At random, let's start with James Madison. From this letter to William Rives.
The milliners it appears, endeavor to shelter themselves under a distinction between a delegation and a surrender of powers. But if the powers be attributes of sovereignty & nationality & the grant of them be perpetual, as is necessarily implied, where not otherwise expressed, sovereignty & nationality according to the extent of the grant are effectually transferred by it, and a dispute about the name, is but a battle of words. The practical result is not indeed left to argument or inference. The words of the Constitution are explicit that the Constitution & laws of the U. S. shall be supreme over the Constitution & laws of the several States, supreme in their exposition and execution as well as in their authority. Without a supremacy in those respects it would be like a scabbard in the hand of a soldier without a sword in it. The imagination itself is startled at the idea of twenty four independent expounders of a rule that cannot exist, but in a meaning and operation, the same for all.
The conduct of S. Carolina has called forth not only the question of nullification, but the more formidable one of secession. It is asked whether a State by resuming the sovereign form in which it entered the Union, may not of right withdraw from it at will. As this is a simple question whether a State, more than an individual, has a right to violate its engagements, it would seem that it might be safely left to answer itself. But the countenance given to the claim shows that it cannot be so lightly dismissed. The natural feelings which laudably attach the people composing a State, to its authority and importance, are at present too much excited by the unnatural feelings, with which they have been inspired agst their brethren of other States, not to expose them, to the danger of being misled into erroneous views of the nature of the Union and the interest they have in it. One thing at least seems to be too clear to be questioned, that whilst a State remains within the Union it cannot withdraw its citizens from the operation of the Constitution & laws of the Union. In the event of an actual secession without the Consent of the Co States, the course to be pursued by these involves questions painful in the discussion of them.
Madison actually considered the idea of unilateral secession so preposterous that until it actually came up when South Carolina first threatened it he felt there was no need to even mention it, and was astonished that he should have to. He also references the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution as proof positive that the states had no such ability, something that modern neo-Confederates tend to deny. Given that he wrote the thing, I should think I trust Madison's interpretation of it. Also note that he asserts that sovereignty and nationality lay with the United States, not the individual states.
And now for the thoughts of the man commonly referred to as the father of our country, George Washington, chairman of the Constitutional Convention and first President. This is from his Circular to the States.
There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power:
1st. An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head.
2dly. A Sacred regard to Public Justice.
3dly. The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and
4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.
Under the first head, altho' it may not be necessary or proper for me in this place to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the Union, and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the States to delegate a larger proportion of Power to Congress, or not, Yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true Patriot, to assert without reserve, and to insist upon the following positions, That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives, they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to Anarchy and confusion, That it is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere, a Supreme Power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the Confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration. That there must be a faithful and pointed compliance on the part of every State, with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue, That whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the Sovereign Authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the Liberty and Independency of America, and the Authors of them treated accordingly, and lastly, that unless we can be enabled by the concurrence of the States, to participate of the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of Civil Society, under a form of Government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression, as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be a subject of regret, that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose, that so many sufferings have been encountered without a compensation, and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.
Ouch. That one's got to sting, especially since many neo-Confederates actually hold Washington as a hero. There was in fact a portrait of him dominating the front wall of the hall in Montgomery where the Confederate Constitution was drawn up.
But these are the opinions of men. What does that Supreme Law of the Land say, actually? Often the Tenth Amendment is cited as a grant of the power to break up the Union. That Amendment:
United States Constitution, Amendment 10 wrote: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.
But this explicitly applies to powers not delegated to the United States. So let's see what is.
United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15 wrote:To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions
Insurrection and rebellion are obviously illegal; otherwise there would be no provision for suppressing it.
United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 wrote:The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Again, if rebellion is legal, why the injunction against it?
United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3 wrote:No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
Again, if you need the consent of Congress to raise an army, then it would seem that just leaving would be out; after all, if you can just leave, why bother having such a restriction?
United States Constitution, Article 3, Section 3 wrote:Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.
Speaks for itself, I think.
United States Constitution, Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 wrote:The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
This one's the kicker. When taken in the context of the Supremacy Clause, we see that the states cannot violate the territorial sovereignty of the United States. Secession is such a violation. Here is that Clause, which is the one Madison referred to in his letter to Senator Rives:
United States Constitution, Article 6, Clause 2 wrote: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.
So where is the right to secede? I'm certainly not seeing it. Incidentally, if that was such a big deal to the Confederate States, you would think they would have seen fit to include it in their own constitution. They did not. In fact, the only change they made which affects the ability of states to leave their union is this:
Confederate Constitution, Preamble wrote:We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...
So much for the right of secession.
Now, none of this is to say that the North was all sweetness and light. It was not. While slavery was the proximate cause of the initial secessions, and therefore the ultimate cause of the war, freeing the slaves was not the North's motive in prosecuting the war. Rather, the North was motivated primarily to preserve the Union; while Lincoln was personally an abolitionist, he did not believe it within his power as President to free the slaves. (Ironic, since he did take several powers normally reserved for Congress - namely, suspension of habeus corpus and calling out the militia to suppress insurrection - upon himself.)
The Emancipation Proclamation was indeed a great step, but it was first and foremost a war measure. Slave states which did not secede from the Union were permitted to keep their slaves until the passage of the 13th Amendment. In fact, prior to the Proclamation, Lincoln rescinded orders by General John Frémont and General David Hunter freeing the slaves in areas of the Confederacy they had captured; he dismissed Frémont when the general refused the President's orders to reverse his decision.
It was political reality that making the war about slavery would likely have cost Lincoln the war (Ulysses S. Grant said he would resign if he thought the war's objective was to free the slaves, and the border states would likely have simply seceded themselves), but that doesn't change the fact that the Union's prosecution of the war was not to free the slaves; it just makes it more excusable.
However, what is not excusable is the South's behavior prior to and during the Civil War. War would not have happened without secession. The initial secessions were without doubt motivated by a desire to maintain and expand chattel slavery (secessions after Lincoln took office were motivated by an unwillingness to contribute troops to fight the South, but again, without slavery none of it would have happened), and that is what matters to the causes of the war.