Joseph Sobran's syndicated columns appear in
newspapers across the country and are published on his website, Sobran's.
The column below is currently at this
URL. Please read this column but don't stop there. If you want a
true understanding of slavery and specifically, African slavery, you must
dig deeper. Try Hugh Thomas' THE SLAVE TRADE which is listed on the
described in more detail below.
The central point
to try to equate the Confederacy with slavery and
More about Joseph Sobran.
Slavery, No; Secession, Yes [Jan.21,
Two Bush cabinet nominees are being accused of
a thought crime: being on the side of history’s losers. John Ashcroft,
prospective attorney general, and Gale Norton, prospective secretary of
the interior, have said favorable words about the Confederacy (while
taking care to say that slavery was wrong).
What both Ashcroft and Miss Norton said was
that the South stood for states’ rights and resistance to an all-powerful
federal government. Yes, it was also defending slavery, but that doesn’t
negate the good principles it fought for, any more than the American
Revolution is discredited by the fact that Washington, Jefferson, and many
other revolutionaries owned slaves.
Unfortunately, many Northerners insist on equating the perfectly
constitutional principle of states’ rights — more properly, the powers
reserved to the states — with slavery and segregation.
You can (and should) be pro-secession without
being pro-slavery, as in fact many Americans, North and South, were. The
right of secession was affirmed by two Northern states, New York and Rhode
Island, when they ratified the Constitution.
As a friend of mine points out, the Tenth
Amendment implies the right of secession, since it reserves to the states
and the people “the powers not delegated to the United States [i.e., the
federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the
States.” The Constitution doesn’t prohibit the states from seceding, so
that power remains with them. The fact that the North won the Civil War
doesn’t alter the principle, unless might makes right.
During the debate over ratification of the
Constitution, opponents of ratification made many dark predictions: the
Constitution would enable the federal government to impose tyranny, it
would lead to “consolidated” — centralized and monolithic — government,
and so forth. But nobody complained that the Constitution would prevent
the states from reclaiming their independence, as they certainly would
have done if the Constitution had been understood to rule out secession.
After all, the Declaration of Independence had established the right of
the people to “alter or abolish” any form of government that injures their
Since the Constitution
doesn’t forbid the states to secede, the North found it necessary to
violate the Constitution in order to suppress Southern independence.
Lincoln was forced to usurp legislative powers by raising troops and money
and by suspending the writ of habeas corpus; when Chief Justice Roger
Taney ruled such acts unconstitutional, Lincoln wrote an order for Taney’s
arrest! He never followed through on that, but he did illegally arrest 31
antiwar members of the Maryland legislature and install a puppet
government. He went on to crush freedom of speech and press throughout the
North. Such was Lincoln’s idea of “preserving the Constitution” and
“government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The notion that Lincoln “saved the Union” is
as naive as the notion that he “freed the slaves.” The Union he saved was
not the one he set out to save. The Civil War destroyed the “balance of
powers” between the states and the federal government which he had
promised to protect in his 1861 inaugural address.
This was not Lincoln’s intention, but it is
the reason many of his champions praise him. James McPherson celebrates
Lincoln’s “second American Revolution”; Garry Wills exults that Lincoln
“changed America” with the Gettysburg Address, which he admits was a
“swindle” (albeit a “benign” one).
In other words, Lincoln’s war destroyed the original
constitutional relation between the states and the federal government. His
own defenders say so — in spite of his explicit, clear, and consistent
professed intent to “preserve” that relation.
The Civil War wasn’t just a victory of North
over South; it was a victory for centralized government over the states
and federalism. It destroyed the ability of the states to protect
themselves against the destruction of their reserved
Must we all be happy
about this? Lincoln himself — the real Lincoln, that is — would have
deprecated the unintended results of the war. Though he sometimes resorted
to dictatorial methods, he never meant to create a totalitarian
It’s tragic that slavery
was intertwined with a good cause, and scandalous that those who defend
that cause today should be smeared as partisans of slavery. But the
verdict of history must not be left to the simple-minded and the
End Sobran Column-----
The links below will lead the reader to a reasonably
comprehensive understanding of the Confederate
What does the
Confederate flag represent?