The Strangest Civil War Argument I've Ever Heard

At the end of this piece on that pro-secession poll, the author posits a cause of the war that I've never heard anyone float.
Much of the fervor for war in 1860 was driven by a moral crusade against slavery. Some of it was fueled by patriotism, and some by state, local, and even just family affinities.

At the highest level, however, Lincoln recognized that the cosmopolitan North—teeming with immigrants, churning with class conflict, surging into the prairie and mountain west—would have lacked a logic of unity if the South were permitted to break off in peace. The Southerners had history, ethnicity, culture, slavery, religion, and a quasi-aristocratic honor society to hold them together.

What did the North have?

Not much more than we have today. Although the spell of American superpower and an almighty government is in some ways more dominant than ever, the moment that spell is broken, many will find themselves in a kind of freefall of political principle.
So Lincoln fought the war because the North lacked any other organizing principle?

I understand the argument for slavery as cause. I understand the argument for economics as cause. I understand the argument for culture as cause. My own sense is that all of those things were factors in the tension that led to the conflict, but that the proximate cause -- the thing that made a war necessary, and a peaceful secession impossible -- was the union of technology and geography. No President of the United States in 1860 could accept control of the port city at the mouth of the Mississippi river passing to the hands of a foreign power. Before the proliferation of railroads, before trucks and interstates, before airplanes, there was no alternative to the Mississippi to move the wealth of the middle of the country to market. It was as critical a national interest of the United States then as access to warm-water ports has always been to Russia.

Quite possibly it still is.

It would never have occurred to me, though, that the North couldn't have held itself together except on the principle that the Constitution was a suicide pact. Nobody gets out alive, because then the whole thing would fall apart!

41 comments:

Tom said...

I haven't heard it put that way, but I have heard the idea that if the US had let the Southern states go, it would have had to let other states secede in the future. This was unacceptable, so ...

Joseph W. said...

Well, Lincoln's First Inaugural gives his view on keeping the Union inviolate:

I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?


etc. etc....I don't read that as a "suicide pact" at all. My marriage is 'til death do us part, but that is not the same as a suicide pact; we didn't promise to die any earlier than Fate brings it.

From what I've read many supporters of the Union cause really did put it in terms of "preserving the union" rather than abolishing slavery (I believe McClellan was one such).

(Even so, per the First Inaugural, Lincoln did not feel justified in starting the war to preserve the Union; though you can argue about how eager he was to start it once the South opened fire.)

Of course none of that's inconsistent with the economic motive Grim describes...people dress up economic self-interest in fine terms all the time (see the "Fair Share" law...).

But there was plenty of rhetoric, going back at least to the Federalist, suggesting that many supporters of a stronger union were concerned with wealth and military power...the ability to deal with other empires and their ambitions in the Americas, and to field a large enough force to do it. And that was even before the Louisiana purchase gave us the Mississippi and the extra motive Grim mentions.

I have to be a little skeptical of Grim's idea because the railroad and steamship industries were already going strong by then...so that someone whose main concern was "how we get our goods to market" could as easily press for getting more rails built as for war.

(A tariff-ringed "captive market" for northern manufactures on the other hand wasn't so replaceable, but I am highly skeptical that was a major driving force.)

As you may know (if I'm not misremembering it), there was a smallish movement (around the time of the War of 1812) for New England to secede...because they disagreed with the other states on war policy and, basically, couldn't stand the South. Getting away from the people you don't like, and giving them no more voice in your government, would be a refreshing thing. So I don't think "cultural tension" was that strong a causative factor in turning secession into war.

Anonymous said...

This article is yet another one where somebody is reaching too hard to say something "fresh," and so parts of it sound like gibberish.

The underlying article has a point in that the great issues concerning how we govern ourselves did not originate with our country, and to the extent they are not resolved, carry through to today.

It goes completely off the rails with the description of the dichotomy between North and South, and the notion that the North without the South lacked any organizing principle is unintelligible to me. I doubt that any human person at the time actually thought in those terms.

Valerie

Gringo said...

Before the proliferation of railroads, before trucks and interstates, before airplanes, there was no alternative to the Mississippi to move the wealth of the middle of the country to market.

The 1850s featured both a great expansion of agricultural production in the Midwest and and expansion of the railroad network to take those agricultural goods to market. The two went hand in hand.

Which meant that the two years that the Midwest was cut off from shipping goods to New Orleans, until the fall of Vicksburg, didn't hurt the Midwest that much.

An alternative route to market had already been developed.

Grim said...

Gringo:

I haven't looked closely at the question in more than ten years, so I'm prepared to be told that my data is antiquated or whomever I got it from was simply wrong. Still, as I recall the figures, the mode of shifting cargo by water at that time and place was overwhelming to other methods.

This is opposed to today, when -- assuming the accuracy of the Wiki numbers -- rail handles more than three times as much cargo as water, and twice as much as both combined is handled by trucks on a highway/interstate system that simply didn't exist. (Nor did the internal combustion engine that made those systems possible!)

So, yes, I know there were some trains connecting major cities and such. But my sense is that the strategic control of the Mississippi was really important at the time.

JW:

That quote from Lincoln does sound somewhat like what the author is saying, in a way. It's an odd thing for an American to say -- the British might have said the same in 1776 -- but it does at least have the flavor of logic and organizing principles.

What a strange thing to fight over, though. "You can't go, although we hate you, because we couldn't live together without you."

Joseph W. said...

Andrew Jackson put it differently:

The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a government in which ale the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States; they retained all the power they did not grant. But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union. To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that the United States are not a nation...

I don't think an idea shared by Jackson and Lincoln can be called "strange for an American."

And it doesn't strike me as odd. A major point of constitutional dialogue, from the Founding to the Civil War, was whether Jackson was right, whether the Constitution was simply a "league between states" as opposed to an actual government.

I'd frame it as..."You can't leave, whether we hate you or not, because we all have agreed to live under laws that say you can't. And none of us can nullify those laws at pleasure." (Though that particular question of law got decided on the battlefield.) I think that is a very, very American position to take.

One of my greatest "how cool is that?" moments was taking my oath as an officer...and realizing that in this country, I'm sworn to the laws (that is, the constitution), not to a Patrie, a President, or any other "sovereign."

Joseph W. said...

(Incidentally, both Jackson's view and Lincoln's leave open the possibility that a state could secede if the rest of them agreed to it...if, let us say, a Constitutional amendment passed to that effect. But as far as I know the South never tried that angle.)

Grim said...

Nobody did agree to laws that said they couldn't leave, though: the Constitution was silent on the point, which by plain language reading of the 9th and 10th Amendments suggested it was a right reserved to the states or the People.

Lincoln went to some effort to respond to that argument, so I know it was taken seriously at the time. I understand that West Point actually taught, in the decades before the war -- when the officers who fought the war were being educated -- that the 9th and 10th surely did imply that the secession power was retained by the states. If that's how the were taught to understand it, then it's easier to understand why so many officers went to the Confederacy.

Grim said...

Anyway, I'm still bemused by the author's structure. 'Of course the Southerners could succeed if they left: they had a common history, ethnicity, culture, slavery, religion, and a quasi-aristocratic honor society. But the North...'

Texan99 said...

I agree with Valerie.

As for slavery vs. union as the guiding principle behind the war, I think I have to go with union. Lincoln may not have been crazy about slavery, but I think there's little evidence that he went to war to end it. He went to war to preserve the union, which he thought was critical to survival. Does that seem odd, for someone who despised the South and didn't mind seeing it remade? Not to me. In any case, Lincoln rather reluctantly freed the slaves well into the course of the war, under pressure to keep a pro-war coalition together. (Not that he wouldn't always have been happy to do it, perhaps, if he'd though he could pull it off safely, but he didn't think so.)

I was brought up with the vague notion that Northerners were abolitionists to a man, but that was nonsense. There were Northerners passionate about it, and Northerners for whom it was way down on a list of priorities if it figured in at all. By the same token, I was raised to think Southerners were (and are) racists and Northerners were (and are) not, which has turned out to be a lot of hooey.

Joseph W. said...

Lincoln went to some effort to respond to that argument...

So did Jackson! And since it was decided on the battlefield, I'd say there were millions who took it as seriously as possible...600,000 of them to their graves.

I don't think the Ninth Amendment applies because it's about rights of individuals, not of states; and even the tenth (given its place in the Bill of Rights, which is all about individual rights) is arguably the same.

Furthermore, you can read Article VI (the Supremacy Clause) as setting the constitution over all the people. Jackson's argument, that the Constitution acted directly on the people and not just through their state governments, then gives force to this idea: if a state government can secede on its own initiative, that means the state government has the power to nullify the constitution for its entire population. In other words, a state government could strip its citizens of Constitutional protections simply by seceding.

The Bill of Rights, by itself, was generally held to apply only to the Federal government. But Article I, sections 9 and 10, of the original constitution place some limits on what the states can do, such as passing ex post facto laws or making laws impairing "the obligation of contract." So if Article VI is right and the Constitution is supreme, that means a State should not be able to strip these protections away by an act of its legislature, even if the act has a broader purpose.

Of course, now that the civil war's done we also have the Fourteenth Amendment, which directly and explicitly places regulations on the states, with a power to enforce vested in the Congress. (In fact, the states can even lose representation in the House, though not the Senate, under that amendment. They can't lose equal representation in the Senate because of a "stone clause" in Article V.)

I think even now a secession could be effected by means of constitutional amendment...the Article V clause I mentioned allows a state to lose suffrage in the senate "with its consent," and since we're past 1808, I don't see there's anything else restricting the power of amendment. It's just a matter of getting enough people to agree nationwide.

MikeD said...

I don't think the Ninth Amendment applies because it's about rights of individuals, not of states; and even the tenth (given its place in the Bill of Rights, which is all about individual rights) is arguably the same.

I respectfully disagree. The Tenth Amendment is about as plainly clear as could be. Powers not expressly given to the Federal government nor expressly forbidden to the States are to remain in the hands of the States and the People. And frankly, I think the anti-secession argument is lost right there. Unless you can point to an actual passage in the Constitution expressly forbidding that to the States (I'll save you a look, there isn't one).

And I will say, I agree with the conclusion that the States had a right to secede (indeed, it is quite clearly spelled out in the Declaration of Independence that the right is inalienable), I will also say that I'm glad the Union prevailed. And ultimately, regardless of how a legal challenge to the concept of secession had turned out in the courts, does anyone truly believe that the Union would have just let the South secede peacefully? I'm not saying might makes right, but it does settle arguments pretty definitively.

MikeD said...

By the same token, I cannot see the Federal government waging war in the modern era to keep a State (or indeed a group of States) in the Union if they were to secede today.

Ymar Sakar said...

Fort Sumpter was what might be called a false flag operation, by the states that wanted to obtain a reason to secede. They over did it though, and freaked out Lincoln, who wasn't in on the op.

They got the war that they thought Lincoln was too chicken to fight. Then they killed Lincoln because he became a tyrant, after being too chicken to fight a war. So there you go, Democrat logick. Bush did it first.

Texan99 said...

"I cannot see the Federal government waging war in the modern era to keep a State (or indeed a group of States) in the Union if they were to secede today."

Do you really not think so? I'd guess the Feds would come down like a ton of bricks, and I'm not hopeful about a lot of popular support for the secessionists, either. I read amazing venom on the Net all the time directing at those awful crazy Texans and their constant joking threats about secession. And not just on the sickest comments boards, either.

Ymar Sakar said...

Lincoln may not have been crazy about slavery, but I think there's little evidence that he went to war to end it.

If Lincoln had committed to a war to end slavery, when the South was guaranteed their "property" by Constitutional lawyers and previous Presidents/Congress, then Lincoln would really be a Tyrant, like Hussein O's Regime. That's a ridiculous reason to initialize a war.

Kill half the nation to save the other half? Only a redistributionist Alinskyite feels the pleasure of that South African trick.

So Lincoln was too much of a moderate for the Democrat states that wanted to secede to tolerate. They needed a pretext or reason. Lincoln refused to give it to them, but the seceding states weren't going to wait. They had already drafted all their lawyer work decades ago. They weren't going to sit down and shut up about it any more, especially since their voting power in Congress would decrease with the addition of non slave new states over the next 50 years. Opposite spiral to our Mexican demographic right now.

Ymar Sakar said...

I'm sure the next WACO will be just another misunderstanding, after some states lose about 50% of their patriotic population... pure coincidence.

Joseph W. said...

And frankly, I think the anti-secession argument is lost right there. Unless you can point to an actual passage in the Constitution expressly forbidding that to the States (I'll save you a look, there isn't one).

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof....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." - Article VI

So if the state passes a law that says, "The whole constitution does not apply to us anymore, because we are seceding," that is a "thing in the laws of the state"...which is overridden by Article VI. The same argument applies against Nullification...of which secession is simply an extreme case.

Joseph W. said...

(Ditto if the state amends its constitution.)

Grim said...

But Mike's still right, because the Tenth Amendment is right there in the Constitution. So the explicit delegation to the States/People of all non-explicitly assumed powers doesn't run afoul of the supremacy clause; it is in accord with it.

Joseph W. said...

No, because the Supremacy Clause explicitly says that the Constitution itself shall be supreme over every state and its laws. That means that Nullification and Secession are matters "prohibited by it to the states." Because if the States get to throw off part or all of the constitution, that would mean it's not supreme at all...just as a law that you can defy anytime you want to is not supreme over you, indeed is not really a law at all.

btw, the Tenth Amendment reads as follows:

"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."

The word "expressly," which MikeD adds, isn't in there.

Grim said...

The power is not delegated to the United States, and it is not prohibited by it to the States. Thus, by the supremacy clause, the Constitution leaves the power to the States (or to the people).

Or, as the Declaration of Arbroath put it, it's great that God himself sent us this noble and wonderful king, Robert the Bruce... but the minute he stops doing his job, we're done with him and will pick somebody else. Or, as the Declaration of Independence put it, you shouldn't cut sling load with a long-existing political tie lightly... but when you do, you should at least give an account of why they deserved it.

If the Constitution wanted to say, "And no one shall secede except under the following conditions," it could have said so. Since it passes over the question in silence, it's a question for the states. The Federal government is like the king of Scotland or the king of England -- the bond of loyalty is not permanent on us and all our heirs to hold from him and all his heirs forever and ever Amen. The bond of loyalty lasts as long as he does his job, not more and not less.

Joseph W. said...

It is prohibited to the states, at least implicitly (and I think explicitly). Because Nullification or Secession would mean that the Constitution was not supreme anymore. A "supreme law" that a state legislature could annul would not be supreme; the only way for it to be supreme is to admit that the States can't do that.

As King Arthur said in Excalibur...what a magnificent interpretation..."My laws must bind everyone, high and low, or they're not laws at all."

The U.S. Government wasn't a monarch sent by God, deriving his title by descent from William the Conqueror, and his majesty from papal endorsements or the force he can command (and losing it like Richard II as soon as some other guy can command more force against him). Instead of reserving the right to rebel against it, the Founders created a mechanism to change it peacefully.

They certainly were inspired by the Scots, and the English as well, who'd made a habit of throwing off kings they found too oppressive. But they created a better mechanism than execution and civil war for that - so that we've managed with only one of those so far.

Also, the mechanism for amending the constitution in Article V would be absurd if Nullification were a true doctrine. Under Article V, it takes a vote of 3/4 of the state legislatures or conventions in 3/4 of the states to pass a new amendment. Why go to all that trouble, if every single one of the states can "amend" the federal constitution all by itself, either by "nullifying" the parts it doesn't like or by throwing off the whole thing?

Joseph W. said...

(In a way, Bolingbroke's rebellion against Richard lies in the same tradition, though I don't know if the Founders cited it or not. I believe the rebellion was based on Richard's seizure of John of Gaunt's property...leaving various nobles to fear they'd get the same arbitrary treatment if they didn't replace the monarch.)

Eric Blair said...

Grant, in his memoirs, makes the interesting claim that the states that were part of the original 13 might have basically been able to get up and go, but that all the subsequent states, brought into the union by all the others, and at the cost of all the others, couldn't just leave.

He expressly uses the example of Texas, which was brought into the union through the war with Mexico.

Plus he points out the seizure of Federal property, that is, public property, by the seceding states was illegal. And basically says that the firing on fort Sumter was an insult to the Union.

(One wonders that if the secessionists just went and ignored the Federal installations, or offered to buy them or what not with out starting shooting, what Lincoln could have done.)

In any case, the Articles of Confederation, actually named "The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union" set the precedent in article XIII: "...the Union shall be perpetual." So, one can quibble whether the Constitution of 1787 was an amending or a rewriting of the articles of confederation, but it is obviously a successor in the same spirit.

Jackson obviously thought so, and so did George Washington:

"You have been wisely admonished to "accustom yourselves to think and speak of the Union as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity, watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety, discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of any attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts." Without union our independence and liberty would never have been achieved; without union they never can be maintained."

It's the Union forever.

Joseph W. said...

One wonders that if the secessionists just went and ignored the Federal installations, or offered to buy them or what not with out starting shooting, what Lincoln could have done.

Well, his expressed intention in the First Inaugural was to do nothing in that case. So it's at least possible he would have done nothing, no matter how much he legally "could."

'course when you get to the realm of "arbitration by force," the "could" becomes a lot more literal...

Grim said...

JW,

Because Nullification or Secession would mean that the Constitution was not supreme anymore.

Nullification would, but secession wouldn't. The Constitution would remain the supreme law of the land. All that would have changed is the borders of the land. The newly independent state wouldn't be part of that land anymore, but within the borders of the United States the Constitution would always reign.

As King Arthur said in Excalibur...what a magnificent interpretation..."My laws must bind everyone, high and low, or they're not laws at all."

That particular interpretation is strikingly modern, not Medieval, though: King Arthur (who wasn't a king, probably, but leave that) wouldn't have said it. It made perfect sense to the Medievals for laws to bind some but not others: naturally churchmen needed different rules and protections than knights, and both of those from guildsmen.

The idea that the law should bind all exactly alike and universally follows Newton by an imaginative generation. "Lawlike" came to mean "universal" in the popular imagination. The reason for this is that the law of gravity applies to everything in just the same way, no matter what kind of thing it is: you compute the motion using universal features of bodies such as mass, and thus you don't care if the mass is a bird or a stone.

That's exactly opposed to the Medieval (and Aristotelian) notion that things move according to their natures. So a stone will not move the same way as a bird, should you toss one in the air -- and go ahead, try it, and see if it does!

Joseph W. said...

It's the Union forever.

Dan Webster's ghost will be glad.

Grim said...

Eric,

Washington also warned about the danger to liberty of entangling alliances. Jefferson went on to mention it in his inaugural address as well (I think the phrase is actually his).

So if the union continues to be the means for the permanent security of liberty, then let the union continue. But if it becomes destructive to the liberty that was its whole point, let those who have the capacity to remain free cast off and defend that liberty where and as they can.

Joseph W. said...

Nullification would, but secession wouldn't.

Secession is just an extreme case of Nullification. Instead of saying, "This one federal law or constitutional provision won't apply," it says, "All of them won't apply."

To see the absurdity of the distinction, imagine a state pulled a Joan of Arc. "Okay, the Sixteenth Amendment shall apply to most of our state. But in the town of Domremy, federal income tax shall not apply, nor shall any other federal tax. We're not nullifying your Sixteenth Amendment or tax power, or claiming it's less than supreme...we're just changing the area of land over which it shall be supreme. In fact it still applies to all of our state, except only this little town of Domremy."

Domremy at that point would become a major tax haven, obviously, and bring in boatloads of revenue for the state coffers. But would the Constitution still be the Supreme Law of the Land, if a state could do that?

That particular interpretation is strikingly modern, not Medieval, though.

I know, and there's a time when that would've bothered me. But every version we have is, as you say, heavily transformed from whatever the original was, and presumably is transformed to fit the era in which it's retold. The 1980's Arthur is doubtless further from the first-millennium Arthur than Mallory's fifteenth-century Arthur...but I bet neither one is all that close to the original anyway. The newer one gave me a heroic Arthur that I can admire even on my terms.

There's something similar in that more recent Robin Hood we've talked about before...and what a shame it wasn't successful enough for sequels! Because I thought the reinterpretation was absolutely brilliant. Instead of making Richard the redeeming hero, it makes Magna Carta the redeeming hero, with Robin standing for the people's rights and a less arbitrary rule of law, instead of for submission to a stronger, worthier king.

Joseph W. said...

The idea that the law should bind all exactly alike and universally follows Newton by an imaginative generation. "Lawlike" came to mean "universal" in the popular imagination. The reason for this is that the law of gravity applies to everything in just the same way...

I don't think that's how it came about. There's a germ of it in Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath...and the older idea still of a king as "first among equals." All of this long before Newton was born, let alone before the English (not a famously intellectual people) began assimilating his ideas...

no matter what kind of thing it is: you compute the motion using universal features of bodies such as mass, and thus you don't care if the mass is a bird or a stone.

That's exactly opposed to the Medieval (and Aristotelian) notion that things move according to their natures. So a stone will not move the same way as a bird, should you toss one in the air -- and go ahead, try it, and see if it does!


I treat my birds more gently than that, but I'll tell you something...if some human comes along and tells us that the laws we obey shouldn't apply to him, because we're "rocks" and he's a "bird," he'd better grow some wings!

Grim said...

Secession is just an extreme case of Nullification. Instead of saying, "This one federal law or constitutional provision won't apply," it says, "All of them won't apply."

That's one way of looking at it. Another way is that it's a totally different thing. Nullification says, "Although I remain in the USA, I refuse your law." That's obviously unacceptable, and a violation of the supremacy clause.

Secession says, "Then we are no longer part of the USA." There's no conflict with the supremacy clause, because the Constitution continues supreme in the USA. Formally, there's no problem with it.

In any case, the supremacy clause nor anything else spells out the distinction, nor locates the power to secede or not. That's Mike's point, and I think it rules the day.

The newer one gave me a heroic Arthur that I can admire even on my terms. There's something similar in that more recent Robin Hood we've talked about before...I thought the reinterpretation was absolutely brilliant.

I thought so, too. I don't object to the reinterpretation (within the limits of preserving the essential natures of things: I would object to a reinterpreted Gandalf who was secretly a servant of the Eye, for example). I just want to make sure we understand that the idea being forwarded there is not essential to the Arthurian corpus: it's a modern idea. The Medieval root, which is genuine, is non-favoritism towards his wife. Arthur was supposed to give her the law, and not misuse his pardon power to save his own wife from the law that bound other noblewomen.

That was Henry VI's real flaw, as you probably know: less his churchmanlike demeanor, which was admired (as had been Edward the Confessor's, some hundreds of years earlier), but his extreme favoritism towards his wife and her own faction. Malory (writing at the time) makes Guinevere's faction the good guys of the Round Table, and lets Lancelot assist Arthur in saving her from the death-by-law she deserves; but it's clear that the factionalism itself is what destroys the Round Table.

I don't think that's how it came about. There's a germ of it in Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath...and the older idea still of a king as "first among equals."

Except the Magna Carta very explicitly makes distinctions between the rights of the Church and churchmen, the rights of knights and peers, and so forth. It's actually a very good example of having many laws for many kinds of people. As we've discussed (see the 'frith' list), what happened wasn't that the idea was universality; it's that the class of "free men" slowly spread to include everyone.

Joseph W. said...

That's part of why I said it had the "germ" of the idea, rather than the full flowering of the idea...also the remarkable enforcement clause, which says that God's anointed can be attacked by the nobles if he doesn't abide by the charter. Per your objection in the other thread I think this speaks well of the medieval English...they did not have to wait for Sir Isaac to get the idea that there was something to be done to a king who went too far. So not everything was shrouded in night 'til God said "Let Newton Be." And it fits the English national myth, including the version the Founders grew up on...and which inspired this beautiful verse.

In any case, the supremacy clause nor anything else spells out the distinction, nor locates the power to secede or not. That's Mike's point, and I think it rules the day.

I don't think it gives enough attention to the way laws were written in those days. Nowadays even a longstanding criminal statute has to be written with definitions out the wazoo...because our legislatures don't trust the courts to read them honestly. But I once looked through some 19th-century versions of the Code of Alabama (pre- and post-slavery). They'd say things like, "The maximum penalty for larceny is X years"...and not define larceny. They even said, "The condition of Negro slavery is established in this state"...without defining "Negro slavery."

Even a death penalty offense, like rape, would not be defined (only the procedures for imposing death)...because with centuries of common-law tradition behind them, the legislatures trusted the courts to read them the way they meant.

The Constitution itself defines just one word -- "Treason" -- and that's because it's one law that was so frequently and systematically abused, from antiquity through Henry VIII and after. This is one reason why the U.S. constitution is so short...compared to, say, Brazil's modern one, which if I remember runs over 100 pages...and it's probably why the Tenth Amendment does not include the word "explicitly"...since the Framers understood that some points would be implicit.

Imagine this: The U.S. goes to war against a tyrant overseas. One of the wealthier States doesn't like the war and doesn't want to support it. So they say, "I tell you what. We're going to do a temporary separation here. We'll be a separate country for the next few years, 'til you're through with that war, and then we'll come back." (Assume a state on the Canadian border or the Great Lakes...so it's under no threat of foreign conquest and has access to foreign trade even if the U.S. cuts it off.)

The Constitution doesn't say they can't do it...it has a procedure for admitting "new" states but not for "old" ones that want to suspend their membership temporarily. Permissible?

This interpretations strains against the whole purpose of the Constitution, which was to have a Union that was really a nation, that could fight together and prosper together, and challenge any other nation in this hemisphere. So I think my reading of the Supremacy Clause is the more reasonable one, and consistent with the intent of the Framers.

Grim said...

Per your objection in the other thread I think this speaks well of the medieval English...they did not have to wait for Sir Isaac to get the idea that there was something to be done to a king who went too far.

Well, obviously they had that idea. The idea that the law should be the same for all men... that's a different idea. And in fact, it's a bad idea. I'm not praising Newton, or his successors, for coming up with it. Some people are better than others; 'one standard for all' generally means a worse standard for almost everyone.

This interpretations strains against the whole purpose of the Constitution, which...

I think the introduction of the 'temporarily' hypothesis strains the analogy unacceptably. To say, 'We shall set aside the Constitution for a while' is an affront to the supremacy clause -- indeed, it is even in the case of martial law, though there is constitutional ground for that. But it's a problem to do it 'for a while.'

To walk away entirely -- as Scotland recently proposed to do -- is another matter. Then it is not a question of whether the law is supreme in the United States, or whether it is not. It is. Unquestionably it is. We simply are not part of the United States anymore, as the United States is no longer part of the United Kingdom. That doesn't have any bearing on whether the constitution of the United Kingdom (unwritten and customary though it is) is the ruling law there; we just aren't there anymore.

douglas said...

"As you may know (if I'm not misremembering it), there was a smallish movement (around the time of the War of 1812) for New England to secede...because they disagreed with the other states on war policy and, basically, couldn't stand the South"

Almost a pity that it didn't happen...

"Secession says, "Then we are no longer part of the USA." There's no conflict with the supremacy clause, because the Constitution continues supreme in the USA. Formally, there's no problem with it."

Well, except you'll likely now have civil war as those who are also part of that country, but who are having their boundaries redrawn may not like that idea so much. All the people- if you want to redraw the bounds of the state- fine, if you want to redraw the bounds of the nation, you'll need the approval of the people of the nation.

I started reading this comment thread essentially neutral on the issue, but after the arguments presented here, I'm swayed to the side of Perpetual Union- or at least until everyone agrees on a separation.

Ymar Sakar said...

Might makes right. The 13 colonies obtained the right of independence through strength and only strength alone, with some virtue added in.

If independence is truly desired and wanted, then prove to the world you are strong enough to take on the world and kill it.

Gringo said...

Grim, regarding precisely what proportion of Midwest agricultural produce went by rail versus river in 19860, I'd have to check.

I found out that from 1850-1860 grain production in the Midwest increased over 50%, an increase driven by increased cultivation, increased mechanization, and increased access of railroads to market the grain.

A subject I need to know more about, because at this stage I do not know what proportion of Midwest agricultural production in 1860 went by rail. Definitely more than in 1850.

Gringo said...

From the 1860 Census, pages 103-105

From 1850 to 1860 the miles of railroad increased from 8,589 to 30,599. Much of this increase occurred in the Midwest.
“….the eight great works named, connecting the interior with the seaboard, are the trunks or base lines upon which is erected the vast system that now overspreads the whole country. They serve as outlets to the interior for its products, which would have little or no commercial value without improved highways, the cost of transportation over which does not equal one-tenth that over ordinary roads. The works named, assisted by the Erie canal, now afford ample means for the expeditious and cheap transportation seeking eastern market and could, without being overtaxed, transport the entire surplus products of the interior…..

The only important line opened in the west, prior to 1850, was the one from Sandusky to Cincinnati, formed by the Mad River and Little Miami roads. But these pioneer works were rude, unsubstantial structures compared with the finished works of the present day, and were employed almost wholly in the transportation of passengers. Within the decade, in place of this one line, railroads have been constructed radiating from lakes Erie and Michigan, striking the Mississippi at ten and the Ohio and eight different points, and serve as trunk lines between the two great hydrographic systems of the west. These trunk lines are cut every few miles by cross lines, which in the States east of the Mississippi are sufficiently numerous to meet every private and public want, and to afford every needful encouragement to the development of resources of this country."


The decade finishing in 1860 saw the extensive development of a rail network in the Midwest, which much reduced its dependence on New Orleans as an outlet for its agricultural products.
I suspect that had the South seceded in 1850, it could have pulled it off, as the railroads were much less developed.

Now need to find tonnage to Nawlins. RR tonnage average 850 tons per mile of railroad.

http://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html
Preliminary report on the Eighth Census, 1860. 1862 (37-2, H. Ex doc 116)
Title Page [PDF], Full Document [ZIP, 44.2 MB]

Grim said...

Here's something helpful, maybe. It suggests that there was a major cost issue:

"As late as 1850, on competitive routes, river transportation still easily beat rail in cost efficiency for heavy shipping. For instance, shipping 2,000 pounds (one ton) from St. Louis, Missouri to St. Joseph, Missouri, a distance of more than 100 miles as the crow flies, cost $1,498.91 by rail but only $15 by steamboat!"

Prices like that suggest a supply/demand differential to support them. Rivers only go where they go, of course. But they went to New Orleans.

Gringo said...

Thanks for the source, Grim. Table 6.22 gives a less disproportionate comparison for water versus rail transport costs, in cents per ton-mile, for the 1850s. Speed was with the rails by this time: 26 mph versus 10-15 mph for steamboat.[I am skeptical at the 15-20 mph claim for canals.]

Canal 1.5
Steamboat 0.5-1.5
Rail 2.5

Table 6.23 gives figures for 1860 which place rail transport costing about 5-6 times greater than Mississippi or Ohio River steamboat tonnage transport.[0.37 versus 1.85-2.05]. Rail tonnage rates dropped by about a third in the 1850s.

If you are transporting grain from the Midwest to the Northeast , also bear in mind that via New Orleans there is a much longer route.

Grim said...

On your point about speed, I remember the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The conductor promises that they've sent word ahead to make sure the lines are clear for the Senator's train, so they'll make thirty miles per hour all the way back to Washington D.C.

It was clear what a feat that was, in those days.