Monticello and Secession

UPDATE: After much request, I’ve posted the name of the person that responded. 

UPDATE: Comments off topic will no longer be approved. Let’s confine the conversation to talking about this particular situation, and not a flame war over whether or not the South has a Constitutional Right to secede, or what the Civil War was over. 

The defenders of Southern Heritage use typical talking points when arguing over secession. One of my favorites is the comparison between Southern secession during the Civil War, and colonial “secession” during the American Revolution. Many heritage advocates argue that the two movements parallel while I maintain they do not for obvious reasons. In these discussions, a couple of heritage advocates referred me to this essay at the website monticello.org, operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The essay says,

America did not secede from the British Empire to be alone in the world.  Instead, the Declaration proclaimed that an independent America had assumed a “separate and equal station” with the other “powers of the earth.”  With this statement, America would occupy an equal place with other modern European nations, including France, the Dutch Republic, Spain, or even Britain.  America’s independence signaled a fundamental change: once-dependent British colonies became independent states that could make war, create alliances with foreign nations, and engage freely in commerce.

I’d like to point out that a foundation website, without footnotes, is really not a adequate source. Out of curiosity, I did what Historians are trained to do, I investigated. I sent an email to the foundation asking what led them to the conclusions on that particular page. It took a while before I got a response, to be honest I gave up on hearing back;  but the other night, low and behold, I received a response. I must say, it left me with more questions than answers. I forwarded their response to some friends of mine, as well as to other Historians/Bloggers such as Brooks Simpson, who recommended blogging the reply. So here it is:

Dear Mr. Baker,

I am responding to the following question that you posted on Monticello.org:

The justification of the word “secede” in the referenced essay is that the 18th century British Empire was a federal union.  Derived from the Latin word foedus meaning “treaty,” a federal union was an alliance or confederation of political entities created for mutual interest or benefit.  Thus, the British American colonies originally entered into this confederation as semi-sovereign polities who agreed to offer loyalty to the British crown in exchange for protection from the British king.  During the Imperial Crisis of the 1760s and 1770s, revolutionary patriots argued that Britain was no longer upholding its end of the bargain—it was neither protecting nor serving the interests of the American colonies.  Instead, British Americans believed that Parliament and King George were impinging on their “rights,” most specifically, property right.  These points became the justification for the colonies’ legitimate secession from the federal union that constituted the British Empire in 1776.  Patriots promptly created their own federal union by establishing and uniting the new American states—this union survived until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Please let me know if you have further questions.

Thanks,

Christa

Dr. Christa Dierksheide
Historian
Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies
Monticello
P.O. Box 316
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
Phone: 434.984.7516
Fax: 434.296.1992

I replied of course, but I do not expect a response. I am trying to figure out how the British Empire, including the colonies, represented a “federal union”, while at the same time being a “confederation” of which the colonies entered into. If this be true, and mutual benefit between England and her colonies was sought, then why the system of mercantilism? And where, pray tell, is there any documentation that states the colonies entered into a “confederation”, to exchange loyalty for protection? Reach much? I also pointed out that the colonial patriots entered into a loose Confederation during and after the revolution which dissolved in in 1787-1788 when a new government was formed, a federal one, and that said union did not simply dissolve during the Civil War. My theory is that due diligence was not paid when the word “secede” was used in the original essay and now there is hesitance to go back on it.

So what do you think?

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98 thoughts on “Monticello and Secession

  1. I’d say whoever wrote that response either has no idea what they’re talking about or is trying to justify what was on the site. The American colonies didn’t enter into a union with England because they were established by England. They didn’t get an option or choice. The people were English and operated within charters granted by the King or Parliament. Anybody that has read American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan who used a ton of primary sources in his research will reject this union idea out of hand.

    • I could not agree with you more. What is rather disturbing is that the person that wrote the response claims to be a Historian with a PhD from UVA. I do not mean to come of sounding facetious about someone’s credentials, but I can only discern so much from an email who’s author may or may not be the person they claim to be. Thanks for commenting Jimmy, I’ll definitely looks into the book you recommended as well.

      • I did ask you specfic questions about the post itself. Do you have answers yes or no? I gave you a pass on my blog because your posts have not been insulting to the South or the Confederacy in general. I can change that if you want me too. Now, again, didn’t the South just want to be treated as equals in the international community? Were the rebel of 1776 and the rebels of 1861 fighting for the same thing? Didn’t the Confederacy send an ambassador to England and France– may other countries? Didn’t the South feel like the US government wasn’t holding up its end of the bargin??? Are you refusing to give me a factual answer?????

        George Purvis
        Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and education

        • George, I checked your blog. You have no posts except for a general welcome. I don’t care if your change, whatever it is you want to change.

          The answer, no. The Rebels of 1776 saw themselves as a people with inherent natural rights that were being usurped under absolute despotism, triggering their right to throw off such government. The Southern rebels of 1860-61, saw themselves as equal partners in a Union of which they could unilaterally leave through an act of secession. They saw property rights infringement, which there was none, and political oppression, which there was none. The quasi-government of the CSA sent ambassadors to seek political recognition. The South, through their own admission, felt the government infringed upon the property rights of owning slaves. Which there was none. The South was winning in the political protection spectrum, the true opposition came from the expansion of slavery, as cited again by Southerners of the time.

          • Rob, If you see the home page at the top there should be two pages listed. If they are not I will get tech support to check out the problem. Remember I am a website guy not a bloggher so I expect problems getting up and running. You can get to my pages here. http://coldsouthernsteel.wordpress.com/what-does-it-take-to-be-a-neoyankee/

            http://coldsouthernsteel.wordpress.com/where-are-the-facts/

            Now remember you do care what is posted I seem to recall you hiding behind the edit/ban buttn for a while.

            “with inherent natural rights that were being usurped under absolute despotism, triggering their right to throw off such government”
            Isn’t the same true for the South? Didn’t they believed they had the right to form a government that
            was best for them? There were no laws preventing them from leaving the Union and they belived each state was sovereign.

            There were other issues besides that of slavery are you forgetting about that? . Read the Declarations of Secession, yes slavery was an issue to secession but so was Indian attacks.

            Like I said the Confederacy wnatedc to be treated as an equal, not to be in a suoperior position nor to be considered less than.

            GP

          • No. The reasons cited for secession were wrong. Their ability to hold slaves was not in any danger politically. In fact, it had been affirmed through legislation and Supreme Court decisions.

            Also, they is not inclusive or an accurate generalization, as many knew otherwise including prominent members in their government.

            Slavery is the prominent and most important simply on the sure volume of times it is mentioned. The Southern States wanted to be equal in their political weight, nothing else. They lost an election. Is losing an election an adequate reason for leaving the Union? Get real George.

  2. George just looks for sites to troll on so he can run his mouth while pulling out the Lost Cause handbook of lies and distortions. Facts are meaningless to him and when he gets hammered on one issue he just switches to another strawman argument. He’s been blocked on most of the other sites because he brings nothing new to the discussion.
    It is interesting because I’ve got two classes this semester and while it’s been a long time since I took the survey classes myself, as I teach the students it is pretty easy to see how things developed over time. The primary documents of the past pretty much tell the story of how the Civil War came about.
    The biggest point George can’t overcome is how the slaveowners got angry because they lost control of the federal government. Up until the 1860 election they had control of it and used it to block anything that wasn’t pro-slavery. Once they lost control and ONLY when they lost control did they seek to leave the Union. They didn’t want to be treated as equals. Equality meant sharing the same laws and values. No, they wanted inequality and their laws and their values to be the dominant ones even when they were the majority.
    The other part that George can’t overcome is that slavery was not imperiled by Lincoln’s election. The documents of the time reflect that. The expansion of slavery was going to end and that meant slavery would wither and die. The slaveowners knew this, said this, and decided to prevent it. The fact that slavery was not going to expand regardless of what they did was superfluous to them.
    In any event we keep coming back to slavery as the cause of the Civil War. That knocks out the tentpole of the Lost Cause.

    • Again Jimmy I have been a reader of Rob’s blog for a long time, possibly longer than you. Oh I can overcome plenty of facts, but the fact stillremains the war was about slavery. Check your 8,000 docuents you claimto have.

      • Oh I can overcome plenty of facts, but the fact stillremains the war was about slavery.

        Glad you agree George. No one is arguing with you.

        • Yes, George. The war was about slavery. I have no problems agreeing with that. I’m very happy to see that you agree with the facts on that issue.

          • Are you really being so argumentative that you won’t scroll up and read the very names of court cases he supplies, and the very debates he refers to?

          • I am not arguing. I am not interested in any court cases, I want to see the actual passage where any Southern leader says we are fighting to preserve slavery. As I said if he had posted it here, you would have used the same on my pages. It is that simple. Now does Jimmy speak for you. You don’t have the facts yourself?

          • You should be interested in court cases George. Supreme Court Decisions clarify, or amplify the Constitution and its meaning. Marbury v. Madison (Judicial Review). Cases are important.

          • “it”, “it” ….what “it” are you referring to. Aside from you being argumentative, one cannot simply decipher your code.

          • You’re not being very clear here, George. I’m not even sure what your stance is on what issue. The Civil War was about slavery. You’ve stated that it was about slavery. There is nothing to argue about because we all agree that it was about slavery.

          • Seems pretty clear to me. Read your post, read my reply, it all comes into focus.So I left out a word, make an issue out of it, argue all you want but, bottom line, you still cannot prove the war was about slavery.

          • No one has to prove the war was about slavery. It is already proved. Southerners at the time knew why they seceded, and they knew what they were attempting to protect when waging war. Jefferson Davis said so in a speech in Montgomery, AL (Feb. 1861) that they are defending the “position we have assumed among the nations of the earth.” Davis clarified that ‘position’ earlier in the speech by saying “Devoted to agricultural pursuits, their chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country.”

            The South fought to continue the policy of secession and the causes for which they seceded. The chief cause, cited numerous times, by numerous states in volume; slavery. Shake your head and deny it all you want. Tap dance around it to make the claim that other issues were just as relevant, despite the fact that the attention those issues pales in comparison to the time spent on slavery. There is no running from that fact.

          • Really???? Sure you do, if you are going to say the South fought to preserve slavery you should bring forth some facts. The only fact I see is your constant arguments and no real facts.

            Nice spin but no cigar. First the “Declarations” are for 4 states, not the Confederacy as you imply. Indian raids and taxes were also issues.

            Now the North could have been fighting to preserve African slave trade or perhaps slavery itself!!!!!!!!

          • Indian raids is listed only be Texas, and only twice. Tariffs is not mentioned at all. Only Georgia and South Carolina mention “duties”. Slavery is mentioned 38 times by every one of those states. “property” is listed another 16 times. And George, there is more available per state than just these four documents.

            http://deadconfederates.com/2013/09/25/virginia-secession-in-the-defense-of-the-defense-of-slavery/

            November 6th, Lincoln is elected.
            December 20th 1860 S.C. secedes: [A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery
            January 9th, 1861, Mississippi secedes: This new union with Lincoln Black Republicans and free Negroes, without slavery; or, slavery under our old constitutional bond of union, without Lincoln Black Republicans, or free Negroes either, to molest us. Commissioner William L. Harris to the Georgia Legislature.
            January 10th, 1861, Florida secedes: Florida did not publish a declaration however, their unpublished declaration talks about slavery in nearly every paragraph. http://www.civilwarcauses.org/florida-dec.htm
            January 11th, 1861, Alabama secedes: Alabama commissioner Stephen Fowler Hale to the governor of Kentucky: ….by a sectional party avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the State of Alabama
            January 19th, 1861 Georgia secedes: Do I really have to post Tombs, Stephens, their declaration and so on?
            January 26th, 1861 Louisiana secedes: Commissioner George Williamson to the Texas secession convention at a later date stated: She was impelled to this action to preserve her honor, her safety, her property and the free institutions so sacred to her people
            February 1st, 1861, Texas secedes: 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 and tolerable.

            These seven confederate states joined together in February of 1861, adapted a Constitution, and elected Jefferson Davis President with Alexander Stephens as his VP (Cornerstone Speech).

            Jefferson Davis Inaugural Address (Montgomery, Alabama Feb. 1861):
            We are doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others. There can be no cause to doubt that the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measure of defence which may be required for their security. Devoted to agricultural pursuits, their chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country.

            It is pretty obvious, blatantly laid out in black and white, what the cause for secession was, and what that new “nation” would do to protect it.

            Provide documentation to what the North, “could have” been fighting for, and I’ll provide documentation stating what they were fighting for.

          • Are you referring to slavery here? If so, what year are you referring to? If I understand what you’re saying the federal government was not going to end slavery in 1861 as Lincoln stated he did not have that power which he did not have. As a war means, he ended it in part of the country, but not in all of the country via the Emancipation Proclamation. Ending slavery was then part of the Union’s goal along with the perseveration of the Union. As the war lurched to its conclusion it became clear that the only way to legally end slavery was through a Constitutional amendment and very few people disagree with this. This amendment also ended indentured servant practices in the country, but they had been almost eliminated by that point.

            The question comes up about the federal government having the power to end slavery. It obviously could through an amendment. Any other way (excepting the EP as a war measure) was seen as being unconstitutional because slavery had been left up to each state to decide for themselves. Did the federal government have the authority to prevent slavery in the territories? YES. That was decided before the Constitution went into effect via the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which prohibited slavery in the territory. Note that the areas in the southwest of the nation (to the Mississippi River) did not prohibit slavery and that there were several ordinances to cover this area over time. Link to Northwest Ordinance http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=8&page=transcript

            Note the wording in the ordinance predates the Constitution. A reference to a compact is made in Sec. 14 but as it predates the Constitution is superseded by the establishment of the new government under the Constitution as outlined in Art. 4 under Sec. 14. Why is this? Because of this sentence: The said territory, and the States which may be formed therein, shall forever remain a part of this Confederacy of the United States of America, subject to the Articles of Confederation, and to such alterations therein as shall be constitutionally made; and to all the acts and ordinances of the United States in Congress assembled, conformable thereto.

            Note the intent of the states being part of the US forever. The alteration under the Constitution was just as clear. The states were to be forever part of the United States. The compact theory of government via the Articles of Confederation was ended by the Constitution. We keep coming back to the importance of the founding of this country and the intent of the people. The evidence is clear as to the perpetual union. The evidence is clear that some states chose to attempt to leave the Union. The result speaks for itself. Secession is, was, and unless changed constitutionally, will always be unconstitutional without the consent of the federal government.

          • The war was not about slavery which is true.

            I would say you are correct on the intent of the states to stay inn the Union. That action would be if the Federal government treated the states fairly and equal which it did not. This is proven by the Immediate Causes docs. It is also true that the South wasn’t the only secession attempt, yet no law had never been passed to address that issue.

            “Chief Justice Salmon Chase. No law had ever been passed that explicitly outlawed secession, the argument simply having been sidestepped by events. From the legal point of view it would have been difficult to accuse Mr. Davis of having committed any crime. Judge Chase felt there was no strong legal case against him for having been the president of the Confederacy, and added, with a surprising wisdom: “Lincoln wanted Jefferson Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason. Secession is settled. Let it stay settled.”
            And…
            “The War Department presented its evidence for a treason trial against Davis to a famed jurist, Francis Lieber, for his analysis. Lieber pronounced ‘Davis will not be found guilty and we shall stand there completely beaten’.”
            According to Mr. Conner, U.S. Attorney General James Speed appointed a renowned attorney, John J. Clifford, as his chief prosecutor. Clifford, after studying the government’s evidence against Davis, withdrew from the
            case. He said he had ‘grave doubts’ about it. Not to be undone, Speed then appointed Richard Henry Dana, a prominent maritime lawyer, to the case. Mr. Dana also withdrew. He said basically, that as long as the North had won a military victory over the South, they should just be satisfied with that.”
            ——————————-
            The Chase and Lieber quote are from “The Long Surrender”, 1985, by Burke Davis
            His sources are..
            Southern Historical Papers, Vol. 37, pp 244-52
            “Why Jefferson Davis Was Never Tried” by George S. Boutwell, is in ibid., Vol. 38. pp. 347-49.
            “The U.S. vs. Jefferson Davis,” by Ray F. Nichols, American Historical Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, January 1926, pp 266 ff.
            “The Trails and Trail of Jefferson Davis,” a paper read before the Virginia Bar Association 1900, and published by this organization.

  3. I think it is somewhat of an epic failure of George and others to try to go back to the American Revolution to justify secession. The people of 1861 disagreed with the actual attempt of the slaveowners to give their desires validation and legitimacy. After an additional century and a half of further research, the facts remain that the Revolution and Civil War were completely different. The reasons for the Revolution had nothing to do with that of the Civil War.

    Notice that George keeps trying to say that the South could secede and that there were no laws to prevent this? George fails to take into account the ratification process when it was made clear that there was no going back if a state ratified the Constitution. I’m sure he will point to Virginia’s ratification and say they retained the right to secede, but as expected he won’t explain the context of the document or what the men of 1788 meant as they stated in their ratification debates. Simply put, Virginia did not retain the right of secession because no state had it.

    He will also ignore what Virginia did when the section that became Kentucky tried to secede from Virginia without approval from the state. That’s the problem with George and the Lost Cause handbook. It lacks contextual exploration. Of course that’s the whole problem with the entire thing. Context involves research and an exploration of history. Heritage ignores context in favor of local or regional pride. Facts that contradict heritage are ignored and denied by the heritage crowd as that is bad for tourism or the destruction of a deceptive identity.

    • I’ve got a quick question Jimmy. Do you have any publications dealing with secession? And if so, where can I find them?

      • When you say publications what do you mean? As far as primary sources there are several. I do not really rely on secondary sources because they’re just opinions on what the primary sources say although there are some very good secondary sources that explain primary sources in context which is critical to understanding them. This is one of the major problems with the Lost Cause crowd. They do not wish to study context because it destroys their modern political ideology that they’ve hooked onto the secession wagon.

        Everything goes back to the Constitution. As we’ve seen there is nothing in it about secession. There is also nothing in it about a compact theory either. The Lost Cause handbook states that because there is nothing in it about secession it is constitutional. However, when placed in context that claim quickly becomes invalid. All one has to do is study the ratification debates of each state to discover what the people thought about the Constitution. They understood that once they ratified it there was no going back. Pauline Maier did a wonderful job of studying the ratification conventions and her book on the subject is wonderful. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution is a wonderful book on the ratification process.

        • Sorry Jimmy. This was in regards to your personal publications which we settled through email.

          Thank you for the Maier reference though. I’m a bit bogged down at the moment with a thesis research, but I’ll put it in the shopping cart.

        • Next on the list of documents are the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. Note there are two from Kentucky. The Kentucky ones were written by Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia one by James Madison. Also included in this would be the journals of Congress. These resolutions were authored in secret and the authors were not revealed until the 1830s. These Resolutions would later be cited by Southern secessionists as having the same substance as actual law and are often referred to today in the same way. However, both parties neglected to mention that these Resolutions asked for help from the other states in affirming the ideas contained in the Resolutions. Seven formally rejected the Resolutions, three passed resolutions expressing disapproval of the Resolutions, and four took no action. New Hampshire’s response was shared by other states, “That the state legislatures are not the proper tribunals to determine the constitutionality of the laws of the general government; that the duty of such decision is properly and exclusively confided to the judicial department.” Basically, the resolutions (and they were definitely different from each other) were rejected. The Supreme Court rejected compact theory as well in two cases, Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, (1816) and McCulloch v. Maryland (1819).

      • Where is the law that says they can leave the Union? It comes down to intent at the time of the Constitution’s creation and the ratification debates proved that the intent was that once a state joined the Union it would not leave the Union.

          • Fair enough. Then where is the law in the Constitution? I am still waiting.

            Heck let’s just edo this— Any People Anywhere, Being Inclined and Having the Power, Have the Right to Rise Up, and Shake Off the Existing Government, and Form a New One That Suits Them Better

            That pretty much settles the argument because Abe was honest and he wouldn’t lie would he. And this is the same Lincoln that became president. Did he lose his honesty then???/

          • Here is the rest of the quote that George and others have left out.

            “Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movements.”

            What’s the matter George? Afraid to let Lincoln speak using the rest of the quote? Or are you just learning from David Barton?
            My claim is backed up fully. The people that created the Union in all 13 states agreed that it was perpetual. Hence no secession. Try as you like, all you can say is there was nothing in the Constitution that says secession was unconstitutional. That is ALL you can say. You’ve flogged the horse to death and haven’t provided any facts to support the constitutionality of secession. I’ve provided plenty of evidence and as usuall for a Lost Cause supporter you haven’t provided a damn thing.

            That’s what I love about the you Lost Cause folks. You want proof. We give you proof. You don’t agree with the proof. We ask for your proof. You provide none and try to change the subject. PUT UP OR SHUT UP!

          • No I am not afraid to let Lincoln speak. he did say secession/the right of rebellion was a right, didn’t he. Is that a true quote or not???I haven’t a clue who David Barton is. Sorry.

          • Obviously no one taught you about Constitutional Interpretation or Implied meanings. Which is why court cases are important George. We are a nation of laws, those laws are not always in the Constitution. The Constitution only overrides “laws” or “acts” when the Supreme Court judges those laws or “acts” as being Unconstitutional. If court cases demonstrated that a perpetual union existed, then a perpetual union does indeed exist until such law or amendment rescinds that ruling.

          • Perhaps you should look up your Constitutional History. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the creation of the First Bank of the United States. Then you can get back to me.

          • Isn’t this what everyone does when their sources won’t hold water???

            On that note when you can prove that the South was fighting to preserve slavery, you can get back to me. Maybe by that time you will have something real to trot out, something you can defend without dancing from issue to issue. BTW I want to remind you that you are the one who chose the “Declarations” as your proof postive not me.

            Why don’t you address the Ordinances from all 13 CSA states? I know that unless you blocked notifications from Cold Southern Steel, you know they have been posted. Is it because they shoot your argument down????

            You really are fun to play with.

            George Purvis
            Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education

          • You mean, tell them to actually look up history. I was unaware that’s what people did when their argument did not hold up water.

            George, you really are a peace of work. The ordinances of secession, are merely legal acts. Even in those legal acts, a couple of those states still mentioned slavery, or property, or a comradery that exists between “Slave Holding” states. Now, the Declaration of Causes, are completely different documents that list the specific reasons for secession. Not every state issued a Declaration of Causes, so then what? We go to the debates and other primary sources, which also point to the issue of slavery as being the top priority. Get this through your skull. You cannot run from this issue. There is no tap dancing around the issue. The South fought to preserve their secession, and the reasons for that secession. The number one reason, the primary motivation and the central political issue of that era; slavery. Sorry George, there is just no denying it.

          • Again, you want a specific black and white law. The evidence is overwhelming denying the legality of secession. You can’t prove it was legal so show me your law.

          • My claims are backed up. Where is your proof, George? The only thing you have is the pathetic excuse, “It isn’t written in black and white in the Constitution.” Epic failure on your part because the evidence is overwhelming that secession is not allowed. You’re failing pretty good on this subject. What was your self-given title again? Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and education? Code speak for guy who lies and ignores facts which prove him wrong. You should go get an education. You might learn something.

  4. I have a simple question for Dr. Dierksheide: when did any of the colonies “enter[]” into anything? (without even getting to the additional problems regarding a “confederation”, etc.). As we know, the colonies came into existence essentially through unilateral royal act – in such forms as charters to trading companies or royal grants to individuals. Moreover, unlike the case in England, every resident of the colonies had at best “virtual representation” in Parliament – which applied in England only to those subjects who could not vote. That’s an interesting voluntary “alliance or confederation” for “mutual interest or benefit”, to say the least. I find it disturbing that somebody who is involved in interpreting this era of American history apparently lacks even a basic understanding as to how each of the 13 colonies was established during the 150 or so years preceding the AWI – let alone why they were labeled “colonies” in the first place.

  5. Rob,
    I think I found the reason why Dr. Dierksheide said what she did. It is all due to Thomas Jefferson’s vision of how things developed in the history of the colonies. If you read Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America you will find where he expounds his Whig history in some length. Here is the original text via Avalon Project http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/jeffsumm.asp .

    Jefferson as well as some others viewed the colonies as independent parts of the empire via a commonwealth. Pauline Maier states on page 22 of American Scripture, “They saw the empire as consisting of several independent political communities, each with its own legislature, bound together under the Crown–a concept which foreshadowed the British Commonwealth of the nineteenth century.”

    In this case Jefferson was wrong in his vision as he was in his understanding of history, but to his credit he didn’t have much to work with plus he got his history from George Wythe. Jefferson was mixing his political ideology with his history. As we can see from studying history, when there are several competing views of history, somebody is right and somebody is wrong. Jefferson’s version of history clashed with history as taught to the folks in Parliament and King George III.

    • I think you are doing a better job of answering the question than she did.

      Does Maier use this as an example of how salutary neglect affects the political scheme in colonial America?

      Even still, Jefferson never views the Revolution as secession. He knew the word, he used the word in other circumstances to elaborate on a scenario where New York might secede from the “Union” (referring to the continental congress); yet he never uses the word when referring to the America’s act of revolution. The truth is, he saw this as a Revolution of the people against a tyrant much like he saw the revolution in France.

      • Precisely. In fact, Jefferson liberally used the dirty “rebellion” word, even to the point of suggesting after the adoption of the Constitution that a little “rebellion” now and then is a good thing for all governments. One basic point missed by those who toss around “secession” is the vast difference between the start of the AWI and the start of the ACW. In the former, residents of the several colonies took up arms against the Crown’s forces throughout April-December, 1775 without taking any formal “legal” action. In other words, it was a “rebellion”/”insurrection”/”revolt”. In July, 1776 they implemented/ratified that in formal terms without ever labeling it a “secession” – i.e., a withdrawal from an entity in which they had voluntarily joined (because it clearly wasn’t). In 1860-61, the various states in the Lower South first took the formal “legal” action of voting to withdraw from the Union which they had joined in 1787-89 by ratifying/being admitted on application. Arms became involved only afterwards. As a separate matter their theory was in fact invalid but it and the methodology to implement it were 180 degrees the opposite of what happened in the AWI. “If it swims, flies, and quacks like a duck….”

        • We’re going back to the Whig interpretation of political theory as it was thought of in 1775-76. Gordon Wood makes the case of what they and TJ were thinking in The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 in the chapter Law and Contracts, pages 259-305.

  6. Rob,

    Perhaps Dr. Dierksheide, since she is at Monticello, can point us to the many instances where Thomas Jefferson wrote of the great American Secession of 1776. Thus far I have failed to find any instances, but if, as she asserts, it was a secession, then certainly Jefferson himself would have used that reference.

  7. George, you’re doing what you usually do which is to shift away from the points. Either provide proof that the war was not about slavery and that secession is constitutional or shut up. Davis and the treason trial are the usual attempts to shift away from having to provide proof on the issues of slavery and secession. If this was an academic conference you’d be laughed out of the room for your lack of proof and complete denial of the facts that have been presented to you.
    Put up or shut up.

  8. Well, if we’re going to do that, then I think we should explore Gordon Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic. He addresses what people were thinking in 1774-1787. Jefferson is noted for his interpretation of history and British politics which is not what many others were thinking. Basically, we need to understand that people in the colonies disagreed on many things. History and politics were part of that. Wood explored the pamphlets of the period and he traced how political thought evolved over time in this period. Independence was a process as well. While some were ready for it in 1774, most were not until 1776.

    Just out of curiosity, Rob, have you replied back to her about this? I think she takes a big step in implying that what Jefferson thought was what everyone thought because that certainly was not the case.

    • I did reply, although I do not expect a response.

      This really leaves me with more questions than answers.

      I appreciate the etymology of the word “federal”, but what does it tell us about the union between colony and mother country? Britain’s attempts at Imperial Federation (Federated Union), or what some refer to as the Commonwealth Unification Movement, does not occur until the late 19th century. American colonies are considered a part of the First British Empire, not a ‘federation.’ I don’t see how the British colonies can be considered as a part of a federation, given the things they could not do. They did not represent political equals, and England could unilaterally change policy if and when they so chose. How and when did the British American colonies “enter” into a confederation, when they were already apart of what you called a federation? A confederation implies equal and separate entities in alliance with one another. I am confused as to how a colony can offer loyalty in exchange for protection, when the colony was created under the auspices of mercantilism and is already a part of the Empire. The colonists themselves were already Englishmen and subject to the rights and laws of England. England created the colonies, the colonies did not exist separately and then enter into agreements with England. The colonists primary issue with Great Britain was the expansion of taxes without an equal expansion of representation in parliament. This is something many of them found as impinging their rights as Englishmen. None of the founders, that I am aware of, referred to the revolution as an act of secession. I don’t see how they could either. There was not a union between the colonies and England based on anything but the system of colonization that Britain used to gain economic power in the world. As far as the post-Revolution American government, America became a Confederation under the Articles of Confederation. This survived until the states ratified United Stated Constitution in 1788, then America became a federal union that still survives today.

      A bit scattered, I replied at one in the morning.

      • Rob,

        You bring up an interestingquestion. Now I have a question for you–since all land in the colonies was owned by England, was it sold to the colonist or as the case with some of my ancestors, granted by the king? Either way did England still hold a claim to this “owned” land?

        • Living in a colony does not null private property laws prevalent in England. The colonials are Englishman, and subject to the precedents established in English Common Law. Men owned, sold, and traded land. However, there was still a system of Government in place. They lived under English law, including the comforts and the taxes.

          • Thanks Rob. I ask because one of my ancestors was granted land which is now Norfolk to Newport News. I can understand his ties to the king but wassure if he really owned the land inthe same sense we own it.

            Good answer.

            GP

          • Yea no problem. One of my ancestors acquired land through a headright like system in Maryland. He ended up sponsoring several people and wound up as one of the largest land owners in the area. He supposedly helped found Anne Arundel County.

          • Have you ever heard of colonist Hugh Bullock? He wrote a book about live in the colonies, which I am sure is well out of print at this time. At any rate if you have any historicl info on him I would appreciate it. Also Capt. Tomas Pit(t)man who was granted land by Pocohontas’s father and was a ringleader of Bacon’s Rebellion. Always looking for family history.

            GP

  9. Rob,

    Very interesting post. I agree with your take on the matter; the Monticello essay seems like an uncritical use of the word secession. The response by Christa Dirksheide appears to be a weak attempt to justify a poorly chosen word. That said, there does not seem to be an adequately rigorous definition of the term secession. In casual usage and even in academic works secession is commonly used as a synonym for separation. I’m guessing you would find that as problematic as I do.

    My reading on the subject is far from complete, but the closest I’ve seen anyone come to a rigorous definition is in Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession (Pavkovic and Radan: see http://books.google.com/books?id=tPcfu2pRc9AC&pg=PA282&dq=legal+theory+of+secession&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_1-2UuLsB4_IsATmzoJw&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=legal%20theory%20of%20secession&f=false)

    But though they acknowledge the OED’s usage of “formally withdrawing from an alliance, a federation, etc” they completely miss the importance of the word *formally* and settle for a formula based on separation coupled with creation of a new state. I suppose the fact that they’re political scientists and not historians has something to do with this; Pavkovic and Radan do not think deeply about the historical significance of their definition. To me the term hinges on that word “formally” since that brings up the question of legality.

    I regard secession as the legal process by which one polity separates from another. This is a definition that captures the essence of the political dimension of the Civil War. Southerners adhering to a Calhounian understanding of the Union believed that the unilateral action of a state was a legal process. Some conflated their “process” with the Revolution of 1776. Unionists regarded unilateral state action as an inadequate process. Confusion reigned then on the term as it does now. For example, James Buchanan offered a very sharp analysis of the flaws of the Calhounian view right up to the point where he declared secession to be “no more and no less than revolution.” (see the 1861 State of the Union)

    Lincoln, to my knowledge, did not often call the withdrawal of the Southern states “secession” at all; he favored “rebellion or revolution”. As I see it the secessionists of the South were, in fact, revolutionaries; but they hoped to bolster their cause by claiming that it was a legal act. Here they part company with the Revolutionaries of 1776 who did not base the Declaration of Independence in law, but rather in the expression of a fundamental human right.

    Dr. Dirksheide seems to draw on John Adams’ (writing as Novanglus) formulation that the Colonies were under the supreme authority of their own legislatures. But not even Adams claimed they were *sovereign*.

    Sorry to be so verbose. In any case, I think you’re spot on with your read of the situation.

  10. In all fairness, Madison and other Founders often use the words “federal” and “confederate” and “national” in a very interchangeable fashion. I don’t fully understand why they were so cavalier with these words, but they were. I guess they figured the context made it clear, and nobody 220 years hence was going to parse their every breath.

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