The Confederate States did not Commit Treason
July 1, 2020 | View PDF
The Alabama Gazette welcomes its newest contributor: John M. Taylor: Married (Susan) with two sons and two grandchildren, most know me by my nickname “Johnny.” After graduating from Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City and then attending Central Alabama Community College, I earned a B.S. in Transportation from Auburn University. During most of my college years, I worked at Russell Corporation then upon graduation, the majority of my career was spent there in various management positions. After our department was eliminated due to the 2008 recession, I held a few different jobs before I wound up working at Adelia M. Russell Library in Alex City in 2013, where I am now Assistant Director. In the process, I earned an MLIS from the University of Alabama.
I have written for “Lake Martin Living” and have been published in local newspapers, newsletters, etc. I also edited local and State newsletters (SCV) for about nineteen years. Beginning in 2010, while between jobs, I decided to use my previous writings combined with new material and put it all together in a book entitled “Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation.” John Sophocleus, a friend since about 1993, was very helpful with this endeavor and wrote the Foreword. It covers a plethora of topics, including history, economics, transportation, tariffs, etc. As something of a Jeffersonian book, it focuses quite a bit on the concept of government by consent. Published in 2017, the book can be found online at: https://booklocker.com/books/8983.html and https://www.amazon.com/UNION-ALL-COSTS-Confederation-Consolidation/dp/1634916468.
Recent articles in various publications and comments from a few historically illiterate politicians have floated around lately regarding the nature of the Original American Republic. There are occasional tidbits of truth intertwined with misinformation. Rather than dissect all of the issues, I will concentrate on one blatantly false accusation concerning treason.
The Thirteen Original Colonies seceded from the British Empire, eventually winning their independence. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Great Britain and the colonies: “the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states...” (Avalon Project, Yale University) This Treaty describes the actual sovereigns—the States.
The States created the first federal constitution, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union; it was ratified in 1781. Primarily due to Federalist efforts to strengthen the central government, the States seceded from this so-called perpetual union and the U.S. Constitution became official on March 4, 1789, after nine States ratified it. It was not until 1792 that all thirteen States agreed to be part of the U.S. Constitution. The Union was created as a voluntary compact (even Nationalist Alexander Hamilton called it a compact)–not a Soviet-styled forced Union. Three States (Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island) joined under the proviso that they could leave this compact if it was in their best interests to do so.
In 1846, echoing Jeffersonian principles, Jefferson Davis stated that the federal government “is the creature of the States; as such it could have no inherent power, all it possesses was delegated by the States.” Those enumerated powers are found in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. If the States did not have sovereign power, they would have had no authority to delegate powers to the federal government.
When Lincoln was elected in 1860 with 39.8 percent of the vote, the agricultural States of the South realized what had transpired: the point man for the industrialists had been elected to implement the Radical Republican agenda. This included a national bank, protective tariffs, and internal improvements (corporate welfare), all of which would be primarily financed by the import dependent Southern States. At that time, import duties made up over 90 percent of government revenue. In his First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861), Lincoln told the world the only reason the North would invade was to take control of the forts to “collect duties and imposts.” Everyone should read it.
The Southern States realized the threat but chose not to go down the nullification avenue prescribed by Thomas Jefferson and used by South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun in the 1830s over discriminatory import tariffs. They instead chose to either meet in their respective legislatures or hold popular votes to
determine whether or not to remain in the Union. Alabama’s vote was 61 to leave and 39 to stay.
Following the lead of their Revolutionary ancestors, the Southern States elected to govern themselves. The last four States—Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee—left the Union after Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to invade the seceded States. That was seen as treasonous and a violation of the voluntary nature of these united States. The Southern States made their decisions based on the concept of government by consent (see The Declaration of Independence). There is nothing treasonous about voluntarily leaving a voluntary Union.
After the war, Jefferson Davis virtually begged for a “treason” trial to let the courts decide if the Union is consensual or forced. Noted New York attorney Charles O’Connor (an Irish Catholic) enthusiastically volunteered to represent Davis. On the Union side, U.S. Chief Justice Salmon Chase warned: “If you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion…His (Jeff Davis’) capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason.” (The Long Surrender, Burke Davis) Echoing Chase, German-born philosopher Franz Lieber (Lieber Code) said: “Davis will not be found guilty...and we shall stand there completely beaten.” (Davis)
Relative to slavery, remaining in the Union was the best way to protect it, a fact noted by Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and Confederate VP Alexander Stephens. The monuments and statues represent Southerners who fought for independence, which included literal defense of their homes. Their fight represented the very basis of pre-Orwellian America.