Chapters 3 and 4 of the first 6 of
Memoirs of Service Afloat
During the War Between the States
by Admiral Raphael Semmes
3. From the Foundation of the Federal Government Down to 1830, Both the North and the South Held the Constitution to be a Compact Between the States.
4. Was Secession Treason?
Publisher's Note: The six chapters of Raphael Semmes's Memoirs of Service Afloat that I am publishing, two at a time, in these three blog articles, are an OUTSTANDING short constitutional history of our country that is not short on facts or truth. It cuts right to the chase.
ALL SCV, UDC and others should read the six chapters in these three posts but especially the two in this one, Chapters 3 and 4.
With this brilliant argument from one of the greatest naval commanders of all time, who commanded the greatest commerce raider in maritime history, the CSS Alabama, Semmes obliterates the fraudulent argument that secession was treason.
He turns it right back on the ignoramuses by pointing out that the New England States' Hartford Convention in the War of 1812, while absolutely correct about their right of secession, was unquestionably treasonous because they had demanded that we help their shipping by going to war with the British, then they changed their minds and started giving aid, comfort and support to the British.
Ironically, it was the Southern boys at the Battle of New Orleans under Andrew Jackson that defeated the British and ended that war, thus saving the New England States from dishonoring themselves any further.
The biggest absurdity in all of history is that these same New England traitors fought the War Between the States to free the slaves that they had brought here in the first place, making huge fortunes in the process like the money grubbing Yankees they were.
As with the War of 1812, they encouraged Lincoln to start the War Between the States so that they could continue their theft of Southern money that was going straight into their pockets via the Federal Government's tariffs, bounties, subsidies, monopolies, etc., proving, incontrovertibly, that the sectionalism and "tyranny of the majority" that had so worried the Founding Fathers, would, indeed, destroy the republic they had created.
From the Foundation of the Federal Government Down to 1830, Both the North and the South Held the Constitution to be a Compact Between the States.
One of the great difficulties in arguing the question of the relative power of the States and of the Federal Government, consists in the fact that the present generation has grown up under the shadow of the great Federal monster, and has been blinded by its giant proportions. They see around them all the paraphernalia and power of a great government -- its splendid capital, its armies, its fleets, its Chief Magistrate, its legislature, and its judiciary -- and they find it difficult to realize the fact, that all this grandeur is not self-created, but the offspring of the States.
When our late troubles were culminating, men were heard frequently to exclaim, with plaintive energy, "What! have we no government capable of preserving itself? Is our Government a mere rope of sand, that may be destroyed at the will of the States?"
These men seemed to think that there was but one government to be preserved, and that was the Government of the United States. Less than a century had elapsed since the adoption of the Constitution, and the generation now on the theatre of events had seemingly forgotten, that the magnificent structure, which they contemplated with so much admiration, was but a creature of the States; that it had been made by them for their convenience, and necessarily held the tenure of its life at sufferance.
They lost sight of the fact that the State governments, who were the creators of the Federal Government, were the governments to be preserved, if there should be any antagonism between them and the Federal Government; and that their services, as well as their sympathies, belonged to the former in preference to the latter.
What with the teachings of Webster and Story, and a host of satellites, the dazzling splendor of the Federal Government, and the overshadowing and corrupting influences of its power, nearly a whole generation in the North had grown up in ignorance of the true nature of the institutions, under which they lived.
This change in the education of the people had taken place since about the year 1830; for, up to that time, both of the great political parties of the country, the Whigs as well as the Democrats, had been States-Rights in doctrine.
A very common error has prevailed on this subject. It has been said, that the North and the South have always been widely separated in their views of the Constitution; that the men of the North have always been consolidationists, whilst the men of the South have been secessionists.
Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Whilst the North and the South, from the very commencement of the Government, have been at swords' points, on many questions of mere construction and policy,---the North claiming that more ample powers had been granted the Federal Government, than the South was willing to concede,---there never was any material difference between them down to the year 1830, as to the true nature of their Government.
They all held it to be a federal compact, and the Northern people were as jealous of the rights of their States under it, as the Southern people.
In proof of this, I have only to refer to a few of the well-known facts of our political history. Thomas Jefferson penned the famous Kentucky Resolution of '98 and '99. The first of those resolutions is in these words:
Resolved, That the several States comprising the United States of America are not united on the principles of unlimited submission to their general Government; but that by a compact, under the style and title of the Constitution of the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constitute a general Government for special purposes; and that whensoever the general Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void and of no force; that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party; that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself, since that would have made its discretion, not the Constitution, the measure of its powers, but that, as in all cases of compact among persons having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions, as of the mode and measure of redress.
It is unnecessary to quote the other resolution, as the above contains all that is sufficient for my purpose, which is to show that Mr. Jefferson was a secessionist, and that with this record he went before the American people as a candidate for the Presidency, with the following results: In 1800 he beat his opponent, John Adams, who represented the consolidationists of that day, by a majority of 8 votes in the Electoral College.
In 1804, being a candidate for re-election, he beat his opponent by the overwhelming majority of 162, to 14 votes. In the Northern States alone, Mr. Jefferson received 85 votes, whilst in the same States his opponent received but 9. This was a pretty considerable indorsement of secession by the Northern States.
In 1808, Mr. Madison, who penned the Virginia Resolutions of '98, similar in tenor to the Kentucky Resolutions, became a candidate for the Presidency, and beat his opponent by a vote of 122 to 47; the Northern majority, though somewhat diminished, being still 50 to 39 votes.
Mr. Madison was reelected in 1812, and in 1816, James Monroe was elected President by a vote of 183 to his opponent's 34; and more than one half of these 183 votes came from the Northern States.
In 1820, Mr. Monroe was re-elected over John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts, by a majority of 231 votes to 13. Besides Monroe and Adams, Crawford and Jackson were also candidates, but these two latter received only 11 votes between them.
This last election is especially remarkable, as showing that there was no opposition to Jefferson's doctrine of State-Rights, since all the candidates were of that creed. The opposition had been so often defeated, and routed in former elections, that they had not strength enough left to put a candidate in the field.
John Quincy Adams succeeded Mr. Monroe, and his State-Rights doctrines are well known. He expressed them as follows:
The indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation, is, after all, not in the right, but in the heart. If the day should ever come (may heaven avert it) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred, the bands of political association will not long hold together parties, no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests, and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the dis-united States to part in friendship with each other, than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents, which occurred at the formation, and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect union, by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the centre.
General Jackson succeeded Mr. Adams in 1828, and was re-elected in 1832. It was during his administration that the heresy was first promulgated by Mr. Webster, that the Constitution was not a compact between the States, but an instrument of government, "ordained, and established," by the people of the United States, in the aggregate, as one nation.
With respect to the New England States in particular, there is other and more pointed evidence, that they agreed with Mr. Jefferson, and the South down to the year 1830, on this question of State rights, than is implied in the Presidential elections above quoted.
Massachusetts, the leader of these States in intellect, and in energy, impatient of control herself, has always sought to control others. This was, perhaps, but natural. All mankind are prone to consult their own interests. Selfishness, unfortunately, is one of the vices of our nature, which few are found capable of struggling against effectually.
The New England people were largely imbued with the Puritan element. Their religious doctrines gave them a gloomy asceticism of character, and an intolerance of other men's opinions quite remarkable. In their earlier history as colonists, there is much in the way of uncharitableness and persecution, which a liberal mind could wish to see blotted out.
True to these characteristics, which I may almost call instincts, the New England States have always been the most refractory States of the Union. As long as they were in a minority, and hopeless of the control of the Government, they stood strictly on their State rights, in resisting such measures as were unpalatable to them, even to the extremity of threatening secession; and it was only when they saw that the tables were turned, and that it was possible for them to seize the reins of the Government, that they abandoned their State-Rights doctrines, and became consolidationists.
One of the first causes of the dissatisfaction of the New England States with the General Government was the purchase of Louisiana, by Mr. Jefferson, in 1803. It arose out of their jealousy of the balance of power between the States.
The advantages to result to the United States from the purchase of this territory were patent to every one. It completed the continuity of our territory, from the head waters of the Mississippi, to the sea, and unlocked the mouths of that great river.
But Massachusetts saw in the purchase, nothing more than the creation of additional Southern States, to contest, with her, the future control of the Government. She could see no authority for it in the Constitution, and she threatened, that if it were consummated, she would secede from the Union.
Her Legislature passed the following resolution on the subject:
Resolved, That the annexation of Louisiana to the Union, transcends the Constitutional power of the Government of the United States. It formed a new Confederacy, to which the States [not the people of the United States, in the aggregate] united by the former compact, are not bound to adhere.
This purchase of Louisiana rankled, for a long time, in the breast of New England. It was made, as we have seen, in 1803, and in 1811 the subject again came up for consideration; this time, in the shape of a bill before Congress for the admission of Louisiana as a State.
One of the most able and influential members of Congress of that day from Massachusetts was Mr. Josiah Quincy. In a speech on this bill, that gentlemen uttered the following declaration:
If this bill passes, it is my deliberate opinion that it is virtually a dissolution of the Union; that it will free the States from their moral obligation, and as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some definitely to prepare for separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must.
Time passed on, and the difficulties which led to our War of 1812, with Great Britain, began to rise above the political horizon. Great Britain began to impress seamen form New England merchant ships, and even went so far, at last, as to take some enlisted men from on board the United States ship of war Chesapeake.
Massachusetts was furious; she insisted that war should be declared forthwith against Great Britain.
The Southern States, which had comparatively little interest in this matter, except so far as the federal honor was concerned, came generously to the rescue of the shipping States, and war was declared.
But the first burst of her passion having spent itself, Massachusetts found that she had been indiscreet; her shipping began to suffer more than she had anticipated, and she began now to cry aloud as one in pain.
She denounced the war, and the Administration which was carrying it on; and not content with this, in connection with other New England States, she organized a Convention, at Hartford, in Connecticut, with a view to adopt some ulterior measures. We find the following among the records of that Convention:
Events may prove, that the causes of our calamities are deep, and permanent. They may be found to proceed not merely from blindness of prejudice, pride of opinion, violence of party spirit, or the confusion of the times; but they may be traced to implacable combinations, of individuals, or of States, to monopolize office, and to trample, without remorse, upon the rights and interests of the commercial sections of the Union. Whenever it shall appear, that these causes are radical, and permanent, a separation by equitable arrangement, will be preferable to an alliance, by constraint, among nominal friends but real enemies, inflamed by mutual hatred, and jealousy, and inviting, by intestine divisions, contempt and aggressions from abroad.
Having recorded this opinion of what should be the policy of the New England States, in the category mentioned, the "Journal of the Convention" goes on to declare what it considers the right of the States, in the premises.
That acts of Congress, in violation of the Constitution, are absolutely void, is an indisputable position. It does not, however, consist with the respect, from a Confederate State toward the General Government, to fly to open resistance, upon every infraction of the Constitution. The mode, and the energy of the opposition should always conform to the nature of the violation, the intention of the authors, the extent of the evil inflicted, the determination manifested to persist in it, and the danger of delay. But in case of deliberate, dangerous, and palpable infractions of the Constitution, affecting the sovereignty of the State, and liberties of the people, it is not only the right, but the duty, of each State to interpose its authority for their protection, in the manner best calculated to secure that end. When emergencies occur, which are either beyond the reach of judicial tribunals, or too pressing to admit of the delay incident to their forms, States, which have no common umpire, must be their own judges, and execute their own decisions.
These proceeding took place in January, 1815. A deputation was appointed to lay the complains of New England before the Federal Government, and there is no predicting what might have occurred, if the delegates had not found, that peace had been declared, when they arrived at Washington.
It thus appears, that from 1803-4 to 1815, New England was constantly in the habit of speaking of the dissolution of the Union---her leading men deducing this right from the nature of the compact between the States.
It is curious and instructive, and will well repay the perusal, to read the "Journal of the Hartford Convention," so replete is it with sound constitutional doctrine. It abounds in such expressions as these: "The constitutional compact;" "It must be the duty of the State to watch over the rights reserved, as of the United States to exercise the powers which were delegated;" the right of conscription is "not delegated to Congress by the Constitution, and the exercise of it would not be less dangerous to their liberties, than hostile to the sovereignty of the States."
The odium which has justly fallen upon the Hartford Convention, has not been because of its doctrines, for these were as sound, as we have seen, as the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of '98 and '99, but because it was a secret conclave, gotten together, in a time of war, when the country was hard pressed by a foreign enemy; the war having, in fact, been undertaken for the benefit of the very shipping States which were threatening to dissolve the Union on account it.
Mr. John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, himself, as is well known, a Massachusetts man, speaking of this dissatisfaction of the New England States with the Federal Government, says:
That their object was, and had been, for several years, a dissolution of the Union and the establishment of a separate Confederation, he knew from unequivocal evidence, although not provable in a court of law; and that in case of a civil war, the aid of Great Britain, to effect that purpose, would be assuredly resorted to, as it would be indispensably necessary to their design.
See Mr. Adams' letter of Dec. 30th, 1828, in reply to Harrison Gray Otis and others.
We have thus seen, that for forty years, or from the foundation of the Federal Government, to 1830, there was no material difference of opinion between the sections, as to the nature of the league or compact of government which they had formed.
There was this difference between the sections, however. The South, during this entire period of forty years, had substantially controlled the Government; not by force, it is true, of her own majorities, but with the aid of a few of the Northern States. She was the dominant or ruling power in the Government. During all this time, she conscientiously adhered to her convictions, and respected the rights of the minority, though she might have wielded her power, if she had been so inclined, to her own advantage.
Constitutions are made for the protection of minorities, and she scrupulously adhered to this idea. Minorities naturally cling to the guarantees and defenses provided for them in the fundamental law; it is only when they become strong, when they throw off their pupilage, and become majorities, that their principles and their virtues are really tested. It is in politics, as in religion---the weaker party is always the tolerant party.
Did the North follow this example set her by the South? No; the moment she became strong enough, she recanted all the doctrines under which she had sought shelter, tore the Constitution into fragments, scattered it to the winds; and finally, when the South threw herself on the defensive, as Massachusetts had threatened to do, in 1803 and 1815, she subjugated her.
What was the powerful motive which thus induced the North to overthrow the government which it had labored so assiduously with the South to establish, and which it had construed in common with the South, for the period of forty years?
It was the motive which generally influences human conduct; it was the same motive which Patrick Henry had so clearly foreseen, when he warned the people of Virginia against entering into the federal compact; telling them, that interested majorities never had, in the history of the world, and never would respect the right of minorities.
The great "American System," as it has been called, had in the meantime arisen, championed by no less a personage than Henry Clay of Kentucky.
In 1824, and again in 1828, oppressive tariffs had been enacted for the protection of New England manufacturers. The North was manufacturing, the South non-manufacturing.
The effect of these tariffs was to shut out all foreign competition, and compel the Southern consumer to pay two prices for all the textile fabrics he consumed, from the clothing of his negroes to his own broadcloth coats.
So oppressive, unjust, and unconstitutional were these acts considered, that South Carolina nullified them in 1830.
Immediately all New England was arrayed against South Carolina. An entire and rapid change took place in the political creed of that section.
New England orators and jurists rose up to proclaim that the Constitution was not a compact between the States. Webster thundered in the Senate, and Story wrote his "Commentaries on the Constitution."
These giants had a Herculean task before them; nothing less than the falsifying of the whole political history of the country, for the previous forty years; but their barren and inhospitable section of the country had been touched by the enchanter's wand, and its rocky hills, and sterile fields, incapable of yielding even a scanty subsistence to its numerous population, were to become glad with the music of the spindle and the shuttle; and the giants undertook the task!
How well they have accomplished it, the reader will see, in the course of these pages, when, toward the conclusion of my narrative, he will be called upon to view the fragments of the grand old Constitution, which has been shattered, and which will lie in such mournful profusion around him; the monuments at once of the folly and crimes of a people, who have broken up a government---a free government---which might else have endured for centuries.
Was Secession Treason?
A few more words, and we shall be in a condition to answer the question which stands at the head of this chapter.
Being a legal question, it will depend entirely upon the constitutional right the Southern States may have had to withdraw from the Union, without reference to considerations of expediency, or of moral right; these latter will be more appropriately considered, when we come to speak of the causes which impelled the Southern States to the step. I have combated many of the arguments presented by the other side, but a few others remain to be noticed.
It has been said, that, admitting that the Constitution was a federal compact, yet the States did in fact cede away a part of their sovereignty, and from this the inference has been deduced, that they no longer remained sovereign for the purpose of recalling the part, which had been ceded away.
This is a question which arises wholly under the laws of nations. It is admitted, that the States were independent sovereignties, before they formed the Constitution.
We have only, therefore, to consult the international code, to ascertain to what extent the granting away of a portion of their sovereignty affected the remainder.
Vattel, treating of this identical point, speaks as follows:
Several sovereign and independent States may unite themselves together by a perpetual confederacy, without ceasing to be, each individually, a perfect State. They will, together, constitute a federal republic; their joint deliberations will not impair the sovereignty of each member, though they may, in certain respects, put some restraint upon the exercise of it, in virtue of voluntary engagements.
That was just what the American States did, when they formed the Federal Constitution; they put some voluntary restraint upon their sovereignty, for the furtherance of a common object.
If they are restrained, by the Constitution, from doing certain things, the restraint was self-imposed, for it was they who ordained, and established the instrument, and not a common superior. They, each, agreed that they would forbear to do certain things, if their copartners would forbear to do the same things.
As plain as this seems, no less an authority than that of Mr. Webster has denied it; for, in his celebrated argument Mr. Calhoun, already referred to, he triumphantly exclaimed, that the States were not sovereign, because they were restrained of a portion of their liberty by the Constitution.
See how he perverts the whole tenor of the instrument, in his endeavor to build up those manufactories of which we spoke in the last chapter. He says:
However men may think this ought to be, the fact is, that the people of the United States have chosen to impose control on State sovereignty. There are those, doubtless, who wish that they had been left without restraint; but the Constitution has ordered the matter differently. To make war, for instance, is an exercise of sovereignty, but, the Constitution declares that no State shall declare war. To coin money is another act of sovereign power; but no State is at liberty to coin money. Again, the Constitution says, that no sovereign State shall be so sovereign, as to make a treaty. These prohibitions, it must be confessed, are a control on the State sovereignty of South Carolina, as well as of the other States, which does not arise from her feelings of honorable justice.
Here we see, plainly, the germ of the monstrous heresy that has riven the States asunder, in our day.
The "people of the United States," a common superior, ordained and established the Constitution, says Mr. Webster, and imposed restraints upon the States!
However some might wish they had been left without restraint, the Constitution has "ordained it differently!"
And the ostrich stomach of the North received, and digested this monstrous perversion of the plainest historical truth, in order that the spindle might whirr on, and the shuttle dance from side to side of the loom.
Following the idea of Mr. Webster, that the people of the United States gave constitutional law to the States, instead of receiving it from them, Northern writers frequently ask, in what part of the Constitution, is the doctrine of secession found?
In no part. It was not necessary to put it there.
The States who formed the instrument, delegated certain powers to the Federal Government, retaining all others.
Did they part, with the right of secession? Could they have parted with it, without consenting to a merger of their sovereignty?
And so far from doing this, we have seen with what jealous care they protested against even the implication of such a merger, in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
If the power was not parted with, by explicit grant, did it not remain to them, even before the 10th Amendment was adopted, and still more, if possible, after it was adopted?
To make it still more apparent, that the common understanding among the Fathers of the Constitution was, that this right of secession was reserved, it is only necessary to refer to what took place, during the transition from the old to the new government.
The thirteen original States seceded, as we have seen, from the Articles of Confederation, not unanimously, or all together, but one by one, each State acting for itself, without consulting the interests, or inclinations of the others.
One of the provisions of those Articles was as follows:
Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States, in Congress assembled, in all questions, which, by this Confederation, are submitted to them; and the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration, as any time hereafter, be made in any of them, unless such alteration be agreed to, in a Congress of the United States, and be afterward confirmed by the legislature of every State.
Now, it is a pertinent, and instructive fact, that no similar provision of perpetuity was engrafted in the new Constitution.
There must have been a motive for this -- it could not have been a mere accidental omission -- and the motive probably was, that the Convention of 1787 were ashamed to attempt, a second time, to bind sovereign States, by a rope of sand, which they, themselves, were in the act of pulling asunder.
It was in accordance with this understanding, that both New York and Virginia, in their ratification of the new Constitution, expressly reserved to themselves the right of secession; and no objection was made to such conditional ratifications.
The reservations made by these States enure, as a matter of course, to the benefit of all the States, as they were all to go into the new Union, on precisely the same footing. [NOTE: Raphael Semmes accidentally leaves out Rhode Island, which also reserved the right of secession along with New York and Virginia, before acceding to the U.S. Constitution].
In the extract from Mr. Webster's speech, which has been given above, it is alleged among other things, that the States are not sovereign, because they cannot make treaties; and this disability also has been urged as an argument against secession.
The disability, like others, was self-imposed, and, as any one may see, was intended to be binding on the States only so long as they contract which they were then forming should endure.
The Confederate States respected this obligation while they remained in the Federal Union. They scrupulously forbore from contracting with each other until they had resumed, each for itself, their original sovereignty; they were then not only free to contract with each other, but to do and perform all the other acts enumerated by Mr. Webster; the act of declaring war included, even though this was should be against their late confederates.
The truth is, the more we sift these arguments of our late enemies, the less real merit there appears in them. The facts of history are too stubborn, and refuse to be bent to conform to the new doctrines.
We see it emblazoned on every page of American history for forty years, that the Constitution was a compact between the States; that the Federal Government was created, by, and for the benefit of the States, and possessed and could possess no other power than such as was conferred upon it by the States; that the States reserved to themselves all the powers not granted, and that they took especial pains to guard their sovereignty, in terms, by an amendment to the Constitution, lest, by possibility, their intentions in the formation of the new government, should be misconstrued.
In the course of time this government is perverted from its original design. Instead of remaining the faithful and impartial agent of all the States, a faction obtains control of it, in the interests of some of them, and turns it, as an engine of oppression, against the others.
These latter, after long and patient suffering, after having exhausted all their means of defense, within the Union, withdraw from the agent the powers which they had conferred upon him, form a new Confederacy, and desire "to be let alone."
And what is the consequence? They are denounced as rebels and traitors, armies are equipped, and fleets provided, and a war of subjugation is waged against them.
What says the reader? Does he see rebellion and treason lurking in the conduct of these States? Are they, indeed, in his opinion, in face of the record which he has inspected, so bereft of their sovereignty, as to be incapable of defending themselves, except with halters around the necks of their citizens?
Let us examine this latter question of halters for a moment.
The States existed before the Federal Government; the citizens of the States owed allegiance to their respective States, and to none others. By what process was any portion of this allegiance transferred to the Federal Government, and to what extent was it transferred?
It was transferred by the States, themselves, when they entered into the federal compact, and not by the individual citizens, for these had not power to make such a transfer.
Although it be admitted, that a citizen of any one of the States may have had the right to expatriate himself entirely -- and this was not so clear a doctrine at that day -- and transfer his allegiance to another government, yet it is quite certain, that he could not, ex mero motu, divide his allegiance. His allegiance then was transferred to the Federal Government, by his State, whether he would or not.
Take the case of Patrick Henry, for example. He resisted the adoption of the Federal Constitution, by the State of Virginia, with all the energies of an ardent nature, solemnly believing that his State was committing suicide.
And yet, when Virginia did adopt that Constitution, he became, by virtue of that act, a citizen of the United States, and owed allegiance to the Federal Government.
He had been born in the hallowed old Commonwealth. In the days of his boyhood he had played on the banks of the Appomattox, and fished in its waters.
As he grew to man's estate, all his cherished hopes, and aspirations clustered around his beloved State. The bones of his ancestors were interred in her soil; his loves, his joys, his sorrows were all centered there.
In short, he felt the inspiration of patriotism, that noble sentiment which nerves men to do, and dare, unto the death, for their native soil.
Will it be said, can it be said, without revolting all the best feelings of the human heart, that if Patrick Henry had lived to see a war of subjugation waged against his native State, he would have been a traitor for striking in her defense?
Was this one of the results which our ancestors designed, when they framed the federal compact?
It would be uncharitable to accuse them of such folly, and stupidity, nay of such cruelty.
If this doctrine be true, that secession is treason, then our ancestors framed a government, which could not fail to make traitors of their descendants, in case of a conflict between the States, and that government, let them act as they would.
It was frequently argued in the "Federalist," and elsewhere, by those who were persuading the States to adopt the Federal Constitution, that the State would have a sufficient guarantee of protection, in the love, and affection of its citizens -- that the citizen would naturally cling to his State, and side with her against the Federal Government -- that, in fact, it was rather to be apprehended that the Federal Government would be too weak, and the States too strong, for this reason, instead of the converse of the proposition being true.
It was not doubted, in that day, that the primary and paramount allegiance of the citizen was due to his State, and, that, in case of a conflict between her and the Federal Government, his State would have the right to withdraw his allegiance, from that Government.
If it was she who transferred it, and if she had the right to transfer it, it followed beyond question, that she would have the right to withdraw it.
It was not a case for the voluntary action of the citizen, either way; he could not, of his own free will, either give his allegiance to the Federal Government, or take it away.
If this be true, observe in what a dilemma he has been placed, on the hypothesis that secession is treason. If he adheres to the Federal Government, after his State has withdrawn his allegiance from that Government, and takes up arms against his State, he becomes a traitor to his State.
If he adheres to his State, and takes up arms against the Federal Government, he becomes a traitor to that Government.
He is thus a traitor either way, and there is no helping himself. Is this consistent with the supposed wisdom of the political Fathers, those practical, common sense men, who formed the Federal Constitution?
The mutations of governments, like all human events, are constantly going on. No government stands still, any more than the individuals of which it is composed.
The only difference is, that the changes are not quite so obvious to the generation which views them.
The framers of the Constitution did not dare to hope that they had formed a government, that was to last forever. Nay, many of them had serious misgivings as to the result of the experiment they were making.
Is it possible, then, that those men so legislated, as to render it morally certain, that if their experiment should fail, their descendants must become either slaves or traitors?
If the doctrine that secession is treason be true, it matters not how grievously a State might be oppressed, by the Federal Government; she has been deprived of the power of lawful resistance, and must regain her liberty, if at all, like other enslaved States, at the hazard of war, and rebellion.
Was this the sort of experiment in government, that our forefathers supposed they were making?
Every reader of history knows that it was not.
NOTE: The text above comes, verbatim, from Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States, Chapters III and IV, by Adm. Raphael Semmes. The paragraphs were sometimes broken up to make reading online easier.