Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Von Mises Institute Secessionist Theory

"With the orderly, legal secession of the southern states, the American genius for self-government reached its highest moral expression." Donald W. Livingston of the Ludvig von Mises Institute.
Discuss is what I did with my good Libertarian friend on Facebook. With his permission, I will post the discussion here. Any other comments are welcome (under the rules of posting down below).

Russell first recommended the article linked above in this way:
Very well written. Grant, I would like to read a rebuttal on your blog if you can find the time.
Yikes! My whole blog is a rebuttal to this convoluted argument about the power of states over people. Yes. That's the argument of States Rights. Just a smaller government rather than a big one. And if you've ever been to a City Council meeting, you can see first hand that the idea of "the smaller the government, the better" is a myth. It is still a "state" or "government" power. But can't argue you out of a deeply held belief system. The beauty of the Constitutional Union, in spite of its faults, and your article points out many, is that it allows the government of the people to protect the rights of individuals with the people's power united in a Constitutional system respecting basic human rights. Look, I know I can't convince you. And I don't think even Lincoln can, but here it is in a better summary than I could ever make:


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this 
continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the 
proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that 
nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. 
We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to 
dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who 
here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether 
fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate— we can not conse- 
crate—we can not hallow— this ground. The brave men, living and 
dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor 
power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remem- 
ber what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It 
is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished 
work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining 
before us— that from these honored dead we take increased devotion 
to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion— 
that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in 
vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of free- 
dom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the 
people, shall not perish from the earth. 

November 19. 1863.
And with the same vehemence I used to recommend to [your brother], Please read Lincoln - not what other people say about him. Especially people who are promoting specific ideologies.
You don't even have to read all that Lincoln ever wrote or spoke. Just read the Lincoln Douglas Debates Here: Founding.com: A Project of the Claremont Institute - Lincoln/Douglas Debates  
And they are very entertaining. In one corner you have Stephen Douglas arguing for "popular sovereignty" a form of states rights that states could decide for themselves whether they would be free or slave states (usually without asking the slaves, of course). in the other corner, Lincoln arguing for the right of the legislature of the national union to prohibit the expansion of slavery into federal territories and arguing against the perfidious decision of the Supreme Court in Dred Scott that a human being could be another man's property and that property right would be protected in any state (Oh, and we all know how important "property rights" are to "states rights" proponents) which decision would also nullify congressional power as they had done in the first Congress with a lot of our founders in the Northwest Ordinance and it would also dispense with Douglas's "Popular sovereignty" theories in logical inconsistencies. Lincoln lost that election for US Senate in the state legislature, of course, with a lot of southern Illinois interests (wedged in between slave holding Missouri and Kentucky as it was).
But I think he won the argument. (sorry cut off there too soon.)
You cannot simply take the moral high ground of abolitionism as justification for waging war, for that is not why the war was waged. I have read Lincoln, and it is clear that his primary concern is for simply perpetuating the union (and I believe you have admitted as much). It is also clear that he was intent on enforcing the union through bloodshed if needed from the beginning despite any legal attempts of secession. Yes, abolitionism is a great saving grace of the war. But if you are going to condemn the confederacy for slavery you must condemn the union as well. The abolitionist movement was alive and well in 1787 as well when slavery was codified in the constitution in the great spirit of compromise. If Lincoln holds the the moral high ground as an abolitionist, should not his abolitionist anti-federalist fore bearers hold higher ground still (perhaps even higher still as they did not resort to bloodshed when they lost the argument).

Lincoln did not win the argument, he lost it and the nation split. He won the war that followed.

I am not concerned with nullification, or states rights, or local vs. central government. The issue that must be debated is secession and its legal framework. This is what I was seeking a response to:

"But there is another difference between the conflicts. During the American Revolution, the American colonies could appeal only to a moral argument to legitimate secession. Having more or less governed themselves for more than a century, and having acquired the character of a people, they claimed that they had acquired a title to full self-government. But the colonies were not and never had been recognized as sovereign states, either by others or even by themselves. At the time of the Civil War, however, the southern states had been and still were sovereign states, and so they could mount not only a moral argument but a legal one as well. And it was the legal argument they primarily insisted upon. Each state used the same legal form to secede from the Union that it had used to enter, namely, ratification in a convention of the people. In some cases, the decisions of these conventions were put to referenda. Of those southerners who were opposed to secession, including Robert E. Lee, the great majority of them recognized the legitimacy of the conventions and supported their states, to which, under the compact theory of the Constitution, they owed their primary allegiance.

"With the orderly, legal secession of the southern states, the American genius for self-government reached its highest moral expression. Here was something unprecedented in history; a vast continental empire of republics torn by sectional, economic, and moral conflicts seeking to settle its differences not by war, but by peaceful secession of eleven contiguous republics, legitimated by the consent of the people. This was the very thing that, in 1840, John Quincy Adams said might be necessary in the future, and which the American commitment to self-government of peoples would legitimate, rather than a Union held together by bayonets. It was this also that President Buchanan had in mind when, although opposed to secession, he declared that the central government had no authority to coerce a seceding state. The same doctrine was asserted by Madison and Hamilton in the Federalist. Lincoln, however, like George III, was determined on coercion, but unlike the latter, he was also prepared to launch total war against the civilian population of the South to achieve the goal of a consolidated nationalism."

Yes, they did not bother to ask the slaves. But neither did Madison and Hamilton. I do not doubt that slavery would have terminated in due time in the confederacy if it had been allowed to exist in peace. That is the peaceful compromise the abolitionists of 1787 conceded to.

The wars and rumors of wars that began with the Civil War (which was not a civil war, as pointed out by the article, for the south was never attempting to gain control of the United States Government) were prophesied avoidable. It is our responsibility to renounce war and proclaim peace.
To be clear, the confederacy held no moral high ground. I do not defend the pretended rights of the secessionist, I condemn the pretended righteousness of the nationalists. The confederacy successfully orchestrated a peaceful succession. Would that they would have laid down their weapons of war for peace when Lincoln sent his armies. The south was ill equipped to fight the industrialized warfare of the north. Had they laid down their weapons of war the case against Lincoln would be stronger still, and secession would be more plausible today because it would not be tied to the blood and horror of industrialized warfare as pioneered by Lincoln. I am convinced now that violent revolution is not righteous, I have not always held that belief.

I had a Canadian companion on my mission who bragged that Canada achieved independence without a war, and criticized us Americans as war idolizers. I defended the American Revolution as only an uber-patriotic conservative vindicated by scripture could. I now realize I was wrong.
neither I nor Lincoln were abolitionists. We do agree that state power should not be used to enslave human beings or to "secede" from established, constitutional government based on principles for self-government by all parties and factions under the principles of equality and rights of man set out in the Declaration. Secessionism is essentially selfishness to promote power in the individuals in control of the state. I find the Von Mises Institute argument that "With the orderly, legal secession of the southern states, the American genius for self-government reached its highest moral expression" highly fanciful and offensive on moral grounds as I find most libertarian arguments. They sound great in theory, but fail to deal with any reality. I doubt we will ever convince each other. But I will stick with a constitutional union. 
Abolitionist. noun1. (especially prior to the Civil War) a person who advocated or supported the abolition of slavery in the U.S.
Lincoln did not consider himself an abolitionist, but he used it as his moral cause in selling the civil war to the people of the union. I'm glad that though he did not consider himself an abolitionist in principle he followed through in practice with the emancipation proclamation. Whatever his political beliefs prior to his presidency, his actions make him an abolitionist.
Would history judge him differently if he hadn't abolished slavery? I think so. As I said, it is his saving grace.
 FWIW, the confederacy was a constitutional union. 
Lincoln did everything he could to prohibit the expansion of slavery, proposed compensated emancipation, supported relocation to Africa as in the Liberia experiment. nothing worked. But was dealing with reality, not theory.He only went to war - not at secession but because of seizure of the people's governments forts, arsenals and specifically the firing on Ft. Sumter. and to support the principal of Constitutional government that a president you don't happen to like does not give you the right to ignore his constitutional election by a free people. Later, he used the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure to deprive the South of their economic power in slave labor (and to deal with the practically that slaves, en mass, followed the Union troops as they advanced in the south). 

The southern confederacy may have been a constitutional union but it was based on the principle of the preservation of slavery - property rights in the ownership of other human beings. Read their foundational documents.

We can't convince each other on deeply held, value based, politically philosophy that almost rise to the level of religious belief - whatever the facts that can be constantly hashed and rehashed.

While there are many on my blog, my best rebuttal to you may be this one:http://www.moderatebutpassionate.com/2013/01/emancipation-day-sesquicentennial.html

I can't keep going on this all day. Just keep reading the blog and Lincoln's own words.

I do read your blog, and as I've said, I have read, re-read, and will likely read again Lincoln's own words. I do not believe our beliefs are irreconcilable. But if they are... 

I am not an idealist. I deal with reality. Reality is that people disagre
e, sometimes violently. The reality is, the southern states seceded from the union; and Lincoln was the idealist who insisted on the ideal of perpetual union. Ft. Sumter was no excuse for total war any more than the incident at Benghazi is excuse for occupying Libya.

Secession law is a means to avoid violence. It's not acknowledgement that the seceding party is right, it is acknowledgement that violence is not the solution.
If you don't mind, Russel, I may use this on the blog as another dialogue exchange. That way, both views are set out for people's consideration.
And once again, any other comments with a respectful tone are welcome. I think that is the best part about this discussion with Russell. We clearly don't agree, but the tone is respectful. We certainly need more of that in our day and age - So did Lincoln, the Abolitionists, and the Southern States. And it would have been nice if the African-Americans had been in on the discussions - they were with Lincoln to some extent.


  1. The War Between the States was not over slavery. Period. It was a culmination of many things over many years. Lincoln went to war to preserve the Union (existing United States at that time). The Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure to undermine the South.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous. But that's still a debatable point after 150 or so years. Most historians (but not all, of course) see Slavery as the root cause of the economic, political, and other disputes. Calling it "The War between the states" is kind of a give-away as to where your sentiments are.


Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!