April 23rd, 2009

The Worst President of The United States


photo credit: ArtByChrysti

For the past few months, I’ve been taking a history class in pursuit of my master’s degree in political economy. This class covered the era from Christopher Columbus (late 1400s) through Abraham Lincoln (mid 1800s). Part of the class requirements is an oral examination, where the student is peppered with questions by the mentor for fifteen minutes. Anything is fair game, meaning that you have to know and understand four hundred years worth of dates, major events, prominent figures, and everything in-between.

In addition to defending secession, describing the modern effects of slavery, talking about the Trail of Tears, defining the justice of self-imposed slavery, explaining mercantilism, the ineffectiveness of tariffs, and the imbalance of power in the pre-Civil War era, I was asked which President (Washington through Lincoln) I considered to be the worst. My answer audibly surprised many of my classmates, since I chose an individual who was and is a favorite (and near idol) of many: Abraham Lincoln.

Exams at George Wythe University don’t involve short answers by any means, and so I proceeded to justify my decision and explain my reasoning. I started by explaining that my interpretation of “worst” as it related to my answer was that the President’s actions had to have the most long-lasting, far-reaching negative consequences. Thus, while every single President up to and including Lincoln had had their fair share of blunders and poor choices, I was looking to apply the label of "worst" to the President whose deplorable actions were still being felt the most today. This most easily applies to Abraham Lincoln.

Oddly, Lincoln has become idealized by numerous historians and idolized by teachers and textbooks. The "Savior of the Union" is credited with abolishing slavery, keeping the rebelling South in check, and preserving our nation. On such sound bytes an entire legacy has been built, leading Lincoln to be one of the most favorably looked-upon Presidents of our time. Even I conceded last night that the man was a gifted lawyer, a brilliant mind, a persuasive politician, and in many ways a good man.

But from my perspective, and leaving aside the inaccuracy of the other erroneous claims mentioned above, the lasting consequences of his actions to beat the South into submission have had a far more detrimental effect than those of his predecessors. Before Lincoln, our Union was an organized federation of sovereign states, collectively and generally referred to in the plural as "these united States". Inherent in the reference itself is the understanding of multiple, sovereign entities joined under a common cause and creed. After the Civil War—one in which Lincoln (among other things) suspended the Constitution and habeas corpus; launched a military invasion without the consent of Congress; imprisoned thousands of Northern citizens without trial; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers and imprisoned dozens of their owners and publishers; censored all telegraph communication; nationalized the railroads; confiscated firearms; interfered with elections using federal troops; and deported his most outspoken critic, Democratic Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham—the voluntary confederation of states was replaced with a blood-soaked, mandated participation in a centralized, all-powerful government. The relationship of the states to the federal government transitioned painfully from one of symbiosis to subservience. Forever after, the federal government would be a singular entity: "The United States".

Three decades before the War between the States, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun said the following:

Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is, whether ours is a federal or consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting solidly on the basis of the sovereignty of the States, or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited ones, in which injustice, violence, and force must ultimately prevail.

Abraham Lincoln’s actions in forcefully requiring the perpetual participation of every state in the “Union” finally answered Calhoun’s rhetorcial question, and ultimately set a foundation for the government we now enjoy: consolidated, absolute, based on the unrestrained will of the majority, with force, threats, and intimidation being part and parcel of its modus operandi.

Abraham Lincoln was certainly not evil incarnate, despite how much I disagree with what he did. Few individuals, no matter how destructive and despotic some of their actions may be, have no redeeming or endearing qualities. Indeed, the doublethink present in almost every politician implies that they do and say some good things. Witness Lincoln himself in 1848, arguing for the right of revolution:

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.

I support this argument, as it was the philosophical basis for our Declaration of Independence and subsequent secession from the British empire. What I cannot support is the use of military conquest and catastrophic loss of life—death which in terms of our current population would exceed five million individuals—to force participation in a government. Anybody who sides with Lincoln’s actions must of necessity side with King George’s coercive military attacks on American colonists in the Revolutionary War, for the underlying principles are the same.

Despite any noteworthy actions worthy of emulation, Abraham Lincoln stands in my mind as the worst president of "The United States", for the simple reason that his actions are still adversely felt today (well, by anybody who understands our history and pays attention to current politics). Other Presidents’ actions have faded into the history books, whereas those committed by Lincoln in the name of the Union’s preservation exist in our day as the solidified foundation of federal tyranny and centralized governmental omnipotence.

50 Responses to “The Worst President of The United States”

  1. Connor
    April 23, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    To reiterate: this is my determination of who the worst President was in our nation’s first two centuries. There have clearly been other contenders for this label since Lincoln’s time, Woodrow Wilson chief among them…

  2. Doug Bayless
    April 23, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    I concur with you that despite the fact that “the man was a gifted lawyer, a brilliant mind, a persuasive politician, and in many ways a good man”, nonetheless, his style of governing was not ‘good’. Since I’m a nerd it reminds me of how ‘Anakin’ turned into ‘Darth Vader’. As for some arguing that Lincoln’s leadership of taking us into the ‘Civil War’ was necessary to end slavery, I find the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce instructive as to what kind of leaders we *could* have followed instead. England managed to outlaw slavery more than half a century before us and without draconian laws, bloodshed, war, and the resultant epochs of rancor and hate.

  3. Reach Upward
    April 23, 2009 at 7:40 pm #

    You have stated the long-held common libertarian understanding of Lincoln. Your statements are nothing new. I have long struggled with how to understand and judge Lincoln.

    After years of study, I appreciate the libertarian view, but I also think it is myopic. It is not wrong, per se; it is just incomplete. Given the conditions Lincoln inherited I do not believe that any outcome would have ultimately proven satisfactory to the libertarian viewpoint. Lincoln was in a Catch-22.

    I freely admit that my interpretation of alternative outcomes is hardly authoritative. No one can effectively say for sure what might have happened had different choices been made. However, I believe it is clear that given the Confederacy’s culture, intentions, and capacities, the North would have ultimately ended up at war with the South anyway due to competition for the West. But at that point, the South would have been much better suited for war and could likely have limited the effectiveness of Union blockades.

    If not for Lincoln’s actions, you and I could very well be saluting the Stars and Bars instead of the Stars and Stripes. Yes, I know that many libertarians think that this outcome would ultimately have been no worse than what we have today; a view that I believe is rather extreme.

    I do not argue that Lincoln’s choices were all good. Nor do I argue that the results of his actions have not landed us with many unfortunate long-term effects. But I think that the likely alternative results had he acted the part of the libertarian poster child would have been much less desirable.

    I am completely certain that most libertarians would completely disagree with my analysis and they are free to do so. But I think it is a rather sober and informed analysis.

  4. Kelly W.
    April 23, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    But where will GWB rank compared to Lincoln and Wilson? (or Cheney, the one behind the curtain.)?

  5. Dima
    April 23, 2009 at 10:03 pm #

    First of all, “Reach Upward” I must take issue with your talking down a legitimate argument by categorizing it “Libertarian”. Were those that held such beliefs called Libertarians in 1860 too? Or perhaps a better question, in 1860 was the word “Libertarian” synonymous with “nut case” as it is today? And what do you mean, “Your statements are nothing new”? Of course they aren’t new, they were views held by most of the South and even by people in the North.

    In a phone call survey in 1861, the South tallied up at 95% “strongly approve” of the statement, “Lincoln is the worst President yet.” So as we see, Connor’s statements really aren’t out of line with 1860s Southern opinion.

    But Connor, I do think an interesting follow up here would be some ideas of how allowing secession would have turned out best case scenario. As you have explained, the after effects of Lincoln and the Civil War gave precedence to an over-bearing Federal Government. But if secession had just been allowed, what would we have? Two countries to this day? Or would other states perhaps have seceded over the next big dispute they couldn’t resolve with the remaining states in the Union? The Confederacy could have further fragmented over other issues they didn’t agree on. So today we could have 3 or 4 countries?

    I very much agree that the balance is way off between States and the Federal Government. Maybe this is an oversight in the Constitution. Perhaps there should have been a better system of recourse if a state just didn’t agree with a particular mandate of the Federal government. But I think that to really show that Lincoln was the worst President (up until his time at least) it needs to be demonstrated that the effects of not forcing Union would have been more favorable than having forced as we did.

  6. ldsliberty
    April 24, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    Wow, great post! I’ve never been able to come to the answer of whether Lincoln, Wilson, or FDR was the worst president in the history of the United States. But I certainly agree that Lincoln was the worst up until the end of the 1800′s.

    I completely agree that anybody who sides with Lincoln in opposing secession must also side with King George during the Revolutionary War. If anything the southern states had an even greater case for secession than the colonies for not only did they have the same natural right to chose their own government but they also had the legal right to do so as well whereas the colonies did not. The Constitution did not forbid secession and so, according to the 9th and 10th amendments, the states had not given up the right to do so. Not only that, but at least 3 states specifically put into their ratification of the Constitution that they could leave anytime.

    Now whether the southern states should have seceded is a completely different question. Even if one believes that the south was wrong in leaving the Union, Lincoln had no right to invade and forcibly make them stay. Two wrongs never make a right.

    Even further, I can’t understand why so many Latter-day Saints idolize Lincoln for he was the first U.S. president to specifically sign anti-Mormon legislation into law (Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act). I already know that Lincoln made a statement that he would leave the Mormons alone if they left him alone. But still, even if one takes Lincoln at his word rather than look at him as a typical politician speaking out of both sides of his mouth, Lincoln’s actions set a very dangerous precedent for further anti-Mormon action down the road.

  7. ajax
    April 24, 2009 at 8:10 am #

    Dima, I think the effects of not forcing the union would have been:
    1) The right of self determination would have been preserved and the idea of centralized government given another bloody nose.
    2) 600,000+ men would not have perished.
    3) These men would have remained home, as husbands, fathers, farmers, businessmen etc. , providing for their families and contributing to their communities and society as a whole.
    4) Slavery would have remained for a time, but not for long. Slavery was ending peacefully throughout the world due to social pressure and the burgeoning industrial revolution.

    These are just a few off the top of my head. Others here can add to the list.

    As far as having two or more nations today – maybe. Or maybe after some time the two sides reconcile and reunite due to their common history and culture.

  8. Connor
    April 24, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    Reach,

    But I think that the likely alternative results had he acted the part of the libertarian poster child would have been much less desirable.

    and Dima,

    But I think that to really show that Lincoln was the worst President (up until his time at least) it needs to be demonstrated that the effects of not forcing Union would have been more favorable than having forced as we did.

    Both of these comments apply the “lesser of two evils” argument, justifying Lincoln’s actions based on the “what if” scenario. Contrary to these (popular) opinions, I’m a big fan of the principle “do what is right, let the consequence follow”. Sticking to good principles and moral actions will, in the end, yield more liberty, prosperity, and peace.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t be too concerned about a national split, since in the end the countries would quite likely kiss and make up, as ajax mentions. Whatever the end result, I don’t believe that the end we currently have justifies the nefarious means used to get us here.

  9. David
    April 24, 2009 at 11:23 am #

    Connor (or anyone really),

    I am curious what you think might have happened if Lincoln had not applied military force to prevent the permanent succession of the south. In your mind how would slavery have proceeded? What would have happened as the nation(s) pushed westward? (I’m especially interested in light of your expectation that they would likely kiss and make up eventually.

  10. Reach Upward
    April 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    David, I think that Connor has clearly stated that he’s not interested in considering alternative outcomes. He is mostly concerned about judging whether correct principles were followed. That is certainly a decent and respectable approach.

    Connor does, however, speculate that the two nations would have eventually reconciled without much bloodshed. I completely disagree with this view, which seems overly convenient. As stated, my research leads me to believe that the South would have continued to belligerently push for expansion into the West. The North would not have taken that lying down, as it would be clear that the South would then come to dominate the North. War would have eventually been enjoined. But at that point, the South would have had far more resources at its disposal than it did when the Civil War began. If anything, the loss of life and property would have been greater.

    Yes, this is all speculation. There is no way to accurately prove out any theory of alternate outcomes, so anyone is free to pony up their opinion on the matter. No authority can effectively say that one opinion is more valid than the other.

    As I have often told others, Lincoln’s actions ended up changing the relationship between federal and state governments. Before the war we had states that supported a central power that handled limited common concerns. After the war we had a strong central authority with vassal states. In reality, the U.S. had been sliding toward this point for many years, but there was a lot of disagreement about where it should stop. The war definitively resolved the question in favor of centralization. This has led to a continual expansion far beyond anything ever enumerated in the Constitution.

    My beef is that I think that many criticisms of Lincoln present him with a false set of choices, given the realities of the situations he faced.

    On the other side of the coin are progressives that fault Lincoln for emancipating only the slaves in the rebel states instead of emancipating all slaves. Lincoln’s understanding of the Constitution led him to believe that he could legally emancipate slaves in the rebel areas under martial law because they were being used to support the rebellion. Other slaves would need to be emancipated by their own state legislatures or by a constitutional amendment. This paints a somewhat different picture than the Lincoln-as-pure-demonic-tyrant slant.

    In real life, matters are complex and people are complex. It’s not all guys in white hats and guys in black hats. Lincoln seemed to sincerely feel that he was doing the duty God required of him. Recognizing only the negative results of Lincoln’s actions while ignoring the positive results can be an enjoyable approach for those that need to assert their superiority. Reality is more difficult than that.

  11. Carborendum
    April 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    I’m not going to argue your main point, nor am I agreeing with it. Instead, I ask a related question:

    By allowing the South to secede, wouldn’t that be setting up a dangerous precedent? If any state decided to leave just because Congress passed a law they didn’t like, what would have happened to the nation?

    Under such an interpretation, what security did the nation have beyond what the Articles of Confederation provided? The Articles weren’t working. That’s why they created a Constitution that gave more expanded powers to a central government.

    There would have to be some criteria for secession. Unfortunately, it wasn’t written in the Constitution. With the power of a state to secede anytime the people of that state disagreed with ANYTHING, the Federal Government would be rendered completely impotent.

    The times of Lincoln and the civil rights actions of the sixties are related not only because of the slavery/black issue, but because they were both battles between a federal government that wanted to protect rights and the states that wanted to protect “some people’s” rights.

    National civil right legislation was brought about because the states weren’t doing their jobs in protecting individual rights. IT WAS THE JOB OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO PROTECT THOSE RIGHTS UNDER THE CONSTITUTION.

    Try this interpretation of Lincoln’s actions:

    The Confederate states have kidnapped millions of American Citizens (the slaves) into their country. These people were denied equal protection under the law. They have been imprisoned and forced into slavery including sexual slavery by those in power for generations. Now it is time for us to offer them equal protection under the law. We need to find those US citizens and free them from their captors.

    I know, people will come back with Lincoln’s desire to ship them back to Africa or other issues that have been popular recently. But wouldn’t that have been justification under all the laws and good principles of the time?

    You can argue that, regardless of the justifications, his actions set precedents for today’s malfunctioning federal government. And you can argue that the South had a right to the slaves because slavery was technically legal by the implied conditions of population outlined in the Constitution. You might be right.

    I could also argue that modern politicians (and historians) have misconstrued his justification to something he never intended. I could argue that even though slavery was legal, slaves were still US citizens who were not allowed to make the decision on whether they trusted the Confederacy or the Union. In my book, that makes them prisoners of war.

    Connor, I agree with a lot of your principles. I have been a libertarian for a while. I should be 100% behind you. I’ve been on both sides over the Lincoln issue. And I’m not going to defend everything he did (heck, we can’t even defend everything Washington did). But I just like to look at alternative explanations for some things we might consider wrong. Give some people the benefit of the doubt — especially when we weren’t the ones in the big chair, in that situation, in that time and place.

  12. Carborendum
    April 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm #

    Hindsight is 20/20. And to judge people from another time by our perspective, morality, society, and history, it is not as black & white (allegory intended) as we might believe it to be.

  13. Marc
    April 24, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.

    Above is Wilford Woodruff telling about his experience in the St George temple baptizing the founding fathers and several presidents up to that time (1877). It’s interesting that all but 3 presidents were baptized and that apparently they werent worthy of that blessing and it was being withheld. I have often wondered if Lincoln was one of those 3. If we could find out that answer then we could also know if the Lord agrees with Connors take on Lincoln as a very bad president.

  14. Angilee
    April 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm #

    I wish I were more of an American history scholar, but I think the situation of the seceding states was quite a bit different from the colonies. To compare them is too simple. Certainly that is what the Southern states did in seceding, but what were their actual grievances? That Northern states were beginning to protect escaped slaves that had made it to onto their land and that Lincoln was elected president. That was it. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have been upset, but really, that was it. They saw exactly what you are all saying – that the world wanted more and more to do away with slavery. The Southern states seceded to protect slavery from being peacefully done away with. Secession was about protecting slavery. It was very important to the South, and it had been growing and becoming more important to them since the invention of the cotton gin – it was not fading or becoming less important to the Southern way of life. They saw it as so important that they seceded and fought a war for it.

    Now some may believe that the Southern states were as put upon as the thirteen colonies were, but I have a hard time seeing that. I do not equate Lincoln with King George.

    I’ve read the Declaration of Independence and I’ve studied the history and grievances. I’m from Texas, and I’ve read our Declaration of Independence from Mexico and studied that history and those grievances. Now because of this article, I’ve read South Carolina’s Declaration of Causes and looked back at that time period. Just doesn’t compare.

    Many attempts at peace and concession were made toward the Southern states before the actual Civil War, but, as for using bloodshed to force participation in government, what would you say about Moroni and his war on the king-men?

  15. Krystal
    April 24, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Interesting Connor! It’s neat to see how much you love learning and how actively engaged your mind is….

  16. Carborendum
    April 24, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    Angilee brings up a great argument. The list of grievances.

    The American Revolution occurred because we were under a despot who never listened to the grievances for many years over grand issues and tremendous offences. Just read the Declaration.

    The South did not have any grievances that were not listened to, debated, some concessions made for, etc. Lincoln’s “despotic acts” only began AFTER the South committed an act of rebellion by firing on Fort Sumter (sp?). We were in a state of war whether Congress declared it or not.

    We can easily make comparisons to George Bush with Afganistan and Iraq. I might add, that I’ve been on the fence on that issue as well. Today we see that Obama’s going to “expose” all the “horrific” things Bush did as President.

    What we are finding is that

    1) Very few people were actually waterboarded.
    2) Each case was only under the most dire circumstances.
    3) Each case was heavily debated. No case was taken as lightly as the media prortray.
    4) The foremost case shows that we prevented another 9-11 style bombing of LA because of the information gathered from the interrogation.
    5) Congress has specific descriptions and items which define “torture”. And legally, waterboarding did not qualify at that time.

    Because of this, Obama takes the high road out of his desire to investigate and prosecute by saying,”Let’s look forward, not backward.”

    Yeah. I’m sure that was his intent all along.

    I don’t know how history will judge Bush. I don’t know about the good or bad of this “war on terrorism”. There is just so much we don’t know. But it gives me enough pause to not judge people from another time who seem like good men who were doing the best with what they had at the time.

  17. Connor
    April 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    David,

    I am curious what you think might have happened if Lincoln had not applied military force to prevent the permanent [secession] of the south. In your mind how would slavery have proceeded? What would have happened as the nation(s) pushed westward?

    There no doubt would have been conflict in westward migration, just as there was before the Civil War (Bloody Kansas, for example). But as others here have mentioned, I believe that slavery was on its way out, as it was increasingly untenable both socially and economically. As Reach has said, all of this is mere theorizing, and I could continue along this thought, but since it’s not the object of the post, I won’t. :)

    Reach,

    I can’t say that I support the use of force to prevent potential future force. Isn’t that the argument used by recent administrations for preventing an attack? We’ve justified all sorts of invasions, nation building, and empire on the basis of quelling any future threat. Your arguments seem to support (at least in part) this same line of thinking, in that by smashing Southern secession, the North was able to prevent other (and worse) battles had the South been left to freely part ways.

    My beef is that I think that many criticisms of Lincoln present him with a false set of choices, given the realities of the situations he faced.

    I fully agree that the previous decades of political turmoil had created a position in which Lincoln had to make hard choices. All of the blame for the situation itself does not lie at his feet, though he was not forced to make the decision he did, and could easily have acted otherwise in any number of ways. Excusing him for the environment he was elected in does not, in my mind, justify him for the decisions he chose to make.

    Recognizing only the negative results of Lincoln’s actions while ignoring the positive results can be an enjoyable approach for those that need to assert their superiority. Reality is more difficult than that.

    I don’t believe that I have here recognized only the negative results. Though I did not enumerate or elaborate upon them, I did make mention of his positive traits. Perhaps, though, you mean that I am ignoring the positive results that have come as a result of his negative actions? If that’s the case, I am guilty as charged. Again, the same thing can apply to the Iraq invasion. I am strongly against this military aggression, though positive things have indeed resulted from our attack. Again, the potentially positive ends do not justify the means for me.

    Carb,

    There would have to be some criteria for secession.

    I do not believe that secession should be entertained lightly, or used as a threat for political gain. I wholeheartedly believe it should be a last resort, as it was with the early colonists (who petitioned the King for a redress of grievances on numerous occasions).

    However, the criteria you mention was not, as you point out, included in the Constitution, and since it was not forbidden them, the power was inherently left with the States. This was a common understanding during the founding, and even during the Civil War era, plenty of northerners readily understood this to be the case.

    This is not to say the situation is ideal by any means. I don’t believe it is. However, I believe that the sovereignty implicit in a secession option would serve as an effective restraint on federal encroachment, thus reducing the chance for secession ever becoming a proverbial “option on the table.”

    Marc,

    Very interesting, I hadn’t thought of that. Now you’ve got me wondering…

    Angilee,

    Certainly that is what the Southern states did in seceding, but what were their actual grievances? That Northern states were beginning to protect escaped slaves that had made it to onto their land and that Lincoln was elected president. That was it.

    I would argue that the core argument by South Carolina was not slavery (though it was the cause behind the argument), but federal encroachment. In essence, they were fed up with the federal government overstepping its Constitutional bounds. The “Tariff of Abominations” certainly played a large part in pushing a wedge between the two sides on economic factors alone.

    I’m not so much concerned with the motive of their argument (especially since I detest imposed slavery) as I am the principle itself. The South’s main argument was leveraged on the sovereignty of the states, and in light of the Constitution’s delegation of powers (and, interestingly enough, Lincoln’s repeated admission that the War Between the States had nothing to do in his mind with slavery), I think a good argument can be made for the justice of the Southern cause in light of the balance of political power previously agreed upon in the original Constitutional convention.

    …as for using bloodshed to force participation in government, what would you say about Moroni and his war on the king-men?

    The king-men threat was not one of (short-term) peaceful secession, but of outright rebellion. Alma 51 points out that the king-men were seeking to overthrow the government they continued to reside in, rather than depart in peace and elect whomever they desired. Having lost a referendum to democratically decide the matter, they then encourage the government’s defeat during a time of war (waged by the Lamanites) by refusing to participate, as well as taking up arms against Moroni’s forces when their coup d’état is dealt with.

    Apples and oranges, I think. Moroni wasn’t making them continue to participate in Nephite government, or preventing them from departing to pursue their own monarchy, but rather executing outright traitors during a time of (external) war in which the king-men were desirous that the Nephite government itself be replaced altogether.

  18. JHP
    April 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Good stuff to consider.

    So…how did the class and professor respond to your explanation? Did you get a good grade?

  19. Connor
    April 24, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    So…how did the class and professor respond to your explanation? Did you get a good grade?

    The teacher told me that he didn’t agree with everything I said, but that I “had good reasoning and facts behind [my] reasoning.” As for the grade, I still have a written exam to endure. :)

  20. Carborendum
    April 24, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    the sovereignty implicit in a secession option would serve as an effective restraint on federal encroachment

    I think you understate the matter. As I said before, this power when not restrained by ANY statement in the Constitution renders the central government COMPLETELY impotent and subservient to the states.

    Unless you think there was some power the federal government could exercise to keep them from doing so? Then you destroy your own argument.

  21. Connor
    April 24, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    A better question might be: who is the creator, and who/what is the creation?

  22. Dima
    April 24, 2009 at 6:22 pm #

    So some 70 years after the Constitution, the State and Federal balance of powers are thrown off. Even earlier the Judiciary usurped exclusive powers over the remaining branches with Judicial review. So the checks and balances didn’t really work for that long before they were broken and in part ineffective.

    Should the Constitution have been written differently? Should it have been more explicitly written as to these points? Or did the people just fail to live the correct principles necessary to uphold it? Did the framers themselves have a consensus as to the right of a state to secede? I mean what would Washington have done? During the Whiskey rebellion he showed that he was plenty willing to use Federal force to enforce the tax code. Perhaps this wasn’t right of him…but I mean if Washington can’t do it right, do we really stand a chance of not making some pretty big mistakes along the way in this experiment?

  23. vontrapp
    April 24, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    All you who say if the south was allowed to secede, then it would be used as a political weapon, first remember, as Connor suggests, that the states _created_ the union in the first place, and it survived well enough, under the _very_ common and well understood notion that any state _could_ secede at _any_ time. And shouldn’t the fact that states _want_ to be in the union, because well, it’s beneficial, be deterrent enough to secession? And should they _not_ want to stay in the union any longer, because it is no longer beneficial, why should they then be forced? The whole point of the union was to benefit the states. The states were in the union because they wanted to be, that’s the whole point!

  24. Angilee
    April 25, 2009 at 5:34 am #

    The Tariff of Abominations. Everyone reading this blog, please go look up the Tariff of Abominations and its outcome and see if you think it made secession more or less justified.

    As for Moroni – I’m not comparing that situation to anything. I thought about it when you said you were against using bloodshed to force participation in a government. I instantly thought of Moroni. You say you are talking about principles, so that is where the question came from, not from comparison to the Civil War. It seems you think Moroni acted according to correct principles in pressing the king-men into service or killing them. Ok. Please, everyone reading this blog, go look up Moroni and the king-men in The Book of Mormon and don’t just go on Connor’s flowery retelling. Don’t worry about the Civil War or anything. Just take it for what it is.

    Federal encroachment. South Carolina stopped declaring the Tariff of Abominations unconstitutional when it was lowered. No one seceded before Abraham Lincoln was elected. Seven states seceded before Lincoln took office. So Abraham Lincoln is the worst president of that time period because he refused to acknowledge the independence of the Southern states who had seceded basically because they were unhappy with the outcome of an election. They knew slavery would be constiutionally gone in time if they stayed in the United States and followed the Constitution. Lincoln’s election made it sure to them, even though he had stated he did not intend to abolish slavery in slave states. That didn’t matter because of more compicated factors affecting slavery. They moved preemptively to protect slavery.

    The Founding Fathers didn’t decare independence willy nilly. They tried repeatedly to get a friend or some kind of representation in government. They declared independece after they were denied repeatedly, and suffered much. Same with Texas. The South had representation, they had votes, they had in the past had their concerns negotiated to their satisfaction.

    If you think it is correct that any state can secede at any time for any reason and be acknowledged, that’s one thing. I think you are wrong. And by the way, when the South seceded, Lincoln didn’t just march down and start shooting. He tried to reach out to them. Then he tried to maintain possession of federal forts which he refused to sell or hand over. The South fired first. The South made it war. But even if you believe any state can secede at any time for any reason, you shouldn’t call upon the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence to prove it. The support just isn’t there.

  25. Carborendum
    April 25, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    who is the creator, and who/what is the creation?

    You already know MY answer to that question. And, no, Vontrapp, it wasn’t the States. The answer is found in the first three words of the Constitution. WE THE PEOPLE.

    The states did not create the federal government. We the people did. We also created state governments. In the formation of the Constitution, the South agreed that slavery would eventually be done away with. But when it came down the line a couple generations later, that commitment was forgotten. Was that not a breach of contract?

    Let me refresh your memory.

    Jefferson wanted to do away with slavery. But he understood cultural and economic realities of the time would prevent it. The delegates of the Continental Congress reluctantly agreed. So the wording from the Magna Charta was changed from “Property” to “Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration.

    During the Constitutional Convention, the issue of slavery was brought up again. The North claimed it was an abomination. The South claimed that morality had nothing to do with it, it was a matter of commerce, and they were so dependent upon it that they would stay out of the Union because of it.

    Alexander Hamilton (I know how much esteem you give him) as a slave owner himself, was the one who said,”Morality has everything to do with it. Nations cannot be held accountable in the next life. So the must be held accountable in this one.”

    He admitted that slavery cannot be abolished overnight. Baby steps.

    1) We start by phasing out importation of slaves.
    2) We slowly start putting taxes, regulations, etc. on the act.
    3) Later we will abolish it.

    THIS WAS AGREED TO. Look it up in the notes of the Constitutional Convention.

    When the South would rather secede than live up to that agreement, that was breach of contract.

    When we the people formed our government, we agreed to certain requirements and limitations with regard to our government. We had a contract. If we commit murder, we are held accountable by our creation — the government.

    If a state breaches an item of the contract does not the federal government have the right to hold them accountable?

    You can argue that the ENTIRE agreement between state and federal is outlined in the Constitution. But you sour your own argument. Where is the issue of secession in the Constitution? If it is not mentioned at all, you say the states have complete right to secede. But you said, yourself that it shouldn’t be done willy nilly.

    OK, so where is that limitation in the Constitution? It’s not there. If we agree with your interpretation, I ask the question again:

    WHAT BENEFIT DID WE OBTAIN FROM THE CONSTITUTION THAT WE DID NOT HAVE UNDER THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION that we already had admitted didn’t work?

  26. Mindy
    April 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    Marc,

    You asked which 3 Presidents of the US did not get baptized by Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple. The answer is found on the last page of the book THE OTHER EMINENT MEN OF WILFORD WOODRUFF by Vicki Jo Anderson. It states, “all of the Presidents of the United States that were on my list except Buchanan, Van Buren & Grant…” I don’t know if this necessarily means that the Lord did not approve of these Presidents and the way in which they performed their earthly, missions, however.

    I was present at Connor’s oral exam, and, just for the record, a few of us who reacted to his statement that Lincoln was the worst President did not shock us, it simply reminded us of a previous classmate who shares Connor’s view of Lincoln. Also, Connor’s ability to articulte his point of view and to apply his learning to current situations is truly amazing. Way to go Connor!

  27. Connor
    April 25, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    Angilee,

    But even if you believe any state can secede at any time for any reason, you shouldn’t call upon the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence to prove it. The support just isn’t there.

    Do you agree with the statement from Lincoln I quoted from the post? If so, you’ll no doubt find similarity between it and the sentiments espoused in the Declaration. I would ask, then, upon what grounds must a country or group of individuals secede?

    For example, when we declared our independence from the British empire, what would have been the proper thing to do in your mind regarding English-owned lands and facilities within our state borders? Clearly peaceful reconciliation can be made through agreement and economic exchange, but what if the country from which you are seceding is hostile and refuses compromise? Since you have just broken off the previous political bands and declared yourselves a sovereign nation, should you not be able to seize what’s in your own midst after offering to pay?

    Secession is clearly a muddy issue, and not always easily comparable in differing situations. However, I still maintain that individuals (on their own or collectively) should have the right to depart from previous political institutions and form their own. This is what Lincoln himself said, in the quote above. Since this right was generally understood before the “Civil” War, and since it was not relinquished by the states or delegated to another body, it was perfectly legitimate in my mind for the states to seek this option.

    As an extreme option, consider the following. Let’s say you have thirteen states in the Union, and twelve decide to legislate the other out of existence through eminent domain. The thirteenth state, obviously in the minority, can indeed make its case heard through the representation it does have. But where does that get them? If they wholly object to the action, and decide that they would rather part company than submit, should they then be required to seek the permission of the twelve other states—the very source of the tyranny—in order to leave?

    Carb,

    If I understand you correctly, you’re arguing that there was a verbal agreement made during the convention to phase out slavery, and that the states broken that agreement? If you’re arguing for a breach of contract, then we’d need to reference the contract itself (the Constitution), and not open discussion during the convention between delegates.

    Mindy,

    You’re too kind! I hope you did well on yours. Sorry I had to duck out early. Good luck on your written exam… I should probably start preparing for that myself.

  28. Connor
    April 25, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    A humorous side note. Today was the Utah County Republican Party organizing convention for county delegates. As I entered the auditorium, I noticed two large banners of a familiar face:

    These were made specifically for this convention. Indeed, the party chair herself declared us “the party of Lincoln”, and made frequent mention to the man throughout her remarks. I figured I might as well get my picture with the guy, if for nothing else than to celebrate the timeliness of his appearance with this post. (Sorry for the poor quality photos, all I had was my cell phone.)

  29. Marc
    April 26, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    I am glad Connor is talking about this topic. It seems that people either idolize Lincoln or they despise him. Most seem to idolize him. I think that mindset springs from people’s attitude that strength and force equals greatness. This view is one that comes from a carnal mind and not from the teachings of Christ. It seems that presidents that take our country to war are seen as great and those who keep us out of war or that return liberty back to the people are seen as weak. There is something very wrong with that kind of outlook.

    I have been debating in my mind wether I think Lincoln was good or not. I have seen good arguements for and against. This topic and the opinions expressed have helped me understand the Man and his legacy better. Thanks to all of you for sharing your viewpoint on such a complex subject.

  30. Clumpy
    April 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    I gotta say – your choice of presidents was a little “punk” and I love it, mainly because when you unfold upon your argument it’s thought-provoking and not just sensationalistic to pick “Honest Abe” as enemy number one (so to speak).

  31. Designated Conservative
    April 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    Have y’all forgotten that President Lincoln did not fire the first shot of the Civil War? Have you forgotten that he came into office with a live and let live attitude to slavery in the South, despite his personal dislike of the practice?

    Mr. Lincoln did not want war, did not seek out war, and did not wish to conquer the Confederacy, only restore the Union.

    He fought the war that the South started – fought it to win – and when it was over he pushed for humane treatment of Confederate leaders (some who had committed treasonous acts at the start of the war), and for a quick restoration of the Southern states to the Union.

  32. Carborendum
    April 27, 2009 at 3:09 pm #

    Connor I refer you to the last three paragraphs of my last comment.

  33. Connor
    April 27, 2009 at 3:14 pm #

    Carb,

    To answer your question (sorry I forgot to previously), the benefits that the Constitution created (when compared to the Articles of Confederation) are numerous! But they are for those who voluntarily choose to remain participants in the government it governs. The Constitution describes the power that the people gave to the federal government, regardless of the number of states organized in the union it oversees. I don’t think that that changes if one state gets added in, or one chooses to leave.

  34. Carborendum
    April 27, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    Marc,

    Washington kept us from going to war with our own people during the wiskey rebellion.

    Wilson took us into WWI and many think he’s an evil rat b@$+@^d.

    FDR took us into WWII and our opinions of him has little to do with the war. Instead we are split on all his New Deal policies.

    Eisenhower kept us out of Asian wars, and we tend to have a pretty good opinion of him.

    LBJ took us into Vietnam and most think very little of him.

    Bush II had historically low ratings from both major parties for taking us to war in Iraq.

    Am I missing something?

  35. Carborendum
    April 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Connor,

    My main point in comparing the two was the relative power of the central government. The Articles were ineffective because there was no incentive for the states to pay attention to anything the central government said. There were no penalties, there was no motivation for the states to abide by any agreements.

    If you argue (again, see the conditions and wording that I outlined previously) that states have every right to secede without limitation (again, there is nothing on the subject in the Constitution) then they have no incentive to do anything the Federal government mandates.

    Given this, what is the real difference? The central government has no power if the state can secede at any time. Any benefit you can claim from the Constitution comes when the central government has power to enforce such on the States even when the state does not wish it.

    With secession as an option, it cannot enforce anything.

  36. ajax
    April 27, 2009 at 8:04 pm #

    Is forcing someone to stay in a union they no longer wish to be in worth total war? The death of hundreds of thousands of young men? The deaths of tens of thousands of civilians? The destruction of property? The razing of cities? Is it worth it? I say no.
    All Lincoln had to say was “Let them go” and all the above destruction in lives and property would have been averted. He then could have used all his powers, all his intellect, all his brilliance, to bring them back in peacefully. The South wasn’t seeking the overthrow and take over of the current government in D.C., they simply wanted to cut ties and be on their own.
    We Americans are a funny lot. We cheer the secession speak of the Russian Republics and any other independently-minded satellites of a mother country, but call fellow Americans traitors when the idea is brought up here.
    If Texas were to secede tommorrow, would you be in favor of Federal Troops marching into the Lonestar State, crushing the resistance and razing Austin if need be? If yes, WOW!
    Of course there is nothing in the Constitution whichs speaks of secession, but I believe that most of the founders, legal experts and observers understood that the states were still free and independent and secession a legitimate possibility. Before the south did it, there were always rumblings in the northeast on this very topic.
    I’m also quite sure the British government had no allowance for indepedence of their colonies, but “In the course of human events…” well, you know the rest.
    In the end I think secession ends up being a very nice check on Washington thuggery.
    I also think that it should be a last option. I’d much prefer states to catch the spirit of ’98, 1798 that is, and emulate Jefferson and Madison’s penning of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. If states started doing this, issuing official declarations regarding the contitutionality of acts, I think this would be a great start to checking the Washington machine. A great read on the Virgina and Kentucky resolutions is William Watkins, Reclaiming the American Revolution.

  37. Connor
    April 28, 2009 at 10:01 am #

    For further discussion on the secession corollary, I found this to be an interesting article.

  38. Carborendum
    April 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    Ajax,

    To address your statements I would refer you to multiple previous posts discussing THE CAUSES OF THE SEPARATION.

  39. Carborendum
    April 28, 2009 at 8:15 pm #

    Connor,

    That was a good article. I still hold that it doesn’t CLEARLY justify secession of the Southern States. The multitude of arguments already presented here attest that it wasn’t a clear issue.

    The Declaration clearly outlines all the issues that the Colonists had with King George. By anyone’s estimation, it should be clear that we were being abused and were under the thumb of a despot.

    Let’s turn this on its head and ask,”If I were Jefferson Davis, how would I have handled it differently?”

    Reflecting on the Confederates attack on Sumter, I was somewhat reminded of something France did to the US. As a NATO nation, they allowed us to build a very large state-of-the-art Air Force Base in a province of France. As soon as it was built, we started moving personnel in. After about a year, we were all settled. Then France said,”OK, we’ve changed our minds. We don’t want you here after all. You can leave.”

    Because such an issue was never even considered, we never put anything on paper. We grudgingly left. They then had a very large state-of-the-art air force base for them at the cost of the American Tax payer. Nothing new, I realize. But do you see some compare/contrast items here?

    Understand that the NATO agreements are much less binding than the Constitutional agreements between states. So we left. Even so, do you think if was right of France to do that to us? Shouldn’t they have at least paid us for the construction of the base? Whether it was in a contract or not, wouldn’t it have been the morally right thing to do?

    Why did the South fire on Sumter? Did they even try to buy the fort from the North? Did they write any letters to reach out to Lincoln for a compromise? Did they do anything?

    If I were Davis, and I believed in the right of secession, I would have at least tried to buy the military bases from the North and allow them to peaceably leave. Not because I was legally obligated, but because it would have been the morally right thing to do.

    But no. Just attack.

    In the Revolution, right up till the moment of the shot heard round the world, we were still trying diplomatic measures to settle our differences. And no one knows who fired the first shot.

    It is an unfortunate reality that when pushed to the limits, mankind will only settle things one way. And eventually, it comes to that. We won the Revolution. We won the civil war. We won both world wars. We won the cold war.

    After all the posturing, diplomacy, moral arguments, compromising, and political maneuvering are done with, the bottom line is that might makes right–whether military might or political power and influence–however such might is found or lost, bought or sold.

    This is what brought down Babylon. This is what brought down Persia. This is what brought down Rome, France, the British Empire, Eastern Empires, Arabic Empires, & countless others throughout history. And eventually, this is what will bring down the United States.

    Each served its purpose for a time in the annals of history. Each was a stepping stone for a bigger and better future. I believe we had to fight and win the Civil War. This isn’t because it was Constitutional or it was morally right. It is because that is what happened. And from it emerged a greater nation.

    . . . I’ve never believed this before this moment. I’m not even sure where that came from. And I don’t believe I have any evidence for it. It just seems the right thing to say.

  40. ajax
    April 29, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    An excellent read regarding the first shot is John Denson’s essay, Lincoln and the First Shot, found here in chapter 8.

  41. Carborendum
    April 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    Here’s another perspective.

    How small an entity do we allow to secede? If the states have the right to secede, do not we the people have an individual right to secede?

    What if I own my farm and I want to secede? I’d have to work out trade agreements for practical purposes. But why not?

    What about that compound in Montana? What did they have? 800 acres? And a few hundred people? That might have been more practical. With more land, you could be more self-sufficient. With more people, it would be easier to defend against invaders from the US.

    Just whom do we allow to secede? If conditions get bad with said parties, do we have a right to practice imperialism and take over their land if we feel threatened by their position?

    What if I seceded and I spent my time firing my rifle at passersby? It would be really stupid of me (does the name Custer mean anything to you?). But would the US have the right to declare war as a matter of defending its citizens? How’s that different than the attack on Fort Sumter? Regardless of what geographic area it was in, the fort belonged to the Federal Government. Don’t they have a right to defend it?

  42. ajax
    April 29, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    Go ahead Carb, it wouldn’t bother me. I do know this, I wouldn’t kill you and your family for doing so.

  43. John C.
    April 30, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    To the at-will secessionists, how would you enforce law and order? If secession is a legitimate option, wouldn’t a criminal secede in order to avoid prosecution?

  44. JHP
    June 10, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    I’ve been think about this more since I read this in April. Your arguments have intrigued me. While reading Reflections on the Revolution in France by Burke, I was reminded of it today. In that book, he argues that the deviation from the line of hereditary succession was necessary in order to preserve the principles and rights that they held dear. Once that deviation completed its purpose they were able to get back on track. He says, “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risque the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.”

    I don’t think that Burke’s situation in England compares completely with the Civil War, and probably not even very much at all, but I do think there’s wisdom in what he says. Is it sometimes necessary to make an exception to the rule in the short-run in order to preserve the rule in the long-run? For example, perhaps suspending Habeas Corpus for a little while was necessary in order to preserve the Constitution and the Union in the long-term? I’m not sure, I just think it’s something to think about.

    I sympathize with many of your concerns, Connor, but I still think Lincoln did more good than bad. On a more spiritual note, when I lived in D.C., every time I visited the Lincoln Memorial, which was many times, there was a special spirit there. I felt that he was a good man who did much for our country. That was probably my favorite monument to visit because of the feeling I got there.

  45. Joeb
    July 5, 2009 at 1:03 am #

    I find it very difficult to credit the arguments made by ajax, particularly when the statement is made that “4) Slavery would have remained for a time, but not for long. Slavery was ending peacefully throughout the world due to social pressure and the burgeoning industrial revolution.”

    The economy of the South would have led to a strong desire to maintain slavery for many, many more decades. Doug Bayless claims that England managed to outlaw slavery without bloodshed, but neglects to mention that England did not have a plantation agrarian economy. Given the heavy reliance on cotton in particular in much of the South, the invention of a mechanical cotton picker would likely have been necessary for industrialization of southern agricultural economics to eliminate the desire for very, very cheap manual labor. Since even in a word in which slavery was forcibly ended (not the cause of the war, but certainly one outcome of it) in the 1860s a mechanical cotton picker was not practical until the 1950s, any claim that slavery would have ended “soon” needs thorough support that includes some analysis of the economics of southern agriculture and the roots of the slave economy.

    Lincoln was, sadly, far from the near-deity the hagiographic treatment he receives in this country often paints. He was not the crusading social reformer that some pretend he was, and the Civil War was not initiated to end slavery (though I do believe he was strongly against the institution of slavery). However, pretending that some magical enlightenment would have ended slavery in the south in short order ignores both history (the treatment of blacks in the south for better than a century after the forced end of slavery) and economics (an agrarian economy that was in many places heavily dependent on cotton or other highly labor intensive crops that resisted mechanization).

  46. Craig Cothren
    March 15, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    You are correct. I am in the midst of completing a documentary entitled, Lincoln, North/South, Right/Wrong, From a Buddist Perspective. I would like get incontact with you in regard to my documentary for the Roy Dean Foundation competition for social conscious documentaries. Slavery ended in Brazil in 1888. With all the technology that came into being, worst case is that slavery would have ended by 1910. The Civil war, like the Revolutionary war was fought and lost over tariffs. The Federal government via Federal Forts in Southern ports and taking to money to the North. Lincoln was the worst. George W. Bush, second worse for started the unnecessary Iraq war. I would like to talk to you if you are open to a conversation. Look me up on Facebook to review me and my work.

  47. James
    August 23, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Our current President is a joke!
    He plays the blame game, for his incompetent lead. He
    He should be impeached! Are American:’s that stupid? Wake up this president hates our way of life.

  48. Eldridge Currie
    May 24, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    Great Blog Conner. A friend of mine from Ohio and I have argued this point on Skype. Luckily I reached your blog and emailed him your URL.

    Edge (nickname)

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