Patriotism vs. American Exceptionalism

by Mark T. Mitchell on March 20, 2012 · 77 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Politics & Power

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Do you love America? If so, how much? Do you wear an American flag on your lapel (and look askance on those who don’t)? Do you drive only American cars? Do you prefer home-style fries to French fries because, well, isn’t it obvious? Do you support American military operations because to do otherwise would undermine the efforts of those brave men and women who keep us free? Do you take every opportunity to express your belief that America is the best country in the history of the world?

I ask these questions in an attempt to identify an interesting phenomenon and at the same time open a discussion on the propriety of patriotism as well as its limits (assuming such exist). This discussion is especially relevant right now because as the Republican primary season drags on, the leading candidates seem anxious to demonstrate their commitment to American Exceptionalism and all that this entails. For instance, in October, Mitt Romney expressed his belief that God wants America to lead. (Unfortunately, he didn’t footnote his source). Rick Santorum asserts his faith in American Exceptionalism at his website. Newt Gingrich, along with other “conservatives” find it useful to accuse President Obama of not believing in American Exceptionalism, thus suggesting that a belief in American Exceptionalism is a fundamental doctrine in the Republican Party’s statement of faith and to deter from that, or even to appear to deter, is tantamount to heresy and worthy of excommunication. Ron Paul, I should add, seems a bit more nuanced and perhaps even a little uncomfortable speaking in terms of American Exceptionalism. But he is not typical.

Clearly, one way to express a love for one’s country is to assert that it is exceptional, that it is extraordinary. This, of course, is not quite the same as claiming that it is unique, for on some level every country is unique. The rhetoric among the true believers vying for our votes is much stronger than “America is unique place.” But with all this talk of American Exceptionalism and the assumption that those who question this doctrine hate America, it might be useful to consider a few points.

1. Love for a nation must begin with something other than the nation. In this context, it is helpful to recall the words of Edmund Burke:

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind. The interests of that portion of social arrangement is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their own personal advantage.

In other words, love naturally begins with the small, local, and personal and emanates outward from there. To profess a love for a nation without grounding that love (quite literally) in particular places and people that are intimately know, cherished, and stewarded, is to skim along the surface of love as well as responsibility. It is always easier to love an abstraction than to love a neighbor.

2. Consider the following analogy: I love my children. In fact I wouldn’t trade them for any other children in the whole wide world. Yet what if I peppered my discussion of my children with claims that they are the best children in the history of the world? What if I did this when they were around as well as when they weren’t? What if I belligerently insisted on making this claim and was offended if you disagreed? Wouldn’t that give them a strange view of the reality? Wouldn’t you find it annoying? In truth, my love for my children and commitment to them does not depend on my belief that they are the best humans the world has ever seen. True, I am delighted by them (usually) and desire the best for them. Nevertheless, my love does not depend on some notion of exceptionalism even though they are infinitely precious to me.

3. Patriotism is not the same as American Exceptionalism. Patriotism derives from the Latin pater meaning father. Patriotism is a love of the fatherland. It is an affectionate commitment to that which we have inherited. Patriotism is linked closely to the idea of piety, which points us in the direction of fidelity, responsibility, and loving care. The patriot loves with clear eyes, and because of this, can wisely work toward amending the imperfections that inevitably exist.

In a memorable passage, Burke writes the following:

No man should approach [the state] to look into its defects or corruptions but with due caution; that he should never dream of beginning it reformation by its subversion; that he should approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude.  By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in pieces, and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds, and wild incantations, they may regenerate that paternal constitution, and renovate their father’s life.

The American Exceptionalists are the mirror image of the Jacobins, for both willingly blind themselves to reality: the one pretends there are no faults and the other that the faults are fatal. Both fail to treat the state justly.

American Exceptionalism all too often manifests itself in a blind and grating arrogance laced with jingoism. True patriotism, on the other hand, is rooted in a deep sense of gratitude, which gives birth to humility and acts of stewardship. Patriotism loves the good, though inevitably imperfect, gift we have inherited. It works with diligence and affection to improve that which is loved and to pass it on intact and perhaps even improved to the next generation. A patriot is a loving steward, continually mindful of debts to both the past and the future.

This political season, more patriotism would be a welcome (and even exceptional) change.

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Christopher Harrison March 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

An insightful exploration into an important issue, Mr. Mitchell. As an occasional reader of this site who comes from a decidedly more left-wing perspective — at least as a starting point — I think your essay does a great service in describing true patriotism as an attitude couched in humility. Those who interchange “patriotism” and “American exceptionalism” — whether on the reactionary right or Jacobin left — incorrectly define true patriotism as being based in hubris.

As an aspiring permaculturalist as well, I agree with this “humility and stewardship” perspective on patriotism. True love for a place is shown in how you work to keep it healthy in order to pass it along to future generations. Judging by the homogeneous “development” that has sprawled across our landscape, I think we’ve been quite delinquent in that regard.

This essay also made me reflect on a conversation I recently had with a neighbor of mine. We were discussing the way in which we live in a community that is pretty much a one-party (Republican) government, yet it is a leader in the region in environmental stewardship, land preservation, arts and music, and maintaining a sense of place and community. While these two things may seem antithetical when viewed through the lens of national politics, I think they fit in quite well with the kind of “honest, traditional conservatism” that FRP explores and espouses.

avatar Thaddeus Kozinski March 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm

After Jesus Christ, no people or nation can claim to be “chosen” by God. When certain nations claim this, and I can think of two, it’s just a cover to commit heinous crimes. Those who have the courage to unmask the crimes and defend the victims are deemed enemies of God and terrorists by the Masters of Discourse.

avatar Michael March 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Is America exceptional? Allow me to cite the work of Dr. William J. Bennett, former Sec. of Education under Ronald Reagan and prolific author. This list is from his book An American Patriot’s Almanac:

“Why should Americans love their country? Here are a dozen good reasons to be grateful and proud to live here. William Bennett

1. The United States was the first nation in history created out of the belief that people should govern themselves. As James Madison said, this country’s birth was “a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society.” The U.S. constitution is the oldest written national constitution in operation. It has been a model for country after country as democracy has spread across the continents.

2. America really is the land of the free. There are large parts of the world where people can’t say what they think, learn what they’d like, or even dress the way they want. There are places where people spend years in jail or disappear if they question their rulers. Less than half of the world’s population lives in countries where people are truly free. In this nation, as George Washington put it, the love of liberty is interwoven with every ligament of American hearts.

3. No other country has done a better job of establishing equal rights for all citizens. Certainly there have been times when the United States has fallen tragically short of its founding principles. But especially in recent decades, no country has worked harder to eliminate discrimination and protect the rights of minorities. There are plenty of nations where people’s ethnicity, religion, or gender defines them as second-class citizens. In contrast, America has been a pioneer in striving toward the ideal that all are created equal.

4. This is the place where dreams can come true. U.S. newspapers are full of stories that read almost like fairy tales: the son of a laborer who grows up to be a doctor, the stay-at-home mom who turns a hobby into a flourishing business, the immigrant who becomes a movie star and governor. The United States has long been the country people flock to for the chance to make better lives. No other country has built a sturdier ladder for people to climb to success.

5. We enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. Americans live longer, have better health, and enjoy safer and more comfortable lives than the vast majority of the world’s people. Ours is one of the most prosperous nations in history. U.S. companies provide some of the best jobs in the world. They have also built countless hospitals, libraries, and parks; created great universities; filled museums with works of art; found cures for diseases; and improved human life in countless ways.

6. No other country has welcomed and united so many people from so many different shores. From its beginnings, the U.S. has been the world’s great melting pot. Never before have so many people from different backgrounds, races, nationalities, and religions lived and worked together so peacefully. In no other nation has the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood accomplished more than it has in the United States.

7. The U.S. military is the greatest defender of freedom in the world. Twice in the 20th century, the United States led the way in saving the world from tyranny — first from the Axis powers, then from Soviet totalitarianism. Throughout history, other superpowers have used armies to conquer territory and build empires by force. America, with its unrivaled military, has chosen a different course. The United States has liberated more people from tyranny than any other nation in history.

8. America is a world leader in scholarship and invention. The United States is home to the world’s finest collection of universities and research institutions. Name just about any subject — from ancient philosophy to quantum physics — and chances are good that leading authorities work here. The record of American inventions and discoveries goes on and on, from the mechanical reaper to the microchip. American medical research facilities are among the best in the world. The United States leads the world in space exploration. The computer revolution started here.

9. Americans are among the most generous people on earth. The United States has built the most extraordinary collection of charitable, philanthropic, and civic organizations in the world, and this country is the planet’s largest source of humanitarian aid. American government programs and private giving constitute one of the greatest efforts to help people in history. In 2009, Americans donated more than $300 billion to charities. When disasters strike overseas, Americans are among the first to offer help and support.

10. The United States is the world’s greatest marketplace for the free exchange of ideas and information. In some countries, governments shut down newspapers and broadcast stations they don’t like, and limit access to the Internet. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are bedrock principles of American democracy. The staggering volume of information traded here every day — via books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, TV, and radio — makes this country the liveliest center of thought and debate in history.

11. This nation possesses an amazing capacity for self-renewal. Time and again, Americans have been able to address the country’s problems and flaws. Think of those Americans at Philadelphia in 1787 who devised the most miraculous political document in history just as the young nation seemed to be falling apart. Or think of those Americans in the civil-rights movement prodding the country to right the wrongs of segregation. The American people have a genius for self-correction. Sometimes it takes a while, but in the end we find our way.

12. America is a nation that looks to God for guidance. It was founded to be a place where all are free to worship, or not to worship, as they please. Amid a diverse array of beliefs, the vast majority of Americans draw strength from faith in God’s goodness and wisdom. “In God We Trust” is our national motto, and we have never had a president who has been reluctant to say, “Let us pray.” (end quote)

Does any of this make us exceptional? I think it does. We live in a fallen world, Mr. Mitchell. Believing that America is exceptional does not mean we must believe it perfect. Instead, American exceptionalism recognizes that we are both unique AND uniquely blessed. Our current President has said that he believes in American exceptionalism the way people in other countries (Germany, Turkey, where ever) believe that they, too, are exceptional. Can any other nation honestly lay claim to the list I’ve provided above?

C.S. Lewis once wrote that he believed in Christianity as he believed that the sun had risen: not only because he saw it, but because by it he saw everything else. American excpetionalism is similar, I think. We live it, breathe it, benefit from it, and take it for granted. Having lived in Europe for two years, and traveled in other parts of the world, I can tell you first hand that we are indeed the last, best hope of earth.

avatar Joshua Landry March 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Hello, Sirs,

I was curious as to which other nation Mr. Kozinski was referring to. Judging by Dr. Mitchel’s piece, I assume that one of them is the United States. Is Mr. Kozinski referring to Israel? God Himself informed the Israelites that He would bless whoever blessed them and curse whoever cursed them.

avatar Neal March 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Michael, don’t you think it is a problem to say of any nation that it “is the last, best hope of [sic] earth”? You use language that should only be applied to Christ and his Church. It is one thing to love one’s home and another to idolize it; to give it the adoration due to Christ. Furthermore, can any secular nation state live up to such a grandiose claim? Should the role of any nation, no matter how righteous, be the salvation of the world?

avatar Michael March 21, 2012 at 4:43 am

@Neal, I read the Lincoln quote (“We shall nobly save or meanly lose this last, best hope of earth”) in a political context, not a theological one. Hope for freedom, for prosperity, for stability, for human flourishing. “Render unto Caesar,” good sir. Jesus may save souls, but America saves lives by the tens of millions.

avatar JA March 21, 2012 at 6:01 am

There is certainly nothing wrong with loving one’s country: the land, the people, the rhythms and patters of life, and the presence of family and community. But, as Mr. Mitchell notes, all this talk of exceptionalism is dangerous — and idolatrous, I would add. Rather then prattle on over the topic, I thought that it would be better to link a delightfully cheeky and irreverent article by David Bentley Hart: The Greatest Nation on Earth. Enjoy!

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/09/the-greatest-nation-on-earth/david-b-hart

avatar Jared March 21, 2012 at 9:19 am

While I appreciate some of the sentiment in William Bennett’s list, it reads much more like propaganda than it does like evidence of American exceptionalism. Thinking we are the best does not make us the best, especially given how subjective and un-measurable many of the statements are (e.g. “In no other nation has the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood accomplished more than it has in the United States”). Although some are measurable and do demonstrate our exceptionalism. Statement #5 says “Americans live longer…than the vast majority of the world’s people.” While technically that’s true, it’s hardly exceptional that US life expectancy ranks 27th out of 33 OECD countries on this chart: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/soc_glance-2011-en/images/graphics/g7_he5-02.gif. What is exceptional is that we spend almost 50% more per person on health care (as compared to the 2nd-highest spending country, Norway) to achieve such unexceptional status. I’m proud to be an American for so many reasons, but as with most any place, there’s a lot we can do better on. I think exceptionalism is a distraction from the critical reflection needed to maintain what is worthy of our pride and improve upon what is not.

avatar John Haas March 21, 2012 at 10:44 am

“The U.S. military is the greatest defender of freedom in the world. Twice in the 20th century, the United States led the way in saving the world from tyranny — first from the Axis powers, then from Soviet totalitarianism.”

Dr. Bennett’s virtues (I believe there are at least eight million of them) are well known, but his memory seems to fail him here. Just twice? He forgets that we also saved the world from the tyranny of the Hun back in 1917-18. And made the world safe for democracy while we were at it.

Heck, let’s throw the House of Saud in there, too. We sell them a lot of weapons to save them from . . . well, I’m not sure who. But if it weren’t a good idea, we wouldn’t be doing it.

To the true believer in American exceptionalism, that’s all you need to know.

And thanks to Michael for elevating the discussion around here by quoting the esteemed Dr. Bennett. Maybe after we’ve ingested his wisdom we’ll be worthy of Dr. Barton . . . A boy can hope, can’t he?

avatar robert m. peters March 21, 2012 at 11:03 am

I can assure the readers of this article and of the comments thereunto that we Southerners know for sure that the abstract entity called America is not exceptional, not in the least. While most Southerns have been thoroughly reconstructed by the propaganda myths, there exists a remnant of us who are quite aware of the truth. We were among the first to experience the hubris and the arrogance of this “exceptional” view in the form of a war of aggression not unlike Cromwell’s Puritan war in Great Britain and not unlike the secular-puritan war of the Jacobins in France.

Nationalism is the counterfeit of patriotism. The abstract corporation, known as the Hobbesian state, a state with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits of its own power, and with a driving will motivated by some abstract “noble cause” made its debut in the evil Jacobin phase of the French Revolution. In its nationalist phase, it appeared, almost simultaneously in Germany, Italy and the United States: Bismark with his Kulturkampf and wars of annexation, annexing and subsuming the principalities and free cities in the passion of nationalism; Garibaldi and his cronies in Italy, annexing and subsuming the principalities, republics and free cities of Italy and even making war against the Papal States; and Lincoln and the Republican Party destroying two unions of constitutionally federated republics: the United States of America and the Confederated States of America, replacing them with a consolidated and centralized Hobbesian state and with the fiction of the propositional nation, one spawn of which is the foul pledge which we all repeat in Pavlovian fashion.

The climax of Bismark’s nascent Hobbesian state in its nationalist guise was Hitler and the Nazis; the climax of Garibaldi’s nascent Hobbesian state in its nationalist guise was Mussolini and his fascists; the climax of Lincoln’s nascent Hobbesian state in its nationalist guise was Roosevelt and his New Deal. Jefferson Davis and Pope Pius IX knew that they were facing the same evil in different venues.

What the worshipers of the idol of nationalism do not seem to understand is that the Hobbesian state, like a serpent, is shedding its nationalist guise and revealing its global design.

At least the Confederate Constitution is at peace in archives; however, the United States Constitution, ratified to frame a new relationship of a union of constitutionally federated republics, has become the whore of the Hobbesian state, a document whose historical context has been utterly destroyed. The union of constitutionally federated republics of which she was the handmaiden has not existed for 150 years. She has become the consort of the Hobbesian state that peddles the fiction of “American exceptionalism, of “a city on a hill,” of a propositional nation, while the elites who animate the Hobbesian state plot and carry out their nefarious schemes under her skirts. Meanwhile, this temple prostitute has been raised to the status of a goddess, to whom we fools genuflect, not realizing or refusing to realize that she is a meaningless scrap of paper. The veneration of the Constitution is directly proportional to her meaninglessness.

In this scheme, there is no place for patriots: men who love God, who love kith and kin, who love home and hearth, who love blood and earth.

avatar Joshua Landry March 21, 2012 at 11:12 am

I guess that means the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a mistake.

avatar John Haas March 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Sometimes, when I look about our nation, and survey the sad spectacle that has been the primary race thus far, our infantilized and vulgar mass culture, our dilapidated educational institutions, and all the rest, it can really drive me to despair. Or at least some self-righteous, self-pitying whining.

Thank you, robert m. peters, for reminding me that it could all be so much worse.

avatar Hugh March 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Is Bennett correct about #1? What about Switzerland and San Marino?

avatar Trent Demarest March 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Michael,

In addition to the fact that you’re quoting Bill “the Gambler” Bennett, whose discernment we might justly question, all of the aforesaid’s points are highly specious:

1. If all it takes is a belief that people should govern themselves (arguably the vaguest, most general statement imaginable), then we can easily say that Athens antedates America, as does the Roman Republic — both of which had strictures on the franchise, as did the American Republic in its inception. Also, the founders despised democracy, and so framed our government as a mixed constitution to mitigate its deleterious effects.

2. “America really is the land of the free. There are large parts of the world where people can’t say what they think, learn what they’d like, or even dress the way they want.” Really really? Maybe if freedom is the ability to do what you want, rather than the ability to do what you ought. In a truly free society, people have learned to substitute internal restraint for external compulsion. The absence of the latter does not imply the presence of the former. Freedom is not an index of whether or not the women in your society can bare their tramp-stamps and have necklines which plunge to their navels.

3. 50 million unborn children murdered. As far as human rights are concerned, we’re good at spouting cant about “rights”; we just don’t know what a “human” is.

4. “This is the place where dreams can come true.” Really? What’s that even supposed to mean? Sounds like progressivist nonsense to me. Also sounds jejune and weird, like something you’d hear over the loudspeakers during the Disneyland fireworks display.

Dare we put a limit on the dreams dreamers dream? Some who have dreamt of a sex-subsidy are certainly seeing their dream come true, courtesy of the HHS. Oh, wait — let me guess; this whole thing is an anomaly, not at all indicative of the “real America,” which is far better. “Real Americans” don’t hold with such things.

Why does the stay-at-home mom need to climb a ladder to success? Is it not “success” to raise children into decent human beings, see to their needs, educate them, nurture them, and keep good order in the home? Does she need to do more? Does she need to escape her dilapidated domesticity and get up there in the clouds, or out there in the “real world” so she can do something important for a change, “be all she can be” and all that? What rot.

I don’t think so. I’ve had enough of dreamers and visionaries, thank you. The thinking which posits that it is inherently better to do something other than what your father did at best mistakes novelty for originality, and at worst promotes social transience, unsettledness, and dislocation.

5. “We enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. Americans live longer, have better health, and enjoy safer and more comfortable lives than the vast majority of the world’s people.” Living longer and living well are two entirely different things, my friend. The “standard of living” is a unitless quantity of a materialist socioeconomic metric.

6. “No other country has welcomed and united so many people from so many different shores. From its beginnings, the U.S. has been the world’s great melting pot. Never before have so many people from different backgrounds, races, nationalities, and religions lived and worked together so peacefully.” United is as united does. As Patrick Buchanan documents in his lastest book, Suicide of a Superpower, identity politics is on the rise as the United States grows increasingly Balkanized along ethnic lines. “The melting pot” no longer assimilates immigrants into a coherent tradition or culture. “Ethnonationalism” is the name of this game. Immigrants from Mexico overwhelmingly identify as Mexicans first and Americans second. Americans of European stock will be a minority by 2050 as the native born population has long ago ceased to reproduce at replacement levels (2.1 BR). I could go on, but instead I’ll just suggest picking up a copy of Pat’s book.

7. “The U.S. military is the greatest defender of freedom in the world.” What is freedom? Is that what the Afghans have now? Looks like they’re using it to convict Christian converts of apostasy and sentence them to death. Whoops.

Time was when the mission of the U.S. military was to protect the United States at home, not galavant abroad in an ideological crusade to spay and neuter all the big bad cats of the world. Uganda, here we come! We won’t stop until you all have purple thumbs.

8. I don’t really care to argue this point — although I’d like to point out that Aristotle lived in the 5th century BC, and that he was an Athenian. And I’d like some data to back up the supercilious claim that “we’re the best” at everything that you named. And just to play devil’s advocate (I teach at a classical school, and don’t give two figs about such SOL’s), but American students are getting their butts kicked in STEM, if you care about such things. And apparently you do.

Also, I cheered the death (or decommissioning, or whatever) of NASA. Biggest waste of time in the solar system (get it?).

9. I would submit that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. I would also submit that your use of statistics in this situation has about the same relation to the truth of the matter as a bull has with a china shop (pardon these paraphrases of Twain; I don’t have the original quotations at hand). Your use of the Abstract Average American, your mingling of public and private giving, and your continuous use of the construction “greatest…in history” all tend to demonstrate that this is not the sort of thing you can prove, really. Are you generous? Good. Can’t that be enough?

Charity is not quantifiable, nor is it superior when it is mediated by several layers of public or private bureaucracy and delegated to someone a million miles away. I’m not saying that that sort of charity is bad, just that it’s not better than (and may just be worse than), say, supporting your church’s missionaries with alms at church, or taking care of the neighbors closest to you, or raising your children right.

Also…

We the People, of the United States, have a national debt of $15.5 trillion. That’s almost $50,000 per person. Of foreign aid, it has been said that it is primarily a transfer of wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries (perhaps by P.J. O’Rourke, but I’m not sure). The inability of our government to put our own house in order, all the while chirping and strutting about how much we’re giving to further the “greater good” of the “global community” is pure idiocy. Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of this. We are dying a death of a thousand cuts, hemorrhaging uncontrollably.

I know some very generous Ethiopian people. Also, some very generous French people.

10. “The endless cycle of idea and action, / Endless invention, endless experiment, / Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; / Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; / Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word. / All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, / All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, / But nearness to death no nearer to GOD. / Where is the Life we have lost in living? /
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? / The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries / Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.”

– T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock.”

11. “The American people have a genius for self-correction. Sometimes it takes a while, but in the end we find our way.” In the end? Have you seen the end? If not, then how do you know?

I personally think that we’re seeing the end of the Republic. I won’t say that I know. I’ll just say that it’s looking bloody likely.

12.“Amid a diverse array of beliefs, the vast majority of Americans draw strength from faith in God’s goodness and wisdom. ‘In God We Trust’ is our national motto, and we have never had a president who has been reluctant to say, ‘Let us pray.’” Is the God in Whom “we” all trust the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or is He whatever an individual believes he is? If the former, then I’m sure no one would be offended if we just explained what we mean by having the Apostle’s Creed as our national motto.

America is not the Church, and the president is not our national pastor. When he says “Let us pray”, I could really care less. Who are “we” and to whom are we praying? Generic God?

This segues into my last point: America is not the last best hope of the world. America is a nation-state which came into its own as a federal republic in 1787, and very quickly got off the rails from being such. It has had a very, very short history. Unfortunately, its citizens now prefer to flatter and delude themselves into thinking of themselves and their country as a “cut-above” everyone and everything, rather than keeping the republic. The birds are coming home to roost, however, and the creed of American Exceptionalism is beginning to sound like “protesting too much.” The current situation invites allusions to the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The Church is the last best hope of the world, for she brings Christ to the world. Christ has a covenant with the Church, not with America. The Church, not America, is the Bride of Christ. Trust not in princes, trust not in parties, trust not in presidents. Make use of them, yes, but do not speak as though they were or could ever be salvific. Never give to the state, even one that you may justly love, the honor that belongs only to God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

avatar robert m. peters March 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Mr. Landry,

Lincoln’s so-called Emancipation Proclamation emancipated no slaves, for it emancipated only those slaves which were still in servitude in the “rebellious” Confederacy. It did not emancipate slaves in any slave state in the Union or under Union control. Lincoln himself acknowledged that it was likely unconstitutional but that it was a wartime measure. As a wartime measure as per Lincoln it could have only meant that Lincoln hoped that it would lead to a slave rebellion which would weaken the Confederacy. As you likely know, desertions went up after the measure was announced. You might also remember that the last slave state to “join the Union” was the unconstitutionally admitted slave state of West Virginia, ensuring Republican votes in the Senate, in the House and in the 1864 election.

avatar JonF311 March 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Lincoln did not destroy the Union. He put down a rebellion, as he was empowered by the Constitution to do. Can you really imagine a government that has no power to deal with those who flout its laws and seek its overthrow?

avatar Michael March 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I believe America is an exceptional place. I cannot prove it as though it were a math problem (1+1 is 2). I can argue it, though, in good faith, which I am attempting to do.

@Mr. Peters, I was honored to serve with many good and civil men from the South while enlisted in the military. The “War of Northern Aggression” was an oft-discussed topic among us (I often found myself in the role of the token Yankee!) Reading your words brought me back to many, many great arguments among my friends and I, who–while being from different parts of the country–were joined together in service to America. I learned a great deal from those men, as I learned a great deal about the South. Thank you for the reminder.

@Mr. Demarest, gambling, to the best of my knowledge isn’t illegal. One may want to remove the plank in one’s own eye (Pat Buchanan) before criticizing the mote in mine (Bennett). Are we only allowed to reference men without flaw? Then perhaps we should all be sticking with the Gospels.

@Mr. Hass, you are Steyn-like in your breezy sarcasm.

So then, boys…what’s the plan? Should New England secede and create our own country? Should Texas become a sovereign nation? Perhaps the South could become some sort of Dominion (whatever that is). Since America is not exceptional…why stick around? Let’s all break into little regional fiefdoms. What do you say? I would like to declare myself GodEmperor of the Great Northern Kingdom (formerly known as Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). Worship me, thralls.

Or should we struggle to restore a Constitutional republic, and allow the states to run themselves as our Founders envisioned?

avatar Joshua Landry March 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Michael, I identify with your side in this debate. I feel America is exceptional because of the army of untrained farmers and merchants who, by the provision of God, survived Valley Forge and held off and eventually, by the help of the French, defeated the strongest army in the world. I believe America is exceptional because from 1861 to 1865, white fought white to free black. America cannot be deemed as perfect because the men who founded it were not perfect. Does that prove that every aspect of the American lifestyle should be condemned?

avatar Theodoret March 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I have very hard time sympathizing with the Confederacy. For all its supposed reactionary virtues the South was still thoroughly Lockean, largely motivated by commerce and dominated by a merchant class. Many of the small time poor often denigrated “hill billy” farmers were not enthusiastic to fight for the plutocrats of Charleston and Richmond.

I also find it amusing that the very same people who denigrate monarchy are enthusiastic neo-confedeates. Hey at least monarchy actually worked pretty well for what? A thousand years!

avatar Trent Demarest March 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm

@robert m. peters,

You, sir, have hit the nail on the head — twice. Well said. Your comparative historical analysis is spot-on. Actually, it reminds of Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Italy’s Mussolini, and Germany’s Hitler. Have you read it, perchance? I highly recommend it.

No further comments.

avatar Trent Demarest March 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Oops. I sort of flubbed that title. You get the gist, though.

“The moving Wordpress comment-stylus writes, and having writ, moves on, and none of man’s piety or tears can erase a single line.”

I swear to drunk I’m not God! I’ve only had twee martoonies…

avatar robert m. peters March 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Mr. Theodoret,

The South is four-hundred years old. The Confederacy makes up only four years of that history. Jefferson Davis, in an address to the Mississippi Legislature in December of 1862 while on a visit there said that our enemies [the enemies of the South] were a nation of strangers, while we are a people of sentiments. It was the North which had begun to embrace the autonomous individual of Rousseau, outfitted with the abstract rights of Locke, and which was rapidly migrating toward the “necessity” of the Hobbesian state in order to counter the alleged summum malum. Your understanding of Southern history its Confederate idiom is misinformed: While rich Republicans, with of course exceptions, bought their sons out of military service, your Southern “plutocrats” sent their sons proudly in the Roman tradition to fight and die. The Confederate army could not have stayed on the battlefield for four hard years had the vast majority of your “hilly billy” farmers not been willing to fight and die for home and hearth, for kith and kin and for blood and earth.

One is not sure what you would imply with the term “neo-confederate.” I for one do not denigrate monarchy if by that you mean the hereditary rule of a prince or king in a principality or kingdom. By the late 18th century, however, it had come to mean one who championed or ruled a consolidated and centralized state. Medieval kings ruled over no such states. Hamilton, on the other hand, was definitely a “monarchist” in that latter since; and he and his faction were definitely resisted by vast majority of Southern intellectuals.

avatar robert m. peters March 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Mr. Demarest,

No, I have not read the book which you recommend; however, it is now on my agenda.

avatar robert m. peters March 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Mr. Landry,

Your words:

“Does that prove that every aspect of the American lifestyle should be condemned?”

I am not at all sure what you even mean by “the American lifestyle.” Challenging the fictional liturgy which we have learned through various media – schools, sports, pomp and circumstance, etc. – does not mean that we are condemning “America.” It actually means that we are attempting to find, honor and live out the real America hidden behind a veneer of fictions.

avatar robert m. peters March 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Michael,

Your words:

“Or should we struggle to restore a Constitutional republic, and allow the states to run themselves as our Founders envisioned?”

The words which Benjamin Franklin never said about keeping the republic which had been given not withstanding, there was never a “constitutional republic.” There was a union of federated/confederated republics first without any constitution, then under the Articles of Confederation, and then under that document which we currently call the Constitution. Under that Constitution which the sovereign states ratified and thereby empowered, they became in what they called an experiment (none of this Jacobin “indivisible” and “everlasting”) a union of constitutionally federated republics.

Secession was the midwife. The thirteen, already quasi-independent colonial republics seceded from the Crown; and the Crown launched a war to stop the secession, right along with an “emancipation proclamation.” One must remember that before the joint secession articulated in the Declaration of Independence, some of the colonial republics, among them Virginia, had already seceded on their own and claimed their sovereign status. One must also remember that when George III signed the 1783 Treaty of Paris, he did not make peace with the Continental Congress, with some chief executive or with some aggregate of the American people. He made peace with each of the thirteen republics, naming each of them, in a common document. The schemes of the wigged men at the constitutional convention not withstanding, the republics one by one in their own sovereign capacity by means of the people of each state in their sovereign capacity, i.e. in convention, seceded from the old union under the Articles of Confederation and simultaneously acceded to a new union under the new Constitution.

Part of the myth is the notion of “the founders.” One should not confuse the creation by the states, the principals, of a general government, the agent of the principals, said agent having only those power delegated to it by the states, with the “founding of America.” America was founded in its European context by brave men and women, braving the Atlantic and the wilderness into which they would be thrust, men and women who got toeholds on the new continent in cities like Jamestown and Williamsburg, New Bern and Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine, men and women who then over the decades spilled out of those coastal palisades with the fragile plant of European/British traditions customs and habits and ventured into the wilderness with their Bibles, their guns, their axes and their plows to found homesteads and settlement and there to take up old traditions, customs and habits in an entirely new idiom. These are the founders of America, not the wigged men who played still-not-fully-understood roles in drafting a document on behalf of the states which would create a general government as the agent of those states.

The agent, namely the general government, which the states created to serve them, their being the principals, has, like the Frankenstein monster, turned on its creators. Like Dr. Frankenstein, the states failed to destroy their creation before it destroyed them.

If the states are/were sovereign, who is this who would “allow” the states to run their own business? If I have the means to “allow” you to do something, then I am the sovereign and not the states!

avatar Rob G March 22, 2012 at 5:55 am

One must differentiate between the fact that America has quite a few exceptional characteristics and the myth that she is somehow inherently “exceptional.” It is the latter notion that gets us into trouble, and that tends to be critiqued when conservatives question “American Exceptionalism.” This should not be confused with that type of leftist critique that finds America to be not exceptional at all, except perhaps in its negative traits. The thought of Claes Ryn or Andrew Bacevich, for instance, should not be confused with that of Noam Chomsky, even though there might be a certain amount of correspondence in some of the particulars.

avatar Joshua Landry March 22, 2012 at 8:43 am

Mr. Peters,
If I read too much into your words, and/or misinterpreted your point, I apologize to you, Sir.

In my mind, (there is not much authority in “my mind” :) American Exceptionalism does not imply that Americans are genetically superior to anybody. It implies that we have been blessed (probably in the way that God wants to bless every nation), and that we have done our best, though not in every way, to do the best we can with what we have been given and be benevolent. Dr. Mitchell mentioned Mitt Romney in his piece. Dr. Mitchell said, “For instance, in October, Mitt Romney expressed his belief that God wants America to lead. (Unfortunately, he didn’t footnote his source).” I don’t know that I disagree with Mitt Romney on God wanting us to lead. God wants any nation to do what is right. Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” God does have some degree of calling for a nation as a whole. If a nation can take the lead in allowing God to have His proper place, and be blessed for it (which is for God to decide), then why should that nation not be the United States? After all, we live in the United States, and are responsible for it. I think Dr. Mitchel could possibly be caught up in comparisons. We are not responsible for the behavior of the world; we are responsible for ourselves. If our history and actions create an argument about ‘exceptionalism,’ about being blessed, then that should be celebrated, because it could indicate that we and or forefathers did something right.

Mr. Peters, I recognize that your grasp and understanding of history is greater than mine. I do have a question: in 1863, the Confederacy was a separate, sovereign nation to the Union. If that understanding is accurate, how would the Emancipation Proclamation have anything to do with the business of a separate nation?

avatar robert m. peters March 22, 2012 at 10:47 am

Mr. Landry,

God blesses many nations, and we creatures are not in the position, given our ignorance as mere creatures and then as mere creatures fallen, to determine how God may have blessed a given country.

If we interpret our perception of God’s blessing to mean that we are exceptional, then we make God’s blessing into an idol and turn good into evil. Blessings, assuming that we are blessed and that we can even accurately recognize our blessings, should be received with humility and should not be construed to mean that we are thereby empowered to remake the world in our image by carrying out a Western or American version of the Brezhnev Doctrine – making the world safe for democracy, promoting human rights, etc., particularly when we do it with bombs and with fiat currency.

Below is a copy of the Brezhnev Doctrine:

“When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.”

http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2008/08/21/the-brezhnev-doctrine-alive-and-well/

Simply substitute “democracy” for “socialism” and some term such as “repressive regime” for “capitalism” and you have our version of the doctrine by which several hostile and bloody Soviet actions were justified.

As to your final question, Lincoln, of course, did not recognize the sovereignty of any state, including those in the original Union, much less those which had seceded and had formed their own union of constitutionally federated republics. Your question, however, raises an excellent point. Lincoln’s proclamation “freed” only those slaves in states still in “rebellion.” It “freed” no slaves in states remaining in the union. In Louisiana as well as in other Southern states, one had the ironic situation that slaves in Union controlled parts of Louisiana were not “freed” and slaves in Confederate controlled Louisiana were “freed.” Many of the slaves in Union controlled Louisiana were placed as slaves in contraband camps in which hundreds of them died. As confiscated property, they were considered contraband of war.

avatar dave walsh March 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Well, robert peters, in my mind the climax was the Spanish American War, not FDR’s New Deal. And in fact, I’d say FDR was a response to unfettered capitalism, he warping the government surely, but an effect, not an intent.
I’m probably wrong, and I suppose all I’m doing is desparing of our imperialism and picking what seems to me to be the threshold and saying – that’s it. That’s when they started saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

avatar robert m. peters March 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Mr. Walsh,

The Spanish American War was the beginning for the foreign phase of Hobbesian imperialism, placing us on a collision course, ultimately, with another emerging empire, the Empire of Japan.

The “defrocked” Baptist preacher, Francis Bellamy, the avowed socialist of a nationalist ilk did indeed push his Jacobin pledge through the NEA. It, however, did not make it into the schools in our climes until WWII, according the the old timers through the 4-H Club which introduced it.

My point with FDR was that the nascent Hobbesian Leviathan which emerged under Lincoln reached its full power under the New Deal. Indeed, the last Jeffersonian President who attempted to stay the monster was Grover Cleveland. With the coming of the Republicans to power under McKinley, Cleveland’s stop gap was overwhelmed and crushed – on to Cuba, on to the Philippines, with the that the game table was set for Roosevelt and his intrigues with the Japanese.

avatar robert m. peters March 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

JF311

Your words:

“Lincoln did not destroy the Union. He put down a rebellion, as he was empowered by the Constitution to do. Can you really imagine a government that has no power to deal with those who flout its laws and seek its overthrow?”

What rebellion? What constitutional power? Who were the sovereigns who had created the general government for their benefit and for the benefit of their unique and respective citizens and residents? No laws were flouted! No one intended, plotted or attempted to overthrow any government?

avatar John Haas March 22, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Mr. peters is, unsurprisingly, deeply confused regarding the nature of our Constitution, and the status of the states under it. Note the following four quotations. the first two are from “The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,” the next two from the US Constitution.

AC II: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. ”

AC XIII: “… nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.”

USC V: “… Amendments to this Constitution … shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof …”

USC VI: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

The Articles declare the states to be sovereign; in keeping with that status, the fundamental law of the land cannot be altered (amended). Having your laws changed without your agreement is not congruent with sovereignty.

Note how different the regime is under the Constitution. Fundamentallaw here can–and is–changed without the consent of each of the states. How can this be? Clearly, they are not sovereign. Sovereignty has been surrendered. Indeed, you will note, if you would like to read the entire Constitution, that the declaration of soverignty in the Articles, article II, is not retained.

avatar Rob G March 22, 2012 at 6:16 pm

“My point with FDR was that the nascent Hobbesian Leviathan which emerged under Lincoln reached its full power under the New Deal.”

Not that I agree with them, but some conservatives of a more “neo” stripe will argue that Leviathan was hatched not under Lincoln, but under Wilson. Seems to me, however, that it did indeed emerge under Abe and then was incubated by Woodrow.

avatar pb March 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

John Haas:

The Articles declare the states to be sovereign; in keeping with that status, the fundamental law of the land cannot be altered (amended).

From your own post:
AC XIII: “… nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.”

Laws made by the Congress are valid because that power has been delegated to it by the States. It will be said that this does not mean that the States have given up Sovereignty; merely that they have delegated certain powers to the Federal Government.

avatar John Haas March 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

pb: sorry, a clause got lost there; hopefully obviously, given AC XIII (and my larger contrast of the Articles with the Constitution), what I intended was “the fundamental law of the land cannot be altered (amended) without the agreement of each state Having your laws changed without your agreement is not congruent with sovereignty.”

Here I take it you are refering to the US Constitution, not the Articles: “Laws made by the Congress are valid because that power has been delegated to it by the States. It will be said that this does not mean that the States have given up Sovereignty; merely that they have delegated certain powers to the Federal Government.”

Delegation of powers has occurred, but not by the states–rather by the people.

Sovereignty of the states has been given up. The fundamental law of the land–the Constitution itself–can be altered without the agreement of a state (and it is then the supreme law, over-riding any state’s laws or state constitution). If someone wants to call that “sovereignty” they will need to come up with a qualifier of some kind: “over-ridable sovereignty” or “meaningless sovereignty” or “sovereignty of the fictitious kind indulged only by fantasists besotted by dreams of past glories that never were,” perhaps.

avatar robert m. peters March 22, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Mr. Haas,

I can assure you that I am not confused.

No, in so far, you are quite correct. The Constitution cannot be amended save by a three fourths of the legislature of the states or by three fourths of the legislatures thereof. Your argument goes lame, however, because no where in the Constitution do the states prohibit themselves from leaving the Union, with the Constitution thereof left unamended for the states which choose to remain in the Union. Secession is not an amendment of the Constitution by a state. It is merely voluntarily seceding from a compact to which it voluntarily seceded. When the Cotton States seceded from the Union, they did not change one dot or tittle of the Constitution, of the general government of the United States, or of the relationship of the states remaining in the Union.

Federal law, which is not to be confused with the Constitution, is the supreme law of the land as long as that law is constitutional. When it is unconstitutional, it is not the supreme law of the land.

Where do you get your line – “delegation of powers has occurred – but not by the states-rather by the people”? Just what binding document are you quoting?

avatar Joshua Landry March 22, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Mr. Haas, I would imagine that you have a point. At the same time, I know of no sovereignty, state or federal, that does not come from “We the people.” To quote the Preamble to the Constitution, “We the people of the United States,. . ., do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The States still retained their full sovereignty apart from the federal Constitution until July 9th, 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. At the same time, that was still at the consent of “We the people” of the individual States. No Amendment can be ratified without the consent of two-thirds of the States. You mention the “States” and “the people” as completely separate bodies. May I request that you clarify that idea? What is a State without people?

avatar robert m. peters March 23, 2012 at 9:42 am

Mr. Landry,

I am sure that you are aware that the line “we the people” was inserted into the Constitution by the committee on style in its last review because in that committee the question was raised about the wording which the committee had received from the body. That wording listed all of the sovereign states. The concern was that since the states were sovereign, their names could not be placed in a document which the states had not yet seen and had not yet voted on. The committee operated with the presupposition that some of the states would not even ratify the document. When the committee’s new wording came out, it was completely understood and was not even challenged by the most radical anti-federalist among the delegates.

The process of ratification best tells the story. The Constitution was not ratified by an aggregate of people but by each individual state. It became a lawful compact for those so ratifying when nine of the states had ratified. States which had not ratified after the compact went into effect were considered foreign powers. Virginia, the linchpin state, ratified with the caveat in her ratification document that she retained the sovereign authority to leave the compact at will. At least one other state had similar wording in the ratification document.

Over the years, I have read excerpts or entire records of the ratification process in each state. I assure you, based on what was recorded in each of those sets of documents, that no state, not even a state with a strong federalist tendency, would have ratified the Constitution if the delegates there in convention assembled had believe that the Constitution was what Mr. Haas has represented it to be. We must remember that the Constitution’ sole source of authority lies with the ratification thereof by the states. It has no other source of authority.

avatar robert m. peters March 23, 2012 at 10:12 am

Mr. Landry,

Your question – What is a state without people?” – is an excellent one. It goes to the difference between patriotism and Hobbesianism, in its nationalist and its globalist forms.

Our colonial ancestors and not merely those who have been placed in the pantheon of “the founders,” a notion which we need to emancipate ourselves from, so the thirteen respective social orders as republics, dominions or commonwealths, each with unique traditions, customs and habits which they cherished and jealously guarded. Each of these social orders with their people in communion around unique traditions, customs and habits constituted a state.

What the 18th century social order which used the title state, but also republic, dominion or commonwealth, was a special community. At “state” in that context was not an abstraction; it was not the constitution thereof; it was not the government thereof; it was not the bureaucracy thereof; it was not even the aggregate of individuals within the boundaries thereof; it was the people thereof in communion around recognized and lived out traditions, customs and habits uniquely associated with them. Politically, the sovereignty of a “state” so understood existed only when the people thereof for some very important purpose gathered in communal assembly or conventions to decide an issue – ratification, nullification, secession – which would concern the entire body, although the entire body was not assemble.

Our minds have been numbed by the Hobbesian abstraction and by the atomization of the communion life of the local, which includes the “state” as the colonial generation and later generations, at least up until 1865 understood it, that we can now only think of “people” as estranged, alienated and shriveled selves, with the more daring of them falsely believing that they are Promethean selves, and we can only think of them in the collective, strutting around with their individual rights and their one-man-one-vote. We have becomes Hobbes’ mass or collective of autonomous individuals who need protection from one another, the summum malum, by his consolidated and centralized Leviathan. This is precisely what Jefferson Davis understood when he gave his speech in 1862 to the Mississippi legislature: our enemies were (had become) a nation of strangers, while we remain (for a fleeting and passing time) a people of sentiments.

There is no doubt that the 14th amendment, the Hobbesian amendment, which is by any objective standard unconstitutional in that it was unconstitutionally ratified, stood the Constitution on its head. The Constitution as originally ratified created for the states a general government to do certain delegated tasks for the states, and the Constitution was the lawful chains to protect the states and the people thereof from the usurpation by that general government were it to so attempt. The 14th amendment, stripped the states of their power, and created a aggregate of people whose protector, much like a mobster is a protector of a neighborhood, became the general government which by the 14th amendment morphed into a Hobbesian Leviathan. It was the ultimate victory of the Hobbesian over the Aristotelian understanding of social and political order.

All of this is best articulated in the greatest but now totally forgotten American political philosopher John C. Calhoun.

avatar John Haas March 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

Mr. peters’s various assurances, speculations and prejudices notwithstanding, he remains very confused.

As shown above, the states surrendered their sovereignty–ie, totalcontrol–when they were incorporated into the United States of America as defined by the Constitution.

(They were incorporated, by the way, through special conventions of the people, not by the state legislatures themselves. That far-from-minor fact is the starting point for any discussion of the status and priveleges of the states.)

This loss of sovereignty is evident throughout the Constitution, from the preamble, to the powers of the executive and the judiciary, to the unlimited (!) power of Congress to “levy taxes.”

This loss of state sovereignty is most obviously evident in the already-cited Article VI, which bears repeating as it affects Mr. peters misunderstandings regarding secession: The Constitution, it is asserted, including any amendations that might be performed on it, “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Most obviously, this is a blanket reversal of the Articles’ assertion that any alterations must not only “be agreed to in a Congress of the United States,” but also, and most importantly, “be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.”

Thus, the law of the land of, say, South Carolina, can now, under the Constitution, be altered, without South Carolina’s consent. Mr.peters’s seems either incapable of understanding the profound implications of this fact, or, understanding but not liking it, he simply continues to insist that it is not the case. A plain reading of the texts in question to the contrary. Let this suffice to clear up Mr. Lamdry’s misunderstandings also.

Not understanding the changed status of the states under the Constitution leads Mr. peters to completely misunderstand the question of secession. He fails, first, to distinguish between different responses a state (or, forthat matter, and individual–since states and individuals are in fact in parallel positions regarding delegated powers and retained rights) might offer to the national government.

As Article VI says, federal laws and Constitutional amendments and the rest are the law of the land “any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

What does this mean? It means, for instance, that as of his inauguration in 1861, Abraham Lincoln was the president of the US, and he was in South Carolina as much as he was in Ohio. Objecting to the decision of the 1860 election, what recourse had South Carolina? They could legally secede from the Union–that would have required not only passage of such legislation in South Carolina, but also in the Congress of the United States (South Carolina being, until that point, obviously a part of the United States). Or, failing that, there is always the ancient right of revolution (which, of course, needs to be made good, usually through force of arms, as nations are generally not predisposed to the loss of territory, natural resources, or popluation against their will).

But no state may unilaterally void its membership in the United States of America any more than a foreign power could simply assert sovereignty over territory and population of the United States. In the same way, no individual is allowed to unilaterally declare his or her sovereignty and flout federal law. All of these limitations are simply entailed by the mere fact of being a nation.

avatar Joshua Landry March 23, 2012 at 11:32 am

One final question to you gentlemen: what is so vital about the idea of State sovereignty? The strong belief in State sovereignty lead the Confederacy to defend the institution of slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It seems to me that State sovereignty can be dangerous.

avatar John Haas March 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Mr. Landry, the question of states and their status in a federal union is an immensely complex one. Many readers of this blog, eg, would argue that styate governments are more responsive to their citizenries, more likely to support distinctive values, less over-bearing, wasteful, belligerent, and so forth.

For some, the possibility of secession is necessary to protect what they believe is the right of a state to nullify federal legislation a state may object to. They believe that that right is necessary if a state is to retain its dual function of promoting distinctive local cultures and values and resisting the totalizing, homogenizing tendencies of the national government, with its agencies, bureaucracies, powers of coercion and so forth.

Others, while admitting these aspects of the relationship, also take into account the historical record (as you’ve alluded), which involves states oppressing various minorities (racial, religious) or disempowered classes. They would argue that the abuses of the national government are a risk we need to run to avoid the injustices perpetrated by local elites, and that, as long as the government remains open to democratic correction, the risk is worth it.

Pick, in other words, your poison.

A good place to start in reflecting on these matters would be the relevant chapters of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic, “Democracy in America.”

avatar D.W. Sabin March 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Would that we might possess a Burke now, when we need him most. The simple fact of the matter is that the Unites States of America truly is an exceptional country. Despite our lapses, we seem to be anointed by God, as Churchill asserted, along with drunks.We should do better by this dispensation.

Our sense of exceptionalism is frequently co-opted by the State- Media combine to mean that exceptionalism means we can do no wrong. A nation devoid of critical self-appraisal is a nation engaged in active fraud. We are within a period of real societal flux, an historical period and the best we can do is a Republican Primary of serial platitudes prior to the ultimate match-up of Centrist Platitudes between the prevailing political parties.

avatar Joshua Landry March 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I must say that I believe that the best remedy, instead of succession, which could be looked at as running away from a problem, would be the ballot box. From 2009 to 2011, the 111th Congress epitomized the notion of an over- bloated government train wreck. In response, the rightly aggravated electorate took their frustrations to the ballot box, and gave the Republican Party their biggest take-back of the House of Representatives since F.D.R. was President. (I am not implying that the GOP is the savior of the nation) I personally believe that that is a better solution than succession on the belief of State sovereignty. Every citizen does have some degree of duty to the nation as a whole.

Thank you, gentlemen, for your insights.

avatar robert m. peters March 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Mr. Haas,

Your words:

“They were incorporated, by the way, through special conventions of the people, not by the state legislatures themselves. That far-from-minor fact is the starting point for any discussion of the status and priveleges of the states.)”

The legislatures of a given state are not the state; the people of a particular state, dominion, commonwealth or republic, including the traditions, customs and habits thereof, are the state, and as such each state ratified the Constitution. It has, however, nothing to do with a majority of people. You have simply, agreeing with me in a previous post, defined what a state is. You have not made your case; you have, in fact, made mine; for the state is its unique social order, i.e. people, and the people in convention ratify, nullify and secede.

The people of Virginia, in ratifying the Constitution, said the following:

“Do in the name and in behalf of the People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will.”

They make it clear that in their very ratification is the authority to resume the powers granted if those powers shall be perverted to their injury.

In its ratification, Rhode Island states:

“That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.”

avatar robert m. peters March 23, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Mr. Landry,

When two factions, the Democratic Party and the Republican party, often financed and animated by the same set of elites determine the candidates from whom you must chose, how do you see the “vote” as a remedy?

Secession, rightly done, is an alternative to rebellion. Of course, if a faction controls the means of coercion and the purse, that faction can crush any attempt at peaceful secession and will usually do it under the color of “law” and in the guise of a “noble cause.” The same “spirit” which crushed secession in America now reaches out to preemptively crush the attempts of sovereign nations such as Serbia, Iraq, Lybia, and Egypt and likely Syria and Iran to exist outside the ever encroaching “new order” with its notions of human rights and promoting democracy.

Secession is in our blood. We seceded from the British Crown which chose war rather than peace; we seceded from the union under our own articles of Confederation and did so peacefully; some of us seceded, again questing for peace, in 1860/61. The majority faction decided war was better than peace. Secession remains a legitimate option; but it is not now and likely will not be a prudent option. The best option is to forget secession and to forget voting; it is to learn to care for, creaturely and Christianly, the reduced realm over which you do retain a modicum or authority: love your spouse, nurture and care for your children and other kith and kin, tend to the hearth, honor blood and earth where you can, honor your parents in the way you live, edify the Church, and glorify your Lord.

Keep the sacred places: the marriage bed between husband and wife; the supper table as a place of the vesper for the family; the communion table for the Christ and His bride, and the gardens – the flower garden for beauty, the vegetable garden for nourishment and the cemetery as that garden of our final baptism, buried with Him in baptism to be in That Day raised with Him to walk in newness of life. Keep in mind that the highest blessing in the Beatitudes is to be persecuted for the Christ.

To dwell on these things and to do them will serve far better than voting and secession.

You might also remember that we live in a created order, and that the Creator of that order and only the Creator of that order is sovereign. We should never confuse delegated authority held in stewardship with sovereignty; for only God is sovereign. So at the core of things, individuals do not have sovereignty, commonwealths do not have sovereignty, and nation-states and empires do not have sovereignty. As much as I use “sovereignty” to defend the authority of a commonwealth, dominion or state against an encroaching and usurping general government or Hobbesian Leviathan, in the end the notion of sovereignty is a blasphemy against God, for sovereignty denotes an “independent authority,” and in a created order, there is no authority independent of the Creator.

avatar Joshua Landry March 23, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I would like to mention, Mr. Peters, sir, that during the time of the American Revolution, we had no ballot box. Our only option was war. Later on, in 1860, the Democratic Party was split down the middle, and Abraham Lincoln won the election. The South was unhappy with the election results. But, instead of waiting for the midterm election, they decided to simply rend the Union apart. Our current political parties have flaws, no doubt. In response, enter the TEA Party. However, simply because the options available today might not be ideal does not mean that the process of free elections is faulty. Too many of our bravest men and women gave their lives so that we could elect our leaders. With no offense intended to you, sir, my belief is that simply pointing fingers at the problems serves to duck away form the responsibilities that we do have to our nation. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” As Christians, we have a responsibility to God and to government. It is a privilege to have the ballot box as a remedy for the evils in government. It is our responsibility to use it.

avatar robert m. peters March 24, 2012 at 12:19 am

Mr. Landry,

The Union was not sacred. The generation of Americans of the 18th century knew that, at best, it was an experiment. It failed. The South did not rend the Union. The Union could have continued to exist quite nicely without the South. Jefferson, in fact, envisioned at least five separate American union on the territory of the North American Continent. In addition, he envisioned that as states got too big in population to remain true republics, they would naturally divide into other republics or ward republics. Thus was Kentucky born of Virginia; Tennessee was born of North Carolina; the Northwest Territory was born of Virginia. The Union no longer exists, so that is actually all a mute point.

I am not in the least sure that the deaths of soldiers in any of the wars in which Americans have been hurled have been so that we can elect our leaders; and I am not in the least sure that electing our leaders is such a “noble cause.”

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” What then does Caesar actually own? One should never let the propaganda use of a biblical passage by men eager to cover their bid for raw power with a moral cloak override the ultimate irony in the words which our Lord used on the Pharisees to snap the trap shut on them, the trap that they thought to have set against him! A Christians in the true spirit of Romans 13 indeed has a hierarchical duty: first to the God, then to his father, then to his pastor and then to his sheriff. The President is a long way down the chain.

As Christians, it is first our responsibility to learn to live creaturely in the real created order and not to be fooled by the lies, fictions and myths of abstract ideologies and philosophies.

avatar Trent Demarest March 24, 2012 at 9:26 am

Mr. Peters,

I have found what you have written here to be quite compelling, and expressive of views that I, too, hold, yet have not been able to express as you have, especially that last bit about living in communion with God and family in the small places He has deigned to put us. I should like to keep in touch with you outside the confines of the comment feed. If you click on my name the link will take you to my blog. My Google + profile is visible there (yes, terrible, I know). There is an option on my profile to send me an email. I’d appreciate it if you did.

Thanks once again for making your stand for Dixie. She does live on, despite her status as a pariah and America’s “internal Orient”. A time is coming when I think more will wish we hadn’t become slaves of industry and expansion, that we hadn’t ballooned into “a cast cuttlefish of dominion with a tentacle in every orifice of the body politic”, that we hadn’t become the thralls of transnational corporate interests. I think the humane vision of those like yourself, along with the good people who keep this site (the good Dr. Mark Mitchell not least among them), Wendell Berry, Allan Carlson, et al, will continue to resonate. Who cares if it becomes a movement? It’s a culture that we can keep, that we can live.

God bless.

TD

avatar John Haas March 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

Mr. peters, quoting: “… the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them …”

I suppose that’s true …

So, feeling disempowered, People? Worried you’re just a fluoride-medicated serf on a giant technopolized collective farm called Oceania (which has, of course, always been at war with Eurasia)?

Join me then! Step out on the porch and let’s all proclaim at once, “We the People hereby resume our Powers!”

All right, then. So, what’s next?

avatar Joshua Landry March 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” — Declaration of Independence.

Sounds like the group of men fondly remembered as the “founding fathers” put a great deal of thought into such a simple “experiment.” Considering that “taxation without representation” was one reason for the American Revolution, I find it hard to see how none of the deaths of U.S. soldiers and militia have not been for the privilege of voting. Also, unless I am mistaken, the people of Iraq have been very appreciative of the opportunity to vote. To have any voice in the workings of government is a privilege.

What does Caesar own? That which God gives him. Romans 13:1 says that there is no authority that God does not put in place, and that God appoints the authorities.

avatar Trent Demarest March 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm

It’s only called the American Revolution because the erstwhile-colonists won. It would probably be termed the American Colonial Rebellion if they hadn’t. And, please, don’t anyone trot out the divine-determinist claptrap that God wanted the colonists to win. Also, it should be remembered that the colonists fought first for representation in Parliament per their rights as Englishmen (this was an English political dispute, hence Whigs vs. Tories); the goal did eventually become independence, but it did not start out that way. Pauline Maier’s America Scripture does an excellent job of tracing the history of the conflict prior to the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Peters, I see that there is no option to email me from my Plus profile. If you would do me the courtesy of contacting me via tddemarest at gmail dot com, I would be most appreciative. I use this address for impersonal stuff, but will fish out your email and contact you via my regular address.

avatar robert m. peters March 24, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Mr. Landry,

I was once the thrall of the Hobbesian ideology. It has taken me near twenty years of struggle with the help of some wonderful mentors to break the collar; or to use an entirely different metaphor, to exorcise the demon. Thereafter one sees with different eyes.

Romans 13 was certainly not understood by the catacombed Church to give carte blanche to Caesar, nor should the Church in post-modernity give “Caesar” carte blanche.

Voting is not a divine right; it is not a natural right, whatever that is; it is not a human right, whatever that is. Christian kingdoms, Christian principalities, Christian republics and Christian free cities existed and flourished without voter enfranchisement as it understood in Modernity.

Mexico was not attempting to take away the “right to vote” in our war with it; the Confederacy was not trying to take away the “right to vote” in your war with us; Spain was not trying to take away the “right to vote” in our war with Spain; the Kaiser’s Germany was certainly not trying to take away our “right to vote;” taking the “right to vote” from Americans was not high on Hitler’s list of priorities nor on Tojo’s – they had other fish to fry and were trying, in the end, to avoid being fried; North Korea and China were not trying to take our “right to vote.” The list could go on.

The profession of soldier is an honorable one, much more honorable than the profession of the politician. Let us not, however, dishonor their sacrifices – death, being maimed, becoming creatures of war, divorce, broken minds – with false “noble causes.” One of the first duties of a good Christian and a good citizen is to emancipate himself from the false causes which “leaders” claim when sending men to war for nefarious reasons. Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama have not sent men to war to protect the right to vote.

People had the “right to vote” in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union; the difference between their “system” and ours now is that the elites who ran the show in those countries were not two-faced, Janus-faced, two-heads – Democrat and Republican – of the same monster.

avatar Father Jonathan March 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I realize I’m late to the party, but I have to say that I find this article fascinating. I’m particularly interested in this:

“In other words, love naturally begins with the small, local, and personal and emanates outward from there. To profess a love for a nation without grounding that love (quite literally) in particular places and people that are intimately know, cherished, and stewarded, is to skim along the surface of love as well as responsibility. It is always easier to love an abstraction than to love a neighbor.”

I’m particularly interested in how something like this translates to the realm of the Church. Forgive me if this has already been said in the discussion above, but I wonder how we come to love the Church without personal experience of her. This is why the ancient idea of dioceses and parishes is so grand, not because scripture commands it (which it doesn’t), but because it gives us a sense of place, a sense of local connection to universal mystery. But for a lot of folks today, that local connection is impoverished, whether because they are part of an ancient Church like the Roman or Orthodox or Anglican but they have been invested more in the Church concept than the Church as an incarnate phenomenon, or because they have been branded by the dizzying experience of modern American mega-church worship, which always feels to me like McDonalds style ecclesiology.

Anyway, that is a very scattered thought, and not really on topic, but you’ve got me thinking!

avatar Siarlys Jenkins March 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Do you love America? Yes.

If so, how much? Not quantifiable.

Do you wear an American flag on your lapel (and look askance on those who don’t)? No, and no.

Do you drive only American cars? No, I drive a Kia, because it gets better gas mileage than any other car I could afford, costing 40% the price of a Prius, which isn’t an American car either.

Do you prefer home-style fries to French fries because, well, isn’t it obvious? No, I love French Fries, as long as there is plenty of ketchup to dip them in.

Do you support American military operations because to do otherwise would undermine the efforts of those brave men and women who keep us free? No, I honor those who took the brunt of whatever our elected government is doing, in our name, and on our behalf, but I’d rather bring them all home if the mission isn’t worth what they are being asked to sacrifice.

Do you take every opportunity to express your belief that America is the best country in the history of the world? No, because that can be easily misinterpreted.

Then the discussion seemed to transition from is the USA the best country in the world to was the misbegotten cabal that styled itself the CSA the best country in the world.

“The South” did not secede from the United States. Certain designing men assembled conventions which declared in the Name of the People of certain states that those states were removing themselves from the United States. Objections were particularly notable in western North Carolina, western Virginia, eastern Tennessee (from which one of my ancestors enlisted in the 11th Tennessee Cavalry, United States Army), northern Georgia, Jones County, Mississippi… Confederate newspaper editors excoriated early in the war what a shame it was that insufficient manpower had volunteered to fight for southern independence… the cabal that styled itself the government of the Confederate States of America had to institute conscription a year before the federal government did so, and still had to deal with a high desertion rate, and the propensity of governors and judges to issue all kinds of writs protecting thousands from being drafted. In fact, Jefferson Davis could only make war by trampling on “states rights,” which he lamented by writing as the CSA’s epitaph “Died of a theory.”

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America differed from the Constitution of the United States of America primarily in that a clause was added to provide that “the institution of Negro slavery” should not be interfered with. This is hardly a proud difference to hang out as an inspirational banner. While the argument is faintly plausible that Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia had a right to revoke their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, as to all other states, they existed AS states only within the framework of that constitution, and by consent of the federal congress. If that connection ceased, the land on which they existed reverted to the status of federal territory. The romantic notions of some great and glorious cause which tip-toe delicately around all these facts are so much humbug.

avatar David Smith March 27, 2012 at 9:32 am

Mr. Peters:

I am as enlightened, as usual, by your comments as I am by this fine article. Thank you, sir!

Mr. Jenkins:

Your words: “While the argument is faintly plausible that Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia had a right to revoke their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, as to all other states, they existed AS states only within the framework of that constitution, and by consent of the federal congress. If that connection ceased, the land on which they existed reverted to the status of federal territory. The romantic notions of some great and glorious cause which tip-toe delicately around all these facts are so much humbug.”

Have you entirely ingnored the historical facts? As Mr. Peters pointed out, no state, including those in favor of stronger central control, would have ratified the Constitution if they had thought they were surrendering their sovereignty. They existed only as states within the framework of the Constitution?!!? With all due respect, I’m afraid the only “humbug” is your assertion. It appears that you are manufacturing “facts” ex nihilo, or perhaps you’re engaging in interpretive contortions to make such an assertion. In any event, it is demonstrably false, and I’m afraid you simply refuse to acknowledge it. The states pre-existed, created, and delegated powers to the federal government; superiors delegate to subordinates. They would have continued on were they not victims of conquest and the eventual 19th c. version of nation building (aka Reconstruction).

No government, including the old and flawed CSA, deserves any form of worship. My “hill billy” ancestors who fought because their homes were being invaded by foreigners would be scandalized by any assertion that they were merely cowed lackeys fighting for the rights of those in the “Big House” or in Richmond to keep their slaves or anything else. Traditionally, and at our best, we Southerners were a collection of extended families, fighting for kith and kin, for stakes that were existentially vital to us, not some abstraction like “making the world safe for democracy” or “American Exceptionalism”.

avatar Joshua Landry March 27, 2012 at 11:22 am

Mr. Smith, you said, “My “hill billy” ancestors who fought because their homes were being invaded by foreigners. . .” I must say, the first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter by the future Confederacy. Before the war, United States military personnel manned Fort Sumter as part of President Madison’s plan to protect the Eastern Seaboard from invasion. After South Carolina seceded from the Union, the soldiers loyal to South Carolina rather than the Union turned on the troops stationed at Fort Sumter for the protection of the local residents, and bombarded the Fort until the blind-sided troops within the Fort surrendered. The fighting would continue throughout with the nations with the Union being on the defensive. The Confederacy was not invaded by foreigners; the Confederacy made itself the foreigner.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins March 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Mr. Smith, it is well known that any argument can be continued ad infinitum without discernible resolution so long as each side propounds mutually inconsistent premises as “the facts” and accuses the other of “ignoring” these “facts.”

It is a matter upon which reasonable minds might disagree WHETHER the original signators to, and ratifiers of, the Constitution of the United States of America intended to reserve a right to secede from the union entered into. It is certainly not specified in the document. Much of the debate at the time suggests that men (and a few women, even then) were concerned about the powers being delegated to the federal government precisely BECAUSE it would no longer be such an easy deal to pull out of as the Confederation. Madison emphasize, in his contributions to The Federalist Papers, that the federal government would act directly upon, and be acted directly upon by, the citizens of all the states; it would not, as the Confederation did, act only THROUGH the separate states. Having considered these arguments, representatives of each state duly ratified the document, thus authorizing the new federal government to come into existence.

While the argument that superiors delegate to subordinates is plausible, the constitution was also a compact with every other state to adhere to a mutually advantageous permanent union. Contract law along denies the right of any party to reap the benefits during four score and seven years, then abscond at will to the disadvantage of other contracting parties when it seems convenient.

Most of the states that “seceded” were not “pre-existing” states. Initially, only South Carolina and Georgia could make that claim. (Initially, Virginia and North Carolina had no intention of seceding). I assert as FACT that every state not among the original 13, with the exceptions of Maine and Vermont, were formed from territory of the United States, as a whole, to which every one of the original 13 states relinquished individual claims, in favor of the United States. Dispute this fact if you can.

IF this is a FACT, I derive from this fact (you might argue otherwise without denying the fact itself) that no state formed from that territory, by act of the federal congress, under the authority of the Constitution of the United States of America, was in any sense “pre-existing.” It was, de facto and de jure, a creature of the United States, having no existence outside of that union.

I yield nothing to you sir, in honoring the gallant resistance of MY hillbilly ancestors to tyranny… first, of the British, then, of the faux aristocrats of the purported Confederacy. Did you overlook the areas of the south I highlighted, where loyalty to the union was most intense? Mountain country, every bit of it. I have read, but know less in detail, that similar sentiments persisted in the Ozarks. Did you miss that my great-great-grandfather was from eastern Tennessee, the Cumberland Plateau? They lie who call the conflict of 1861-1865 a “war between the states.” It was truly a CIVIL WAR, albeit each party to the war achieved dominance in some parts of the national geography over adherents of the other party in those same areas.

avatar David Smith March 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Mr. Landry:

Delegations were sent to D.C. from the new Confederacy in order to negotiate future relations, trade, and even repayment for federal forts within the South, I believe. Lincoln as good as admitted that he provoked the firing on Sumter, as I recall, with the resupply of the installation after they had been asked to leave (Blind-sided?!?). On the more local scale, I would no more allow an armed stranger to remain on my front porch today than the South Carolinians were willing to allow a foreign power to maintain its base on theirs. That’s just silly.

Besides, the fiction of the garrison at Sumter being there in order to protect the local citizenry, considering the circumstances, was long past its expiration date, even then. That notion would be as laughable then as it is now.

And, by the way, it was not until Lincoln made his outrageous and unconstitutional demand for 75,000 volunteers from the remaining states in order to put down the “rebellion” that my folk here in Tennessee seceded, along with Virginia, NC, and Arkansas.

Again, you seem to struggle with the flawed notion of the Union as INDIVISIBLE, something the ratifiers would have found nonsensical. “State” in 18th c. parlance is synonymous with “nation”, and is not a mere administrative province of a now centralized government. At any rate, foreigners is therefore indeed a fitting description.

avatar Joshua Landry March 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm

My folk in Florida seceded as well. I still believe that in the end, the outcome, the ending of slavery, was the right outcome. The indivisible idea brought along the end of slavery. The idea of States’ rights would have perpetuated it. I don’t see how slavery can justify an idea.

avatar Joshua Landry March 27, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Mr. Smith, I do admit that my memory had failed me about Lincoln attempting to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861, though I don’t think the supplies ever made it.

avatar David Smith March 27, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Mr. Landry:

Thank you, sir, for your gracious response, even though may continue in our disagreement.

Grace and blessings,
David Smith

avatar Joshua Landry March 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Mr. Smith,

I appreciate not only your point of view, but also those of all who added input to this discussion. Thank you.

Grace and blessings to you also,
Joshua Landry

avatar Rob G March 27, 2012 at 3:27 pm

~~I derive from this fact (you might argue otherwise without denying the fact itself) that no state formed from that territory, by act of the federal congress, under the authority of the Constitution of the United States of America, was in any sense “pre-existing.” It was, de facto and de jure, a creature of the United States, having no existence outside of that union.~~

This would imply either that the “created” states had less status than the original 13, and thus could be called “states” only metaphorically, or that the original 13 were not actually states, but divisions or provinces of the federal government. Both implications seem false.

avatar Joshua Landry March 27, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I am not sure if it is accurate to say that a State is not really a State. Twenty-six States sued the White House over the Affordable Care Act. But none of those States seceded from the Union. How could those States sue without some degree of sovereignty? Every citizen has the ballot box and every State has the courts to use if the federal government over extends itself. Every State has sovereignty without having to leave the Union, not to imply that the Union is sacred. The signers of the Constitution saw overly zealous people attaining high offices coming, and set up the entire House of Representatives to be voted on every two years as a safeguard in case less-than-desirable people should make their way into office.

avatar Rob G March 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

“State sovereignty”/”states rights” were perceived in the Jeffersonian understanding as being a way in which the power of the central government could be diffused. Once this understanding was jettisoned, and the states began to be seen as outposts of Washington, D.C., there was one less hindrance to the amalgamation of power by the central government. This process began in earnest during and after the Civil War, and much of it was related to the carry-0ver of Whig ideas into the new Republican party. The Whigs, of which Lincoln was one, wanted a bigger, more expansive role for the federal government. While there’s no doubt that even they would surely balk at the size and scope of government today, there’s also no doubt that it was they who got the ball rolling in that direction.

avatar David Smith March 28, 2012 at 7:21 am

Rob G:

I also seem to recall something about co-equality among the states, that is, all states have neither more nor less rights (status) than the others.

avatar Joseph Stromberg March 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Mr. Peters,

I wish to thank you for your stalwart efforts in the thread.

And to recur to the beginning, I have to say that Mr. Mitchell’s essay is a very good treatment of its subject.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins March 28, 2012 at 9:38 pm

It is of course an interesting conundrum that newly admitted states would be in all ways equal to the original states, but that in order to obtain the status of statehood, they must submit their state constitution for approval to the federal congress. Further, the borders of territories which might apply for statehood were designated by that same congress, which could legislate for those territories until they became states, including authorizing a territorial legislature, and appointing a territorial governor.

Sam Houston was among those Texans who believed that, having sought annexation by the United States, and accepted the military protection of the United States through a major war with a neighboring nation, Texas could not and should not declare secession at will. (Texas was, of course, a third exception to the pattern that newly admitted states were formed from the national territory, but an exception that proves the rule).

It is so absurd that a state formed under federal supervision and becoming a state by permission of the federal congress could take upon itself the authority to secede, that I would submit equality with all original states strongly suggests each state forsook any right to act with complete independence and remove itself from the federal union. The rights of free travel, free trade, the nature of transportation routes, all reinforce that the very existence of the states was premised upon their federal union. So do the borders of many states, which are not designed for defensible perimeters, nor uniformly for independent access to maritime commerce.

States did retain sovereignty within the union, as innumerable Supreme Court decisions down tot he present day reaffirm. There is overlapping sovereignty, just as the Native American nations, although brought under rule of the United States by treaty or conquest, and co-existing within the territory of states of the union, retain their own distinct sovereignty.

As for President Lincoln’s action regarding Fort Sumter, he simply never recognized that any secession had occurred, and wherever possible, continued routine military functions of the national forces until they were unlawfully fired upon. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas were indeed won over to secession only as a refusal to participate in suppressing rebellion in the cotton states… which was a very unfortunate choice. The citizens of West Virginia adopted the motto “Montani Semper Liberi” to emphasize what an unfortunate choice that was. My Tennessee ancestors took up arms against the usurping secessionist government at the first opportunity also.

avatar Joseph Stromberg March 29, 2012 at 9:47 am

Later of course a good many *usurping* politicians in West Virginia, Kentucky, and elsewhere, decided that the chief business of a state government was to cherish, promote, and defend the operations of northeastern-owned coal companies at all costs. A sad aftermath to a fight to sustain an unreasoning form of American integral nationalism that many in the Upper South had learned in the misbegotten War of 1812.

As for states being states only in the union, the highest form of the argument is probably Orestes Brownson’s *American Republic* (1866) — a silly exercise, in my view, and one resting on a Hegelianized version of received New England unwisdom about the nature of the union, with a thin veneer of Catholicism. But it was certainly a bold attempt to cut through all the problems left over from James Madison’s “didactick federalism” (as John Taylor of Caroline called it).

As a matter of high principle, Kentucky’s initial attempt to remain neutral in the pending war made very good sense. But neither of the Big Outfits was willing to consider it. The Confederates made a brief military incursion, on strategic grounds, and the Union effectively *occupied* Kentucky in a rather hostile and partisan fashion.

avatar robert m. peters March 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Mr. Stromberg,

Much of what I think to know has come under the tutelage of the scholars of Abbeville.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins March 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm

A well thought out presentation Mr. Stromberg. I managed to come to my own conclusions as an informed citizen, without reference to Brownson, and while I once trifled with left Hegelianism, I have left it all behind. I am myself much taken with James Madison’s unsuccessful advocacy in the Constitutional Convention that the liberty of citizens should be protected from tyranny by state governments as well as the federal government. I consider the Fourteenth Amendment to be a vindication of his position.

You are of course correct about the politicians of West Virginia and Kentucky, or rather, the STATE governments in these sovereignties proved susceptible to being bought by monied interests and staying bought, a disease that secession has never cured and sometimes facilitated. Even the lower South was infatuated with nationalism during the War of 1812.

Kentucky was never going to succeed at remaining neutral, given its geographical position, and the fact that its mountains did not provide a full defensive perimeter as, e.g., Switzerland’s did during WW II. I believe your account of the order of events is accurate. Leonidas Polk moved in to Columbus, Ulysses S. Grant in Cairo notified the governor of Kentucky that the state had been invaded by confederate forces, which he would move to repel, and neutrality was over. Kentucky, like Virginia and Tennessee, contributed many soldiers to both sides, but severely disappointed Braxton Bragg when he chased Don Carlos Buell up to Perryville, expecting to arm the torrent of volunteers he expected to turn out and gladly enlist in his forces — which they did not.

avatar Joseph Stromberg March 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Mr. Jenkins,

Thanks for your reply. I suppose we shall just have to disagree on the metaphysics (so to speak) of the union.

Off the record, as it were, I sometimes think that in a Confederate Kentucky, the small group of Virginian industrialists would have tried the same scams as the New England coal companies did. Even so, “Mr. William Gregg’s coal train’s done hauled it away” would ruin the song. “Mr. Peabody” works so much better.

Fortunately for my mother’s people, they were in southern Middle Kentucky — not a coal seam in sight. Just small-scale tobacco raising and dairy farming.

Best

avatar robert m. peters March 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Mr. Stromberg,

What I think to know about the South I learned by experience from being a Southerner for nearly sixty-three years and formally from a nest of scholars associated with “Abbeville.”

avatar D.W. Sabin March 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm

” …the small group of Virginia industrialists would have tried the same scans as the New england coal companies did”. Ho ho ho. Sectarian disputes possess a nasty habit of letting their tyrannic and exploitive elements get a place first in line. Meanwhile, the folks on the factory floor take the first bullets.

avatar Joseph Stromberg March 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Mr. Peters (or “Dr.,” if memory serves), I concur on the value of the Abbeville enterprise. (I had hoped you would be at the Stone Mt. event in late Feb.). My direct Southern experience, oddly enough, was in Lee County, Florida. But then again, I grew up in the eastern half of the county, which was basically an extension of Georgia. (There is an amazing overlap in names with Lee County, Georgia and the edges of Albany, which I found out driving through there.)

Mr. Sabin: Yes, that’s one of many downsides of war and conflict. Much opportunity for boodling and cost-shifting. If only we could get a generation or two in which nothing much happened, we’d have a chance of building and preserving something. But then modernism isn’t about stability; it’s about ‘dynamism’ — just ask the folks at Reason magazine. And dynamism brings me back to Florida. It’s true: you can’t go home again. They done redeveloped it. A real modern (or postmodern) ‘erasure.’

Best

avatar robert m. peters April 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Mr. Stromberg,

I wanted to come to Stone Mountain; however, my son’s birthday preempted that. I grew up in the Commonwealth of Pollock in the uplands of central Louisiana in a carpetbag parish – Grant. The ultimate affront was that the river town, Calhoun’s Landing, named after a relative of John C. Calhoun, was renamed “Colfax” after one of Grant’s V.P.’s. There was a famous “riot” or “massacre” there when the militia’s of the Democratic Party took control of the parish from the militia’s of the Republican Party. Today, the Commonwealth of Pollock is, like the home to which you cannot return, being subsumed by post-modernity, primarily in the form or formless bedroom suburbs and rapid commercialization of the once scenic highways. There is no place, literally no “place” for patriots, for even the cemeteries, once unique gardens groomed with the seed of the resurrection in them, have become as innocuous as the suburbs which they serve: spaces not places, owned by corporations rather than a local idiom of the Corpus Christi, namely a country church, in which all my ancestors of the last three generations wait the Eternal Day.

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