Friday, January 11, 2013

A Warning to Texas Secessionists: Alexander H. Stephens’ 1861 Speech to the Georgia Convention

by Nomad

As regular followers of this blog know, I often like to delve into history to find new perspectives. In an investigation into the Texas secessionist movement, I uncovered the words of man whose warning about such dangerous nonsense were ignored and because of this, events quickly spun out of control and nearly destroyed a nation.
His name was Alexander Stephens.

But first a little background information.

Sedition Framed as Patriotism

In a recent article in the American Spectator, a conservative magazine, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Koch-founded Cato Institute, recently wrote about the secessionist movement. 
The article is provocatively titled The Great Secession: Would it really be the highest form of patriotism? and, by discussing these notions seriously givens them at least superficial form of legitimacy. He asks:

Is America too big? Is it time to break up the U.S.?
A week after the November election nearly 700,000 Americans from all 50 states had signed 69 secession petitions as part of the White House “We the People” online petition system. The missives requested the administration to peacefully allow states to leave the union. One petition advocated permitting states which seceded to form their own nation. A formal White House review is triggered by just 25,000 signatures.
Lest he become a laughingstock, Bandow is coy about his true feelings on the subject. On one hand, instead of condemning the movement, he would prefer to go after those on the left who have warned about the secessionists, like Huffington Post Bob Cesca.
Unable to help himself from cheapening the discussion, Bandow writes:
Indeed, one wonders if Cesca became a bit excited at the thought of visiting death and devastation upon Red States and all others who disagreed with him. Or perhaps he was smoking funny cigarettes or suffering from an overeager imagination when he wrote his column. 
Eventually, Bandow tires of making fun of liberals and his position becomes more clear.
Why shouldn’t people be able to re-order their political arrangements if they wish? Must whatever has been put together be forever kept together?...
There’s no inherent reason why any particular group of people should be in community with any other. Slavery will always stain the cause of the southern Confederacy, but what principle justified slaughtering thousands to hold the country together?
What a contorted view of American history. Bandow seems to forget that it was the South that seceded and launched an attack on the North. The slaughter came about as a result of the South defending its principle of maintaining slaves. 

And that came after the US government made repeated attempts to compromise on the issue of slavery. (The Missouri Compromise of 1820, The Fugitive Slave Act, The Compromise of 1850, The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 were all attempts to prevent the issue of slavery from tearing the nation apart. Despite this, the South still embarked on its secession )

Bandow writes:
In many ways we are a badly divided people. Noted Patrick Buchanan: “While no one takes this movement as seriously as men took secession in 1861, the sentiments behind it ought not to be minimized. For they bespeak a bristling hostility to the federal government and a dislike bordering on detestation of some Americans for other Americans, as deep as it was on the day Beauregard’s guns fired on Fort Sumter.”
Note to Mr. Bandow. Beauregard was a Confederate and the attack on Fort Sumter was unprovoked. That attack- which was the opening salvo of the Civil War- came only months after Southern states voted for secession. 
Note to Buchanan: "Detestation" of your fellow citizen and “bristling hostility” to the freely-elected government is not an excuse to launch an armed attack. 

Is the Buchanan actually attempting to justify an attack on a US military base by domestic insurgents? There’s a word for what he is rationalizing. It is called treason.
But nobody can deny that Americans are a divided people at the moment. How did they come to be so divided? Could the Cato Institute, the Koch brothers, and their well-documented financial support of the Tea Party have anything to with it? Could Fox News have anything to do with dividing the nation?

This kind of behavior is called sedition- that is, (as defined by Wikipedia) the “overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws.”
*    *    *    *
All this talk of secession didn’t impress Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia too much. Despite what conservatives and secessionists might say, according to the Supreme Court, the question is clear. Scalia wrote:
If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.
With all due respect, since when do wars solve Constitutional issues? Absurdly, Scalia even cited the Pledge of Allegiance as proof! So much the expert reasoning of the judicial hero of the conservatives. 

The American Conservative, like the American Spectator, plays the same games with the reader. While offering plenty of proof against the very idea of secession in principle:
Three Supreme Court justices, one famous president, a bloody war, and the language of a modern pledge of allegiance offer conclusive proof that secession, while an entertaining philosophical exercise, has no legal basis.
(Add to this list a Supreme Court case which declared no state has the right to secede.) But then the writer brushes aside the small mountain of evidence with:
Their various opinions and conclusions, however, all have gaping holes.
While the article may make a good case that (all things considered) succession could be legally defensible, the question isn’t, of course, only whether it is legal. The question is whether it is wise path to take. 

And experience tells us that secession, no matter how valid the reason, is dangerous and stupid thing to do.

Lone Star Secessionist Blues
This talk of secession really went into high gear when Obama won re-election, which clearly shook neo-conservatives to the core. But according to the president of the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), Daniel Miller, that’s only a coincidence.
He is quoted in the article as claiming:
“This is not a reaction to a person but to policy and what we see as a federal government that is so disconnected from its constituents and absolute no regard for what its purpose was.” 
He added that:
“self-determination is kind of the underpinning to all of this — the ability to provide Texas solutions to Texas problems.”
Fox News recently gave Cary Wise, TNM’s Executive Director, free air-time in order to promote his secessionist views (challenge- and fact-free). He told the interviewer:
“The state of Texas has a constitution.And our constitution said that all political power is inherent in the people.”
Wise wisely neglects to mention that while the source of that political power may derive from the people, our Founding Fathers decided in order to prevent mob-rule, our political system would be representative and the people are free and encouraged to vote in free elections for those politicians that best represent them.
*        *        *       *
As ABCNews pointed out, self-determination is a lovely thing but that privilege goes hand in hand with economic independence. For the six states advocating independence from the “tyranny” of the federal government, taking the federal handouts has been fairly easy.
All the states petitioning to secede from the United States that obtained enough signatures to elicit a response from the White House — with the exception of Alabama — were some of the largest recipients of federal funding in 2010.
Census records show that six of the seven states that amassed more than 25,000 signatures on their petitions to form independent nations in the past week took more than $10 million in revenue from the federal government that year.
The seven states – Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina – took more than 23 percent of all federal revenue allotted to the states that year.
If Texans really cared about out-of control domestic spending, there is one obvious solution. Legislators would return, or at least refuse, the $294 billion in federal funds that Texas received. According to an article by, when it came to taking federal funds, Texas ranked third, behind Florida and Maryland. 

It’s easy to brag about how well your state economy is when each of your citizens is being given a handout of $11,452 in federal dollars.

Nevertheless, according to one Texas petition that America “continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending,” in contrast to Texas which “maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world.”

Politifact confirmed that Texas has actually managed to balance its budget but to do so, Texas legislators had to prioritize a bit:
Lawmakers did not cover all projected state costs of Medicaid in 2013 and put off a regular payment to school districts. As before, too, portions of funds intended for special purposes were set aside to balance the budget.
Balancing the budget is easy when you refuse to cover costs. Education and Medicaid are the two biggest items in the budget.
According to Spencer Harris, a health care policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Medicaid in Texas will soon become Texas’s biggest budgetary line-item. Medicaid is a little over 20 percent of our state budget if you just include the state funds, but if you look at the federal money is closer to 30 percent.
With the nation's highest rate of uninsured citizens, Texas can ill-afford to skip Medicare costs. 
Governor Perry would very much like to blame Obamacare for all his state’s ’problems but Harris says that’s not quite the full picture. More and more baby-boomers are eligible for Medicaid. Texas will see Medicaid cost increases “due not just to the expanded coverage under Obama’s law but also to expected increases in enrollment among currently eligible Texans.”
The other way Texas balanced its budget was by putting off its payments on its biggest budgetary drain, education. In a state that ranks 49th in the United States in getting its people at least a high school degree and in which nearly 1 in 5 Texans don't have high school diploma, that brings Texas as a nation to third world standards. 

Despite the fact that 60% of Texans surveyed in a Rasmussen poll opposed Texas going rogue, nearly have of all Republicans in Texas in supported the idea. That was enough for the TNM to file paperwork last month with the Texas Ethics commission to form their own superPAC,,Texas Nationalist Movement Political Action Committee. According to the organization, the superPAC was formed "for the purpose of supporting and endorsing candidates at all levels that are in-line with the mission, vision and values of the Texas Nationalist Movement."

And we can assume that other organizations in other states will soon do likewise. It will be interesting to see exactly how much the Koch Brothers will be giving in this latest attempt to ruin the nation. 

A Voice from the Past
It has taken over 150 years for the subject of secession to re-surface. Texas secessionists have either chosen to ignore or were never educated on American history. They seem completely oblivious to the hard-learned lessons of the Confederate disaster. 

Before the Civil War, when many in the South were advocating breaking free from the United States, one of the cooler heads, Alexander H. Stephens, issued an eloquent and prophetic warning for them to think carefully. There was no discussion about whether these states had the right to remove themselves. The Constitution seems pretty clear about that.  Stephens, a Georgia politician, implored southern extremists to consider the wisdom (not the legality) of such a radical step.

One hundred and fifty-two years ago next week, on January 17, 1861, Georgia held a special convention to vote  whether or not to remain in the Union of States. It was a decisive moment in the history of the nation and three other states, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, had already voted to “cut loose” from the Union. By this time, the South had worked itself into a hysteria of indignation and was in no mood for compromise. 

In his speech before the members of the Constitution before the vote, former Congressman  Stephens warned,
That this step, once taken, could never be recalled; and all the baleful and withering consequences that must follow will rest on the Convention for all coming time.
Devastation to Charleston
Secession would, he told them, would inevitably lead to war and be a sure path to destruction of the South..
When we and our posterity shall see our lovely South desolated by the demon of war (which this act of your will inevitably invite and call forth); when our green fields of waving harvest shall be trodden down by murderous soldiery and the fiery car of war sweeping over our land; our temples of justice laid in ashes, all the horror and desolation of war upon us, who but this convention will be held responsible for it? and who but he who shall have his vote for this unwise and ill-timed measure.. shall be held to strict account for this suicidal act, by the present generation and probably cursed and execrated by posterity for all coming time, for the wide and desolating ruin that will inevitably follow this act you now propose to perpetrate?
In every respect, it was an accurate portrait of what was to happen to the South. He begged the other delegates to reconsider. Stephens asked them what reasons they would give to the victims of the coming calamity or to other nations of the world. 

What “one overt act” could they name or point to which could justify deserting the United States and breaking apart the Union, he asked them.
Can any of you today name one governmental act of wrong, deliberately and purposely done by the government of Washington, of which the South has the right to complain?
On the contrary, Stephens pointed out, hadn’t the federal government been more than willing to accommodate their Southern states demands? In any case, what, he asked, had they to gain by seceding from the Union? Within the federal government, the South had always had more representation than the North.

On the other hand, the South had very much to lose. There was the problem of the cost of running an independent government.
Look at another item, one.. in which we have a great and vital interest. It is that of revenue, or means of supporting government.
According to official figures, he said, three-fourths of the revenue for the support of the government came NOT from the Southern states, but had been raised uniformly from the North.
Sound familiar?

The result of the decision to leave the Union was, even then, predictable: a costly and bloody war.
Leaving out of view, for the present, the countless million of dollars you must expend in a war with the North; with tens of thousands of your sons and brothers slain in battle, and the offered up as sacrifices upon the altar of your ambition- and for what, we ask again?
Is it for the overthrow of the American government established by our common ancestry, cemented and built up by their sweat and blood and founded on the broad principles of Right, Justice and Humanity? And I must declare here as I have often done before.. it is the best and freest government-the most equal in its rights- the most just in its decision- the most lenient in its measure and the most inspiring in its principles to elevate the race of men, that the sun of heaven ever shown upon.
Now, for you to attempt to overthrow such a government as this, under which we have lived for more than three-quarters of a century- in which we have gained our wealth, our standing as a nation, our domestic safety while the elements of peril are around us, with peace and tranquility accompanied with unbounded prosperity and rights unassailed- is the height of madness, folly and wickedness, to which I can neither lend my sanction nor my vote.
Unfortunately, for the nation, all of Stephen’s predictions and wise advice were ignored by the Convention members who voted to secede officially from the Union. Some in the South even saw Stephens as a traitor to the Confederacy. 
Despite that view, Stephens was elected to the newly-formed Confederate Congress, and later that year, as vice-president of the Confederacy. In that position, he was witness to the fulfillment of his darkest prognostications. 
If the other delegates had listened to his wise and prophetic advice, the nation might have avoided a war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history. 

Alexander Stephens had only his common sense to guide him when he spoke at the Georgia Convention. Today, we have common sense (presumably) and the chastising experience of our past mistakes. The deaths of 750,000 citizens should be a pretty strong deterrent, after all.

When the Texas Nationalist Movement leaders (and all of the other irresponsible rabble-rousing secessionist groups) attempt to stir the discontented into the same disastrous mistake as our ancestors, we hope the good and intelligent and loyal citizens will reject this dangerous nonsense with the contempt it deserves.