Were Confederate Generals Traitors?

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Posted: Jun 28, 2017 12:01 AM
Were Confederate Generals Traitors?

My “Rewriting American History” column of a fortnight ago, about the dismantling of Confederate monuments, generated considerable mail. Some argued there should not be statues honoring traitors such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, who fought against the Union. Victors of wars get to write the history, and the history they write often does not reflect the facts. Let’s look at some of the facts and ask: Did the South have a right to secede from the Union? If it did, we can’t label Confederate generals as traitors.

Article 1 of the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the war between the Colonies and Great Britain, held “New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States.” Representatives of these states came together in Philadelphia in 1787 to write a constitution and form a union.

During the ratification debates, Virginia’s delegates said, “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.” The ratification documents of New York and Rhode Island expressed similar sentiments.

At the Constitutional Convention, a proposal was made to allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” rejected it. The minutes from the debate paraphrased his opinion: “A union of the states containing such an ingredient (would) provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a state would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”

America’s first secessionist movement started in New England after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Many were infuriated by what they saw as an unconstitutional act by President Thomas Jefferson. The movement was led by Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, George Washington’s secretary of war and secretary of state. He later became a congressman and senator. “The principles of our Revolution point to the remedy — a separation,” Pickering wrote to George Cabot in 1803, for “the people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West.” His Senate colleague James Hillhouse of Connecticut agreed, saying, “The Eastern states must and will dissolve the union and form a separate government.” This call for secession was shared by other prominent Americans, such as John Quincy Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Fisher Ames, Josiah Quincy III and Joseph Story. The call failed to garner support at the 1814-15 Hartford Convention.

The U.S. Constitution would have never been ratified — and a union never created — if the people of those 13 “free sovereign and Independent States” did not believe that they had the right to secede. Even on the eve of the War of 1861, unionist politicians saw secession as a right that states had. Rep. Jacob M. Kunkel of Maryland said, “Any attempt to preserve the union between the states of this Confederacy by force would be impractical and destructive of republican liberty.” The Northern Democratic and Republican parties favored allowing the South to secede in peace.

Northern newspapers editorialized in favor of the South’s right to secede. New-York Tribune (Feb. 5, 1860): “If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861.” The Detroit Free Press (Feb. 19, 1861): “An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil — evil unmitigated in character and appalling in extent.” The New-York Times (March 21, 1861): “There is a growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go.”

Confederate generals were fighting for independence from the Union just as George Washington and other generals fought for independence from Great Britain. Those who’d label Gen. Robert E. Lee as a traitor might also label George Washington as a traitor. I’m sure Great Britain’s King George III would have agreed.

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2 Comments

  1. I hardly think there is a comparison to the brave men who fought in the Revolution. To compare the Southerners who gave their lives so bravely at King’s Mountain for the cause of liberty, and justice for all to those who seceded over slavery is shameful. And they did secede because of slavery. If you read all the declarations of secession that each state issued when they seceded, they all mention the primary cause as preserving their peculiar institution. https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow TY Pamela for your comment and I’ve dutifully saved it for a later piece that Ill write in support of what you’re saying after I have dutifully examined what youve provided but if i may what is not known Pamela is that prior to the civil and every war that lead upto it was based on the freedom of the so called white slaves that were brought over to the Americas by their black masters from europe this interesting piece of history has been left out and the fact that the 13 colonies were established by a Black King of England, King james 4th and his subsequent children like King Chs the 3rd who emphatically told the settlers do not take possession of the native territory West of the appalachian Mtns but did do it under direct order not to of their King.

    With that being said the history of America as we know it today changed dramatically and gave an economic and a new political voice to the Whites who became rabid with the taste of economic and political freedom they never had before and with Manifest Destiny as their new Anthem “AT ALL COST” made it a constant theme for and against the indigenous population throughout the world IE Hawaii which was and still is a Black Kingdom that was inappropriately and illegally acquired by the USA in 1898 and became an illegal state of the US empire there after via a illegal plebescite that never gave the Hawaiian people the option to stay a Sovereign nation as well as Alaska.
    With that being said, Pamela, the wars of 1776, Tripolitan Wars, the War of 1812 and all subsequent wars were in FACT race wars against the Native indigenous American Blacks versus the Albinoid nation of what we call white people today.

    So its a very dynamic history that if ones not careful you can become lost in it and miss the VERY BIG picture thanks for the comment and pls follow the blog and spread the word about it Id appreciate it alot.

    1 829 990 8267 iisrael9132@gmail.com

    Like

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