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A valiant libertarian lady remembered

Child attacked the very idea that one man could own another and in so doing enunciated the heart of libertarianism. “The personal liberty of one man can never be the property of another,” she wrote. “In slavery there is no mutual agreement; for in that case, it would not be slavery. The negro has no voice in the matter—no alternative presented to him—no bargain is made. The beginning of his bondage is the triumph of power over weakness…One man may as well claim an exclusive right to the air another man breathes, as to the possession of his limbs and faculties. Personal freedom is the birthright of every human being.”

These are the words of Lydia Maria Childs, as remembered in a nice article by those folk at The Skeptical Libertarian.

There has been something of a kerfuffle recently – over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site – about the role, or perhaps lack of involvement of – women in what can be loosely called the libertarian movement.  On one level, this strikes me as a bit misplaced in terms of a concern, since I don’t really think that the circle of libertarians that I have moved in to have been particularly male dominated. And in general, the history of classical liberal thought in the 19th and 20th centuries has its prominent women figures such as Ayn Rand (even if she rejected the term); Rose Wilder Lane, Isobel Paterson, and more recently, Wendy McElroy and Virginia Postrel.

And given how women continue to be oppressed in parts of the world – such as in Saudi Arabia, to take one extreme example – I would argue that pro-liberty views ought to be particularly appealing to women, all things considered.

35 comments to A valiant libertarian lady remembered

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Replaced “negro” with “citizen” and “slavery” with “statism” in that quoted paragraph and you have a pretty good description of pretty much every modern government.

    I’ve always thought the differences between slavery and statism were more a question of degree rather than any real qualitative difference.

  • Paul Marks

    Isobella Patterson and Rose Wilder Lane would not have been happy with people (whatever they called themselves) who were supporters of Social Justice – i.e. the doctrine that income and wealth are rightfully owned by the collective (“the people”) and are to be “distributed” according to some political rule.

    For that is what “Social Justice” means – and anyone who denies it is, to use technical language, a God damned liar.

    As for Ayn Rand – of course this person grow to detest the word “libertarian” (in politics – not as a technical term meaning opposed to determinist in philosophy) because of the habit of so many 1960s libertarians of allying with the worst people on the planet.

    The Soviets and Red China Mao (the largest scale mass murderer of human history) who were rivals (happy to kill each other) but allies in Indo China – both wishing to impose Marxism on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

    And, of coure, the “New Left” in the United States (often the children of the “old left” – as the leadership of the “New” left was mostly from old Marxist families) with their slogans of “Up Against The Wall Motherfucker” and “Off The Pigs”.

    In the late 1960s under “left and right join hands” this became the position of some “libertarians” (who also decided to go for the role of Mao’s best buddies against “American Imperialism”). In the globel struggle against Communism – they picked the wrong side.

    Of course most libertarians rejected this line.

    It is often forgotten today that Frank Meyer (not Murray Rothbard) was the most influential libertarian voice in the period – although the world lost Frank Meyer to cancer in 1972.

    Meyer (himself an ex Communist) knew what the Comrades were really like (in the United States as much as outside the United States) and so would not play footsie with them.

    But, sadly, that was not enough for Ayn Rand – the “Left and Right Join Hands” crowd so disgusted her (and understanably so) that-that-was-that.

    “Paul why are you dragging up long buried and painful history”.

    Because the name of “libertarians” who endorse “Social Justice” has been mentioned that is why (by the way I do not believe that Murray Newton Rothbard, even in his worst period, ever went so far as to formally endorse Social Justice).

    And any “they define it differently……” really deserves an Ayn Rand style response.

    Or perhaps a 1960s “New Left” response.

    “Stop your motherfucking lies, you motherfuckers”.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Paul, you’ve probably already noticed that the tagline of the linked blog is “Free markets and social justice”

    Aren’t those two mutually exclusive?

    Either I’m free to keep what I earn and use it how I wish, or I’m not and it is taken and redistributed “fairly”. There isn’t really a middle ground.

  • Paul Marks

    Specifically on the slavery issue.

    The court judgements that made people slaves BY BIRTH go back to colonial times (I think the first one was in Mass).

    And the time of the founding of the United States most Southern leaders accepted that slavery was evil – but it was “it will go in time” evil, and it did go… but only the Northern States(those pro Confederate modern maps that show X number of Northern States as “slave States” forget to mention there were only about a dozen slaves left in places like Delware and New Jersey, very old people who had been born before slavery-by-birth had been abolished).

    In the South the climate of opinion had fundementally changed -and for the WORSE.

    Slavery was now seen as a “positive good” – and better than the “wage slavery” of the Northern “capitalists” (yes the Confederate apologists used neoMarxoid arguments – even down to the Labour theory of value).

    In most Southern States it was impossible to run an anti slavery newspaper by 1860. Or to organise an anti slavery meeting.

    Also the Slave Power was intent on EXPANDING slavery – not just to “Bleeding Kansas” to everywhere else they could (in the United States and outside it).

    I am no fan of Lincoln (who never met a bit of corporate welfare he did not like – a true Henry Clay Whig), but it had to come to a fight.

    And history does not always give us the luxury of choosing commanders.

    I like President Johnson less than I like President Lincoln – but I have no problem deciding between Johnson and “Uncle Ho”, or between Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

    I remind people that the rule of law was violated in the North – but TOTALLY IGNORED in the South (with the exception of Governor Vance and his efforts in North Carolinia) with executions without trail and so on.

    That the North had fiat money inflation – but the South had vastly more of it.

    That the North had an income tax – but that the South had a higher one (and a more “Progressive” one).

    That the North had terrible regulations – but that the South had vastly worse regulations (even on overseas trade – indeed the regulations limiting the number of port that could be used actually helped the U.S. Navy blockaid).

    And that the South (as one would expect from “Cannibals All”) ended up de facto nationalising what railroads and manufacturing it had.

    The Rothbardian approach to history (judge historical characters against an ideal theorectical standard – SURPRISE! they fail to measure up to it) is no good.

    Historical characters must be judged against the ALTERNATIVE.

    Not a theoretical alternative – but the ACTUAL alternative.

    And remember that the Slave Power was expansionist.

  • Paul Marks

    JV – yes they are mutually exclusive.

    That is why I can not think of “those people” without the Red Mist coming down.

    By the way – on the lady herself.

    No doubt L.M. Childs was a wonderful person.

    But that should not obscure the fact that most anti slavery people (and most Indian rights people) were hard core relgious people.

    It is possible to believe in natural law without believing in God (as the Schoolmen used to say “natural law is God’s law – but if God did not exist natural law would be EXACTLY THE SAME”).

    But historically most of those people who have set themselves against the laws of the State, on princiople, have been strongly religious (for good or ill).

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’m not as keen on Lincoln as you Paul.

    The issue with Lincoln as I see it is nothing to do with slavery at all, it was the wilful violation of state’s right of secession and the creation of an all powerful federal government. What’s more even the Northeners did not perceive the Civil War as being to do with slavery – despite what the history books said. It was about putting the South in its place.

    The American Civil War was the death of America as far as I’m concerned. The states entered the Union of their own free will, but according to Lincoln they were not allowed to leave again. He was like Herman Van Rompoy with an itchy trigger finger.

    As to slavery, abolitionism was already in the wind. Even an independent confederacy would have dropped it by 1900 at the latest.

  • Paul Marks

    Actually I said I was no fan of Lincoln. If he was a passionate anti slavery person (like his mother) he did not remember it till 1854.

    Before then his political film were as in the old Henry Fonda film – “national bank” (a surprise for the “Lincoln was against the bankers” myth), “protective tariff” and “internal improvements”.

    Henry Clay Whig, Henry Clay Whig, Henry Clay Whig.

    I would have backed Salmon P. Chase at the 1860 Convention – but Lincoln won, and that was that.

    As for anti slavery being “in the wind”.

    Sorry but you are WRONG.

    The whole point of the Slave Power was that the wind WENT THE OTHER WAY.

    The Southern leadership were more (not less) pro slavery than their fathers or grandfathers had been. Slavery was now a “positive good”.

    And the point of the “Slave Holdering State of North America” (the Confederacy) was to EXPAND slavery.

    Hence “Bleeding Kansas”.

    “So you are against secession”.

    No I am FOR secession.

    Done for the right reason – to reduce the size and scope of government (not protect to slavery).

    And done in the right way – by the vote of the people (all of the people – including the black people).

  • PeterT

    Interesting discussion on the civil war. Thank you.

    On female libertarians. I do think that part of libertarianism’s lack of success is that some of its key selling points are quite abstract and might be considered cold and calculating. I am thinking of such things as comparing the immediate ‘benefits’ of new regulation vs. the overall ‘death by a million cuts’ costs of regulation overall. I am not saying that women are thick. Just merely observing that more men than women have autism. Also not saying that libertarian men are all autistic.

    Happy to be shot down!

  • Paul Marks

    Peter T.

    I have heard that men are (on average) more prone to abstraction and women more “practical”.

    But I just do not know.

    Certainly men are good at regarding other people as “its”.

    Sometimes that is bad, sometimes it is needful.

  • Tedd

    Aren’t those two mutually exclusive?

    Only if one (or both) is imposed by force. Otherwise no, not at all.

  • Indeed, Tedd.

    I tend to think we need to reclaim the language. What the people who most commonly use the phrase “social justice” mean by it is in fact both unjust and anti-social.

  • Laird

    Agreed on the need to reclaim the language, Ted, but not on Tedd’s comment. I’m not sure how free markets could be “imposed by force”, because free trade is the natural order of human affairs; only its limitation could be imposed by force (and so its subsequent reinstatement would merely be defensive, and thus not in contravention of the Zero-Aggression Principle). And in any event, in any society much larger than a family unit “social justice” can only be implemented by force. So yes, the two are mutually exclusive.

    And Paul, I view secession as an absolute right of any state (or group of states acting in concert), regardless of whether the reason is “right” (in your opinion). And that decision is properly made by the state’s own internal political process, which includes determining who has the vote. As to the political winds “blowing the other way” in the pre-Civil War south, while that’s true the only reason they were so keen on having new states be slave states was that they were being out-voted in Congress (mostly in the Senate) because of all the new “free” states, and they wanted to maintain the balance of power to prevent federal limitations on slavery. I don’t think they would have cared much about the slave status of Kansas or the others had they felt secure that their own slaves wouldn’t be taken away. It was defensive positioning.

  • RRS

    Here follows a repeat (in full) of a previous post from several months ago on the same subject of “Social Justice:”

    It is always risky to compete with the Paul marks organization; still, I will offer up the following differing perspective on the meaning (but not variant uses) of Social Justice:

    “References to “social justice” (subject to Hayek’s question) are usually intended to imply corrections to perceived defects of the markets systems (as noted above). If, instead, we conceive of “justice” as the performance of obligations, then social justice would become the performance of obligations through “social” instrumentalities, rather than individually or even through civil voluntary means. That infers governmental actions for the performance of obligations; and in so doing the assigning, allocation and imposition of obligations (usually through taxation, occasionally by regulation) on the basis of politically determined criteria.

    “The politically determined imposition of obligations, at any level, not voluntarily undertaken, raises serious issues as to the viability of the social order in an open society; and certainly as to individual ‘freedom from.’ ”

    The above is an extract from a comment at The Library of Law and Liberty section on the Liberty Fund site on 4/16/2012.

    The rhetorical use of terms is not always helpful in understanding human interactions. Still, it seems to remain elective in discourse.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Laird, I don’t agree that a state or some defined area always has a right to secede, and that surely applies where a large chunk of the population so affected is hardly in a position to agree, and in fact is held in bondage.

    Here is what Tim Sandefur, a blogger and lawyer, said about the issue some time ago: “The problem comes when a group of people don’t just give up their citizenship, but do this as part of a plan to oppress others and deprive those others of their rights. Nobody was asking the slaves if they wanted to give up their citizenship—hell, the southern states refused to recognize their citizenship at all! They were essentially being kidnaped, and deprived of their rights, by a group of people who insisted that they were now their own country.”

    Here is his post in full.

    It may be – “may” being the operative word – that slavery would have disappeared eventually, but even by the middle of the 19th centuries, the strains imposed by this horrific institution were becoming so bad that it is hard to see how conflict could not have been averted. The demands by slave states that runaways be returned by the free states in the North and West were intolerable. This institution could have staggered on for decades. Slavery in the Roman Empire lasted for centuries. Bad things don’t necessarily decay as fast as we libertarians would like. Alas.

  • Paul Marks

    If Social Justice is not “imposed by force” then it is not a matter of “justice” (right). It becomes charity (mercy) – a totally different thing.

    Either “this stuff is mine” or it is “please give me this stuff – I am hungry”.

    If people can not see the fundemental difference between those two statements……

    On Secession:

    I repeat I SUPPORT it.

    If done in the right way.

    A vote by a majority of people in the State.

    And the minority allowed to leave – if they wish to do so.

    Remember the sort of “secession” Ayn Rand mentions near the end of “Atlas Shrugged”.

    People, in various communities as the country collapses, kill the tax collectors and government regulators (the fact that they KILL them shows the corruption from the start) and then they socialise production (i.e. are MORE collectivist than the United States they are leaving) and forbid anyone to leave – on pain of death.

    This is not something I favour.

    The word “secession” is not enough – I want to know the CIRCUMSTANCES (call me a follower of Edmund Burke if you like – after all I am).

    Secession under people like Jefferson Davis is not something I support. Because it is a matter of human slavery – not human freedom.

    Secession supported by people like Governor Nikki H. (and others) would be a very different thing.

  • Jonathan:

    The demands by slave states that runaways be returned by the free states in the North and West were intolerable

    From what I have read, many in the Northern governments were more than willing to cooperate with the South in catching and returning the runaways. Was there anything in the Constitution that forced them to do so?

    it is hard to see how conflict could not have been averted

    The point is not the conflict – which may or may not have been unavoidable, but the justification given to said conflict and the way the North (Lincoln?) went about it – for example, and at least in theory*, the South could have been let to secede, and a war could have still been waged against it with the aim of freeing the slaves, but without the aim of forcefully returning the South to the Union.

    *I can imagine that this particular route may have not been practical, and I’d be interested to hear why not.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way Ayn Rand then (rightly( say the collectivist communites would then “die” after their secession.

    It is no good leaving a place (either by secession – of physically leaving) if you CARRY COLLECTIVIST PRINCIPLES WITH YOU.

    Remember how people from Mass were first welcomed in New Hampshire?

    Or how people from California were welcomed in Washington State and Colorado.

    Even though those people were fleeing the results of high govenrment spending and endless regulations – they (or most of them) carried these principles with them.

    They have proved to a be a plague.

    The power of the education system (the schools and the universities) and the media (including the entertainment media) is, alas, very strong.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – the “Fugitive Slave Acts” (that go back to almost the start of the United States) are a constitutional can of worms.

    The doctrine of “nulification” (now associated with Calhoun and Southern apologists) was orignially developed to ATTACK the Federal Fugitive Slave Acts (and to argue that States that did not have the “institution of slavery”) did not need to enforce them (remember there were no Federal police at this time).

    This was, in turn, sometimes connected to the (essentially natural law) arguments of Salmon P. Chase (and others) that “slavery” was actually a seies of common law crimes (assault, false imprisonment…..) crimes made “legal” only by State statutes and court judgements.

    Which, for many people who rejected the tradition of Roman law that state commands trumped natural law (indeed held that natural law trumped state commands), meant that “slavery” was not legal at all (anywhere).

    Of course that is not the position taken by the United States Consitution before the formal passing of the 13th Amendment.

    Unless one holds that the Ninth Amendment (orignially meant to be the First Amendment) means that……

    Well things get even more complex at that point…..

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Paul, while obviously I agree that slavery is deplorable, I don’t see why the South practising it should in and of itself confer the right upon the North to attack and dominate the South any more than it would confer the right to attack other major slave powers of the era such as Brazil or Morocco.

    If the Confederacy had been allowed to secede diplomatic actions could have been taken to encourage them toward abolition which would not have required the spilling of any blood. When I said abolition was “in the wind” I meant the culture external to the South, not the internal culture. The Americas were slavery-free by the 1890s, so I concluded it was highly unlikely that even in the absence of external pressure that the Confederacy would have continued practising it much beyond that date.

    Disagreeing with the laws of another nation (even a self declared one) should not be reason enough to attack them. Unfortunately the Confederacy were daft enough to attack Fort Sumter instead of just declaring themselves independent and asking the North to remove its troops.

    So while you could certainly argue that the initial retaliation for Fort Sumter was justified, the subsequent ideological justifications for the war do not hold water for me. I am convinced the Civil War was perceived as an opportunity by Lincoln and the Union to compel the rebellious South to respect Northen hegemony.

  • Paul Marks

    Tactically you make some good points J.V.

    The Vice President of the Confederacy wanted such a policy – for example sending captured Union troops home (with presents) rather than sending them to Death Camps (such as Andersville).

    However, Jefferson Davis (and the others) were rather different.

    You fail to grasp that the aim was not just the presevation of slavery, it was the EXPANSION of slavery.

    And that the war really started in “Bleeding Kansas” long before Fort Sumter.

    For the “free States” to continue to exist – the “Slave Power” had to be destroyed.

    One could just live in peace with it – on that (if on nothing else) Lincoln (who I dislike almost as much as I dislike President Johnson) was correct.

    Two nations was not an option – not with the ideology of the Slave Power.

    “We will either be all one thing – or all the other”.

    I repeat…….

    Now everything is quite different.

  • Paul, as real as the threat of Slave Power was to the Free States, I still fail to see how it justified the annexation (which is what the the prevention of secession amounted to) of the Southern States. For example, the threat of Nazism was at least as great, and the US did fight that threat – and yet Germany was not declared a 51st State of the Union.

  • …sorry, not the 51st, but whatever the number was at the time…

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed Alisa – and American nationalisn WAS INDEED a factor.

    Strictly speaking (from a libertarian standpoint) the North should have crushed the enemy power and then declared……

    “Good news – you are now all independent States”

    Not practical – as vast numbers of Americans had died to restore the land of their fathers and mothers (as they viewed it).

    Of course as soon as the United States Army was withdrawn from the South (after 1877) the rights of blacks started to be destroyed.

    That is one of the great arguments of the statists to this day – as late as the 1960s Southern Democrats (it is “forgotten” they were Democrats) were persecuting blacks.

    It is as if Nazi Germany had been defeated in 1945 and the new Federal Republic of Germany had (a couple of decades later – when American troops went home) passed laws insisting that Jews wear yellow stars again.

    The South has changed – it really has.

    But it is not in the interests of the “liberal” elite (nationally) to admit that fact.

  • Midwesterner

    Of course as soon as the United States Army was withdrawn from the South (after 1877) the rights of blacks started to be destroyed.

    Paul, my understanding is that those rights were destroyed in the SCOTUS.

    IMO, the entire civil war was engineered by unification Progressives (although not yet known as such). All the federal government needed to do was respect the Constitution and not enforce the fugitive slave act. The civil war was a big unified totalitarian government solution to too much federal government in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act. I live not far from a nationally known stop on the underground railroad. Wisconsin was never a slave state. Yet Wisconsin citizens in their own homes and communities had to conceal human beings from people in other states who used the federal government to claim ownership of them. Sheriffs not enforcing the act were deemed federal criminals for placing their own state’s respect for human liberty above the national authority’s support for slave owners.

    I agree with whoever (JV?) up the thread said slavery would have soon disappeared. The market costs of turning entire states into prisons combined with the certain boycotts by other states and nations would have made it a futile effort. The slaves states needed to abrogate the federal government’s restraints and use its powers just to retain their slave state status.

    I recently read an article on the physical impossibility of sealing the Mexican border against drug trafficking with anything less than a Berlin Wall style barricade with blockhouses the entire 1900 miles. The borders of southern states are even longer. Without the complicity of the federal government in the first place, slavery would have soon disappeared. As soon as the perimeter border states had lost too many slaves across their borders, they would have faced irresistible pressures to outlaw slavery to escape the boycotts by free states and nations.

  • Tedd


    You’re right, I didn’t think through what my parenthetical comment implied.

  • Paul Marks


    I think that was what happened in Brazil.

    The Empire of Brazil allowed some local areas to get rid of slavey and the Princess (who had great influence on her father the Emperor) would not allow any fugitive slaves to be returned (hence slavery collapsed).

    However, the American Slave Power was a Republic (no kindly Princess) and the Slave Power was very much interested in EXPANDING slavery to the West (and anywhere else) a point I have made several times.

    By the way to talk of Progressives (let alone totalitarian Progressives) in the context of 1861 shows the influence of the Woodrow Wilson school of history.

    Woodrow Wilson wished to pretend that the Civil War was faught to great a fundementally different government – because HE (WOODROW WILSON) wished to create such a government.

    If the Civil War had created such a government – people like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt would not have had to create it many decades later.

    Someone like Abe Lincoln (without the “benefit” of Wilson’s Germanic education – and dead in 1865 in any case) would not even have know what the word “Progressive” meant in a political context.

    Lincoln (as, I think, I have pointed out) was nothing more or less than an old style Henry Clay Whig.

    Not a good thing (to be sure not a good thing).

    But not a 20th century Progressive (filled with Prussian philosophy) either.

    A bit like comparing Mayor Daley (the first Mayor Daley) to Barack Obama.

    Not the same sort of thing.

    Had the first Mayor Daley ever met Barack Obama – he most likely would have set a couple of police dogs on him.

    And had Abe Lincoln ever met Woodrow Wilson (the adult Wilson – not the young boy who actually existed in Lincoln’s lifetime)he most likely would have given the pointy head Prof a kick up the backside.

  • Paul Marks

    It is worth pointing out that the Federal government in 1885 (20 years after the Civil War) was tiny – with small influence on American life.

    So it is not a question of Progressives by another name – they were not Progressives.

    Even as late as 1912 the Federal government was about 2% (two per cent) of GDP, and Federal regulations had little inpact on the life of most Americans.

    I fully accept that people in Wisconsin hid slaves.

    But the main anti slavery work done by people from Wisconsin was done by people in blue uniforms (trimmed in black in the case of the Wisconsin regiment I am thinking of) armed with a mixture of high quality rifles.

    Turning back to Wilson (and Richard Ely followers in general – by the way Richard Ely and co would have baffled someone like Lincoln).

    Even today the dream of the Progressives has not been fully achieved.

    There were big roll backs of government in the 1920s and in the late 1940s (both achieved by the party of Lincoln – although acting more like the party of Salmon P. Chase or Warren Harding, or Senator B. from Ohio).

    Although Comrade Barack may achieve it – not in the original Prussian form, but in the form of the “Red Prussian”.

    By the way…..

    I suspect that NEITHER SIDE would have faught had they guessed how destructive the Civil War would be.

    People were misled by the Civil War in Switzerland in 1847.

    Both sides expected a walk over.

    Only General Sherman seems to have grasped that hundreds of thousands of human beings would die.

    He tried to explain his reasoning.

    But everyone thought him mad.

  • Rich Rostrom

    And given how women continue to be oppressed in parts of the world – such as in Saudi Arabia, to take one extreme example – I would argue that pro-liberty views ought to be particularly appealing to women, all things considered.

    The problem is that in places like Saudi Arabia (or the Islamified neighborhoods of Britain and France), women are not oppressed by the state, but by individuals acting out cultural imperatives. The oppression is not performed by a structured machine, but is distributed, disaggregated. (Saudi Arabia has formalized some of the process, but this reflects the overwhelming popular consensus – among men, anyway – and most of it is still inflicted by private agents.)

    When a dominant fraction of one’s neighbors and relatives are all complicit in the oppression, the intervention of an intrusive state may be welcome.

  • Rich Rostrom

    I am shocked, as always, to see self-proclaimed libertarians proclaiming that one level of government has absolute dominion over those in its jurisdiction.

    Why should a 51% majority in a U.S. state have the right to coerce the other 49%?

    If the majority in a single U.S. state has the absolute right to repudiate the authority of the United States throughout that state, does a majority in one county of that state have the absolute right to repudiate the authority of that state in that county? Why not?

    Does a majority of the population of any subset of a sovereign government’s territory have the absolute right to repudiate the authority of that government in that territorial subset?

    If not, why not? And if so, does any individual have the same right? If not, why not? If so, that is anarchism, which is philosophically defensible, but has no bearing on “secession”, which is an act of political coercion.

    If one is not an anarchist, then one concedes that sovereign government, with the power to coerce the people in its jurisdiction, is necessary; and that neither individuals nor groups may by natural right unilaterally repudiate the jurisdiction of the sovereign. Secession and revolution are natural rights, but violation of written law, to be exercised only for good cause.

  • Laird

    Wrong, Rich. Prior to the formation of the United States the 13 (former) colonies were sovereign nations. Each was a unitary entity, and its internal politics its own affair. When they banded together to form the US they did so for certain limited and carefully defined purposes, which were spelled out in the Constitution. As such they retained their sovereignty (except with respect to the delegated parts), which is clearly set out in the 9th and 10th Amendments. If the US government were to exceed its proper bounds, or otherwise cease to be benefial to any individual state, that state retained the right to withdraw to its former status. How it made that decision was its own internal affair, and while we’re certainly free to criticize the process in the end that’s a decision for the inhabitants of that state. But the US government is a creature of the states qua states, and each state acting as a unitary entity possesses the right to stay or go (or to nullify a federal law).

    But the same does not hold true for counties within a state, because the counties are also creations of the state, possessing only the authority granted by the state. (The same is true for cities and municipalities.) A county is not a sovereign entity.

    It’s similar to you and me and 11 of our friends forming a partnership. Each of us is a sovereign, independent entity, with the power to withdraw at will (consistent with the terms of the partnership agreement). If my brain makes the decision to withdraw the rest of the body has to go with it; I am a unitary entity, and I make all decisions as such. But my spleen can’t secede from me, because it is not an independent entity (although obviously it can cause me much trouble if I don’t treat it right!). Much less can any individual cell secede.

    The fundamental change wrought by the Civil War was to vest the notion of primary sovereignty in the United State, rather than in its individual component states. While it was by no means agreed by everyone, prior to that time many believed that states had the right to withdraw from the union at their pleasure (indeed, that was made explicit in some of the state ratifying conventions). There are plenty of writings by some of the Founders to that effect, and the first serious discussion of secession was by some of the New England states at the Hartford Convention in 1814-15 (in reaction to the War of 1812). That came to nothing (because the war ended), but serious people believed that the states possessed that right. The Civil War ended the discussion by force, but not by logic or legal reasoning. I believe that the states still possess that right.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Would the southern states have abolished slavery on their own? Really? I’m not convinced.

    Looking at the modern world, I find unethical/crony capitalists ever ready to improve their profits by hiring cheap labour and paying them minimally (or avoid paying at all), which tells me they might be willing to own slaves if the option should ever be presented to them.

    Machines can replace some tasks, true. Other things, and there are lots of them, can be done better and faster by versatile breathing people. And some can ONLY be done by breathing people.

    Slavery still exists in many parts of the world. This alone tells me the economic/technological reasons for the gradual abolishment of this vile institution is bunk.

    So where does it leave us? As with all things at the end, violence. Violence on the part of organizations (often governments) to ensure that slavery remains in the background, not the fore.

    So should the war have occurred? My personal opinion is no. Let the slaves eat cake. They want freedom, they should prove that they deserve it by fighting for it themselves.

    Yup, I’m an evil man.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Two things.

    First: The sort of slavery we’re discussing here is not just; it is an ongoing dreadful crime against the enslaved. With this sort of slavery, there is no right of self-determination for the enslaved; even his very body belongs to his owner, who may do with or to that body whatever he will. (Which is not to say that all Southern slaveowners were monsters. Some I imagine were actually kind and tried to treat their slaves like human beings, in most respects. But the system itself had no such requirement.) Therefore it is never morally wrong to attempt to end it, by force if necessary, provided the person or persons making the attempt do so responsibly (that is, they are knowledgeable and do not act recklessly).

    The problem that arises when another country (Country B) attempts to free slaves is that of making sure that the true (natural-law) rights of the people of country B are being honored. So anyone in B who does not want his tax money spent that way, should not have to pay to support the freeing effort. And only those who freely wish to fight should do so.

    If, with the full and complete agreement and support of each U.S. citizen, the U.S. were to go to North Korea for the specific purpose of overthrowing the regime–there would be nothing morally wrong with doing so.

    Of course, whether such a thing would even be possible in the Real World is another matter. People have been working on the problem of Universal Consent for a long time, without a lot of success–in the real world, that is. It’s easier in the abstract.

    The situation becomes even muddier when there is a legitimate argument that the national defense of Country B is involved. That is the grounds upon which, in the real world, any given Country B should make its decision. (Muddier, because another opportunity for legitimate disagreement now exists: DOES the national defense require the action?)

    If the U.S. is Country B, then I say that Viet Nam (and Korea) were absolutely just, and that it was in the interest of the Western Nations, the South Vietnamese (in the case of V-N) and most of the North Vietnamese people as well to have conducted that war, won it, and followed through on the win–which as we know was not done. In short, it was a “righteous war.”

    I believe that destroying the Iraqi regime was also more than justified as a matter of national defense, nor was it unjust to take down the regime. But again, the follow-through was awfully flawed; although at least we didn’t turn tail and run, simply giving up the win after victory, as happened in V-N.

    (But to have left with the Husseins dead and nothing put in their place would have been to leave a power vacuum that would inevitably have been filled by thugs of one kind or another, which would have reconstituted aIraq as a danger to us and to the West generally (including Israel). The reason that Germany didn’t fall apart after the War was the Occupation; we should have been prepared to occupy Iraq for as long as it took, be it 500 years–just as it is said that the problem with Zimbabwe is that the British left Rhodesia far too early.) –This is a side comment, which grew out of the main issue, which is, is it ever just to end slavery by force–even slavery in another country? And I think the answer is clearly Yes, provided one can reasonably expect to do so without making the situation worse.

    The second question I’d ask is whether American chattel slavery was on the way out anyway. A few decades ago, the fashionable answer was Yes, and a lot of people today picked up that idea.

    But I have read more recent historians who say that it was on the way out, being not actually economical, until Mr. Whitney’s cotton gin came along and made slave labor a lot more productive. (I see that Wikipedia takes this view, in their article on the Cotton_gin.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Laird: until July 1776, the thirteen colonies were subject to the British Crown. They jointly declared their individual independence, but instantly subordinated themselves to the common rule of the Continental Congress. In 1781, they adopted the Articles of Confederation, which lodged the supreme elements of sovereignty in “the United States” as a “perpetual union”. In 1783, the Revolutionary War was ended by the Treaty of Paris between Britain and “the United States”.

    None of the thirteen colonies ever exercised several key elements of sovereignty: to treat with foreign governments, to make war, or to impose customs duties. They never treated each other as foreign governments.

    There are references in the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Paris to the colonies as “independent states”, but that’s a very thin hook to hold up the claim of full, perpetual national sovereignty for all “states”.

    Of the other 37 states, only Texas and Hawaii ever had any sovereign nation status. The remainder were all created by the Congress of the United States.

    Your gall bladder analogy is specious; the extent of a sovereign state is arbitrarily decided, it has no organic basis. Parts have been removed from or added to sovereign states all the time. The Republic of China continues to exist, despite the loss of over 99% of its territory.

    As to the Hartford Convention: Secession was not discussed at the Convention. There were veiled suggestion made about “collective action” by the New England states, and there were rumors that secession was discussed privately by some of the delegates. These rumors were seized on and played up by the Republicans as a stick to beat the Federalists with (the Convention was entirely a Federalist project).

    Such was the national antipathy to secession that these rumors ruined the Federalist Party. The Federalists went from 64 House seats in 1815-1817 to only 26 seats in 1819-1820.

  • Laird

    Rich, the 13 breakaway colonies did not “subordinate themselves to the common rule of the Continental Congress.” They used it for coordination and cooperation, but each maintained its own army and government. And each was exceedingly jealous of its sovereignty. The Declaration of Independence states that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; * * * and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” While they united for the purpose of fighting for their independence, it’s clear that they viewed themselves as separate, sovereign entities. The Articles of Confederaion (Section 2) explicitly states “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.” The Treaty of Paris did nothing to change this; to the contrary, it specifically recites in Artcle 1 that “His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: 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.” When the colonies supplanted the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution, they ensured that the new document contained (in the 10th Amendment) an express reservation to the states of all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government, a clear and unequivocal expression of their retained sovereignty. And of course any state which had declined to ratify the Constitution (“The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”; emphasis added) would have retained its status as an independent sovereign entity. In fact, sveral states did fail to ratify the Constitution until after it had been formally ratified by nine states and gone into effect (including North Carolina in 1789, Rhode Island in 1790, and Vermont n 1791), and during that period they functioned as independent nations.

    The idea that the individual states retain the right to secede goes back as far as the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 (drafted by Thomas Jefferson himself). And secession was certainly discussed at the Hartford Convention, although you’re correct that it was not among the resolutions ultimately adopted. We don’t know the extent of those discussions, because the meetings were secret and no record of the proceedings was kept. From the Wikipedia article (link omitted because I have exceeded my limit of 3 hypertext links!): “Secession was again mentioned in 1814–1815; all but one leading Federalist newspaper in New England supported a plan to expel the western states from the Union.” Certainly the idea was common among the southern states long before their attempted secession in 1861. The South Carolina Declaration of Causes and Necessity includes a number of statements along those lines, including “each Colony [after the Revolution] became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE” and “the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State.” (emphasis added.) Other seceding states adopted similar language.

    The salient points of all this are: (1) for all purposes the states were individual sovereign entities prior to the creation of the United States, and even afterward they retained many of the indicia of sovereignty; and (2) the idea that individual states reserved the right to withdraw from the Union was current and widespread at and after the time of ratification of the Constitution (some states expressly addressed that point in their ratification debates and authorizing resolutions). I believe they still retain that right, under the “compact” theory of the Constitution.

  • Paul Marks

    If the “Slave Holding States of America” just wanted to be left alone, why did the leading people there spend their time (and had been spending their time – for years before the war) thinking up ways to try and EXPAND slavery?

    Not just in “bleeding Kansas” – but the dream of expanding slavery into the West generally, and also in South and Central America (Mr Walker was not some lone nut – his opinions were mainstream amough the Slave Power activists).

    And, if they were sincere defenders of the independence of States, why did they INVADE KENTUCKY?

    Remember the Confederate army was not asked into Kentucky – and when they arrived they were asked to leave (by the government of the Commonwealth of Kentucky) and they WOULD NOT GO.

    I support the right of any State now to leave the Union – in the right way (a vote by the PEOPLE of that State, including the BLACK people).

    However, that is not the same thing as supporting Jefferson Davis and co.

    They were not really about “opposing big government” (the American Federal government was very small – even as late as 1912, let alone in 1860) or “freedom”.

    Not at all.

    One must not allow a defence of modern secession to get smeared by an association with Jefferson Davis and co.

    Clue – modern secession (if it is to be successful) must have NONWHITES in key positions.

    “That is inverted racism Paul”.

    Of course it is – but it is also POLITICS. In fact “Politics 101”

    Like not going up against Barack Obama with a ticket made up of two white people (indeed last time with two white men…. for …… sake).

    Thus allowing the media to (with hints and nudges) imply that to vote against Barack is to be a “racist”.

    Secession must not make the same mistake.

    No defence of Jefferson Davis and co.

    And nonwhites (and women) in key positions of real power.

    It is the only way.