Adams makes this assertion in Chapter One: “Recently we have witnessed what is probably the most massive secession in all of history–the Soviet Union coming apart and being replaced with a myriad of new successor nations. For a brief moment Mikhail Gorbachev indicated a willingness to use force to hold the Soviet Union together, citing our Civil War as justification, but his better judgment prevailed.” [p. 7] Here Adams first completely flubs what happened to the Soviet Union and secondly grounds his argument in the patently absurd assumption the situations faced by the two countries was the same.
It wasn’t a secession that made the Soviet Union collapse, it was its own internal inefficiencies and the pent-up resentment of its people to over 70 years of repression. This led to the collapse of the Soviet empire, followed by its breakup, as the nations that had been consolidated into that empire found the external chains broken. It was not a secession at all.
Secondly, the Soviet Union in 1990-91 is not even remotely comparable to the United States in 1860-61, and Gorbachev’s situation wasn’t remotely at all like Lincoln’s situation. As Frank Williams points out, “Gorbachev’s role was to preside over a dissolving union, whereas Lincoln is rightly honored for saving one.” [Frank J. Williams, Judging Lincoln, p. 10] Additionally, the states that had been consolidated into the Soviet Union were victims of conquest. They had not joined that union of their own free will. They did not have free and fair elections. To try to equate the two is simply dishonest.
Adams continues, “Only a few years before, in 1968, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in accordance with the doctrine of ‘limited sovereignty’ that applied to all states in the Warsaw Pact (a league of states from which no people could secede without Moscow’s consent)–a doctrine not unlike the one that justified using force against Southern states to prevent them from leaving the United States. Their sovereignty was also ‘limited,’ claimed Northern apologists for the aggression against the South.” [p. 7] Again, Adams dishonestly tries to equate two things that are not in any way comparable. The Warsaw Pact consisted of the Soviet Union and nations that were dominated by the Soviet Union as the result of being occupied by the Soviets by the end of World War II. They had no free and fair elections and had no free choice in joining the Warsaw Pact. To try to compare that with the United States is worse than dishonest. It’s disgusting. He equates revolutions with seceding.
Adams tends to use the term, “secession” in every case of breaking away or attempting to break away from a parent unit. If he wants to draw a parallel with the attempted secessions of 1860-61, then he needs to focus on what happened then. 11 states declared they were no longer part of the United States, wrote what they purported to be laws so declaring, and then fought a war to make it stick. Cases where groups rebelled to throw off a governmental rule without using the process the confederates used do not fit that model. He tries to paint the American Revolution as a secession. Such is not the case. It was a revolution, and our Founding Fathers knew it. The 13 colonies didn’t have representation in Parliament. As colonies, by definition they weren’t at all in the same situation as the confederates. He’s extremely loose with his definitions in order to try to make them fit into his argument.
Adams says, “The fact that the Poles rose up again [against Russia] must have been a lesson and warning for the North, for in 1867 they imposed on the South a harsh military occupation to make sure the Confederacy did not renew its struggle for independence as the Poles had done repeatedly over the immediate past. The North had good reason for fear because the Southerners often proclaimed, ‘The South will rise again!’ ” [p. 12] Can we believe he is so completely ignorant of Reconstruction history? I suppose it’s possible, but it seems more likely that he’s spinning a bald-face lie. Violence against the formerly enslaved people such as the Memphis Riot and the New Orleans Riot led to revulsion in the states outside the south, which resulted in an electoral victory for the Radical Republicans and the imposition of Congressional Reconstruction.
Adams claims, “thus it is hardly surprising that in 1861 the U.S. government would not allow a bloc of states to withdraw from the federal union. the right of self-determination, what Lincoln called ‘government of the people,’ is empty chatter when a larger power wants to hold onto its territories.” [p. 12] This is more of his pure hogwash. The states all had self-determination. They had free and fair elections [to the extent that they themselves allowed those elections to be free and fair] and representation in the national government. Indeed, for over 70 years of the nation’s existence up to that point, southerners had run the country. Even when the President wasn’t a southerner, he was usually someone allied with them, and southerners occupied powerful congressional leadership positions and key Supreme Court positions.
Adams asserts, “The North went to war to preserve the Union, and that was the reason for the war. It was what Lincoln was fighting for. As with all secession wars throughout history, it was a fight for land and resources. Moral issues are not really motivating factors.” [p. 12] Well, he’s right that Lincoln’s objective was to preserve the Union. But he seems to forget that there were two sides in that war. Why were the confederates trying to gain their independence? They told us why. If you look at what South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Alabama told us, you can see very clearly it was to protect the institution of slavery from a perceived threat in the form of a Republican in the White House. Federals regarded preserving the Union to be a moral issue, so that factor was very motivating, contradicting Adams’ worthless claim.
He finds specific British writers who were proconfederate and presents them as if they represented the whole of British opinion, as if they were true experts on the American Civil War, then finds one British writer, J. K. C. Wheare, from 1961 who agrees, and then claims, “British scholars haven’t changed their position in a hundred years.” [p. 13] I guess he thinks British public opinion didn’t turn decisively toward the Union during the war.
Adams claims, “It was Massachusetts, not South Carolina, that asserted the right of states to secede and threatened to do so four times. First, in the early days, on the adjustment of state debts; second, on the Louisiana Purchase by Jefferson; third, during the War of 1812; and fourth, on the annexation of Texas. One chamber of the Massachusetts legislature actually passed a resolution of secession. Thomas Jefferson clearly acknowledged the right of secession when there was talk of the newly formed territories following the Louisiana Purchase to withdraw from the Union. He actually wished them luck if they did so and hoped they would get along with the original federation as brothers and friends.” [pp. 13-14] He gives no citation for the claims about Massachusetts. He cites Kenneth Stampp’s Fortenbaugh Lecture in 1991 for the claim about Jefferson. Let’s remember that Jefferson wanted Aaron Burr prosecuted for Treason for trying to separate the western territories from the United States. Chief Justice John Marshall delivered an opinion in the case that resulted in Burr’s acquittal, not because secession was allowable but because of the definition of “Levying War.” Jefferson wanted to impeach Marshall because of this. Does that sound like someone who would simply stand by as part of the United States separated itself?
This is the Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it. If they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away, against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world. To yourself, as the faithful advocate of the Union, I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.” [Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820]
This is the Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “It is true that we are compleatly under the saddle of Massachusets & Connecticut, and that they ride us very hard, cruelly insulting our feelings as well as exhausting our strength and substance. Their natural friends, the three other eastern States, join them from a sort of family pride, and they have the art to divide certain other parts of the Union so as to make use of them to govern the whole. This is not new. It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order, and those who have once got an ascendency and possessed themselves of all the resources of the nation, their revenues and offices, have immense means for retaining their advantages. But our present situation is not a natural one. The body of our countrymen is substantially republican through every part of the Union. It was the irresistable influence & popularity of Gen^1 Washington, played off by the cunning of Hamilton, which turned the government over to anti-republican hands, or turned the republican members, chosen by the people, into anti- republicans. He delivered it over to his successor in this state, and very untoward events, since improved with great artifice, have produced on the public mind the impression we see; but still, repeat it, this is not the natural state. Time alone would bring round an order of things more correspondent to the sentiments of our constituents; but are there not events impending which will do it within a few months? The invasion of England, the public and authentic avowal of sentiments hostile to the leading principles of our Constitution, the prospect of a war in which we shall stand alone, land-tax, stamp-tax, increase of public debt, &c. Be this as it may, in every free & deliberating society there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties & violent dissensions & discords; and one of these, for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time. Perhaps this party division is necessary to induce each to watch & delate to the people the proceedings of the other. But if on a temporary superiority of the one party, the other is to resort to a scission of the Union, no federal government can ever exist. If to rid ourselves of the present rule of Massachusets & Connecticut we break the Union, will the evil stop there? Suppose the N. England States alone cut off, will our natures be changed? are we not men still to the south of that, & with all the passions of men? Immediately we shall see a Pennsylvania & a Virginia party arise in the residuary confederacy, and the public mind will be distracted with the same party spirit. What a game, too, will the one party have in their hands by eternally threatening the other that unless they do so & so, they will join their Northern neighbors. If we reduce our Union to Virginia & N. Carolina, immediately the conflict will be established between the representatives of these two States, and they will end by breaking into their simple units. Seeing, therefore, that an association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry, seeing that we must have somebody to quarrel with, I had rather keep our New England associates for that purpose than to see our bickerings transferred to others. They are circumscribed within such narrow limits, & their population so full, that their numbers will ever be the minority, and they are marked, like the Jews, with such a peculiarity of character as to constitute from that circumstance the natural division of our parties. A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles.” [Jefferson to John Taylor, 1 June 1798]
This is the Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “After plunging us in all the broils of the European nations, there would remain but one act to close our tragedy, that is, to break up our Union; and even this they have ventured seriously & solemnly to propose & maintain by arguments in a Connecticut paper. I have been happy, however, in believing, from the stifling of this effort, that that dose was found too strong, & excited as much repugnance there as it did horror in other parts of our country, & that whatever follies we may be led into as to foreign nations, we shall never give up our Union, the last anchor of our hope, & that alone which is to prevent this heavenly country from becoming an arena of gladiators. Much as I abhor war, and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind, and anxiously as I wish to keep out of the broils of Europe, I would yet go with my brethren into these, rather than separate from them.” Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 13 May 1797]
Adams writes, “Somehow, in the North in 1861, all this was ignored by those who opposed secessionist ideas.” [p. 14] Maybe because there is no right to unilateral secession.
Adams asserts, “The Declaration of Independence, while setting forth specific acts of misconduct by the British, also set forth general principles for secession–the consent of the people.” [p. 14] I suppose he thinks the only people who will read his pack of lies are people who don’t know enough to call him on his lies. The Declaration of Independence set out the natural right of revolution, which is, by definition, an extralegal act. And here is what it says is the condition to justify revolution:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” [Declaration of Independence]
So a revolution is justified when the government becomes destructive of the end of securing the natural rights of its people. These natural rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing in that justified the secession of the confederates. They seceded in order to make sure they could continue to be destructive to the end of securing the natural rights of their African-American population.
Adams claims, “Contrary to the position taken by the Lincoln administration, the states were sovereign; even William Seward recognized that people were ‘citizens’ of their states, for example, of Ohio or New York. It was the states that came first, that put together the federal constitution with its limitations.” [p. 14] John Marshall, a founding father who was a member of the Virginia Ratification Convention, begs to differ: “In discusing [sic] this question, the counsel for the state of Maryland have deemed it of some importance, in the construction of the constitution, to consider that instrument, not as emanating from the people, but as the act of sovereign and independent states. The powers of the general government, it has been said, are delegated by the states, who alone are truly sovereign; and must be exercised in subordination to the states, who alone possess supreme dominion. It would be difficult to sustain this proposition. The convention which framed the constitution was indeed elected by the state legislatures. But the instrument, when it came from their hands, was a mere proposal, without obligations, or pretenses to it. It was reported to the then existing congress of the United States, with a request that it might ‘be submitted to a convention of delegates, chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature, for their assent and ratification.’ this mode of proceeding was adopted; and by the convention, by congress, and by the state legislatures, the instrument was submitted to the people. They acted upon it in the only manner in which they can act safely, effectively and wisely, on such a subject, by assembling in convention. It is true, they assembled in their several states–and where else should they have assembled? No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the states, and of compounding the American people into one common mass. Of consequence, when they act, they act in their states. But the measures they adopt do not, on that account, cease to be the measures of the people themselves, or become the measures of the state governments.
Adams next claims, “With many states, Northern and Southern, asserting the right of secession, Lincoln’s adamant stance against it makes no sense.” [p. 14] Again, he supposes nobody’s going to call him on his lies.
The State of Maine, for example, said, “in the present attempt to coerce the government of the United States, and the will of the majority of the people thereof, to the will of the minority, by treason most foul, and rebellion the most unjustifiable, it is the right and the duty of the state to proffer to the national government for its own maintenance and for the suppression of this treason and rebellion. all the means and resources which it can command.”
The State of Minnesota, on January 22, 1861, said, “That one of the vital and necessary principles which form the basis of all free governments, is that the constitutional majority must always rule. And therefore, the right of the people of any State to withdraw from the Union, thereby hazarding the liberties and happiness of the millions comprising this Confederacy, can never be acknowledged by us under any circumstances.”
Two days later, the State of New Jersey said, “it is the duty of every good citizen, in all suitable and proper ways, to stand by and sustain the Union of the States as transmitted to us by our fathers.”
On January 11, 1861, the State of New York said, “Treason, as defined by the Constitution of the United States, exists in one or more of the States of this Confederacy.”
One day after that, the State of Ohio said, “the General Government cannot permit the secession of any State without violating the obligations by which it is bound, under the compact, to the other States and to every citizen of the United States.”
On January 24, 1861 the State of Pennsylvania said, “we adopt the sentiment and language of President Andrew Jackson, expressed in his message to Congress, on the sixteenth day of January, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-three: ‘That the right of the people of a single State, to absolve themselves at will, and without the consent of the other States, from their most solemn obligations, and hazard the liberties and happiness of the millions composing this Union, cannot be acknowledged; and that such authority is utterly repugnant, both to the principles upon which the general government is constituted, and the objects which it was expressly formed to attain.’ ”
Note those were before there was a Lincoln administration.
Adams next falsely asserts, “Three states–Rhode Island, New York, and notably the most powerful at the time, Virginia–retained the right of secession in their act approving the Constitution on June 26, 1788.” [p. 15] I’ve already dealt with this particular falsehood here.
Adams’ next lie is, “The Hartford Convention in 1814, attended by delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire, opposed the War of 1812 as well as many of the policies of Jefferson and his successors. One of their solutions was secession from the Union.” [p. 15] I’ve previously shown this particular claim to be false here.
Adams attempts to pile lie upon lie, and people who believe him simply haven’t read enough actual history to know they’re being lied to, and he counts on them simply accepting what he says without question. He’ll get no free rides here.