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Posted at 10:34 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Brag Bowling: Did the seceding states believe they could leave peacefully without provoking a war?

By Brag Bowling

Director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute

Bowling

The leadership in most Southern states was guided by the following credo—“hope for the best but prepare for the worst”. In 1860, most Americans were of the opinion that secession was a legal and constitutional doctrine. A country which had to be held together by force of arms was a country which nobody sought because our Founding Fathers created a voluntary Union.

One would have to wonder how many of the original 13 Colonies would have signed on to the Constitution if they were told in 1787 that should they exercise their perceived right to leave that they would be invaded, with the resulting deaths of thousands of citizens, millions of dollars of property stolen or destroyed, and economic chaos which would depress their economies for nearly 100 years. My bet is that there would be no signatures placed on that document.

Of all Southerners, perhaps Jefferson Davis understood the costs of war if it should come. He had been both Secretary of War and a high ranking Senator. He could see the steep odds the South faced both economically and militarily should war come. He sought peace in both his famous Senate Farewell Speech and his 1st Inaugural Address in 1861.

Southern leaders worked hard to pursue a peaceful separation. Conferences were set up for a lawful transfer of assets in areas under Confederate control. Virginia set up a Peace Conference to avoid war. Unfortunately, the Lincoln Administration would not work out an agreement on Ft. Sumter and several other installations. Ft. Sumter would become the flash point of the war. South Carolina demanded possession of the fort and offered to pay for it. Viewing themselves as a sovereign entity, they were not interested in another country militarily occupying a fort within their boundary. Through the offices of Secretary of State William Seward, the South relied on his promises that the fort would not be resupplied militarily and that the garrison would be removed. At the same time, President Lincoln covertly assembled a fleet to resupply Ft. Sumter. He was well aware of the crisis in Charleston and proceeded accordingly, thus negating Secretary Seward’s assurances. He had shrewdly maneuvered the South into fighting and firing the first shot which certainly galvanized Northern public opinion towards war.

Everyone today knows that there was no peaceful secession. A tragic, terrible and costly war occurred. But one thing which today’s historians fail to address is what might have been the result of “peaceful secession.” I have seen a few guesses but here is a theory which you will never see in a textbook today but may have been quite feasible. Both countries would have continued to thrive politically and economically. Slavery would have ended on its own, certainly by the end of the century with advances in technology. Brazil was the last nation in the western hemisphere to end slavery in 1888 and like most nations, ended it peacefully. The North would have been forced through economic competition to drop its high tariff policies. The transition to the centralized, high tax state would certainly have been stalled. Perhaps most interesting, America’s intervention in World War I made it possible for the punishing Versailles Treaty, resentment to which led to the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War. This might not have occurred if there were two nations. A reasonable settlement in Europe probably would have occurred. And probably, the commonality of interests between the United States and Confederate states may have led to a reunion.

By Brag Bowling  | January 24, 2011; 10:34 AM ET
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Comments

Clearly, Mr. Bowling has a bias toward the south, which doesn’t surprise me coming from a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His assertion that “Slavery would have ended on its own” is completely bogus and wrong. Southern support of slavery had only grown since the time of the founding fathers. The founding fathers viewed it as a necessary evil but it had turned into a necessary good, by the time of the civil war. Slavery was America’s sin and as Lincoln said, “until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

Posted by: persingerce | January 24, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, Mr. Bowling comes off as yet another apologist for the traitorous secessionists.

Mr Bowling writes "One would have to wonder how many of the original 13 Colonies would have signed on to the Constitution if they were told in 1787 that should they exercise their perceived right to leave that they would be invaded...."

Well, let's see:
The Articles of Conderation state that they are "Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia."

And the Constitution states in its preamble that its goal was "to form a more perfect Union", i.e. a Union more perfect than the *perpetual* one formed by the Articles of Confederation.

So, seeing as that all 13 Colonies had representatives sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Contitution, and that said representatives were educated men who understood what "perpetual" meant, I would say that the answer to Mr. Bowling's attempt at a rhetorical question is: ALL OF THEM.

Posted by: klaw009x | January 24, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

You must be joking. This is an insult to our intelligence, mister. It would have been great to split the country because then we couldn't have helped the allies win WWI?

And slavery is mentioned in passing, and only in reference to its inevitable demise. Of course. If slavery and racism had nothing to do with it, then how do you explain 100 years of Jim Crow after the war?

Posted by: jennandgus | January 24, 2011 7:34 PM | Report abuse

The Confederates were traitors to the United States of America. Why do we honor traitors?

Posted by: lynnlm | January 24, 2011 8:09 PM | Report abuse

The Confederates were traitors to the United States of America. Why should we give them any honor?

Posted by: lynnlm | January 24, 2011 8:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't accept that slavery would have died out, as the lands west of the Mississippi River were opening up for cultivation. That said, I also reject the notion that somehow America had to pay in blood for the wrongful enslavement of a race for 250 years. Moral justifications for violence are always suspect.

Posted by: blasmaic | January 24, 2011 8:59 PM | Report abuse

The citizens of the southern States were manipulated and maneuvered into the Civil War by some 300,000 slave owners, who controlled the Democratic Party. They knew that, by spitting the ticket and adding Breckenridge to run alongside Douglas, they were guaranteeing the election of Lincoln.

Mercenaries, private armies, were hired to increase slaveholding lands and to terrorize opponents. One Walker and a few dozen filibusters even briefly conquered Nicaragua in the mid 1850's. Just like Texas, Nicaraguan women lost the right to own property and slavery was re-instituted. Nicaragua's pro-southern American representative even recognized Walker until he was recalled and his unauthorized act was revoked. They tried to take more of Mexico, too. They were insatiable and not to be stopped unless they were stopped.

The Civil War was fought over the extension of slavery; the institution itself wasn't threatened where it was already established. US Grant stated in his Memoirs that he believed that the extension of slavery was why the War was fought.

Most southern voters, I believe, voted against secession when they had a bonafide opportunity to vote on the matter. They definitely voted against secession in Vicksburg.

Posted by: torivard | January 25, 2011 1:28 AM | Report abuse

klaw---Did those educated men also know that VA and NY had 'secession clauses' in their Constitutions? Of course. And yet they were ratified? Why? If they could never leave,why were they allowed that option in their Constitutions? And for your 'traitor' comment,maybe you could share with us all the Confederates convicted of treason.

Posted by: toebo1 | January 25, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Bravo! Well said, Mr. Bowling and kudos to the Washington Post for having the guts to print some not-so-politically correct, but ever-so-true facts. Keep up the good work.

"I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That
all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor
prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people. To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible to any definition."
--- Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: DixieGirlVa | January 25, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Huzzah for Mr. Bowling. I get so sick and tired of my ancestors being called traitors by the politically correct and racists by the ever growing irrelevant National Association of Always Complaining People. Some people, when they see a Confederate Battle Flag waving, can only scream about the bogeyman to raise funds for their treasury. I think about my ancestors who left their families and farms to fight a hostile invader sent by the Great Usurper to the Constitution. My ancestors quit the Union the same way their grandfathers quit the British Empire. The Articles of Confederation were perpetual, yet it only took nine states to dissolve them. The Constitution is a contract between States, not the people in those States. The United States had no citizens until the passage of the 14th Amendment. My ancestors were citizens of Missouri and Arkansas. How could they betray a country of which they were not citizens? The Southern States, like all the rest, entered into a contract and were governed by that contract until they felt they were being harmed by remaining in the contract. They severed the contract just like any other entity has the perfect right to do. Had the Great Usurper not called up troops, many of the Confederate States, like Virginia would have stayed in the Union. Slavery was protected by the Constitution. Without the admission of another single slave state, it would have taken 60 States to constitutionally abolish slavery. I don't think we have that many, even in Obama's world. Slavery would have died in its own right. In 1867, Cyrus McCormick invented the Harvester cutting out much of the manual labor involved in gathering crops. In 1899, Elwood Hayes invented the horseless carriage. Once a farmer hooked a Harvester to one of them, slavery would have no longer been economically feasible. At least, slaves could have been prepared for freedom rather than having them dumped onto an economic system that was ruined. The Abolitionist wanted them free, they just didn't want them in the North. So many of the former slaves died because of starvation and disease after the War. Jim Crowe was the direct result of "Negro Rule" after the War and the abuses of the Union League and the Freedman's Bureau. If Lincoln were so involved with their well being, he could have purchased each one's freedom at half of the estimated cost to prosecute the War. Slavery was morally wrong to one in our time, but very common to people's thinking in the 1860s. Everything our ancestors predicted has come true in the form of a Central Government that is sucking the life blood out of our country at this very moment. Half of our hard earned dollars disappear in the form of taxation before we cash our paychecks. Instead of the cry Deo Vindice, God will vindicate, our cry should be Deo Vindicavit, God HAS Vindicated! God bless General Lee and Jackson. God bless the South. Amen.

Posted by: CMouse | January 25, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

CMouse and DixieGirlVa are so misguided it’s not funny. They have totally bought into the myth of the lost cause and revisionist history. The institution of slavery was very entrenched in 1860; “Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation.”
Anyone who fought for the south fought for the Southern Aristocracy and slavery, whether they knew it or not. Non slaveholding southerners hated the thought of free blacks in society due to white supremacy and having to compete in the labor force. Jackson was a religious fanatic and Lee was a slave holding aristocrat, who destroyed his army.

Posted by: persingerce | January 25, 2011 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Bowling has articulated many excellent points known only to those that have studied history independently.

Secession was a widely accepted practice and not prohibited by the US Constitution. Note that New England states contemplated secession in the early 1800's. Note further that several States including Virginia reserved its right of sovereignty and secession as a condition of ratifying the Constitution. The 10th Amendment is quite clear "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people".

As to the claim that the war was fought to abolish slavery, I ask why the Commanding General of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant allowed his wife to visit his encampments accompanied by her slaves throughout the entire war?

Posted by: TerryMKl | January 25, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Wow! The hatred, intolerance, and vitrolic attacks against people who don't agree with the federal government's position as taught in the government schools is amazing. I hope none of these people have a position of responsibility. Their ability to think logically and critically is definitely lacking while their ability to talk smack is their only redeeming quality.

Posted by: GeorgiaRebel | January 25, 2011 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Well, persingerce certainly likes to smear around a lack of historical knowledge! General Jackson was a very devote Christian, that does not mean that he was a fanatic. He cared so much for blacks that he started a black Sunday school and even sent funds home for it during the war. And General Lee, though born into an aristocratic family, did not grow up in a wealthy family. The slaves that came into his life came with his marriage to Mary Custis.
Indeed, slaves were valuable, much more so than the immigrants that northerners used like slaves. Actually, slaves were treated far better than the poor immigrants who slaved away in the north and were cast aside like garbage when they were no longer productive. If you think that the northern states welcomed free blacks and did not believe in "white supremacy" then you need to study the laws that they had on their books regarding blacks at that time! As a matter of fact, if northerners were, and are, so in love with blacks, why haven't, and don't, blacks fare far better in the north than they do in the south? I mean, if northerners were willing to die by the hundreds of thousands to end slavery, it would seem to stand to reason that they would treat their prize with the greatest care and affection. Right????

Posted by: Sherando | January 26, 2011 1:26 AM | Report abuse

Sherando I am very knowledgeable about history unfortunately you lack any knowledge about the civil war. Of course, the northern population was racist; nobody is arguing that they were not racists.
When Lincoln won, South Carolina’s convention warned that the ultimate result of Republican rule would be “the emancipation of the slaves of the South.” The Confederacy’s “cornerstone,” declared Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens, was the principle “that slavery, subordination to the superior race” was the “natural and moral condition” of black Americans. Mississippi’s convention stated, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.” This is what Lee and Jackson fought for plain and simple.
This is historical fact Sherando! Your ignorance amazes me!

Posted by: persingerce | January 26, 2011 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Bowling's answer to this question is appalling. He may have a right to his own opionions, but not his own facts. His presence as an "expert" on this blog is a mystery to me as, unlike other contributors, he seems to possess no meaningful credentials. Please, Mr. Bowling, understand that historians deal in facts, progagandists deal in distortions.

Posted by: yankeebob | January 26, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

The Confererate states left the union and fired on the United States at Ft. Sumter.

So yeah...they committed treason. Why weren't they prosecuted? Why wasn't Nixon prosecuted for the crimes he committed? Why haven't the crimes committed by the Bush administration been prosecuted?? Sometimes, it is decided that it's better to let things go than to prosecute, they want to look forward not back...yadda yadda.

I wonder do Germany and Japan like to rehash the wars that they lost, or is it a particularly Southern American thing to do?

Posted by: onlytheshadowknows1 | January 26, 2011 8:53 PM | Report abuse

When forming this country our Forefathers left the agreement under the Articles of Confederation for the Ratifying of the Constitution. North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution for a year after the other states did. Should the rest of the country invade these states to "Save the Union" as at that time those states would not sign for fear of the power the constitution gave to high population states? Connecticut delegates had a convention in Hartford in 1814. The topic: Secession. Would Texas be better off if it was still under Mexican jurisdiction? The point, secession is not anti- American, in fact it is quite the opposite. It is a defining right of what it is to be American under the concepts of "the right to alter or abolish" or "Consent of the Governed." The 1st thing this country did when it was formed was to secede from Great Britian. So the people saying that Confederates commited treason are also saying Americans commited treason against England and Texans commited treason against Mexico. So I guess us treasonous Confederates are in good company.

Posted by: pvt13thvirginia | January 26, 2011 9:40 PM | Report abuse

The prejudice against Confederate Americans who obey the laws and Constitution of the United States. While subjected to disenfranchisement, and denied equal protection under the Constitution of the United States after the last 150 years, is the most offensive hypocrisy of our nation. Equal rights only if we agree with what one mob says is not equal rights, it is Mob rule! The Confederate States defended themselves against usurpation, if it wasn't a threat then they would not have seceded. Since the Civil Rights movement, Confederate Americans have been under constant attack. Under the guise of equal civil rights for all, while condemning Confederate Americans with false images and propaganda of misinformation, of Northern Jim Crow and racial atrocities. Perpetuating that Southerner's, Confederate Americans are solely racists, as opposed to being more so than others. Racism is not color, culturally, or politically blind. The peace which brought our country together is being eroded by politically correct arrogance and ignorance. There will not be a country if we do not teach acceptance of each other. Confederate Americans as a group are not racists, the people who choose to hate them are. It is a flag and no flag ever called me Honky, Cracker,or Redneck!!! Confederate Americans are integrated through out America and the world. They are a multicultural diverse group of people descended from some of the worlds greatest people as well as a few rotten apples, who isn't!!! Confederates Americans deserve the same respect as any American who has given their all for this nation and they will continue to do so. Honoring Confederate Americans is American and they deserve equal recognition. Confederate Americans deserve the same fair and equal opportunity to celebrate our American history. Let the Flag fly give them recognition for heritage days, and month. Please help end the politically correct genocide of our country.

Posted by: AmericanStatesmen | January 26, 2011 9:45 PM | Report abuse

"Confederate Americans"!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You have got to be kidding me! "Confederate Americans" have been able to vote for the last 150 years and had all the laws in their favor. BOOHOO to all you "Confederate Americans" and the hard lives you've had to endure all these years. This has nothing to do with political correctness; it has to do with historical correctness. Something “confederate Americans” lack.

Posted by: persingerce | January 27, 2011 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Mr Bowling wrote: “And probably, the commonality of interests between the United States and Confederate states may have led to a reunion.”

Hog wash! When has any nation having experiencing the heady exhilaration of independence later sought reunion with any country?

Posted by: CSA-Today | January 27, 2011 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Someone writes an article saying that the South did indeed have a legal leg to stand on when it chose secession, and the usual mob of super-patriots comes rushing out of the woodwork, hurling charges of “traitor” and "treason" and generally trampling out the vintage. Don’t you guys ever get tired of trying to show everyone what good and loyal Americans you are?

Bolling is quite correct. The Founders would never have ratified a thing had it been expressly stated in the Constitution that once in the union you could never get out, or once in the union you needed someone else’s permission to get out. They argued over every word and every nuance, and for a time it appeared that several states might not ratify at all, and that the new union would go on without them. Later, when all states had ratified, R.I., N.Y., and Va., each, in their ratifications, said that they could and would resume complete independence if at some time they believed it was necessary. I don’t remember anyone at the time jumping up and saying that they couldn’t. All other states included strong affirmations of their “sovereignty” in their ratifications. Does anyone know what “sovereign” means? It means “self-governing, not ruled by any other state.”

To know if secession is legal or not you have to guess what the Founders intended. To me, it appears that they HOPED that what they created would be permanent. They did NOT however, MANDATE that it be so. They would have been saddened, I believe, to see states leaving the union they created. They would have been horrified however, to see the remaining states launch an invasion of those states.

St. George Tucker, Constitutional Delegate and Founder, laid it out quite well. He hoped the union would be lasting. Clearly though, he did not mandate that it be so.

http://www.etymonline.com/cw/apologia.htm
"The federal government, then, appears to be the organ through which the united republics communicate with foreign nations, and with each other. Their submission to its operation is voluntary: its councils, its sovereignty is an emanation from theirs, not a flame by which they have been consumed, nor a vortex in which they are swallowed up. Each is still a perfect state, still sovereign, still independent, and still capable, should the occasion require, to resume the exercise of its functions, as such, in the most unlimited extent.”

"But until the time shall arrive when the occasion requires a resumption of the rights of sovereignty by the several states (and far be that period removed when it should happen) the exercise of the rights of sovereignty by the states, individually, is wholly suspended, or discontinued, in the cases before mentioned: nor can that suspension ever be removed, so long as the present constitution remains unchanged, but by the dissolution of the bonds of union. An event which no good citizen can wish, and which no good, or wise administration will ever hazard."

Posted by: wildbill4dixie | January 27, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Someone writes an article saying that the South did indeed have a legal leg to stand on when it chose secession, and the usual mob of super-patriots comes rushing out of the woodwork, hurling charges of “traitor” and "treason" and generally trampling out the vintage. Don’t you guys ever get tired of trying to show everyone what good and loyal Americans you are?

Bolling is quite correct. The Founders would never have ratified a thing had it been expressly stated in the Constitution that once in the union you could never get out, or once in the union you needed someone else’s permission to get out. They argued over every word and every nuance, and for a time it appeared that several states might not ratify at all, and that the new union would go on without them. Later, when all states had ratified, R.I., N.Y., and Va., each, in their ratifications, said that they could and would resume complete independence if at some time they believed it was necessary. I don’t remember anyone at the time jumping up and saying that they couldn’t. All other states included strong affirmations of their “sovereignty” in their ratifications. Does anyone know what “sovereign” means? It means “self-governing, not ruled by any other state.”

To know if secession is legal or not you have to guess what the Founders intended. To me, it appears that they HOPED that what they created would be permanent. They did NOT however, MANDATE that it be so. They would have been saddened, I believe, to see states leaving the union they created. They would have been horrified however, to see the remaining states launch an invasion of those states.

St. George Tucker, Constitutional Delegate and Founder, laid it out quite well. He hoped the union would be lasting. Clearly though, he did not mandate that it be so.

http://www.etymonline.com/cw/apologia.htm
"The federal government, then, appears to be the organ through which the united republics communicate with foreign nations, and with each other. Their submission to its operation is voluntary: its councils, its sovereignty is an emanation from theirs, not a flame by which they have been consumed, nor a vortex in which they are swallowed up. Each is still a perfect state, still sovereign, still independent, and still capable, should the occasion require, to resume the exercise of its functions, as such, in the most unlimited extent.”

"But until the time shall arrive when the occasion requires a resumption of the rights of sovereignty by the several states (and far be that period removed when it should happen) the exercise of the rights of sovereignty by the states, individually, is wholly suspended, or discontinued, in the cases before mentioned: nor can that suspension ever be removed, so long as the present constitution remains unchanged, but by the dissolution of the bonds of union. An event which no good citizen can wish, and which no good, or wise administration will ever hazard."

Posted by: wildbill4dixie | January 27, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

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