April is Confederate History and Heritage Month in the Old Dominion, as well as in many states across the South. As part of the celebration, and in an effort to educate the citizens of the Commonwealth, we will present a Q&A each day, from a Confederate Catechism, by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, 1853-1935; the son of President, John Tyler, who also was a member of the Confederate congress. He was a professor of literature at the College of William and Mary, and served as President of the College of William and Mary from 1888 until 1919. [NOTE: Reckonin' features a selection of the questions below. You may view the entire series on the VA Flaggers site.]
Q: What was the cause of secession in 1861?
A: It was the yoking together of two jarring nations having different interests which were repeatedly brought to the breaking point by selfish and unconstitutional acts of the North. The breaking point was nearly reached in 1786, when the North tried to give away the Mississippi River to Spain; in 1790, when the North by Congressional act forced the South to pay the Revolutionary debts of the North; in 1801, when they tried to upset the presidential ticket and make Aaron Burr President; and in 1828 and 1832, when they imposed upon the South high protective tariffs for the benefit of Northern manufacturers. The breaking point was finally reached in 1861, when after flagrant nullification of the Constitution by personal liberty laws and underground railroads, resulting in John Brown's assassinations, a Northern President was elected by strictly Northern votes upon a platform which announced the resolve never to submit to a decision of the highest court in the land. This decision (the Dred Scott Case, 1856), in permitting Southern men to go with their slaves into the Territories, gave no advantage to the South, as none of the territorial domain remaining was in any way fit for agriculture, but the South regarded the opposition to it of the Lincoln party as a determination on the part of the North to govern the Union thereafter by virtue of its numerical majority, without any regard whatever to constitutional limitations.
The literature of those times shows that such mutual and mortal hatred existed as in the language of Jefferson to "render separation preferable to eternal discord."
Q: Was slavery the cause of secession or the war?
A: No. Slavery existed previous to the Constitution, and the Union was formed in spite of it. Both from the standpoint of the Constitution and sound statesmanship it was not slavery, but the vindictive, intemperate antislavery movement that was at the bottom of all the troubles. The North having formed a union with a lot of States inheriting slavery, common honesty dictated that it should respect the institutions of the South, or, in case of a change of conscience, should secede from the Union. But it did neither. Having possessed itself of the Federal Government, it set up as its particular champion, made war upon the South, freed the negroes without regard to time or consequences, and held the South as conquered territory.
Q: Was the extension of slavery the purpose of secession?
A: No. When South Carolina seceded she had no certainty that any other Southern State would follow her example. By her act she absolutely shut herself out from the territories and thereby limited rather than extended slavery. The same may be said of the other seceding States who joined her.
Q: Was secession the cause of the war?
A: No. Secession is a mere civil process having no necessary connection with war. Norway seceded from Sweden, and there was no war. The attempted linking of slavery and secession with war is merely an effort to obscure the issue - "a red herring drawn across the trail." Secession was based (1) upon the natural right of self-government, (2) upon the reservation to the States in the Constitution of all powers not expressly granted to the Federal government. Secession was such a power, being expressly excepted in the ratifications of the Constitution by Virginia, Rhode Island, and New York. (3) Upon the right of the principal to recall the powers vested in the agent; and upon (4) the inherent nature of all partnerships, which carries with them the right of withdrawal. The States were partners in the Union, and no partnership is irrevocable. The "more perfect Union" spoken of in the Preamble to the Constitution was the expression merely of a hope and wish. No rights of sovereignty whatever could exist without the right of secession.
Q: What then was the cause of the war?
A: The cause of the war was (1) the rejection of the right of peaceable secession of eleven sovereign States by Lincoln, and (2) the denial of self-government to 8,000,000 of people, occupying a territory half the size of Europe. Fitness is necessary for the assertion of the right, and Lincoln himself said of these people that they possessed as much moral sense and as much devotion to law and order as "any other civilized and patriotic people." Without consulting Congress, Lincoln sent great armies to the South, and it was the war of a president elected by a minority of the people of the North. In the great World War Woodrow Wilson declared that "No people must be forced under sovereignty under which it does not choose to live." When in 1903 Panama seceded from Colombia, the United States sided with Panama against Colombia, thereby encouraging secession.
Q: Did the South fight for slavery or the extension of slavery?
A: No; for had Lincoln not sent armies to the South, that country would have done no fighting at all.
Q: Did the South fight for the overthrow of the United States Government?
A: No; the South fought to establish its own government. Secession did not destroy the Union, but merely reduced its territorial extent. The United States existed when there were only thirteen States, and it would have existed when there were twenty States left. The charge brought by Lincoln that the aim of the Southerners was to overthrow the government was no more true than if King George III had said that the secession of the American colonies from Great Britain had in view the destruction of the British Government. The government of Great Britain was not destroyed by the success of the American States in 1783. Nor would the government of the United States have been destroyed if the Southern States had succeeded in repelling the attacks of the North in 1861- 1865. Had the North refrained from conquest, its example would have been felt by Germany and there would have been no World War costing millions of lives. A group of Northern States in 1861-65 assumed the imperialistic attitude of Great Britain in 1776 and Germany in 1914, and substituted the armed fist for the American principle of self-government. Universal peace will never ensue till the principle of self- government, which requires no armies to maintain it, is recognized throughout the world.
Q: What did the South fight for?
A: IT FOUGHT TO REPEL INVASION AND FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT, JUST AS THE FATHERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION HAD DONE. Lincoln himself confessed at first that he had no constitutional right to make war against a State, so he resorted to the subterfuge of calling for troops to suppress "combinations" of persons in the Southern States "too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary" processes. It is impossible to understand how the Southern States could have proceeded in a more regular and formal manner than they did to show they acted as States and not as mere "combinations." It shows the lack of principle that characterized Lincoln when later he referred to the Southern States as "insurrectionary States." If the Federal Government had no power to make war upon a State, how could it be called insurrectionary?
Q: Did Lincoln carry on the war for the purpose of freeing the slaves?
A: No; he frequently denied that that was his purpose in waging war. He claimed that he fought the South in order to preserve the Union. Before the war Lincoln declared himself in favor of the enforcement of the fugitive slave act, and he once figured as an attorney to drag back a runaway negro into slavery. When he became President he professed himself in his inaugural willing to support an amendment guaranteeing slavery in the States where it existed. Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist, called him a "slave hound." Of course, Lincoln's proposed amendment, if it had any chance at all with the States, did not meet the question at issue. No one except the abolitionists disputed the right of the Southern people to hold slaves in the States where it existed. And an amendment would not have been regarded by the abolitionists, who spit upon the Constitution itself. The immediate question at issue was submission to the decision of the Supreme Court in relation to the territories. The pecuniary value of the slaves cut no figure at all, and Lincoln's proposed amendment was an insult to the South.
Q: Did Lincoln, by his conquest of the South, save the Union?
A: No. The old Union was a union of consent; the present Union is one of force. For many years after the war the South was held as a subject province, and any privileges it now enjoys are mere concessions from its conquerors, not rights inherited from the Constitution. The North after the war had in domestic negro rule a whip which England never had over Ireland. To escape from it, the South became grateful for any kind of government. The present Union is a great Northern nation based on force and controlled by Northern majorities, to which the South, as a conquered province, has had to conform all its policies and ideals. The Federal authority is only Northern authority. Today (1935) the Executive, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, the Ministers at foreign courts are all Northern men. The South has as little share in the government, and as little chance of furnishing a President, as Norway or Switzerland.
The Virginia Flaggers are citizens of the Commonwealth who stand AGAINST those who would desecrate our Confederate Monuments and memorials, and FOR our Confederate Veterans.