Archive for the ‘Reconstruction’ Tag

Lela on States Rights   1 comment

Thom Stark and I are engaged in friendly debate about our societal divisions. Last week he offered his take on things. This week, I’m offering two articles in response. Here’s what I wrote yesterday. It will be fun to see which adventure Thom chooses.

 

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI don’t think we need to discuss the evils of chattel slavery any longer, but the Civil War was an unnecessary abuse of federal power. I’m going to engage in a bit of speculative history here. Just prior to the secession, there was a somewhat disorganized move for an Article V convention of the states to propose amendments to the Constitution that would have addressed the slavery issue within a few years. It was one of the reasons the Southern states seceded when they did. The European cotton glut was coming as was the depletion of Southern soils by overplanting. Regardless of the slavery issue, the South was headed for a severe economic depression. if the North had simply waited, the Southern states would have needed help in five years anyway and they might have returned, willing to give up slavery for the security of being part of the union. I can’t prove something that didn’t happen, but a study of conditions surrounding the Civil War suggests the possibility that Reconstruction could have been a voluntary restructuring without the war or the abuse. If not, we’d have another Mexico south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi – poor, struggling, but proudly defiant – and probably sending illegal immigrants across our border to bring home wages to the Confederacy.

Instead of finding a peaceful constitutional solution, the North prosecuted the Civil War and Reconstruction, which settled nothing beyond that “might makes right” and if one section of a country holds another section’s nose in something disgusting long enough, everyone’s  children won’t miss the rights that they never knew they had. Often their grandchildren or great-grandchildren rediscover them, especially if they read the Constitution and the writings of the Founders. You got to love the Internet for giving us access to those great writings that the public schools worked hard to treat so shallowly when  we were growing up.

States’ rights were part and parcel and guaranteed in the Founding and they didn’t go away. They just got beaten into submission for a century and a half and now they’re back. This time, they have a much more compelling argument. chattel slavery was against American ideals and was bound to fail for economic reasons. Tocqueville foresaw its demise when he floated the Ohio River. Today, liberty – the idea that an individual has a right to live as he or she wishes so long as they are not harming others – is a much prettier ideal. It’s not going to be popular with people who want to be taken care of, but for those of us who aren’t afraid to trust ourselves, it’s a compelling proposal that plays to the Founding principles of the nation.

Centralized government is the enemy of individual rights. Again, de Tocqueville recognized this, noting that a single voice crying to Paris would never be heard in the massive bureaucracy that was the French government in 1820s, but that in the United States, individuals did not need to be heard in Washington because we had local, county and state governments and those were much easier to petition and mostly free of federal control so that they could actually accommodate the individual. If an issue was big enough that we needed a louder voice (to be heard in DC perhaps), individuals in America formed associations and these were very effective. He also noted a tendency in America where individuals and communities would simply ignore laws from Washington DC  that they didn’t agree with. Although admitting that such freedom would never fly in France,  he thought these to be strengths in America that we should not lose sight of.

We have lost sight of them, largely owing to the abuse of the South by the North during Reconstruction. I don’t think we can appreciate how much that has affected the entire country. whenever Alaska mentions that we appear to have a colonial relationship with the rest of the country and that we think we might do better on our own, we are immediately bombarded with the message that such an attempt would lead to war and reconstruction. I always think, “Why?” If we do it peacefully and maintain friendly relations with the country most of us were born in, why does secession have to lead to war? Why can’t a state decide that it wants a little separation from der Mother Counter for its own benefit? Our Founders mostly thought that was what they were ratifying when they signed onto the Constitution.  We lost that after the Civil War and the idea that we must all look to Washington DC for permission to “plant and sow” has gradually infused the society.

Thom StarkI think that top-down system that does not take individual and regional differences into account is one of the factors leading to the extremism we see in the country today. It’s not that red states or blue states are stupid or even equal but that we are refusing to accept each other’s differences as equally valid in a free society. The population centers tend to think their way is what we all should do because they have the concentrated population to outvote those in less densely populated parts of the country, which is reflected in the electoral map. It’s not even the tyranny of the majority – it’s the tyranny of concentration of the population and how our votes are counted. We’ve been in this deadlock long enough to know that it is not a temporary condition. The blue states thought they had conquered the electoral nation, but it looks like the red states are on the ascendency. Which isn’t going to solve anything. It’s the same old tug-of-war. Sooner or later something is going to break and the question is:

Will we find a peaceful solution or resort to civil war again?

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