A Question for Neoconfederates

Recently, the debate about the legality of the Civil War has been raised here. The basic argument being made is that the Southern States, being sovereign, retain the right to secede from the Union regardless of the cause of the separation.

My counter argument is that the Southern States, back when they were Southern Colonies, bound themselves both in honor and in the eyes of the law, to the moral and legal principles which justified their own revolution against the British Crown.

In other words, if the secession from the Union contradicts the principles of the Declaration of Independence, then the Southerners’ rebellion against England was unlawful. If that rebellion was unlawful, then they are not now and have never been sovereign states, nor enjoyed any legal privileges  sovereign and independent states may exercise, including the alleged right to dissolve the Union unilaterally.

The US Constitution is silent on the matter: it neither expressly says nor expressly denies that the compact joining the states together into union can be or cannot be dissolved unilaterally, nor under what conditions, either at will, or in order to redress otherwise intolerable grievances.

But if the rebellion were honorable and lawful, then the stated principles justifying its rebellion morally and legally bind those colonies who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor thereto.

The Declaration listed many grievances to justify rebellion, most of which are known only to antiquarians and lawyers. But none of the grievances means anything if no grievance means anything.

To quote the document, “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The question is why? Why, just because your people suffer a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the object of reducing us to servitude under a despot, do we, the people, have any right to object, much less the right to raise hostile arms in mutiny and bloody rebellion?

The list of grievances in the Declaration following this clause form the main body of the document.

They are meaningless if the justification clause (“it is their right, it is their duty” etc.) is untrue.

If there is no right to rebellion at all, then there is no list of grievances howsoever long, and no despotism howsoever dark, which justify rebellion.

Such rebellion is justified if and only if the government tramples some pre-existing right which the government is morally and legally obligated to respect, and, yes, to defend.

Whereupon the abuses and usurpations trampling that right, if sufficiently grievous (that is, not having light or transient causes) and if sufficiently purposeful (all evincing one object, to reduce the subjects to an absolute despotism) and if all peaceful means of redress have been exhausted (“such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies”) then and only then would a list of grievances bestow a right to rebel.

For this reason, the justification clause depends on a the Natural Rights clause which opens the argument of the document. “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.”

So, then: to any who wish to answer the challenge, I hurl down my gauntlet.

Whence come your rights?

Do they come from the king appointed by God to rule over you?

Do they come from the will of the people?

Do they come from your possession of the happy heritage of being a member of the master race, born innately superior to all other breeds of men?

Or do they come directly from God?

If your rights come directly from God, then they have logical priority to any form of government, and pre-exist any form of government from eternity.

If your rights come from the king, then the king can suspend or abolish or alienate them from you, and you have no ground to object. No rebellion can ever be lawful if rights come from the king.

If your right come from the will of the people, then the will of the people can can suspend or abolish or alienate them from you, and you have no ground to object. No rebellion can ever be lawful if rights come from the will of the people.

(This is also quite a dangerous doctrine, since, if history is any witness, the will of the people is almost always to reduce the rich, successful and fortunate to lives of abject misery, as envy and spite always advises a mob to hammer down the highest nail insolent enough to tower above the mob.)

If your rights come from the purity of your bloodline, any man whose blood is purer than yours, if you have any mongrel ancestors in the family tree, can suspend or abolish or alienate them from you, and you have no ground to object. But this is a case were colonists, already suffering centuries of intimate contact and sometimes Biblical knowledge, with Redskins, Jews, Negros, Frenchmen from the north and Spaniards from the south, whereas the blue bloods of the English aristocracy had pedigrees reaching back, unpolluted, to the Middle Ages. This is not to mention Irishmen, Welshmen and Scots transported into Georgia pack when it was a penal colony. Since the Germans were regarded as rowdy and semi-civilized, even the Aryan blood running strong in the veins of the Pennsylvania Dutch does not lend luster to the Southern rebels, if they care to venture this as a justification.

If the Southern gentlemen wanted to argue their blood was better stock than the English lords, neither genetics nor heraldry will come to their aid. In any case, that is not the justification listed in the Declaration of Independence. We can dismiss this possibility that race grants natural rights as crackpottery.

If your rights come from God, then no man, no group of men, may rightfully suspend or abolish them (except, perhaps, you yourself, through crime or mental incapacity).

They are, in the precise worlds of Jefferson, inalienable.

But, alas, God is no respecter of persons. If your rights come from God, then so too do the rights of any man you would like to keep as a slave.

If the pesky federal government refuses to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, this indeed is grievous to your fiscal well-being, and defies the lawful purposes of the Federal government (which legally has only powers granted to it by the states.) Such federal shenanigans are indeed an imposition on your sovereignty, and a violation of the treaty of union binding you to the other members of the federation.

But your right to object depends on that claim of sovereignty being valid. Anyone who denies that men have a right to rebel cannot claim to be sovereign if he won that alleged sovereignty in rebellion, because his own rebellion would be unlawful from the beginning.

So, if you are a rebel sovereign, whose justification for rebellion is that your rights come from God, then all men are created equal. A man might be enslaved as a punishment for a crime, but he cannot be born into their inferior situation.

A prince or baron who rebels against a high king on the grounds that God Almighty anointed him with sovereign dignity, perhaps through a prophet, perhaps through lawful succession, does not have his problem. He can keep what slaves and serfs he will with no self contradiction and no hypocrisy.

But a people who claim that their right to disobey and to overthrow the established and lawful government of their fathers is on the grounds that they enjoy natural rights bestowed by God equally to all men, then they invalidate their claim to sovereignty if and when they trample the natural rights of others.

Perhaps in another parallel timeline so often visited by historical revisionists and other science fiction writers, the Southern colonies signed a different public declaration of their sovereign right to rebel against the English Crown, which did not contain the unambiguous words declaring certain rights to be inalienable and universal, that is, applying to all men, white and black, free and slave, and the erosion or invasion of said rights triggering not just a right but a duty to rebel.

But in this timeline, such were the words they authorized, by which their lives and fortunes and sacred honor were bound. Had they meant all white men as a group were created equal to each other as a master race, and all black men as a group held in inferior status not enjoying those rights, the intrusion of a single word would be all needed to amend the document: all white men are created equal.

The word is absent.