Follow-up to Mitchell: Centralization and Confederation

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Mitchell has responded to Rodney and my previous posts; Rodney has since followed up. I, here, will offer a brief follow-up as well, but only to his charge against me.

Mitchell begins:

Does this mean that the invasion of the South and its forced reintegration into the Union is wrong?

Wrong, illegal, and immoral all take on the various aspects of Lincoln’s War. I’ll leave the morality issue to those who will decide if it was a Just War or not. Was it illegal? No. It was not illegal because while the States have the right to secede, no State was given the ability to decide that for themselves. If we were to follow the guidelines of the Constitution, we would note that States were given the ability to enter the Union by a vote of Congress. Further, States may divide, which is in effect a secession, based on Constitutional rules as well which requires that both Congress and the State vote on the decision. I note that Congress has the right to admit States in a proscribed manner. I also note that the Constitution was formed only by a select numbers of States, with other States admitted to the Union. If we are to follow Constitutional thinking here, then we must admit that if Congress can place a State within the Union, it may then give leave for that State to secede. Therefore, because secession was not followed legally, then the invasion was not illegal. We must remember what Congress is – Congress was/is the representatives of the States/People assembled in Body Politick for the purposes of governing the Union. In this assembly, membership is determined on the basis of how it will affect the Whole.

Was it wrong? There could have been a better way to navigate the legal issues, for a while, before invasion, yes. The fact remains, that Lincoln purposely goaded the Confederate States into firing on Ft. Sumter so as to ignite a War and refused entreaties to cease the war.

Mitchell then goes on to note my statement that the Articles of Confederation, the First Confederacy, was weak because it gave to the States a sovereign nation status. He writes,

That’s just weakness covered in weak sauce. We need to follow the logic here. If the Articles demonstrate that their approach to government is bad because they almost lead to war, should not the Constitution be far more condemned because it produced a war?

Mitchell’s logic is flawed. Under his logic, we should dispense with our criminal code because it produces criminals and then calls for the punishment of those criminals. The Constitution didn’t produce a war. The Constitution was meant to prevent the weaknesses of the Confederacy, but when it was violated, the Constitution had to be preserved. The Oath of Office, of the President of the United States of America, demands that when the Constitution is threatened, it must be protected. The Southern States, leaving in the illegal manner in which they did, produced a heinous crime which threatened the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation, however, allowed for wars to commence. The Articles of Confederation, a precursor to the League of Nations, allowed to States to overrule the ‘perpetual union’ and to protect their own interests over that of the national whole.

I follow the logic of the Federalist Papers and the second group of Founding Fathers. A strong central government is needed to prevent what Europe saw for centuries and what was threatening to break out in this country. A strong federal government is the barrier between conflicts which arise, necessarily, between even the closest of siblings. Rodney is correct, I feel, in his assessment of the vision of a strong, central government. We have had two confederations upon this continent, within our boarders, and neither worked. One failed during peace time, while the other failed horribly in war time. Don’t get me wrong – Lincoln was an evil man, a corrupt politician, and more than a centralizer; he was a dictator. Lincoln’s administration served to show that during times of crisis, the U.S. Constitution matters little more than the paper upon which it was written. Yet, we must have a national government which is not undermined by the States. If it is not a strong government, then the various States will always have the option of doing as they wish, and this mentality necessarily leads to the idea that what really exists between the States is a gentleman’s agreement where in any State may of it’s own choosing follow, or not follow, the laws as laid out by Congress. The Federal Government must be limited to those issues of Federal Concern, and it is the duty of the people to secure that wall, but a lack of a centralize government gives us 50 sovereigns.

Mitchell’s swipe about the preamble will have be passed over for now, as I am trying to remain friendly in this conversation. The preamble does not have the force of law, but we must remember that it sets the goals of the document.

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

8 thoughts on “Follow-up to Mitchell: Centralization and Confederation

  1. I offered a sharp polemic and you kept your cool. By that I am surprised.

    I made the assumption that ‘right to secede’ as you used it meant, ‘right of a state to unilaterally walk away’. You use ‘right to secede’ to mean ‘right to secede if Congress is okay with that’, which is almost an oxymoron. To say someone has a ‘right’ to do something if it is approved by higher authorities doesn’t make it much of a right at all.

    But at least now I understand more of what you’re talking about.

    I must not be communicating my attack on your criticism of the Articles clearly enough. You said that the Articles were flawed because of their weak central government, a situation which almost lead to war.

    Criticizing your use of that logic, I pointed out that the same method could just as easily — no, more easily — be used to criticize the relatively stronger federal system of the US Constitution. I was turning around your approach back at you.

    To then take my example of your approach and call it my approach completely misses what I was getting at.

    The argument you use to demonstrate that autonomous states should not exist side by side is the exact same argument used by some to argue that autonomous nations should not exist side by side — that the world needs one strong central government. Now, this is not an accusation, but a question to help me understand what’s going on inside your head: Do you advocate a single world government to settle the conflicts which inevitably arise between sibling governments? Are not States subject to the same preventable problems as states? And if not, why not?

    In closing, I would love to tangle with you some time about that General Welfare clause. I think it might be fun, though your last sentence already looks so much like a surrender that we might not get anywhere.

    1. Mitchell, the Constitution is the law of the land, the supreme law of the Land. It assigns rights, but they must be done in accordance with the Constitution. There is a process by which one enters the compact, therefore there must be a process to leave as well. This is a contract.

      Mitchell, you point is flawed, as I showed with my approach. The Articles, as was pointed on in the Federalist Papers (and some in the Anti-Federalist Paters) is a flawed system of government which creates no national cohesiveness. There is no easy way to redress grievances and no way to keep one state from actively violating the boundaries of another. The Constitution does that, but it always maintains that the compact must be protected. To say that anything that leads to something destruction must be done away with, is ludicrous. The Articles would have led to numerous wars. The Constitution didn’t lead to a war – a war was necessary to maintain it.

      Your last argument is, well, a stretch. You must remember that the Colonies were independent and then became sovereign States, which then became States united under a Federal Government. They were, in actuality, their own nation-states. The progression of social evolution in the American colonies led them to first assume the Confederation, and second, to assume, upon the complete failure of the Confederation, and with a real fear of turning into another Europe, the Federal Republic.

      Will humanity one day come to the idea that all sovereign States should be limited in their ability to attack one another by a strong central power? I would say so. Further, if you look at some of the writings from around the founding of the Republic, it was believed that this is the natural course of human activity. If I may wax biblically, we see this with the Tower of Babylon, from which we may timidly draw the comparison that humanity was not ready for a united Government under God, and only until God is ready, humanity will never have one.

      Considering that, unlike the 13 States, the current condition of the world completely negates the possibility that said Government would be reasonable, then no, I do not and will not advocate as such. I don’t even much care for the United Nations. The adage is true, I believe, that the best government is the government which governs least, with the focus being on governing and not least.

  2. All right. I understand what you mean about right of secession. Not thrilled with the terminology, but I get it and it makes sense.

    I still think that to argue that ‘the Articles would have lead to numerous wars’ and ‘The Constitution didn’t lead to a war’ is quite a stretch. It uses something some people think would have happened as a strong argument while neutralizing something that actually did happen. It’s the exact opposite of an evidence based approach.

    But I suspect this little thread of discussion is drawing to an end, and that we’re in real danger of spinning round and round in circles and each saying the same thing over and over again.

    1. Mitchell, think of it this way. Does our criminal code lead to criminal actions? Or would a lack of a criminal code lead to immoral actions?

      1. I don’t think that one will help much at all, because I most definitely think our criminal code leads to criminal actions. Just as prohibitionism doubled our murder rate, so also our current ridiculous drug laws have helped turn our inner cities into cesspools of crime. And I strongly suspect that outlawing revenge killings has lead to much higher murder rates. The invention of copyright law has created entire networks of so-called lawbreakers.

        That’s probably not what you were going for at all, but to be honest I don’t really understand what you’re getting at that has anything to do with the Articles vs. the Constitiution.

        1. Mitchell, drug laws not withstanding – does the law against murder contribute to murder? No. The Constitution was strong enough to prevent the wars which were about to erupt under the Articles. You see the difference, right? Laws do not contribute to crime. Not having laws, however, will.

          1. I understand the general concept of what you’re saying. I just don’t buy it with regard to the Articles. You’re still arguing that the Constitution prevented wars which never happened, while arguing that the war fought over the Constitution was not caused by the Constitution. And I think that’s the point we’re not close to seeing eye to eye on — it’s why I think this thread has taken us well beyond the point of diminishing returns.

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