The Preambles – Confederates and the Bloody Yankees

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I hope you understand the uniqueness of Rod and my examinations of the Confederacy. (And now Mitchell has decided to join in as well) He has issued his first of many postings in this arena, here, so now, it is my turn to respond. I want to do so by examining the Preambles of the respective Constitutions. I am not sure how Rodney feels, but I do think that in 1861, States had a right to secede. So, if you see me referring to the Confederacy as an independent nation, you’ll have to excuse that.

Confederate States:

We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God — do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

United States:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

One other document which we must consider is the perpetual union as created by the Articles of Confederation, which in its preamble, reads,

To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.

Whereas the Delegates of the United States of America in Congress assembled did on the fifteenth day of November in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy seven, and in the Second Year of the Independence of America, agree to certain 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, in the words following, viz:

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.

One of the problems with the Articles is that it gave to the States the status of sovereign nations, the errors of which we saw during the intervening years between the end of the American Revolution and the call for the Constitution. Several states almost went to war with one another. The U.S. Framers sought to remedy this by circumventing the States and appealing directly to the people for their authority. You have to further understand the notion of ‘people’ in the U.S. Constitution. People were white people. Further, they were the ones which needed to be protected – corporations, landed gentry, and the such. And whom did they need protecting from? The rabble. Us. Further, in appealing to the people, instead of the States, the U.S. Framers were able to get around the Articles of Confederation as a perpetual document. The Confederate States remedied that. The people, in the States, were now acting as States. In truth, this was the way it almost was in the U.S. as well, but it was not codified in the preamble and thus was rapidly changing.

It also calls to mind the Lockean theory of social contracts which was codified in the Articles of Confederation, Article II –

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

How does this reach us today? Those who are for a decentralized form of Government is only doing what both Confederacies had tried to do before them – keep government control as local as possible without making it a democracy. Therefore, the States, which were the successors to the Colonies, where the natural body-politick and those was the only thing people could rightfully act within. The U.S. Framers actually sought to centralize the government, bypassing much of the sovereignty of the States. The Confederates sought to decentralize government and give the sovereignty back to the people acting within the States. For a continued look at the role of States as originally thought of by the actual Founders of the united States of America, read the Articles of Confederation.

Returning to the preambles, however, we do note, as Rodney did, that the Confederacy invoked the favor of Almighty God, something the U.S. Constitution never did. This was because of the high standing of traditional (American) Christianity which was used in the South at the time – which had seen a revival since the American Revolution. I note as well that there is a philosophical difference, not just a polemic one, between forming a ‘permanent federal government’ and a ‘more perfect Union.’ The Confederate States were fighting for the right to leave the Union. To then form another union would be to actually validate the previous one, which could not happen. Further, a union would erase the sovereignty of the States, but a federal government would actually allow for the States to be states. Gone now is the issue of ‘promoting the general Welfare’ which gave the U.S. Government, and still does mind you, the right to interfere in the internal issues of the States when it becomes necessary. Further, the Confederate Constitution actually forces the Government to protect the commerce and internal politics of the States from outside influence because anything which upsets the balance will not insure domestic tranquility. What we have, then, is the decentralizer’s dream of high State sovereignty, low federal involvement unless the social structures of the State is at stake.

Imagine how that would have played out in the 1960’s? Or even the 1920’s when women were finally given the right to vote? Or today, when social media is playing a large role in the way we interact with our Government. Further, and as we will get to later, the lack of Union actually helped to destroy the Southern effort. Would it have been possible to withstand the Communistic onslaught without a strong Federal Government? Or the social upheavals if the General Welfare was not promoted?

What is also noticeably missing as well is the clause of common defense. The U.S. Constitution was framed during a time of external peace, but internal division. The Confederate Constitution was framed during a time of grave external threats. Why wasn’t the issue of a common defense raised? Could it have something to do with the ‘independent character’ of the sovereign States? We do know from Confederate history that there really was not a common defense.

How does this connection with religion, theology and the such? Because as Jim says, you don’t just read theology, you live theology. Examining history and politics helps us to do that. This is a current issue – Davis was correct – and will continue to be from time to time.

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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).

15 thoughts on “The Preambles – Confederates and the Bloody Yankees

  1. Would it have been possible to withstand the communist onslaught without a strong central government? Of course it would. There’s never been a nation with the military capacity to invade the US, including the USSR.

    And who is to say that we successfully withstood the communist onslaught? Under our centralized government, we’ve moved much closer to communism that ever before, with publically funded forced education, high tax rates that no pre-communist society would have dreamed possible, a currency totally controlled by a central government, credit controlled by the central government, government-sponsered retirement, etc.

    1. Mitchell, this is where you and I would have to disagree.

      First, the Soviet’s advance wasn’t just militarily, but through political means. We know this – not the McCarthy garbage either – by looking at history. We provide protection for a good portion of the Western World. Not sure this could have happened with 50 States decentralized.

      And regarding you last bit – not sure that is really communistic, nor in the Soviet’s goal.

  2. We played both sides in the Soviet business — while we fought them overseas we gave them great quantities of grain. We subsidized and fought them simultaneously.

    Our large federal government fought the Soviets, fed the Soviets, and provided them with a massive enemy that helped fuel Soviet patriotism and held their nation together.

    Our centralized government basically played both sides of that ‘war’. If a less centralized government would have been less able to engage in that sort of weird behavior, I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing.

    1. It was not the centralized government that was the problem, it was a government that did not recognize it’s boundaries. Key difference.

      1. And Rod, I agree with you there. But because Joel was using our handling of the Soviet Union conflict as an argument for the necessity of centralized government. If the centralized government bungled that one and, perhaps, made it worth, than that argument for centralized government is removed.

        But I suspect more strongly day by day that, though the distinction may exist in theory, not recognizing boundaries is a feature common to all centralized govts.

  3. Joel,

    I’ve been thinking for the last 2 years that many people are acting as if the Confederacy won the war. At least, if you read their rhetoric about small federal government…


  4. Mitchell Powell :

    And Rod, I agree with you there. But because Joel was using our handling of the Soviet Union conflict as an argument for the necessity of centralized government. If the centralized government bungled that one and, perhaps, made it worth, than that argument for centralized government is removed.

    Whoa, Mitchell – you misunderstand the reasoning and style of argument here. It is meant to engender questions and answers. Just because I am playing the advocate of one position or the other, that doesn’t meant that I am making an argument.

    Further, I note that you only see the Soviet argument. What about the forced desegregation plans in the 60’s wherein the Federal Government forced Southern States to abide by the dictates of the centralized Government?

    But, for the record, I think that during the Cold War, a strong centralized government was needed.

    But, we can go back further and ask ourselves – what if the government was less centralized in 1916 than it was…would the war have broken out?

    1. Oh, I think I understand exactly the style of reasoning here — it’s the using of questions to make implicit arguments. And so I went after one of them.

      I did this because ‘the 1960’s’ is so incredibly vague that tackling it could be a massive undertaking. I did this because the question of giving women the right to vote was complicated by the fact that female suffrage was partially a means to bringing us prohibitionism. I skipped the ‘social upheavals’ bit because it was vague and implies something ridiculous about the ‘General Welfare’ clause.

      As to forced desegregation, yes, I’m with you on that. If the states are forcing injustice on blacks and the Federal Government is in a position to bring justice, let the Federal Government do it. This is fine.

      But the question you bring up about 1916 is spot-on, and gets to the core of my question about centralized government.

      If we hadn’t been so centralized in 1916, would the cold war have broken out? If we hadn’t allowed some upstart named Washington to produce a centralized military rebellion, would we have gotten rid of slavery peacefully in 1833, when the British Empire banned it? If we didn’t allow our president to run a fruitless undeclared war in Vietnam, might the social upheavals of the sixties have been more easily handled?

      Might these examples be multiplied until it is demonstrated that the primary thing that centralized government is good for is making giant messes and then doing a sloppy job of cleaning those messes up?

      I suspect the answer is closer to ‘yes’ than ‘no’.

      1. Mitchell, you are picking and choosing your arguments, and redefining issues along the way – and I suspect that it to make your approach easier.

        I note that you are okay with forced desegregation, which was a State’s Rights issue, just as slavery was in the 1860’s. So, can I safely assume that you are okay with a centralized government when you believe that it is something that they should do, regardless if the majority is against it, legal tradition is against, and we still have civilian courts open?

        Multiplication based on unknown variables always tend to lead to what ever the multiplier wants it to.

  5. If I’m unjustly picking and choosing arguments, let me know which ones I’m misrepresenting. We’re discussing a great number of issues all at once, and so I wouldn’t be surprised a bit if I’m somehow muddying things. But we all pick and choose arguments — that how discussion happens. I don’t suppose you yourself just reach into a large vat of arguments and lay them all out willy-nilly without an attempt at careful arrangement.

    As I told Rod earlier, I’m not so committed to states’ rights that I’ll stand with them at all costs. On issues of basic human decency, I’d shudder if the Federal Government simply set back and twiddled its thumbs.

    Whoever is in power must do what is right. There are times when that outweighs the general need for localism, legal tradition, and civilian court control. And I’m sure you already know my low opinion of majority opinion.

    Muliplying variables does make the arguments rather pliable. But that’s part of the essence of the libertarian line of argument: because we live in a world filled with such a huge number of unknown variables, shouldn’t we be leery of letting our complicated affairs be dictated from thinktanks and bureaus and a dysfunction congress?

    1. Mitchell, you have to know that I am about as perfect as one can get, right?

      Regarding your other statements – so good! We agree! Labor Unions, the right to organize, and a single-payer health care system! Welcome to the fold!

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