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Freedom and Federalism

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From the Archives : Originally published January 29th, 2012
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Americans — and much of the rest of the world — have been deprived of one of the most important means of establishing and maintaining a free society, namely, federalism or states' rights. It is not just an accident that states' rights have either been relegated to the memory hole, or denigrated as a tool of racists and other miscreants. The Jeffersonian states'-rights tradition was — and is — the key to understanding why Thomas Jefferson believed that the best government is that which governs least, and that a limited constitutional government was indeed possible.

What Are "States' Rights"?

The idea of states' rights is most closely associated with the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and his political heirs. Jefferson himself never entertained the idea that "states have rights," as some of the less educated critics of the idea have claimed. Of course "states" don't have rights. The essence of Jefferson's idea is that if the people are to be the masters rather than the servants of their own government, then they must have some vehicle with which to control that government. That vehicle, in the Jeffersonian tradition, is political communities organized at the state and local level. That is how the people were to monitor, control, discipline, and even abolish, if need be, their own government.

It was Jefferson, after all, who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that government's just powers arise only from the consent of the people, and that whenever the government becomes abusive of the peoples' rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it is the peoples' duty to abolish that government and replace it with another one. And how were the people to achieve this? They were to achieve it just as they did when they adopted the Constitution, through political conventions organized by the states. The states, after all, were considered to be independent nations just as England and France were independent nations. The Declaration of Independence referred to them specifically as "free and independent," independent enough to raise taxes and wage war, just like any other state.

That is why the political heirs of Thomas Jefferson, mid-19th-century Southern Democrats, held statewide political conventions (and popular votes) to decide whether or not they would continue to remain in then voluntary union of the Founding Fathers. Article 7 of the US Constitution explained that the states could join (or not join) the union according to votes taken at state political conventions by representatives of the people (not state legislatures) and, in keeping with the words of the Declaration, they also had a right to vote to secede from the government and create a new one.

Jefferson was not only the author of America's Declaration of Secession from the British Empire; he championed the idea of state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws with his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, and also believed that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution was the cornerstone of the entire document. He was a "strict constructionist" who believed that every effort should be made to force the central government to possess only those powers delegated to it in Article 1, Section 8. Delegated to it by the states, that is. All others are reserved to the states, respectively, and to the people under the Tenth Amendment.

States' rights or federalism never meant that state politicians were somehow more moral, wise, or less corrupt than national politicians. The idea was always that

1.       it is easier for the people to keep an eye on and control politicians the closer they are to them, and

2.      a decentralized system of government consisting of numerous states provided American citizens with an escape hatch from tyrannical governments.

If Massachusetts created a state theocracy, for example, those who did not want to live under the thumb of Puritan theocrats could escape to Virginia or some other state. The idea of states' rights was never meant by the Jeffersonians to create a "laboratory of experimentation" with government interventionism, as modern political scientists have said. That would be treating people as so many experimental rats in a cage, and that is not how Jefferson liked to think of himself.

Secession or the threat of secession was always intended as a possible means of maintaining both the American union and constitutional government. The idea was that the central government would likely only propose constitutional laws if it understood that unconstitutional laws could lead to secession or nullification. Nullification and the threat thereof were intended to have the same effect. That is why the great British historian of liberty, Lord Acton, wrote the following letter to General Robert E. Lee on November 4, 1866, seventeen months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox:

I saw in States' rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic [i.e., the Confederate Constitution] have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly an wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.

What Lord Acton is saying here is that he considered it to be a disaster for the entire world that the right of secession was abolished by the war. The 20th century would become the century of consolidated, monopolistic government in Russia, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere, and it was a disaster for humanity. Had the rights of secession and nullification remained in place, and had slavery been abolished peacefully as it had been everywhere else in the world, America would have been a counterexample of decentralized, limited government for the rest of the world.

General Lee understood this. In his December 15, 1866, response to Lord Acton he wrote,

While I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only are essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. (emphasis added)

This is all a part of America's lost history. The advocates of centralization who were the victors in the War to Prevent Southern Independence rewrote the history of America, as the victors in war always do. This is why I am offering a new four-week online course under the Auspices of the Mises Academy entitled Freedom and Federalism: The Libertarian States' Rights Tradition. Classes will meet beginning on Thursday, February 2. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the libertarian or classical-liberal states'-rights tradition, and to impart to them an understanding of how such historical figures as Thomas Jefferson and Lord Acton believed that that tradition was the key to controlling "the sovereign will" and preventing democracies from turning into despotisms and tyrannies.



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Thomas DiLorenzo is professor of economics at Loyola College, Maryland, and a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author or co-author of ten books, on subjects such as antitrust, group-interest politics, and interventionism generally
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Like Jason of horror movie fame, DiLorenzo has returned from the grave to prowl the otherwise noble abode of 24HR GOLD -- and his groupies applaud his return.

The idea of secession which DiLorenzo advocates based on the ideas of Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers is not at fault. But for states to use it as a means of maintaining (and expanding) a slave system as the Southern States did is absurd and contradictory. Secession from the Government of the United States is a valid act if said government blantantly violates individual rights -- NOT if that secession is a means for a state or states to initiate or continue to violate the rights of individuals within their boundaries.

Jason is a fictional character. Unfortunately DiLorenzo is not.

Rate :   9  5Rating :   4
The idea of secession, as referenced when talking about the civil war is one thing but you keep tying it to the abolition of slavery and Lincolns part in that action. How many times do you need to read it that Lincoln simply didn’t give a gosh darn about slaves. His only motivation in starting the civil war was money and the control thereof. Yes that’s right, I said it again, Lincoln started the civil war.

Let’s draw a comparison here. If I was to continually work day and night to destroy your ability to earn an income and thereby your lifestyle but never physically harm you, and you knew I was the one destroying your life, at what point would you come up to me and use physical force in an effort to dissuade me from further aggressive action? Would you need to be reduced to living in and abandoned building, living on the street, or how about a sewer? What if I was able to limit your movement, made sure your bank account was drained, removed your ability to communicate with family and friends? How about if I interceded with and stopped every attempt to help you? What would be enough to make you take action? The people of the South new where the line was drawn when the north relentlessly went after the South’s ability to continue the pursuit of commerce. This is such a simplistic and effective means to remain innocent and have your opponent take on the role of the aggressor that school children everywhere use the tactic all the time. Yet you and so many others used the fact that the South fired the first shot as a valid reason to declare war. You simply need to grow up and look at the world through the eye's of an unbiased grown up.

There is much in history that shows Lincoln was opposed to any effort which would eliminate slavery. He married into a high profile slave owning family and like any politician, he changed his story to suit the audience he was addressing when slavery was brought up.

Yes Abe Lincoln was a politician through and through that didn’t give a rats fuzzy behind whether slavery was eliminated or not.

Can’t change history Jim C.

As for secession, well who’s to say that the world is any better off now than if the south would have seceded? Slavery in the south would have come to an end just as it has in many other countries. I have yet to see anything that proves the world is a better place with a united USA. Much can be said on the topic of how this united USA is in fact a bad thing. Should we all be part of clans warring all the time? No but this would not have been the outcome if the South seceded. Should states have more power, yes. Should they be able to secede from this crazed federal system, yes. Would this bring an end to the world the way we know it, no.

You live within the US do you not? Why do you not live in Cuba, North Korea, Russia, China, or Yemen? I’ll take a stab at it and say that it’s because you don’t like the way the countries are run. So what’s the difference then between not wanting to live in these countries and a state full of people who don’t want to live under the United States insane rulers? If the greater proportion of the people in a state agree on the matter then let them secede. Will they make it on their own or not, no idea but they deserve the right to try rather than be dictated to by psychopaths in Washington.

If you don’t think it’s possible for states to secede and stay alive, do a little reading on Europe’s history. As the greater whole, modern Europe is the result of exactly what we’re talking about here.
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Jim, your critique of Mr. Dilorenzo's tract is terribly flawed and representative of a century of indoctrination and 'history' written by the victors. The Civil War was fought primarily because northern industrialists wanted to force a huge tariff upon the South that would have crippled this region economically and would have reduced the southern states and any subsequent states to the status of economic satellites of northern interests.

Slavery was initially not an issue. You imply that the slavery issue could not have been peacefully resolved, yet in other areas of the world, slavery was abolished in a peaceful manner. Also, before hostilities commenced, southern delegations tried to negotiate with Washington, D.C. and peacefully resolve their differences, but the remaining Congress flatly refused to discuss or even listen to the representatives from the South. Southern political leaders implored the North to allow them to leave the union in peace.

Northern armies at the onset invaded the southern states on numerous occasions and from different directions. Also, the northern officials, both political and military, were very disingenuous and hypocritical regarding their initial and stated goals. Just examine some of the congressional archives, the records. Northern generals waged a brutal and unnecessary war on southern civilians, killing thousands; actions that were tantamount to genocide. Southern armies and their officer corps, on the two occasions they invaded northern territory, did not behave towards the northern civilian poplulation in that brutal manner; far from it. From the southern standpoint, it was a defensive struggle.

There are other points to be made, but in the interest of brevity, I will close this humble comment with the statement that the Civil War was the second war for independence fought on our soil, and it was lost. And the results of that terrible conflict are the reasons, directly and indirectly, why we are in the horrible state we are in today.

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Sorry, but wrong. DiLorenzo is a retarded chimp who would not know history if it bit him in the ass. He is part of the most disgraced profession in the world, economists. Real historians are not interested in revisionist nonsense from this nitwit. His campaign to re-write history is just like holocaust deniers....destined for the true dustbin of history. It is sad that ordinarily intelligent people are caught up in his nonsense. Folks may dislike hearing from Jim and myself on this topic, but DiLorenzo is a fraud and fake. If you want to hear quackery, fine. It's too bad that 24hgold gives this boob a platform.
Rate :   2  13Rating :   -11
People who know and love the truth do appreciate the perils cast here at 24hGOLD. But there will always be swine who try to twist and or destroy good knowledge that is shared here. When we hear there words, then we learn who they are.........As for me ......choosing to listen to Jim and Mark OR Ron Paul and DiLorenzo! Thats easy.
Rate :   2  1Rating :   1
DiLorenzo's view of Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence is seriously flawed -- not only on an abstract basic but in real consequential terms. Ron Paul and his supporters have based many of their beliefs on this flaw.

DiLorenzo ignores the fact that the Declaration of Independence did not allow for seccession on whim: It states: "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.."

What destructive actions had Lincoln's North foisted on the South? None whatsoever. The South, fearing that Lincoln might take action on Slavery, initiated force on the government by firing on Fort Sumpter. Lincoln, as President elect, had done his best not to inflame the situation and had uttered nothing that might have been construed as freeing the slaves.

DiLorenzo claims slavery would have died a peaceful death. Perhaps, but after many more generations of torture, children sold from their familes, rapes. And it is to be remembered that slavery still exists today in parts of the world.

The South's action was pure and simple an insurrection and Lincoln had the authority to put it down. For DiLorenzo and others to argue that the Civil War was a States Rights issue is nonsense.

Ron Paul, from his comments, sides with DiLorenzo. In the Aug 11th debate, Paul said that the "Federal Government can't go in and prohibit States from doing bad things." The context of that statement was State mandatory healthcare payments. Paul is against Fed heathcare, as a violation of individual rights, and is also against the State doing such: the difference is that, while disapproving, Paul thinks the Fed Govt has no right to intervene -- thus making the Federal Government helpless to remedy any individual rights violation by a State be it healthcare, gun bans, or whatever.

If a State can secede from the Union by whim, as DiLorenzo and Paul argue, then nothing stops further sucession by citites and communties from that State. One ends up with individuals and their allies against others and their allies -- clans, private armies, or what we see in Somalia today.

That is anarchy and is, perhaps, DiLorenzo's goal.

Rate :   10  13Rating :   -3
So Jim, your still pushing the same old garbage I see.

Abe married Mary Todd the daughter of a prominent slave owning family in Kentucky in 1842. Had he any morals and conviction on the subject of slavery he would not have married her. There are so many references to Lincolns indifference to slavery that when combined it's obvious to any third grader, that hasn't been spoon fed the usual crap, that Lincoln did not go to war to free the slaves nor was that part of the agenda. Seriously Jim, take your head out of the sand and stop believing the propaganda and stop berating anyone that has the courage to tell the truth about what really happened.

His own words:

“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.”

These are not the words of a man led by his convictions and no moral back bone is present. Leadership does not mean towing the party line, it creates it. Abe Lincoln was no hero, heroes do not back down from what’s right. Heroes do not attack others to simply secure wealth. Heroes do not drive others to the point where they feel they have no choice but to attack. These are the actions of cowards. These were the actions of Abe Lincoln. That said, what does that make Lincoln?

Rate :   10  3Rating :   7
Lincoln's opposition to slavery is a huge fraud.

Lincoln was a driving force in 1861 for the compromise Corwin amendment. It was passed by Congress and two states, but was abandoned once the Civil War began. It would have explicitly prohibited congressional interference with slavery in states where it already existed. The Corwin amendment was a late attempt at reconciliation, but it also was a measure of reassurance to the slave-holding border states that the federal government was not intent on taking away their powers.

At the beginning of the war, Lincoln prohibited his generals from freeing slaves even in captured territories. On August 30, 1861, Major General John C. Frémont, the commander of the Union Army in St. Louis, proclaimed that all slaves owned by Confederates in Missouri were free. Lincoln opposed allowing military leaders take executive actions that were not authorized by the government, and realized that such actions could induce slaveowners in border states to oppose the Union or even start supporting the enemy. Lincoln demanded Frémont modify his order and free only slaves owned by Missourians actively working for the South. When Frémont refused, he was replaced by the conservative General Henry Wager Halleck.

Radical Republicans such as William P. Fessenden of Maine and Charles Sumner supported Frémont. Fessenden described Lincoln's action as "a weak and unjustifiable concession to the Union men of the border states" and Sumner writing in a letter to Lincoln how sad it was "to have the power of a god and not use it godlike."

The situation was repeated in May 1862, when General David Hunter began enlisting black soldiers in the occupied district under his control. Soon afterwards Hunter issued a statement that all slaves owned by Confederates in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina were free. Despite the pleas of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln ordered Hunter to disband the black 1st South Carolina Regiment and to retract his proclamation. At all times Lincoln insisted that he controlled the issue—only he had the war powers.


No matter how hard some people try, they can't re-write history. Lincoln, it can easily be stated based of historical documents, did much to stop those who would end slavery.
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Whoa guys. Is Jim C serious or is he just trying to be facetious? If he’s serious, I have an eight year old in the house who can set him straight on the subject of how the north started the war and why it was fought. You’d think that with internet access people would bother to look up the facts every now and then before plunging head first into the brown stuff.
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When watching cartoons simply isn’t enough anymore, some people prefer to live in a parallel universe (in their minds) where they can make up history to suit their way of thinking and escape for, a time at least, from reality. This holds true for all in the 'Lincoln saved the slaves' crowd.

Nuff said
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People who know and love the truth do appreciate the perils cast here at 24hGOLD. But there will always be swine who try to twist and or destroy good knowledge that is shared here. When we hear there words, then we learn who they are.........As for me ..  Read more
rkireilis - 2/8/2013 at 10:09 PM GMT
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