Image by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr
Earlier this week, Joel Watts and I talked via cell phone about the Civil War. I had just watched a curious documentary on Jefferson Davis on PBS and I had a lot of questions.
Let me just say that first off I have had a lot of heated debates on facebook over the legacy of the Confederate States. As an African-American, it’s obvious to me and a lot of persons in the Black community that African enslavement was THE issue in spite of the political rhetoric of the day (the Union claims it was about unity, the CSA claims it was about states rights). But these answers beg the question, what exactly divided the Union in the first place? Did it have something to do with a multitude of compromises that had been made since the Republic’s inception about the destiny of black bodies? And states rights, 10th Amendment, yes, but the state’s right to do what? To protect the “property” aka the idea of a human being owning another human being, no matter the race.
Yes, so Abraham Lincoln was a racist. Question: in those days, who wasn’t? Yes, Abraham Lincoln unconstitutionally took away the writ of habeas corpus. Not going to defend him on that either. But I refuse to examine Lincoln’s presidency in a gaze that prioritizes the injustices done by the North during Reconstruction. As historian point out, Lincoln was far more conciliatory than Andrew Johnson his Vice President or the Radical Republicans in Congress. That government wanted retribution, but just like the retribution in the Treaty of Versaille less than a century later, those efforts would come back to haunt the descendants of enslaved Africans during Jim & Jane Crow.
A quick look at the Constitution of the Confederate States shows the economic priorities of that illegal national entity.
THE TEXT OF THE CONFEDERATE CONSTITUTION
“invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God”
With a few words changed from the U.S. Constitution preamble, this phrase sticks out the most. In the hope of g*d’s grace and providence, the Confederates established a political body they saw as part of the divine will.
Article I: The Legislative Branch
Basically few differences here, in terms of the election of Congressmen and Senators. Electoral colleges from state legislatures chose the 2 Senators.
Section 7, Line 2:
“The President may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill.”
In 1996, a Republican Congress gave President Bill Clinton, by law, the line veto through the LINE VETO ACT of 1996. It was seen as a way to curtail Congressional spending power, but the Supreme Court rightfully declared the law unconstitutional in June of 1998 in a 6-3 decision (Clinton v. City of New York). George W. Bush tried to push the power through again in 2006 but it failed to even come up for a vote in both houses.
Section 8, line 4:
“To establish uniform laws of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies, throughout the Confederate States”
Sorry, Tea Party, but even in the CSA, the national government had the right to determine the process of citizenship.
Section 8, line 7: “To establish post offices and post routes; but the expenses of the Post Office Department, after the 1st day of March in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty-three, shall be paid out of its own revenues.”
As Joel noted, this was the first national postal service held started in the country’s border. It was first dependent upon the government, but then the plan was to later, in 1863 have it privatized. Pattern sound familiar?
Section 8, line 8: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
The progress of science? Wow! But it was more about property rights at that time.
Section 9, Line 1:
“The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.”
And there you have it, Exhibit A what states’ rights was about– enslavers could only move Negro slaves within the borders of the country, even those from the North. So it recognizes that the North still had slaves (duh, everyone knows that), but it also officially sees black bodies as the property of others. It does not mention the whites who were slaves or indentured servants.
Section 9, line 2:
“Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.”
Self-explanatory, but the Confederacy again, seeing this part of Article one as “limiting” the national government’s power.
“The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”
Why, what type of rebellion would the CSA be concerned about? Nat Turner still around? At the same time, libertarians who detest Abraham Lincoln cannot have a double standard for the Confederate States, because they were just as willing to take away our civil liberties in the name of an “emergencies”; so you can forget the moral high ground on that argument.
“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
Negro slaves = property to be protected. First 4 lines of the “limits” of the national government have to do with what? Okay. We see the pattern here.
“No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one State over those of another”
Well, this actually is a good idea. To work towards an impartial government in economic affairs, you know, like not giving out waivers for Obamacare? This is not to say that the Confederacy had a free market, for it was far from it; if you have a constitution dedicated to protecting one industry (agriculture ala African enslavement), that is crony capitalism, favoring your friends and suppressing change as well as the work of the “invisible hand.”
Article Two: The Executive Branch:
Section 1, line 1:
” The executive power shall be vested in a President of the Confederate States of America. He and the Vice President shall hold their offices for the term of six years; but the President shall not be reeligible. The President and Vice President shall be elected as follows”
Remember in the 1990s, there were a number of political commentators calling for term limits, like Ross Perot and the Reform party? Well, the CSA had them. At least for the executive.
“they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice President, and of the number of votes for each”
The President and the Vice President were on separate ballots, like the first decades of the Republic. That way, there could be a President from one party, and the vice president from another, a way of limiting government.
Article 3: The Judiciary
Not much difference from the Union.
Article 4: The States
Article 4 is like an expanded version of the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, the states’ rights.
Section 2, Line 3:
“No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs; or to whom such service or labor may be due.”
For the CSA, states’ rights meant preserving the rights of slave owners.
Section 3, Line 3:
“The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”
The CSA had just as much plans at imperial expansion as the Union did, to add more slave states for commerce no doubt.
As a child of the late 80s and early 90s, it is quite easy to see that ideas are passed down through the centuries. The Confederacy, though it was an illegal and illegitimate political body, had almost a proto-Parliamentarian system, since the President was just a figure head. The economy of the Confederacy was founded upon Adam Smith’s notion of private property rights, with the states protecting the producers of commerce only to the detriment of laborers. However, The CSA’s constitution and political structure proves that a multi-party democracy with a weak, non-imperial executive is possible, as I have argued for in The Terrible Two Party System. The fate of the Confederacy also proves that states’ rights is a self-defeating idea in a republic; just ask the city of Atlanta about General Sherman’s easy path through the Carolinas.
Truth and Peace,