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Was It a Refounding?

When President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited Independence Hall on his journey to Washington, he asserted straightforwardly: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.” This would have come as little surprise to anyone who had followed Lincoln’s public opposition to the policies of Stephen Douglas and the Democrats throughout the mid-to-late 1850s, when he repeatedly invoked “our chart of liberty” and asserted his belief that blacks and whites possessed equality in natural rights. Although he wrote in a draft of his First Inaugural Address that he doubted “that the present Constitution can be improved,” the war ultimately allowed the nation, as he famously proclaimed at Gettysburg, to undergo “a new birth of freedom.” The Reconstruction amendments seemingly signaled as much.

If generations of scholars have contested the meaning of the Civil War, no one questions its momentousness. The 14 essays collected in The Political Thought of the Civil War demonstrate that the conflict fundamentally shaped the American regime, and they probe the important questions of political theory that animated it. Did slavery have a permanent place in the republic? What role did morality play in changing the constitutional order? Could the natural rights principles of the Declaration of Independence help produce a racially integrated society?

In essence, the book considers whether or not the Civil War and Reconstruction, in eradicating slavery, fulfilled the promises of the American Founding, or to what degree the era instituted novel and superior principles that ultimately signified “a genuine refounding,” in the words of coeditors Alan Levine, Thomas W. Merrill, and James R. Stoner, Jr. in their Introduction. With so many contributors, no definitive answer is ventured here, yet the various avenues of inquiry furnish intellectually stimulating material for students of American history and political science to ponder.

Essays in the first third of the book reveal how the problem of slavery not only bedeviled the Founding Fathers but proved to be the wedge that split the Union. Coeditor Merrill analyzes Thomas Jefferson’s well-known letter to John Holmes on the Missouri crisis through the lens of the Virginian’s natural rights commitments. Caught between doing justice to blacks by allowing them to enjoy their natural right to liberty and securing the self-preservation of Southerners by allowing the latter to pursue their way of life based on extending slavery, Jefferson memorably analogized that the nation was stuck holding the wolf by its ears. According to Merrill, as had been the case in the rough draft of the Declaration—in which Jefferson blamed George III for foisting slavery on the colonies in order to divert moral outrage against its practice—so again in 1820 he sought to use the cloak of natural rights to shield Southerners from moral responsibility for slavery.

After chapters on the antebellum Supreme Court and slavery, the philosophical and political differences that separated the antebellum advocates of natural rights, an overview of various schools of scientific racism, and a survey of Southern politicians who argued for the constitutional validity of secession, the volume’s middle section devotes four essays to Lincoln’s central role in the conflict. In her skillful assessment of Lincoln’s rhetoric in his 1854 Peoria address and reaction to the 1857 Dred Scott decision, both of which contain passages supporting colonization that are difficult for modern readers to stomach, Diana J. Schaub concludes that Lincoln subtly combatted racial prejudice by linking his contemporaries’ self-interest to a fervent moral opposition to slavery’s spread.

Subsequent essays assert that, as the chief executive, Lincoln took painstaking care to defend and follow the Constitution in making his arguments for war, handling the militia, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Taken together, these chapters reveal a skillful statesman who resisted the temptation to use prerogative power and instead acted in ways that preserved the integrity of the Constitution.

The unit concludes with coeditor Stoner’s excellent comparative analysis of the U.S. and Confederate constitutions. He concludes that the latter, with its preservation of slavery in perpetuity, ultimately repudiated the spirit of the former. However, the Confederate government, in its desire to avoid internal dissent during the war, set up an executive and a legislative branch meant to cooperate more closely than the Founders, with their emphasis on the separation of powers, ever contemplated. In subsequent decades, the secessionists’ commitments to racial supremacy prevailed long after the Confederate defeat, and their imagined unity and opposition to any political dissent lingered like a malaise over Southern society as the postwar Democratic Party produced a “Solid South” without the enforcement of black suffrage.

The final section begins with Michael Zuckert’s incisive analysis of the Reconstruction amendments. He maintains that they completed the original intent of the Constitution’s Framers, particularly James Madison’s proposed amendment to give the national government veto power over state laws. This “corrective federalism” essentially allowed the states to take the reins in governing themselves in most cases but reserved congressional power to intervene when necessary. Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment demonstrates that even Northern Democrats regarded the abolition of slavery as a truly revolutionary development that signaled the national government’s potential capacity to strike down other state laws.

According to Zuckert, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment “undid the cause of the [Constitution’s] incompleteness” by destroying slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment positively secured the rights of citizens by incorporating the Bill of Rights through the Privileges and Immunities Clause. As Congressman John A. Bingham (R-Ohio) recognized, this preserved federalism and showed how the divided powers of state and national government each retained their respective spheres. However, if a state violated a citizen’s rights, it tilted the balance of federalism toward the national government to preserve those rights in the face of state infringement.

Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment, while mandating the constitutional right of African American men to vote, upheld federalism by allowing the states to make categorical restrictions to voting other than race.

The remaining chapters assess aspects of Reconstruction and postwar society. Philip B. Lyons asserts that the Radical Republicans pushed for too much change too quickly and should have learned from the example of Lincoln’s Reconstruction government in Louisiana, with its more gradual approach to securing civil rights and limited black suffrage. Peter C. Myers examines Frederick Douglass’ “moral mission” to realize an integrated society based on equality. The volume closes with Jonathan O’Neill’s survey of the works of post-Reconstruction scholars such as Frank Owsley and other Southern agrarians whose oftentimes valid criticisms of centralized authority, consumerism, and egalitarianism were marred by racist assumptions.

Wide-ranging in scope, The Political Thought of the Civil War will appeal to scholars in political science, history, and legal and constitutional studies. Although particular essays will have varying appeal based on one’s research and teaching interests, each chapter makes insightful observations. Many of the contributions originated as lectures at the Political Theory Institute in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., the institutional home of coeditors Levine and Merrill.

In addition to showcasing fine scholarship, the essays show how that era’s arguments over the core principles of the American political tradition—natural rights, federalism, constitutionalism, justice, and equality—remain relevant today and should inform current political debates. In fact, at a moment when politicians, pundits, and scholars alike argue about birthright citizenship, presidential power, and constitutional contexts, this book is timelier than ever. With the ideals of the Declaration of Independence seemingly constantly attacked and ignorance of the Constitution noticeably prevalent, significant benefits might be gained and catastrophes avoided if the good folks at the Political Theory Institute secured a wide reading for this book among numerous residents of their fine city.

However unlikely this occurrence, anyone who reads this volume will appreciate again the moral conviction and integrity required to preserve the timeless principles of the Founding during the Civil War era. As Lincoln expressed it, with his line-in-the-sand closing at Peoria:

Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. . . . If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.

Reader Discussion

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on December 03, 2018 at 15:14:18 pm

"Our chart of liberty" continues to orient the American Regime. The author presents a fair and instructive review of "The Political Thought of the Civil War." Review brings to mind Principles we Americans continue to weigh against man's insatiable contention between isothymia on one hand and megalothmia on the other. I intend on reading the 14 essays.

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Anthony
on December 03, 2018 at 18:04:42 pm

Should read: megalothymia.

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Anthony
on December 05, 2018 at 19:12:15 pm

Modern scholars impose harm on humankind when they disregard their fellow citizenship so as to equally examine the pieces of evidence that any interested person may pursue using the Internet and libraries. I think Christianity is responsible for the Civil War and have the evidence for my story.

In this case, acute interest brought on by Mitch Landrieu’s infamous New Orleans tyranny drew this chemical engineer’s interest. I wanted the statues to remain but be affixed with plaques that tell New Orleans visitors the lesson learned from the Civil War. The evidence is that civic integrity comes from the people rather than from their gods or their government.

Slavery existed during recorded history, and that includes enslavement of Africans by other African tribes and their kings. The “authorization” of the slave trade with African kings across the Atlantic Ocean so as to place African slaves in the Americans was to Portugal and then Spain in the 15th century by Catholic popes as part of their doctrine of discovery. Not to be outdone, European Protestant kings joined the awful enterprise, and England became the largest force in the Atlantic slave trade.

English colonist Thomas Paine wrote in 1775 in Philadelphia, “That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.” See https://www.constitution.org/tp/afri.htm.

When the nine states established the U.S. on June 21, 1788, they had not the economic viability to emancipate the slaves, but the 1787 Constitution with its preamble for fellow citizens to embrace provided for ending the slave trade in 20 years and emancipation when economics would allow.

In 1852, Frederick Douglass, lamenting the Fugitive Slave Act before the President of the U.S. said, “By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. [T]he power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women and children, as slaves, remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner, and American Christianity.” See https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/2945.

In 1856, with plenty of time to respond to both Douglass and abolitionist-bleeding Kansas, by selling everything and moving to a free state, American Christian R.E. Lee wrote against abolitionists, “The painful discipline [the blacks] are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.” See https://leefamilyarchive.org/9-family-papers/339-robert-e-lee-to-mary-anna-randolph-custis-lee-1856-december-27.

In February 1861, the Confederate States of America issued the declaration of secession with complaints and the conclusion, “[A]ll hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.” See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp.

On March 4, 1861, President Lincoln responded to the CSA’s warning of war with obscure, homespun, military theology, “Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.” See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp.

Lincoln seemed to go beyond iconoclast to actually deny religious relevance or the involvement of a God. Also, his statement seems more a military threat than an effort to avert war. I wish I could ask him.

Lincoln’s subsequent personal and presidential suffering may have changed his willingness to appeal to a god in the Gettysburg address, but I do not know that he referenced God. However, there is no doubt in his addendum in 1864, “Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it.” See http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm. I doubt Lincoln’s motives.

After the Civil War, some people continued to interpret the Bible as condoning subjugation of blacks, and a great decision was reached with the non-discrimination Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, liberation theology, black power, and black church combined, beginning in about 1970, to assert both that white church is Satan and to establish African American Christianity. The title is exclusive. See https://www.wsj.com/articles/dr-kings-radical-biblical-vision-1522970778.

It seems time for fellow citizens, be they scholars or not, to address the obvious: Christianity has, so far, been striving for the political role Constantine imposed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_policies_of_Constantine_I ) and failed to reform to its advertised role: the salvation of souls rather than the development of civic integrity. Only the people may effect reform.

I think Lincoln’s 1861 message was correct: civic integrity comes from the people. My question is, why haven’t scholars discovered and influenced politicians to protect the history and its monuments by affixing plaques that tell the story?

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Phil Beaver
on December 06, 2018 at 08:54:58 am

This review attracted me to https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07H4T4R75/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 which includes the book’s preface and introduction in the “Look inside” feature. I find the introduction accepts if not promotes some politically correct falsehoods. For example, slavery was instituted here by the Catholic doctrine of discovery, which spawned the Atlantic slave trade with Africa, which was dominated by England. Thus, to call slavery “America’s original sin” is false. I contend that the first Congress’s original sin was denying the 1787 Constitution with its preamble so as to reinstitute Blackstone common law and the church-state-partnership that is constitutional in England and unconstitutional in America. The people’s reform seems underway despite the scholars.
Modern scholars harm humankind when they forego fellow citizenship for elitism by not equally examining the evidences that any interested person may pursue using the Internet and libraries. I think erroneous Christian belief is responsible for the Civil War and cite the evidence for both the 800-year-old English Christianity’s claim to supremacy versus a half century of African American Christianity’s bid for supremacy.
Why would a fellow citizen study historical facts? Acute interest imposed by Mitch Landrieu’s infamous New Orleans tyranny drew this chemical engineer’s interest. I wanted the statues to remain, affixed with plaques that tell New Orleans visitors the lesson learned from the Civil War: Civic integrity comes from the people rather than from their gods or their government.
Slavery existed during recorded history, and that includes enslavement of Africans by competing African tribes and their kings. Catholic popes, as part of their doctrine of discovery, “authorized” the slave trade with African kings so as to place African slaves in the Americas first to Portugal and then to Spain in the 15th century. Not to be outdone, European Protestant kings joined the awful enterprise, and England became the largest force in the Atlantic slave trade.
English colonist Thomas Paine wrote in 1775 in Philadelphia, “That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.” See https://www.constitution.org/tp/afri.htm.
When the nine states established the U.S. on June 21, 1788, they had not the economic viability to emancipate the slaves, but the 1787 Constitution with its preamble fellow citizens could embrace provided for ending the slave trade in 20 years and emancipation when economics would allow.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass, lamenting the Fugitive Slave Act before the President of the U.S., said, “By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. [T]he power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women and children, as slaves, remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner, and American Christianity.” See https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/2945.
In 1856, with plenty of time to respond to both Douglass and abolitionist-bleeding Kansas, by selling everything and moving to a free state, “American Christian” R.E. Lee wrote against abolitionists, “The painful discipline [the blacks] are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is Known & ordered by a wise & merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.” See https://leefamilyarchive.org/9-family-papers/339-robert-e-lee-to-mary-anna-randolph-custis-lee-1856-december-27.
In February 1861, the Confederate States of America issued the declaration of secession with complaints and the “American Christian” conclusion, “[A]ll hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.” See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp.
On March 4, 1861, President Lincoln responded to the CSA’s warning of war with obscure, homespun, military theology, “Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.” See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp.
Lincoln seemed to go beyond iconoclast to actually deny religious relevance or the involvement of a God. Also, his statement seems more a military threat than an effort to avert war. I wish I could talk to him, but I have formed my opinion that he was a skillful politician but never discovered civic integrity.
Lincoln’s subsequent personal and presidential suffering may have changed his willingness to appeal to a God, in the Gettysburg address, but I do not know that he referenced a God. However, there is no doubt in his letter addendum in 1864, “Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it.” See http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm. I doubt Lincoln’s motives.
After the Civil War, some people continued the “American Christian” view that the Bible condones subjugation of blacks, but a great decision was reached with the non-discrimination Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, liberation theology, black power, black church, and Alinsky Marxism combined, beginning in about 1970, to assert both that white church is Satan and to establish African American Christianity. The religion’s title is exclusive. See https://www.wsj.com/articles/dr-kings-radical-biblical-vision-1522970778.
It seems time for fellow citizens, be they scholars or not, to address the obvious: Christianity has, so far, strived for the political role Constantine imposed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_policies_of_Constantine_I ) and has failed to reform to its viable-business: salvation of souls rather than development of civic integrity. Only the people may effect reform.
I think Lincoln’s 1861 message was correct: civic integrity comes from the people. My question is, why haven’t scholars reported the British, Christian liabilities for the Civil War and influenced politicians to protect history and it monuments by affixing plaques that tell the story?

Could it be that too few fellow citizens consider, adopt, trust-in, and commit-to the civic, civil, and legal agreement that is offered in the U.S. preamble? Rather than secular, the U.S. preamble’s agreement is neutral to Christianity and all other responsible, spiritual pursuits, as well as gender, race, ethnicity, wealth, and other human characteristics.

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Phil Beaver
on December 08, 2018 at 13:37:14 pm

Mt goodness, will these Fractured Fairy Tales never end, Phil?

At least try to be concise, many of us do no have quite the same affection for your *voice* as do you.

Try to limit it to perhaps 100 silly words.

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gabe
on December 08, 2018 at 17:32:06 pm

Dear gabe, I appreciate you.

First, you overlooked my first post in this thread, which begins with a non-sense paragraph that needed a strategic "not" in the phrase "so as to not equally examine." Moreover, you generously, continually attack my person to express perhaps religious immaturity regarding the civic citizen.

The existing preamble to the U.S. Constitution is a civic, civil, and legal agreement that is offered to fellow citizens.

It is legal, because the words that followed it on June 21, 1788, when nine free and independent states established a Union, the U.S., were immediately the USA's laws and organization, both amendable. The four dissident states remained free and independent but the confederation of thirteen eastern seaboard states that both began in 1774 and ratified the Treaty of Paris in 1784 was legally dissolved. Dissidence was also evident when only 2/3 of delegates to the constitutional convention signed the 1787 Constitution. (Dissidence today may be at 50%, but I doubt it. Evidence for 2/3 agreement among fellow citizens shows up often.)

The U.S. preamble is civil in that it is this nation's commitment to equal justice under law. Statutory justice is based on the-objective-truth rather than a dominant opinion, and it seems there will always be dissidents to justice.

The U.S. preamble is civic in that fellow citizens are free to dissent against all or part of the agreement. Citizens are free to responsibly live-and-let-live or not. Those who attempt to refuse or consign responsibility may face statutory law enforcement if their behavior causes actual harm.

The U.S. preamble is neutral to religion rather than secular. Also, it is neutral to gender, race, ethnicity, wealth, and heritage. Every human being has the individual power, the individual energy, and the individual authority (IPEA) to either develop integrity or invite infidelity. The hope of the U.S. preamble is to motivate widespread use of IPEA to develop civic integrity, and as the use of the preamble's agreement increases, mutual, comprehensive safety and security may emerge as "the common good."

Your frustrations about my posts might end if you start addressing my message rather than refuse to address the-objective-truth, about which I collaborate because I know so little.

I express hard-earned concern, offer grounded solutions, and hope to listen. However, there's nothing to hear, I think because there is a paucity of civic integrity.

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Phil Beaver
on December 21, 2018 at 16:07:03 pm

Not a reply to Anthony:

Just started this book.
The introduction lays out what appears to be a very extensive and insightful study of antebellum attitudes and promises to examine the contradictory stances of both the slaveholders and the anti-slavery rhetoricians, to include the inherent tension contained within both Jefferson and his conception of Natural Rights.

To any interested in gaining a deeper / broader understanding of the political - philosophical dilemma confronting the antebellum actors, this book appears to be a must read.

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gabe

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