Category Archives: “Civil War”

The Constitution IS the Crisis

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A Review of Murray N. Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty, Vol. 5The posthumous release of Murray Rothbard’s fifth volume of his early American history series, Conceived in Liberty, is a cause of celebration not only for those interested in the country’s constitutional period, but also for the present day as the nation is faced with acute social, economic, and political crises.  The fifth volume, The New Republic: 1784-1791, stands with Boston T. Party’s 1997 release, Hologram of Liberty, as a grand rebuttal of the cherished notion held by most contemporary scholars, pundits on the Right, and, surprisingly, many libertarians who believe that the US Constitution is some great bulwark in defense of individual liberty and a promoter of economic success.

ConceivedInLiberty4in1 Volumes 1-4

Rothbard’s narrative highlights the crucial years after the American Revolution focusing on the events and personalities that led to the calling for, drafting, and eventual promulgation of the Constitution in 1789.  Not only does he describe the key factors that led to the creation of the American nation-state, but he gives an insightful account of the machinations which took place in Philadelphia and a trenchant analysis of the document itself which has become, in the eyes of most conservatives, on a par with Holy Writ.

What Might Have Been

While Rothbard writes in a lively and engaging manner, the eventual outcome and triumph of the nationalist forces leaves the reader with a certain sadness.  Despite the fears expressed by the Antifederalists that the new government was too powerful and would lead to tyranny, through coercion, threats, lies, bribery, and arm twisting by the politically astute Federalists, the Constitution came into being.  Yet, what if it had been the other way around and the forces against it had prevailed?

It is safe to assume that America would have been a far more prosperous and less war-like place.  The common held notion that the Constitution was needed to keep peace among the contending states is countered by Rothbard, who points out a number of instances where states settled their differences, most notably Maryland and Virginia as they came to an agreement on the navigation of the Chesapeake Bay.  [129-30]

Without a powerful central state to extract resources and manpower, overseas intervention by the country would have been difficult to undertake.  Thus, the US’s disastrous participation in the two world wars would have been avoided.  Furthermore, it would have been extremely unlikely for a Confederation Congress to impose an income tax as the federal government successfully did through a constitutional amendment in 1913.

Nor would the horrific misnamed “Civil War” ever take place with its immense loss of life and the destruction of the once flourishing Southern civilization.  The triumph of the Federal government ended forever “states rights” in the US and, no doubt, inspired centralizing tendencies throughout the world, most notably in Germany which became unified under Prussian domination.

In a failed attempt in 1786 to enact an impost tax under the Confederation, Abraham Yates, a New York lawyer and prominent Antifederalist, spoke of decentralization as the key to liberty as Rothbard aptly summarizes:

Yates also warned that true republicanism can only be preserved in small states, and

keenly pointed out that in the successful Republics of Switzerland and the

Netherlands the local provinces retained full control over their finances.  A taxing

power in Congress would demolish state sovereignty and reduce the states, where

the people could keep watch on their representatives, to mere adjuncts of

congressional power, and liberty would be gone.  [64]

Antifederalists, such as Yates, had a far greater understanding of how liberty and individual rights would be protected than their statist opponents such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.  The Antifederalists looked to Europe as a model, which, for most of its history, was made up of decentralized political configurations.  The Federalists, on the other hand, got much of their inspiration from the Roman Republic and later Empire.  There is little question that an America, with the political attributes of a multi-state Europe, would be far less menacing to both its own inhabitants and to the rest of the world than what it has become under the current Federal Leviathan if the Constitution never passed.

Speculation aside, historical reality meant that America would be fundamentally different than it would have been had the Articles of Confederation survived, as Rothbard points out:

The enactment of the Constitution in 1788 drastically changed the course of

American history from its natural decentralized and libertarian direction to an

omnipresent leviathan that fulfilled all of the Antifederalists’ fears.  [312]

Limited Government Myth

One of the great myths surrounding the American Constitution – which continues within conservative circles to this very day – is that the document limits government power.  After reading Rothbard, such a notion can only be considered a fairy tale!

The supposed “defects” of the Articles of Confederation were adroitly used by the wily nationalists as a cover to hide their real motives.  Simply put – the Articles had to be scrapped and a new national government, far more powerful than what had existed under the Articles, had to be created as Rothbard asserts: “The nationalists who went into the convention agreed on certain broad objectives, crucial for a new government, all designed to remodel the United States into a country with the British political structure.”  [145]

In passing the Constitution, the nationalist forces gained almost all they had set out to accomplish – a powerful central state and with it a strong chief executive office, and the destruction of the states as sovereign entities.  The supposed “checks and balances,” so much beloved by Constitution enthusiasts, has proven worthless in checking the central state’s largesse.  Checks and balances exist within the central government and is not offset by any prevailing power, be it the states or citizenry.

There was no reform of the system as it stood, but a new state was erected on the decentralized foundation of the Confederation.  Why the idea of the founding fathers as some limited government proponents is a mystery.

The Chief Executive

As it developed, the Presidency has become the most powerful and, thus, the most dangerous office in the world.  While its occupants certainly took advantage of situations and created crises themselves over the years, the Presidency, especially in foreign policy, is largely immune from any real oversight either from the legislature or judiciary.  This was not by happenstance.  From the start, the nationalists envisioned a powerful executive branch, and though the most extreme among the group were eventually thwarted in their desire to recreate a British-style monarchy in America, the final draft of the Constitution granted considerable power to the presidential office.

As they did throughout the Constitutional proceedings, the nationalists cleverly altered the concept of what an executive office in a republic should be, by subtle changes in the wording of the document as Rothbard incisively explains:

[T]he nationalists proceeded to alter . . .  and exult the executive in a highly

important textual change.  Whenever the draft had stated that the president ‘may

recommend’ measures to the Congress, the convention changed ‘may’ to ‘shall,’

which provided a ready conduit to the president for wielding effective law-making

powers, while the legislature was essentially reduced to a ratification agency of laws

proposed by the president.  [190-91]

As if this was not bad enough the office was given the ability to create departments within its own domain.

In another fateful change, the president was given the power to create a

bureaucracy within the executive by filling all offices not otherwise provided for in

the Constitution, in addition to those later created by laws.  [191]

The totalitarian federal agencies that plague the daily lives of Americans were not some later innovation by the Progressive movement or New Dealers, but had been provided for within the document itself.  The efforts of those opposed to the various social welfare schemes of the past, which have been put into effect through the various Cabinet departments, have been in vain since the power was given to the Presidency and has been taken advantage of by nearly all of its occupants.

Rothbard’s analysis of the chief executive office is especially pertinent since the nation is once again in the midst of another seemingly endless presidential election cycle.  The reason that the office has attracted so many of the worst sort (which is being kind) is because of its power.  If elected, the ability to control, regulate, impoverish, and kill not only one’s fellow citizen, but peoples across the globe is an immense attraction for sociopaths!

A Coup d’état and Counter Revolution

Rothbard makes the compelling case that the Constitution was a counter revolution, which was a betrayal of the ideology that brought about the Revolution:

The Americans were struggling not primarily for independence but for political-

economic liberty against the mercantilism of the British Empire.  The struggle was

waged against taxes, prohibitions, and regulations – a whole failure of repression

that the Americans, upheld by an ideology of liberty, had fought and torn

asunder. . . .   [T]he American Revolution was in essence not so much against Britain

as against British Big Government – and specially against an all-powerful central

government and a supreme executive.  [307]

He continues:

[T]he American Revolution was liberal, democratic, and quasi-anarchistic; for

decentralization, free markets, and individual liberty; for natural rights of

life, liberty, and property; against monarchy, mercantilism, and especially

against strong central government.  [307-08]

There was, however, always a “conservative” element within the revolutionary leadership that admired Great Britain and wanted to replicate it in America.  It was only when there was no alternative to British political and economic oppression that they joined with their more liberal-libertarian brethren and decided for independence.

Conservatives did not go away after independence, but would continue to push for an expansion of government under the Articles and finally, after most of their designs were consistently thwarted, did they scheme to impose a powerful central state upon the unsuspecting country.

Yet, they would not have triumphed had a number of key liberal-libertarians of the revolutionary generation moved to the Right during the decade following independence.  Rothbard shows why he is the master in power-elite historical analysis in his discussion of this tragic shift, which would spell the death knell to any future politically decentralized America:

[O]ne of the . . .  reasons for the defeat of the Antifederalists, though they

commanded a majority of the public, was the decimation that had taken place in

radical and liberal leadership during the 1780s.  A whole galaxy of ex-radicals, ex-

decentralists, and ex-libertarians, found in their old age that they could comfortably

live in the new Establishment.  The list of such defections is impressive, including

John Adams, Sam Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Rush, Thomas Paine, Alexander

McDougall, Isaac Sears, and Christopher Gadsden.  [308-09]

As the country’s elite became more statist and as political (Shays Rebellion) and  economic (a depression) factors played into their hands, conservatives seized the opportunity to erect on America a powerful national government:

It was a bloodless coup d’état against an unresisting Confederation Congress. . . .

The drive was managed by a corps of brilliant members and representatives

of the financial and landed oligarchy.  These wealthy merchants and large

landowners were joined by the urban artisans of the large cities in their

drive to create a strong overriding central government – a supreme government

with its own absolute power to tax, regulate commerce, and raise armies.  [306]

Conclusion

The Mises Institute and the editor of the book, Patrick Neumann, must be given immense credit for bringing this important piece of scholarship into print.  Once read, any notion of the “founding fathers” as disinterested statesmen who sublimated their own interests and that of their constituents to that of their country will be disavowed.  Moreover, The New Republic:1784-1791 is the most important in the series since the grave crises that the nation now faces can be traced to those fateful days in Philadelphia when a powerful central state was created.

Volume Five shows that the problems of America’s past and the ones it now faces are due to the Constitution.  The remedy to the present societal ills is not electing the “right” congressman, or president, but to “devolve” politically into a multitude of states and jurisdictions.  For the future of liberty and economic well-being, this is where efforts should be placed and Murray Rothbard’s final volume of Conceived in Liberty is essential reading if that long, arduous, but much necessary task is to be undertaken.

Antonius Aquinas@AntoniusAquinas

https://antoniusaquinas.com

posted 02-10-’20

 

 

 

 

 

Long Live the Flags of Dixie!

Confederat Flag

On May 19, the House of Reprehensibles passed a proposal that would essentially ban the display of Confederate flags from national cemeteries.  The amendment was added to a Veteran Affairs spending bill.

Not surprisingly, House Speaker Paul Ryan allowed the measure to be voted upon in hopes of not disrupting the appropriations process.  Yes, by all means Paul, the redistribution of taxpayers’ confiscated wealth should take precedent over a draconian attempt to eradicate a heroic symbol of the country’s past.  Hopefully, Ryan will be ousted this November as both Speaker and Congressman for not only his consistent sell out to Obummer and the Democrats on the budget, but his lack of understanding and appreciation of what is arguably the most important period of American history.

In a certain sense, the Confederate flag should not be displayed in national cemeteries or for that matter flown alongside those of the Union.  The two are representations of dramatically opposed political ideologies.  Liberals and political opportunists of all sorts have deliberately smeared the South’s attempt at secession as being entirely over the issue of slavery.  The “Civil War” (which that struggle has become known by) is now seen through Politically Correct hindsight.

A civil war, in the truest sense, is a conflict between factions attempting to gain control of a government typically for their own aggrandizement.  The bloody conflict between the North and South was not that, nor was it solely over slavery although the institution played a role in it.

The Confederacy wanted no part of the Washington establishment at the time, which it believed had become too tyrannical, and attempted to secede from it.  The remaining states of the North, under the “leadership” of Abraham Lincoln, prevented this at the cost of more than 600,000 lives, the vast destruction of property, and the impoverishment of a people who simply sought to rule themselves.

The South’s action was nearly identical to what the colonies, North and South, did some 80 years previously in breaking away from the British Empire and becoming free and independent states under the benign rule of the Articles of Confederation.

As America’s Founding Fathers saw their liberties violated by King and Parliament, Southerners witnessed similar tyrannies and wisely anticipated more federal oppression with the election of Lincoln.

This interpretation has been ably supported by scholarship, though the view is rarely acknowledged in academia or in the mainstream media.  In an essay from an insightful collection titled Secession, State and Liberty, Donald Livingston persuasively describes the ideological content of the Declaration of Independence, the revolution it inspired, and its influence on the South’s leadership.

He writes: “Overall, the Declaration is an argument designed to justify the secession of the new self-proclaimed American states from the British state. . .  [It] is a document justifying the territorial dismemberment of a modern state in the name of the moral right of a people to self-government.”*

The South, imbued with such logic and the example of the Revolutionary generation’s break with Great Britain, attempted to separate from the Union on similar grounds and, in Livingston’s view, had a much stronger claim than the Founding Fathers had for independence:

[T]he colonies were not and never had been recognized as sovereign states, either by others or even by themselves.  At the time of the Civil War, however, the southern states had been and still were sovereign states, and so they could mount not only a moral argument but a legal one as well.  And it was the legal argument they primarily insisted upon.  Each state used the same legal form to secede from the Union that it has used to enter, namely, ratification in a convention of people.**

Although slavery was a part of the South’s final break with the North, the Confederacy could never have been built on such a narrow foundation.  Those who seek to paint Southern secession as a movement solely designed to protect their “peculiar institution” have either misunderstood the genesis of that struggle or do so for political gain.

While Southern secession is mercilessly condemned by the Establishment, scholars like Professor Livingston see it and the War for Southern Independence in a much different and far nobler light: “With the orderly, legal secession of the southern states, the American genius for self-government reached its highest moral expression.”***

The Northern and Southern flags which fly in national cemeteries across the land are indeed representative of different traditions, but not what the Politically Correct crowd would have everyone to believe.

The defenders of Dixie and the flags that commemorate their courageous actions have long since been morally justified.  The Union flag, on the other hand, has been one of aggression and domination, at first, brutally directed at its fellow countrymen who simply sought self-determination, and afterwards against millions of peoples from Vietnam to Iraq.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future as economic conditions worsen and American hegemony can no longer be maintained, the Union flag and the empire in which it represents will receive greater vitriol than the Confederate flag has gotten for its innumerable mass murders, destruction, crimes, and chaos which it has wantonly brought to every corner of the planet.

*David Gordon, ed., Secession, State & Liberty. Donald W. Livingston, “The Secession Tradition in America.” New Brunswick (U.S.A.), Transaction Publishers, 1997, p. 7

** Ibid., 18.

*** Ibid., 19.

Antonius Aquinas@AntoniusAquinas

https://antoniusaquinas.com/