We, the people of the Confederate States

In Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, the titular hero asks Abraham Lincoln why was it right for the thirteen colonies to secede from the British Empire, but wrong for the Southern States to secede from the Union.
“I’m astonished that a man of your worldly experience can even ask such a question,” says he. “What has ‘right’ got to do with it? The Revolution of ’76 succeeded, the recent rebellion did not, and there, as the darkie said when he’d et the melon, is an end of it.”
Fictional Lincoln, it seems, is something of a cynic.

Some “small-government” and “states’ rights” proponents are less cynical, and even defend the failed Confederate States on the grounds that the CSA were motivated by self-determination, states’ rights, and principled politics. But do the historical documents bear that out?

There are lots of apologists out there who will argue that the Civil War was really not about slavery. That the Confederate States were more interested in states’ rights, and tariffs, and minimizing the use of federal money for local infrastructure. But a careful review of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America seems to show that the political goals of the CSA really started and ended with the institution of slavery.
The CSA Constitution differs from the USA Constitution in only a few substantial ways. The most obvious, and most important, is slavery. While the USA Constitution tip-toes around the issue of slavery, only mentioning it obliquely and euphemistically, the CSA Constitution makes repeated, explicit references to slavery, including a clause preventing Congress from passing any law that would impair the right to own slaves. Another clause allows slaveholders to take their slaves into and out of any state, effectively preventing any individual state from banning slavery within its own boarders. Not exactly a blow for states’ rights.
Perhaps the most next important thing about the CSA Constitution is what did not change. The CSA Constitution copies the vast majority of its content verbatim from the US Constitution. This embraces virtually all of the powers of Congress in Article I, Section 8, including the “Commerce Clause” and the “Necessary and Proper Clause”. Those two clauses, particularly when invoked in tandem, are widely regarded as the greatest threats to limited central government. Yet the CSA had no problem handing these same federal powers to their own Congress.
It is true that there are also non-slave related changes that add color to the claim that the interest of the CSA was in limiting federal power. The preamble was changed to include “each State acting in its sovereign and independent character.” Additionally, the states retained the rights to negotiate among themselves on the regulation of their shared waterways and to tax boats that use those waterways. Further, federal money was not to be used for infrastructure improvement. But these changes do not seem like enough to justify the claim that the primary purpose was self-determination. For one thing, the preamble adds the notion that the Confederacy is intended to be “a permanent federal government,” suggesting that any future secessions from the CSA might not be regarded as rightful. And in light of the focus on slavery and the general retention of the form and powers of the federal government, it seems pretty clear what the real intention was.
It is well worth questioning the “official” versions of history, but it is a mistake for modern conservatives and libertarians to pretend that the Confederacy was a beacon for limited government and self-determination. That ignores the plain fact that the Confederacy was created explicitly for the preservation of the despicable institution of slavery, and it alienates people who should be valuable allies for personal freedom.

Slow Ride

Beer of the week: Slow Ride Session IPA – To avoid (additional) needless controversy, I have paired this reading with a beer from a Colorado, which was not yet a state during the brief existence of the CSA. New Belgium’s session IPA is quite good. My 12-pack seems to have been over carbonated;  every can foamed over when opened. Otherwise, there is nothing to complain about. The beer is a hazy orange-yellow with lots of white foam. Some yeasty aroma makes it past the strong, citrusy hops smell. The flavor is not as strong as expected, but it is nicely balanced and refreshing with a nice citrus finish. One certainly could drink this beer over the course of a long session.

Reading of the week: The Constitution of the Confederate States of America – This is the kind of thing that every middle school student in the United States should be required to read in history class. It did not even occur to me that I should read it until I was in my late twenties. It is instructive as to the causes of the Civil War, but also a useful tool for evaluating the Constitution of the United States.

Question of the week: There are some other changes worth mentioning: the CSA president would have served for 6 years with no chance for reelection. Also, all bills passed by congress would have a single purpose (eliminating omnibus bills and unrelated riders.) Finally, the president would have the power to issue line item vetoes. Are any of the changes made by the Confederates worth considering as amendments to the Constitution of the USA?

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Every Day a Holiday: Casimir Pulaski Day

Today, the City and people of Chicago celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day. Pulaski was a revolutionary in his native Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. After his faction’s defeat in the War of the Bar Confederation, Pulaski moved to the Americas and continued his work as a freedom-fighter. He, along with Hungarian Michael Kovats, reformed the Colonial Cavalry and died in combat against the British. Chicago’s connection to Pulaski is one of shared heritage; the Polish population of Chicago is reportedly the largest of any city other than Warsaw.

Holidays, whether official or not, are important for people. They should allow people to reflect on and celebrate the important things in life. Since St. Martin’s Day in November, I have tried to find ways to celebrate every day for the myriad gifts I’ve received. Pulaski Day provides a convenient excuse to lift a glass in honor of the things that make life good. From pierogi and beer to brave patriots like Pulaski himself, the Polish people have given America and the world a number of cultural gifts. Pulaski Day is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate those gifts.

So, here’s to Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski and all of the Polish immigrants who did their share to make this country great! Na zdrowie!

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Beer of the week: Kujawiak Export Beer – Although this beer is Polish, it reminds me of Korea. Something in the aftertaste of Kujawiak reminds me of nurungji, the rice that burns to the bottom of the pot. Koreans make tea with this scorched rice and even make candies in nurungji flavor. Kujawiak is a pretty, highly carbonated, golden beer. It smells of sweet malt. Aside from the burnt rice aftertaste, there is not a whole lot of to this beer. I am about equal parts confused and pleased by Kujawiak.

Reading for the week: The Constitution of May 3, 1791 – Although Pulaski did not live to see it, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth adopted a written constitution in 1791, considered to be the second constitution of its kind (after the American Constitution.) The Constitution established the Catholic Religion as the official religion of the state, but “guarantee[s] freedom to all rites and religions”. It also affirmed the obligation of the nobility to protect the peasantry, out of “justice, humanity and Christian duty,” as well as the nobility’s “own self-interest properly understood.”

Question for the week: What does Casimir Pulaski Day mean to you?


The Silence of Historians

One important rule of history that ought to be remembered is that it is written by the victors. In middle and high school, American students are taught that The Articles of Confederation were inadequate to provide for the governance of the young country. If the school is particularly good, the students read The Constitution and even some of The Federalist Papers. As far as I know, no students read The Articles of Confederation or The Antifederalist Papers. But why would they? The ideas and principles behind those works lost out.

It is also worth noting that The Antifederalist Papers were not a comprehensive project in the way that The Federalist Papers were. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay had a plan that resulted in an organized and cohesive collection of articles addressed to a single state. The Antifederalist Papers, on the other hand, were written independently by an unknown number of authors, addressed to the peoples of several states without any overarching plan. They don’t read as a single work because they were never meant to be grouped together.

Additionally, a large portion of the complaints about The Constitution were rectified by the Bill of Rights. That can make reading the Antifederalists a bit confusing for a modern reader. But it also puts a new spin on the question of what ideology won the day. Every complaint that was addressed by the Bill of Rights is really a victory for the Antifederalists. They recognized dangerous flaws in the new Constitution and made them known. As a result, Amendments were written to memorialize and protect inviolable personal rights.

Aside from concerns about personal liberties, the Antifederalists also worried that a central government would engage in dangerous expansionism, wage wars abroad, and eventually wage war at home to bring recalcitrant (or as they saw it, independent) states to heel. A critical glance at any work on American history should be enough to answer the question of whether these fears ever came to fruition. Although (because?) history is written by the victors, history is no more than “a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered”. When the people are happy, free, and at peace, there is very little to fill the annals; “the silence of historians is the surest record of the happiness of a people.” So why are American history books so thick?

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Beer of the Week: Lionshead Deluxe Pilsner – When I first had this beer, local college students told me that it is better known as “Lionshead-ache” because of the hangovers it causes. To be fair, they were in college and Lionshead is very cheap, so the hangovers may have been more related to quantity than quality. As far as taste goes, it is pretty much what one should expect for such a cheap adjunct lager: it tastes of slightly sour grain and naught else. But the bottle caps have pictogram puzzles printed on the inside, so I would certainly take a bottle of this over comparable beers. If you really want to try out the pictogram puzzles but can’t get Lionshead, puzzles can also be found on the bottle caps of Mickey’s and National Bohemian.

Reading for the Week: Antifederalist No. 3 – A number of essays opposed to the new government were compiled and numbered. Although they were not originally meant to be part of an overarching project, these individual writings have come to be known by their respective numbers in this compilation. Antifederalist No. 3 does not actually seem to be aimed at fighting the ratification of The Constitution. The author ruefully concedes that the people desire this new governmental scheme. The new national government will be accepted, not because it is the best possible system, but because the American people are simply and regrettably not up to the challenge of local self-rule: “Alas! I see nothing in my fellow-citizens, that will permit my still fostering the delusion, that they are now capable of sustaining the weight of SELF-GOVERNMENT: a burden to which Greek and Roman shoulders proved unequal.”

Question for the week: The author of Antifederalist No. 3 writes that “Where the people are free there can be no great contrast or distinction among honest citizens in or out of office.” What does it say about the United States that politicians are essentially celebrities?