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Chelsea Green Blog

Secession talkback

I got an email from someone who must have stumbed across one of the secession posts here:
On 7/30/06 5:16 PM, “JERRY G” wrote: “Vermont will do its full duty.” With those words (it is believed) the governor of the state of Vermont, Erastus Fairbanks, replied to a telegram sent him by the president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, as the American Civil War began in the spring of 1861. Lincoln had wired the following message to Fairbanks as confederate States of America cannon compelled the surrender of Fort Sumter, defended by a federal garrison in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina: Strictly private and confidential Gov. Erastus Fairbanks Montpelier, VT Washington is in grave danger. What may we expect of Vermont? A. Lincoln … From the very beginning, Vermont stood ready to fight for the salvation of the American Union and to defeat those who had shattered it. The attack on Sumter had evoked a most heated and patriotic response in Vermont. Flags suddenly seemed to be flying from every pole and window. Patriotic meetings were held in practically every community. I am a native of New Orleans, LA, part of the old Confederate States of America. I read with interest your claim of Vermont’s right to secede from the Union. Referencing the above excerpt from the Governor of Vermont in 1861: Did Vermont prosecute an illegal war upon the Southern states when it sent troops to reign war upon the peace loving citizens of the South? Wouldn’t we be due reparations from Vermont? I an not being sarcastic, I am curious to know how secessionists in Vermont justify their position considering their place in history (i.e. their voluntary participation in the War of Northern Agression, 1961-1965). And how would a Vermont successionist justify the illegal occupation of the South during Reconstruction? I read your site with interests but some statements sound right out of the 19th century, when the Southern states claimed their right to succeed then were overrun by foreign(Union) armies. Curious to hear a reponse. Maybe the South will want to succeed again too.
Being a sucker, I have responded:
Dear Mr. Garner, I understand that you are not being sarcastic. However, I think your question is essentially invalid. None of the people that I know who are interested in secession participated in the Civil War. None of them participated in the Reconstruction. For all I know, if they had been in Vermont at that time, they might have refused to join the Union army. For myself, I think the idea of secession is interesting, but I am not an advocate by any means, though I do enjoy discussing the pros and cons of such an effort. Regarding the plain legality of the Union efforts to maintain the United States as a whole, there are no clauses in the Constitution allowing for States to secede from the Union. Thus rebellious actions (such as those at Fort Sumter) against U.S. Army forces are clearly acts of treason and therefore a military response to bring rebellious forces under the authority of the duly elected and constitutional federal government are legal. Therefore, there is no case to be made for reparations from the North to the South. Personally, I believe that, if slavery had not been part of the equation, the South should have been allowed to secede. But your reference to the “peace loving citizens of the South” is patently absurd. Some Southern citizens were peace loving, I am sure. But since many of them were ardent supporters of slavery—an institution of the most horrifying violence—and since the South’s attempted secession was, at heart, entirely about maintaining slavery, I have no sympathy for claims that the Civil War was unjustified. (Obviously, I have been referring here to the whites in the South, and not to the blacks, who were not citizens, as the word is generally understood, but victims of one of history’s worst crimes at the hands of the Southerners who led the effort to secede from the Union.) I do have sympathy for the suffering of the South at the hands of mistaken Reconstruction policies following the Civil War. For example, I believe that the Union should have imposed widespread land redistribution following the defeat of the Confederate army. This would have liberated freedmen from the neo-slavery they endured after so-called emancipation, and would have laid the ground for a viable economy. As it was, excessive belief in the sanctity of “private property” by Northerners led them to allow Southern landowners to maintain a plantation system that kept the South in economic doldrums for a full century, imposing intense poverty on whites and blacks alike. Sincerely, Jonathan


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