Bill Armstrong and I as conveners of Western Conservative Summit 2010, together with Centennial Institute Fellows Kevin Miller and Greg Schaller, have drafted a statement of vision and principles for American conservatives in the coming decade, entitled "Freedom in the Balance: The Lone Tree Declaration."
The declaration will be taken up on Saturday, July 10, by participants at the Summit, which is scheduled for July 9-11 at the Denver Marriott South. (The hotel is in a town called Lone Tree, with mountain views south to Pike's Peak and north to Long's Peak.)
We will invite all to add their names as signers. Afterward, the Lone Tree Declaration will remain on a dedicated website where conservatives across the country can affix their signatures as well. Here is the text:
FREEDOM IN THE BALANCEThe Lone Tree Declaration
Proposed for Signing by Participants atWestern Conservative Summit 2010July 9-11, 2010
We gather as grateful Americans, on the week of Independence Day, in the shadow of the Continental Divide at Lone Tree, Colorado. Our signatures on this declaration, to which we invite others not present to add their names as well, affirm six tenets of who we are and what we stand for:
1. In our adherence to the self-evident truths of the American Founding, we are conservatives.
2. In our debt to the civilizational heritage of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia, we are Westerners.
3. In our concern for the mounting threat to liberty, seeing freedom in the balance, we convene with solemn purpose at this Summit.
4. We seek a conservative renewal for our country through civic action that puts principle above party, resists the corruption of power, bridges intramural disagreements or rivalries, and protects an open public square centered on the nation’s Judeo-Christian core.
5. We commit ourselves unswervingly to a political and social order that upholds individual freedom and personal responsibility, limited government and the rule of law, free enterprise and private property, traditional family values and sanctity of life, compassion for the poor and voluntarism in service to others, natural law and morality, strong defense and secure borders, all in keeping with the original intent of the Constitution.
6. We reject, and will resist, the socialist temptation, transnational progressivism, secular utopian illusions, appeasement, disarmament, or capitulation to jihad and sharia.
Reminding our compatriots that with 2010 America enters a decisive decade for its survival as a free society, and appealing to God for His mercy and help, we declare our fidelity to the Spirit of 1776. To its revival we mutually pledge our solemn faith.
Proposed on July 2, 2010, by:
John AndrewsDirector, Centennial Institute
William L. ArmstrongPresident, Colorado Christian University
Kevin MillerChairman, National Freedom Initiative
Gregory SchallerAssistant Professor of Political ScienceColorado Christian University
On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln began his trip from Illinois to the nation’s capital for his inauguration as the country’s’ 16th President. When he left Illinois, seven southern states had already seceded from the Union, with four more to follow.
Lincoln took a somewhat circuitous route, first going through Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania, before turning north, going to Buffalo, Albany and New York City. Ten days later, on February 21st, he arrived in Philadelphia, home of Independence Hall—where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were ratified.
The following morning, Lincoln left his hotel very early in the morning and rode by carriage to deliver two speeches. The second speech was to honor the raising of a new flag, with 34 stars, the new star marking the inclusion of Kansas into the Union.
Lincoln’s first speech was made at the request of Theodore L. Cuyler, president of the Select Council of Philadelphia at Independence Hall. In his speech, Lincoln reflected on the Founders of ´76, who courageously declared their independence, and asserted the “self-evident truths” upon which our nation was founded.
Just as with the Gettysburg address, Lincoln’s remarks were brief yet timeless. In an earlier speech, he famously stated that everything had a “central idea” from which all else emanates. For Lincoln, the “central idea” of America was the Declaration of Independence. In his February 22, 1861 speech, he returns to this theme of the centrality of the Declaration, both for the nation and for himself.
It is fitting that we reflect on Lincoln’s words again this Independence Day. The following is a transcript of his speech as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer:
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall.
I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.
This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defence.
My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I supposed it was merely to do something toward raising the flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. (Cries of "No, no") I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.
In recent years, a growing number of voices including those of Dennis Prager -- who will speak at next week's Western Conservative Summit -- Colorado's own David Kopel have suggested that America is in grave and immediate need of a Fourth of July Seder.
Even secular Jews know what a Seder is. They remember it from childhood as that ridiculously long meal in which at least one person wants to know how long it’ll be ‘til we eat and three more provide a detailed analysis of the consistency of the matzoh balls.
Non-Jews may be less familiar with the custom. But SEDER, as Dennis Prager tells us, merely means “order.” The brilliance of ingesting the ordered story of the Exodus --- FREEDOM, as we are ingesting a meal is what has enabled the Jewish People to pass it down from generation to generation.
Never in our lifetimes has it been more painfully clear that America is losing its way---that America’s story of freedom has not been successfully passed down or even passed around.
America is not a place. It is an idea. Today, we stand at the tipping point of losing the idea of America and the Freedoms on which it was founded. We are in a race against time to educate both young and old about the idea of America.
On Independence day, a few Patriots actually read The Declaration of Independence, but here is the actual story that should be told on our 4th of July Seder:
Independence Day is the national holiday which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At the time of the signing the US consisted of 13 colonies under the rule of England's King George III. There was growing unrest in the colonies concerning the taxes that had to be paid to England. This was commonly referred to as "Taxation without Representation" as the colonists did not have any representation in the English Parliament and had no say in what went on. As the unrest grew in the colonies, King George sent extra troops to help control any rebellion. In 1774 the 13 colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia Pennsylvania to form the First Continental Congress. The delegates were unhappy with England, but were not yet ready to declare war.
In April 1775 as the King's troops advanced on Concord Massachusetts Paul Revere would sound the alarm that "The British are coming, the British are coming" as he rode his horse through the streets.
The battle of Concord and its "shot heard round the world" would mark the unofficial beginning of the colonies war for Independence. For almost a year the congress tried to work out its differences with England, again without formally declaring war.
By June 1776, a committee was formed to compose a formal declaration of independence. Headed by Thomas Jefferson, the committee included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman. Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the first draft which was presented to the congress on June 28. After various changes a vote was taken late in the afternoon of July 4th. Of the 13 colonies, 9 voted in favor of the Declaration, 2 - Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted No, Delaware undecided and New York abstained.
To make it official John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence. It is said that John Hancock signed his name "with a great flourish" so "King George can read that without spectacles!"
The following day copies of the Declaration were distributed. The first newspaper to print the Declaration was the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6, 1776. On July 8th the Declaration had its first public reading in Philadelphia's Independence Square. Twice that day the Declaration was read to cheering crowds and pealing church bells. Even the bell in Independence Hall was rung. The "Province Bell" would later be renamed "Liberty Bell" after its inscription -
Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof
And although the signing of the Declaration was not completed until August, the 4th of July has been accepted as the official anniversary of United States independence. The first Independence Day celebration took place the following year - July 4 1777.
CEREMONIAL FOOD FOR OUR 4th of July Seder:
Turkey should be served, since Franklin wanted that as our national bird. "The turkey nourished our Pilgrim forebears," he explained. You should wash it down with sassafras tea: that's what Americans drank while boycotting the tea of the British East India Company, which the King subsidized because it was "too big to fail." And the most American of foods, and a July tradition: corn on the cob! For dessert: Dolly Madison ice cream, and perhaps Martha Washington's sponge cake.
So, after our celebration, go home and read the Declaration of Independence but don’t skip over the grievances. What would our Founders have to say about the course of human events today? Share the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the IDEA of America with liberals and children (???) We can’t afford to wait until next 4th of July.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.... And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
(Centennial Fellow) As we observe the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July, we should consider the unique form of government for which our Founding Fathers chose to risk “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” against the militarily-superior British. The definitive passage in the Declaration reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." In these 57 words, the Founders established that: • Our rights -- better understood as "freedoms" -- are given to us by a power higher than government. No matter what you believe about creation or evolution, you must acknowledge that government did not give us life. • Government's legitimate purpose is to protect the rights of the people. Just as government did not give us life, it did not give us our rights. • Government's legitimate powers are limited to only those given to it by the people. "The whole point was to show how government might arise legitimately, not to assume its existence," writes constitutional scholar Roger Pilon in "The Purpose and Limits of Government" published by Cato Institute. Pilon's insights are particularly useful because, as a libertarian, he does not advance a religious conservative agenda. Yet he acknowledges that the Founders' common view of "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" provide the cornerstone for all that follows: We hold these truths to be self-evident.... The signers of the Declaration didn't negotiate and compromise to define truth. They agreed that certain fundamental truths were obvious. For example: ...That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... In that each of us exists because of the same creative process, the rights to which each of us are entitled are necessarily equal. Such rights are best understood as freedom from interference, whether by government or by other people which, of course, implies that others are entitled to be free from our interference. Freedom encompasses not simply the opportunity to make choices but the responsibility for those choices. Freedom does not mean that, because my choice seems superior, I can bend others to my will through the power of government, nor does it mean that when I make an irresponsible choice I am immune from consequences. ...That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Once the Founders established a broad universe of rights, they discussed government, its sole purpose to protect those rights. Again it is imperative to understand "rights" as freedoms — not as an entitlement taken at the expense of another. When government legitimately protects our freedom, it simply does that which we have a right to do ourselves. By contrast, government does not act legitimately if it secures my rights by taking the life, liberty or property of someone else. When the rights of two people may conflict and neither can fully exercise freedom without adversely affecting the other, the Founders reasoned that in these circumstances, the boundaries between competing rights ought to be drawn by the people whom government serves. However, "consent of the governed" does not empower majority rule to deny freedom to the minority. This concept of a vast ocean freedoms and tiny islands of government power bears little resemblance to our federal government today, which is why it is so vitally important that we understand the foundation of our government before electing someone to lead it. As Ronald Reagan warned, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
Mark Hillman is a Centennial Institute Fellow. He formerly served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
('76 Contributor) Last Saturday, May 22, I went to a conference at the University of Denver where Governor Sarah Palin, along with radio hosts Dennis Prager and Hugh Hewitt, defended limited constitutional government against the excesses of President Obama. While I found all three speeches inspiring and entertaining, Dennis Prager’s speech stood out as the most concise and substantive.
Hugh Hewitt gave a “Ten Commandments for 2010,” in which he exhorted the American people to support powerful republican candidates in the election and to discuss current issues with their Democratic friends.
Sarah Palin gave a rousing speech against Obamacare and its inherent rationing, Obama’s apology-driven foreign policy, the irresponsibility in government that gave rise to Greece’s economic debacle, and the condemnation of Arizona for enforcing national immigration laws. She ended on a positive note, mentioning Ronald Reagan’s history as a lifeguard, his personality grounded in conviction, and his optimistic common sense.
While these speeches strongly encouraged the audience, their focus on current issues constrains their power to the present. Dennis Prager’s speech, by contrast, voiced America’s foundational principles and the current disagreement about them. He proclaimed that the current political struggle is not about personalities, but ideas, that the American and Left-wing worldviews are waging a civil war over the heart of America.
He illustrated the Left-wing’s confusion in three points. The Left attacks the motives of TEA Partiers, declaring them racist and prejudiced, while defending those of terrorists, explaining that they might have had a bad day or faced a difficult foreclosure. The Left considers Arizona to be an enemy, and tries to negotiate with Iran. Finally, they do not understand the American system.
After listing these confusions, Prager explained the spirit of America as a trinity of three values proclaimed on any coin in your pocket -- E Pluribus Unum, "Liberty," and "In God We Trust."
**He praised America as the least racist country in the world, noting how any immigrant becomes an American the very day he arrives, while immigrants to Europe do not assimilate, even after many generations. In contrast to the American spirit of E Pluribus Unum, the Left divides Americans into interest groups, and cannot understand when a black man stands up at a TEA Party with his “fellow Americans.”
** Secondly, Prager commented on the American love of liberty, in contrast to the Left’s desire for equality of result, even when it leads to poverty.
** Finally, he acknowledged America’s motto, “In God We Trust,” arguing that America was not founded to be a secular nation. Declaring the United States a Bible-based country, he explained that there is no liberty without God, and that God is the author of Human Rights.
After praising the term “Radical Islam” as a defense of normal Islam, Prager concluded his speech with another emphasis on liberty. He declared that “the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen,” and that as the freedom of citizens grows, the size government must shrink.
When asked about the biggest threat to the future of our country, Dennis Prager answered that it is not Obama, but rather our failure to understand what it means to be an American. He declared that there is a moral dimension to smaller government, and that when the government grows the citizens lose their virtue. We are our own problem, and we need to fix it.
Finally, in his closing remarks, Prager stood up against Obama’s attack on American exceptionalism. He quoted Lincoln, who said that America is the last best hope for mankind. Such a statement, Prager noted, has never been voiced for Norway, Sweden or Denmark. Obama states that he believes in American exceptionalism just as a Brit believes in British exceptionalism or a Norwegian believes in Norwegian exceptionalism. This relativistic statement holds that American exceptionalism is not exceptional. Dennis Prager believes that it is, explaining that it was our military who liberated Auschvitz and repeating the age-old wisdom that we mark a great experiment in Republican Government.
America stands at a cross-roads, and struggles in what many have called a “culture war.” The battlefield stands all around us, and American values face daily attacks. The very character of our great nation seems to be at stake, and it depends upon the people to stand up for what is good, true, and beautiful. I do not know whether the “Left” is the enemy, but someone is, and we must stand up for what we know to be good and true. Each citizen has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore he has a duty to stand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As Governor Palin said at the end of her speech, our nation’s hope does not lie in Washington D.C., amid the columns of Congress or the power of the President. Our nation’s hope lies in the hearts and minds of its people, and you, and you alone, can defend her.
Tyler O'Neil is a Coloradan currently majoring in history at Hillsdale College.
(Centennial Fellow) Responding to Bennett and Schaller on the matter of secession then and now, here's a somewhat different approach. First, who or what in fact, originally revolted and seceded from England? We all know the obvious answer, which is Jefferson’s. The first line of the Declaration states “when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people....” Thus, there had to have been, in some sense, a large group of people who consider themselves a nation. By this I mean, a group of people who have strong ties to a common identity. So, the nation of Israel is over 5000 years old, while the state of Israel is relatively young. Did this “nation” exist? It seems to me the best analysis here comes from Carl Degler who claims the colonies were split: one third for secession, one third against secession, one third who just did not care.
In fact, most of the political maneuvers which occurred between about 1774 and 1787 were performed by the colonies, if you prefer states. The way in which votes were taken in the Continental congresses, the discussions in Philadelphia over the Declaration of Independence, and the convention of 1787 were all taken by states. Therefore, the argument is that one people did not secede. Rather, the states, in some combination, seceded. This places the states as the forerunner of the Constitution. If the states wrote, ratified and passed the Constitution these states then have the right not to just secede, but merely leave. While I disagree with this line of thinking it is compelling.
Let us not forget that the Constitution was ratified by the states but not overwhelmingly. If one looks at the votes of the Constitutional ratifying conventions there is evidence for this.
Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut all passed the Constitution by wide margins. Next, in February 1788 Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a vote of 187 -168. Maryland and South Carolina then ratified the Constitution by wide margins. New Hampshire was next. Their convention ratified the Constitution by a vote of 57 - 47. Virginia ratified by a vote of 87 - 76. New York, with the thinnest of margins, pass the Constitution by a vote of 30 - 27. A little math is called for. Let us look at some of the close votes. If we determine the number of votes, which, if changed, would have resulted in the failure of the Constitution in that state we see something interesting. Thus, a change of 10 votes in Massachusetts, would have brought down the Constitution by a vote of 177 - 178. A change of six votes in New Hampshire would have done the same thing, the vote total to 51 - 53. A change of six Virginia voters would’ve brought down the Constitution in that state by a vote of 81 - 82. Most interesting may be New York where if only 2 voters had changed their mind, the Constitution would’ve failed by a vote of 28 - 29. What would have been the political result if New York had not ratified? This possibility, of course, led to the Federalist Papers. North Carolina then ratified by an overwhelming majority and Rhode Island, waiting until 1790, ratified by a vote of 34 to 32. Therefore, if a total of 26 votes had changed in five states we would not have the Constitution.
Thus, a legitimate line of argument is created: the states revolted and declared independence, the states wrote the Constitution and the Constitution was not overwhelmingly accepted by the states, albeit ratification is ratification. If you will allow me that there are two reasonable arguments, one based on the idea that we are a united people, a nation and, that we are a conglomeration of state’s in a federal system where there is in essence a dual sovereignty; we are citizens of both the federal government and the state governments. Where are we then in American politics, beginning with the founding? We have two legitimate points of view on how the federal government and states interact. What happened, then?
In grand Madisonian fashion, we had a series of compromises to avoid secession. One is reminded of Edmund Burke’s comment, “Every human benefit, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise.” Why did these compromises fail leading to the use of force? If the Jeffersonian/Lincolnian argument of one people is correct why do they use force to impose their view on the south? A better question might be was the South wrong? Was the south so wrong that military action needed to be used?
The interpretation of the logic of the 10th Amendment may be needed. The Constitution sets out three sets of powers. First, are the enumerated powers given exclusively to Congress. The second set of powers are powers no government can use, e.g. an ex post facto law. All the rest of the powers reside in the people or the states. Since neither nullification nor secession are in any sense stated or implied in article 1 section 8, Congress has no control over these issues. They are in no sense, at least in the Constitution, prohibited powers. Therefore, the states have both the right of secession and nullification. My esteemed colleague, Greg Schaller admits as much: “ The Constitution is silent on the subject of states’' attempts to "de-ratify" their participation.” When silent, all powers go to the states except those powers which are prohibited.
What then of states’ rights? Prof. Schaller: “The repeated refrain of “states rights” or “property rights” was, of course, nothing more than the South’s claim to protect their “right” to own other human beings; a claim which Lincoln correctly argued is not grounded in the ‘laws of nature or nature’s God.’” If one understands the arguments of the South, states’ rights award of the most fundamental foundations of the Constitution. I think that in terms of property rights John Locke has given a sufficient enough argument. In arguing against the divine right theory of kings, Locke reasoned deductively that no one has inherent dominion over anyone else. The argument of the South that blacks were not human and therefore property is completely specious. My personal opinion is the South never really believed this either.
Not trying to put words into Prof. Schaller’s mouth but I think the implication is that states’ rights were destroyed by force. States’ rights were then sent off to some political Valhalla with passage of the 17th amendment. Thus, it can be argued that Abraham Lincoln destroyed states’ rights and paved the way for one of the most egregious alterations to the original Constitution. When the job of appointing senators by state legislatures ended effectively the representation of states interests was done away with. Senators no longer represent their states in the give-and-take and compromise of federalism. Rather, senators now represent the people of the state from which they are elected. There has also been, in my opinion, a sense that senators now represent the entire nation and not just their states. I have no proof for this, but it seems logical to me.
Let me finish by positing an example of how the loss of states’ rights has led to the mis -apportionment of representation between the states and the national government. Except for the willfully obtuse, all know that the cost and size of the federal government will rise massively in the future. According to the president much of the savings will come by shifting the burden of Medicare to the states. If senators still represented the interests of their state, where the ambition of the state’s counter the ambition of the federal government, the states would have seen their loss of income and loss of power and the Senate would not have gone for Obama care. Therefore, I think we should take the issue of states’ rights more seriously. I conclude that states’ rights include the right of secession.
What then of the secession in the Civil War? I think the South had the better legal argument, appealing to the Constitution. The North had the moral argument. Don’t forget in the painting of the famous Appomattox Courthouse both Lee and Grant were wearing white hats. Is the South in fact, the bad guy because of secession?
(Townhall.com, April 2) Dear Grandson: I risk writing you this letter in order to pass along some censored history. Today’s America of 2050, officially atheist by law, is a very different place from the “nation under God” of my boyhood in 2010. When you take your first communion in Denver’s underground church on a spring morning once known as Easter, you need to know how this and other holy days disappeared from the American calendar.
Our country at mid-century remains the envy of the world, still fairly prosperous and optimistic, still claiming to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. But I’m sad to tell you that during my lifetime, “brave” and “free” have been redefined so as to disallow any reverence for that power whom our founders called the Creator. Christians and Jews have been made outlaws.
So hide my letter with your Bible; both are illegal to possess. It is only because your father and mother honor the civil-disobedience tradition of Martin Luther King and ignore the ban on Judeo-Christian writings that you can read the Scriptures at all.
How tragically does the noisy complacency of my parents back in the Bush and Obama years contrast with the quiet courage of your parents today. Again we see how adversity brings out the best in the people of God, as all history teaches. If believers had been more vigilant for freedom of conscience back in the Teens, judges wouldn’t have dared to rewrite the First Amendment as they did in the Tiernan case.
Instead, young Timothy, your generation grows up in a spiritually-neutered culture that has swiftly taken over what was once the most devout nation on earth. Hence this year of 2050 is punctuated by Bunny Day and Kosher Day on what used to be called Easter and Passover – by Turkey Day and Santa Day in place of Thanksgiving and Christmas. To silence all theistic echoes, even the secular holidays of Memorial Day and Independence Day have been renamed as Peace Day and Sparkler Day.
The dominoes began falling with the election of a “Freedom from Religion” activist, Robert Tiernan, to the Colorado House in 2010. Once in office, he played on the Catholic sex scandals, allegations of evangelical homophobia, and the anti-Israel mood to portray the God of the Bible as civilization’s worst enemy. His bill branding the Gospels and the Torah as hate speech became law on Good Friday, 2012.
A coalition led by broadcaster James Dobson, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Rabbi Hillel Goldberg filed suit, denouncing the act as “tyranny worthy of Lenin or Nero.” But the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it. The majority opinion by Justice Keith Ellison, the Muslim former congressman newly appointed by President Obama, ruled that “religion” in the First Amendment excludes by definition every thought, word, and action that manifests intolerance toward any species whatsoever, or the planet itself.
Legislation and court rulings piled on rapidly after that, first marginalizing, then stigmatizing, and finally criminalizing the followers of Jesus and Moses. Islam was judicially certified as a “political system,” however, giving it indulgence and then preference – resulting in the Sharia-infected USA of today. Buddhism and earth-worship also remained free, the one as a “philosophy,” the other as “science.”
The times are grim, my boy. Yet the faithful have survived worse. This Easter, albeit in secrecy and danger, you kneel to a God who loved you enough to come here and die so you might live. Your friend Aaron whispers at Passover his gratitude for a divine deliverance from bondage and death. Down the centuries, neither Caesar nor Satan nor all our own sins have been able to halt these ancient devotions. Nor shall they now. Stay strong – Grandfather
A discussion of secession ultimately centers on the question of “quitting,” and more specifically, when is it right to quit, if ever? There are two basic questions that must be asked: first, does such a fundamental right exist; and second, is it Constitutional.
Whenever talk of secession arises, whether in the early to mid 1800’s in America or now, a dissatisfied group of citizens expresses their frustration by demanding a break of political ties and a separation from the Union.
It is essential from the outset to clarify a few terms, specifically a distinction between secession and revolution (at least in the minds of Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln). While revolution and secession both represent a breaking of ties with others, I will attempt to show how Lincoln’s understanding of the difference between the two was much greater than just semantics.
The key distinction between the two concepts is of intention, ultimate goals, and most importantly, basis. For Lincoln, the distinction could most clearly be seen by comparing the cause of 1776 vs. the cause of 1860-61. In Lincoln’s mind, one breaking of ties was just, while the other was not.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson provides us with the theoretical argument for revolution, as well as the practical evidence based upon this theory of why the colonists were just in their cause of breaking their “political bands” with Great Britain. The Declaration affirms that when a group’s God-given rights have been denied (and when political means to remedy the problem have failed), the ties can be broken. Essential to the American Revolution then, is the fact that the natural rights of all men were being denied. At this juncture, a people can legitimately break their political bands and seek their independence. In Lincoln’s mind, this is the legitimate nature of revolution.
We can contrast this with the political separation of 1860, when the South, after losing an unquestionably constitutionally held election, unsatisfied with the results, decided to sever their political ties with the North. For Lincoln, the claimed right of separation on the part of the South could not have been more different then the cause of revolution and liberty in 1776. Following the South’s secession, Lincoln repeatedly questioned what fundamental right was being denied for which they could legitimately “quit” the Union? In his mind, no such claim or cause existed. The repeated refrain of “states rights” or “property rights” was, of course, nothing more than the South’s claim to protect their “right” to own other human beings; a claim which Lincoln correctly argued is not grounded in the “laws of nature or nature’s God.” Rather, it is the essence of corrupt political rule which is based in the denial of natural rights.
Lincoln often compared the institution of slavery with the claimed “divine right” of Kings, both of which were a denial of individuals’ fundamental rights, where some were placed in a position to rule over others by the mere chance of birth. Both institutions are a denial of a person’s God-given liberty and, as such, both can be legitimately revolted against. For Lincoln, there was only one group who could lay claim to a legitimate right to “quit” in 1860, and it certainly wasn’t white southerners. Rather, it was their African slaves. Lincoln never denied a legitimate right of breaking political ties. What was essential was the nature of the cause. Quitting because you don’t like an election outcome or because you fear you will lose your claim to own another person both fail the test of legitimate causes.
While some suggest that the difference between secession and revolution is merely semantic, for Lincoln it was clear that the basis and intentions for breaking ties was more than that.
Our second question is this: does a right of secession exist within our constitutional framework. The answer to this question is simple: no. The Constitution is silent on the subject of states’ attempts to “de-ratify” their participation. More fundamentally, the underlying premise is one of perpetuation. The preamble of the U.S. Constitution makes this clear:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Union was not to be temporary, but permanent, designed not just for the present but for posterity. The inference is clear: this was a Union intended to last.
Finally, a political society based on the idea that “quitting when unhappy” with the political twists and turns of our government is destined for destruction. Lincoln described secession in this way: “Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinion and sentiments is the only true sovereign of free people. Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or despotism.” The nature of quitting, if held as a fundamental, stand alone principle, will ultimately lead to anarchy, soon to be replaced by despotism.
Constitutionalism demands an adherence to the laws, even if we do not like the decisions that are being made. I may not support a war, but I am obligated to pay my taxes and support it – perhaps even fight in it – as a part of my obligation as a citizen. Likewise, states are obligated to obey the laws of the land as a part of their commitment to the perpetuation of the Union. The solution to bad laws is found in our system of free and frequent elections. Lincoln famously stated in his July 4, 1861 address to Congress that “ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.”
Constitutionalism requires us to accept election outcomes, and then pursue change in later elections. This is not to suggest that ties can never be broken. As mentioned above, Lincoln truly believed that southern slaves did indeed have a legitimate claim to break ties with their oppressors.
The South never claimed that they were revolting from the North, nor did they base an appeal to quit in the Declaration or some other natural law basis of rights. To do so would have forced them to explain how in nature their cause was legitimate, and how their continued support for the institution of chattel slavery was moral. Had the North been denying a fundamental natural right of the southerners, the South would have had an absolute claim to revolt against its northern oppressors. No such claim can be made.
With current discussions of secession being thrown around and an increasing public opinion in support of a right of secession, we would do well to consider Lincoln’s warnings. If we ever reach a point where some demand a breaking of the political bands that have held this Union together for over 200 years, we must be certain that all political means to remedy the problem have been exhausted and that the cause be one grounded in the laws of nature and nature’s God
Editor: A poll from 2008 on secession talk in the USA caught my attention and that of Centennial Fellow Vincent McGuire, who teaches politics at CU-Boulder. James Bennett, author of The Anglosphere Challenge and contributor of this month's Centennial Review on the roots of American liberty, himself a Centennial Fellow, penned this thoughtful commentary at our invitation. The poll findings and a few words from Vince and me follow the main article.
James Bennett writes: I think the most important point made in the Zogby poll is the one at the end, that secession sentiment is something that arises in times of stress and increased political polarization. It's the sort of would-be silver-bullet solution that some types of people are prone to embrace without any detailed or realistic analysis. It's also an old American tradition to talk about secession. It's interesting to read the opening sections of Jay Winik's April 1865 where he lists the major secessionist plots and conspiracies that emerged in the early decades of the Republic; reading them, one is tempted to conclude that preservation of the Union did require at least a minor miracle. Particularly in Texas and Hawaii, which were once generally accepted members of the international system of nations, it is a solution that will always have a certain amount of sentimental attraction.
It's also the case that the USA is not a nation in the sense used by Herder or List; in fact, no English-speaking nation meets such definitions. There is no desire on anybody's part to construct a nation-state that would include all English-speaking people and exclude all others; there's not even a name for such a thing. We are quite happily divided into a number of self-governing polities that have the status of nations in the international system. Over the past two centuries, there has been quite a bit of sorting-out as to who was in what polity, and of course in North America, a substantial amount of warfare in regard to the matter. It was settled by force in 1814 that Canada would not be part of the USA, and in 1865 that the Southern states would be. But also, referenda, legislative campaigns, and legal processes have determined that Newfoundland would not, and later would be part of Canada, that New Zealand would not be part of the Australian federation, but that Western Australia would remain so despite a 1933 referendum vote to secede. Even today, it is not impossible that Quebec will not be part of Canada, nor Scotland part of the United Kingdom, within a decade or two.
What we in the English-speaking world seem to have evolved is an approach to statehood and nationhood that has two levels; one being the relatively close-knit regional communities that share a wide assortment of the sorts of ties Burke described -- associational, denominational, commercial, familial, sportive, ethnic, and only lastly political. They can often be traced by the footprint of media markets or professional sport team allegiances. In the USA, states are typically made up of one to three such communities, but they have typically worked out a political modus vivendi, and states each form a genuine political community. At a higher level, these communities have come together as unions, typically but not always formally federative. The four big ones are the UK, the USA, Canada, and Australia. Because all four unions were formed after substantial literacy had been achieved, these unions were debated and discussed very widely, and the terms of union were laid out explicitly. In Britain, for instance, in 1706, the proposed Union was debated widely at the congregational level in the church of Scotland, where the majority of men and women were literate. Because of the rational, explicit bargaining process by which these unions were formed, I call them "Lockean bargains". Thus our political fabric consists of a Burkean warp and Lockean weft, so to speak, and has proved to be quite a durable fabric.
Of course, subsequent history then imparts Burkean qualities to these Lockean bargains. Shared experience and sacrifice, particularly in wartime, creates natural sentiments of patriotism, and dictates a unique national narrative that most share in turn. (Civil war and sharp division, in contrast, create counter-narratives and erode the wider patriotic sentiments. We saw this in the American South.) Successful narratives create a sense of nationhood as strong or stronger than those of entho-relgious nation-states.
So, what does all this have to do with the recent upsurge of secessionist sentiment, or the question of legitimacy of secession? I would say that, at the beginning, the United States was seen by most through the lens of compact theory. Certainly, if we can imagine one of the 13 states voting to rescind its ratification of the Constitution the day after it had sent the ratification off, we would expect the other states might have been annoyed, but very few would have considered that they would have a moral or legal right to raise troops and invade the recalcitrant state. (Hamilton might have...) By the time of the Nullification Crisis, Andrew Jackson felt entirely justified in threatening to march into Charleston and start hanging people. And by 1861, the population was deeply divided between a unitary and compact understanding of the matter.
As John points out [below], the unitary theory won out, being on the side of the bigger battalions. But where would that leave us today if a state voted clearly by referendum to secede? As a classical liberal I am attracted to compact theory. And in fact, there are several Constitutional paths to permitting secession; most clearly, by a constitutional amendment setting forth ways and means of doing so.
We are accustomed to thinking of secession as a replay of 1861. But we may see a different cast to the matter. Consider that the current Administration has supported the proposed statehood of Puerto Rico. This may yet be accomplished within this Congress, possibly by the same questionable tactics by which the healthcare nationalization bill was passed. And say that, in a subsequent Republican Congress, a substantial element of the Puerto Rican electorate approached Congress and requested that statehood be undone, either to achieve separate nationhood or to revert to Commonwealth status. If a mechanism were created to permit this, it would be, (as opposed to finding a justification for nullifying the recognition of statehood) legally speaking, a form of secession, and it would be difficult to enunciate a legal theory by which this would not also be available to, say, Hawaii. The US has always maintained that if Puerto Rico clearly expressed a desire for full independence, it would grant it, as it similarly had done for the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Where would the Right stand on this question?
My own position, to the extent mine is settled, is that although I believe in compact theory at some basic level, it must be highly qualified by Burkean considerations. Membership in a union and a federation includes promises and trusts. We have all shaped our actions on the expectation that the Union will stand and that the costs we have incurred on behalf of our fellow citizens will be reciprocated, if not dollar-for-dollar, then in some generic and ultimately ongoing fashion. Secession treats this intergenerational bargain as a game of musical chairs in which the obligations cease when the music stops. This was not the understanding under which Americans for the past century, at least, have made sacrifices of life and fortune for each others' sake, and we violate, at least to some degree, the trust that was involved in those sacrifices if we permit secession too lightly or with mere legalistic justification.
So I am left with the conclusion that although secession can be justified under some circumstances -- as heirs to the Signers of the Declaration, I think we are obliged to grant such -- there must needs be a strong bias toward the continuation of the Union, so long as it is a Union of the free.
Earlier, McGuire had written: When I saw this Zogby poll on the web, it struck me as something we should be discussing. To which Andrews replied: Well, to me it's pretty simple. The Union formed by the Constitution of 1787 is perpetual de jure, and was validated as such de facto by the Civil War. I see no reason to alter that arrangement, and many good reasons to keep it as is. I will ask some of our other Centennial Fellows to offer their perspectives as well.
AND HERE'S THE POLL ITSELF:
A new [July 2008] Zobgy/Middlebury Institute poll reports that 22 percent of respondents believe that states have the right to peaceably secede from the United States. The figures go up considerably among liberals, Latinos, blacks, young people and Southern residents. From the press release:
The level of support for the right of secession was consistent in every region in the country, though the percentage was slightly higher in the South (26%) and the East (24%). The figures were also consistent for every age group, but backing was strongest among younger adults, as 40% among those age 18 to 24 and 24% among those age 25 to 34 agreed states and regions have secession rights.
Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (43%) and African-Americans (40%). Among white respondents, 17% said states or regions should have the right to peaceably secede.
Politically, liberal thinkers were much more likely to favor the right to secession for states and regions, as 32% of mainline liberals agreed with the concept. Among the very liberal the support was only slightly less enthusiastic – 28% said they favored such a right. Meanwhile, just 17% of mainline conservatives thought it should exist as an option for states or regions of the nation.
Asked whether they would support a secessionist movement in their own state, 18% said they would, with those in the South most likely to say they would back such an effort. In the South, 24% said they would support such an effort, while 15% in the West and Midwest said the same. Here, too, younger adults were more likely than older adults to be supportive – 35% of those under age 30 would support secession in their state, compared to just 17% of those over age 65. Among African Americans, 33% said they would support secession, compared to just 15% of white adults. The more education a respondent had, the less likely they were to support secession – as 38% of those with less than a high school diploma would support it, compared to just 10% of those with a college degree.
To gauge the extent to which support for secession comes from a sense that the nation’s current system is not working, a separate question was asked about agreement that "the United States’ system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections." Nearly half of respondents agreed with this statement, with 27% who somewhat agree and 18% who strongly agree. [Emphasis mine]
The telephone poll, conducted by Zogby International, included 1,209 American adult respondents. It was conducted July 9-13, 2008, and carries a margin of error of +/- 2.9 per cent.
(CCU Faculty) 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. It is fitting that we recognize this anniversary, as Lincoln’s election marked a huge turning point in our nation’s history. I will accordingly offer a series of posts drawing our attention to the milestones of 1860.Throughout much of that year, Lincoln traveled to several states to deliver many important speeches. He focused considerable attention on the issue of slavery and, while doing so, forced his audiences to consider what the United States was about. In nearly every speech, Lincoln returned to our founding document: the Declaration of Independence. In fact, in his Peoria Speech of 1854, he referred to the Declaration as the “sheet anchor” of America. Lincoln’s continuous return to the Declaration was due to the fact the he believed that it, more than anything else, defined the nature and purpose of the Union.Just at this point in that fateful year, on February 27, having traveled from his home in Illinois to the northeast, Abraham Lincoln gave the first of his major election year speeches at the Cooper Union in New York City. In this speech, Lincoln painstakingly describes the thoughts of the authors of our Constitution concerning slavery. This was significant, as southerners were increasingly manipulating the thoughts and words of the Founders, arguing that they viewed chattel slavery as a good institution and that the founders did not believe that African slaves were fully human, entitled to equal rights.In the Dred Scott Opinion, Chief Justice Taney had wrongly argued that the Founding Fathers never intended for blacks to enjoy equal rights in America. Likewise, Senator Stephen Douglas had argued in a published article that the Founders had been opposed to the Congress having power to regulate slavery in the territories. Douglas was a proponent of allowing the voters within each territory to determine whether to be a free state or a slave state. This position violated the long-standing rules passed by the Congress in 1820, whereby in the territory adopted from the Louisiana Purchase, Congress had limited where slavery could and could not be implemented.In preparation for this speech, Lincoln devoted hours of research time in order to determine what exactly the authors of the Constitution believed concerning slavery, and whether or not it could exist for long in light of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon noted that Lincoln spent considerable effort studying the founders, writing: "No former effort in the line of speech-making had cost Lincoln so much time and thought as this one." The Speech is divided into three parts. In part one, Lincoln systematically goes through the 39 delegates who had signed on to the Constitution at the Convention of 1787. In this, Lincoln proves decisively that of these delegates, an overwhelming majority were either opposed to the spread of slavery or were silent on the matter. There was little to no evidence that the signers of the Constitution found it outside of the purview of the Congress to regulate the spread of slavery in the territories. As an example, Lincoln cites the fact that 76 members of the First Congress (including 16 of the 39) framed the first ten Amendments at the very same time that they were passing the Ordinance that enforced the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory.The second part of his speech deals with the problem of slave rebellions and the south’s claim that such rebellions were caused by the Republican Party. Lincoln denies this, stating that there was no evidence that any Republicans had supported slave revolts. Nonetheless, Lincoln continues to stress the moral wrongness of slavery. Quoting Jefferson, Lincoln states: “It is still in our power to direct emancipation, and deportation, peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as the evil will wear off insensibly; and their places be, pari passu, filled up by free white laborers. If, on the contrary, it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up."The final part of the Cooper Union Speech turns to the evolving attitude of the southerners. Lincoln believed that the south was no longer merely interested in keeping slavery legal in the south. Rather, with the Kansas Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Opinion as their support, southerners were increasingly motivated to have slavery spread to states and territories where it had been previously forbidden. Linked to this expansion was the southern belief that slavery was actually a good institution and the proper place for people of African descent. For this reason, Lincoln concluded that nothing would satisfy the southerners save finding slavery to be good, and as such, allowing for it to spread. “So, what will satisfy them? We must stop calling slavery wrong. We must call it right. We cannot be silent. We must be with them. We must support Senator Douglas's sedition act, it must be enacted and enforced. We must suppress all declarations that slavery is wrong. We must pull down the Free State Constitutions. Yes, to outlaw slavery is to say it is wrong, so we must allow slavery. We must remove all taint of opposition to slavery. This, and this alone, will satisfy them.”Lincoln concludes with this challenge and admonition to his fellow Republicans: “So, Republicans, I say: Do not give in! Do not compromise! Do not seek some middle ground between right and wrong. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”Many modern historians have attempted to frame the election of 1860 into a battle over “states rights”, “property” and “economic differences.” It cannot be more clear that the victor in 1860 knew full well that while each of these concepts is certainly relevant to the election, slavery was the central issue. For Lincoln, the future of the Union would be determined by the outcome on this issue. His clarity of purpose and determination to end what is morally wrong define the election of 1860.