Censoring the “S” Word

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“It is a very significant fact that the adversaries of the trend toward more government control describe their opposition as a fight against Washington and against Berne, i.e., against centralization.  It is conceived as a contest of states’ rights versus the central power.”

“I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy.”

  • Letter from Lord Acton to General Robert E.Lee, Nov. 4, 1866

Do Silicon Valley entrepreneurs want to bring back slavery, perhaps using the newly enslaved to assemble computers and other electronics?  One Anand Giridharadas, writing in the October 28 New York Times, would have you think so.  His opening sentences are:  “First the slave South, now this.  Is Silicon trying to secede from America?

Giridharadas is apparently horrified that a Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Balaji Srinivasan gave a speech at Stanford University recently in which he advocated “seceding from [American] society” and its looting and over-bloated welfare/warfare state.

As is typical of all statists, inside and outside of government, whenever the “S” word is mentioned Giridharadas, like all the rest, attempts to effectively censor all discussion of secession by insinuating that taking the idea seriously reveals that one must secretly condone slavery.  Or at least be an apologist for the Confederacy, an institution that has been demonized by the American state like no other for the past 160 years.  (The same American state that condoned and enforced slavery with Fugitive Slave Clauses and Acts from the end of the Revolutionary War (1783) until 1866).

In addition to this silly censorship game, your typical worshipper of the centralized bureaucratic empire either lies about history or repeats nonsensical and incorrect slogans about it.  That’s what Giridharadas does when he writes “First the slave South, now this.”  Well, no, the “slave South” wasn’t the first to secede.  The American colonists seceded from the British Empire to create the confederacy known as the United States.  America was born of secession.  The Declaration of Independence was a declaration of secession in which the individual states are called “free and independent.”

The first Americans to plot secession after the Revolution were the New England Federalists, who hated Jefferson and his limited-government ideas; fiercely opposed the trade embargo that he imposed as president as an alternative to another war with England; and were especially opposed to the War of 1812.  New Englanders effectively seceded when their country was at war by not participating in the War of 1812.

Josiah Quincy was so upset over so many non-English immigrants that would be allowed into the country after the Louisiana Purchase that he declared that “the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved” and that “it will be the right of all . . . to prepare definitely for a separation . . .”  That is, for secession. (See Daniel Wait Howe, Political History of Secession, p. 135).  Then came a decade-long crusade for New England secession, led by Massachusetts Senaor Timothy Pickering, who also served as secretary of state and secretary of war under George Washington.  After denouncing Jefferson’s “depravity” in a letter to George Cabot, Pickering said that “the principles of our Revolution point to the remedy – a separation.”

The New Englanders discussed (and threatened) secession for an entire decade, culminating in the 1814 Hartford Secession Convention.  At that convention they decided to try to take over the national government rather than secede from it, but there were few voices who did not believe that individual states had a right to secede. It was widely understood that the “free and independent” states were sovereign, hence were free to participate or not participate in the union.   Indeed, as a condition of ratifying the Constitution New York, Rhode Island and Virginia issued proclamations to the effect that they reserved the right to withdraw from the union at some future date if it ever became destructive of their liberties.  Since all states (including all of those that came after the original thirteen) have equal rights under the Constitution, it was assumed that not just those three states had a right of secession, but all of them did.

Lincoln literally threatened “invasion” and “bloodshed” in any state that attempted to secede in his first inaugural address, sounding a more like a twentieth century communist dictator than an American founder.  In sharp conrast,  in his first inaugural address Thomas Jefferson stated that “if there be any among us who wish to dissolve the Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed, as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

In a January 29 1804 letter to Dr. Joseph Priestly, Jefferson wrote that “whether we remain in one confederacy or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.  Those of the western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the eastern . . . and did I now foresee a separation at some future day, yet I should feel the duty & the desire to promote the western interests as zealously as the eastern.”

When asked by John C. Breckenridge what he thought of the New England secession movement, Jefferson responded on August 12, 1803 by saying that if there were a “separation,” then “God bless them both, & keep them in the union if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.”

There was a powerful secession movement in the “middle states” (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware) in the 1850s, as documented by William C. Wright in his book, The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States.   All of this is why, on the eve of the War to Prevent Southern Independence, the great majority of Northern newspapers editorialized in favor of peaceful secession of the Southern states, as documented in Howard C. Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession.  In general, the right of a state to secede “was not disputed” in most Northern newspapers in 1860-61, writes Perkins.  Typical of these newspaper editorials was one in the Cincinnati Daily press on November 21, 1860:  “We believe that the right of any member of this Confederacy to dissolve its political relations with the others and assume an independent position is absolute – that, in other words, if South Carolina wants to go out of the Union, she has the right to do so, and no party or power may justly say her nay.”

On December 17, 1860 the New York Daily Tribune wrote that if tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then “we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861.”  The New York Journal of Commerce warned on January 12, 1861, that by opposing secession Northerners would be changing the very nature of their government “from a voluntary one, in which the people are sovereigns, to a despotism where one part of the people are slaves.”  This is not entirely correct, however; under a coerced union held together with the threat of Lincolnian “invasion” and “bloodshed,” all the people are slaves to the state, not just “one part” of them.

All hail Balaji Srinivasan and the Silicon Valley libertarian secessionists!

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