By Alan Keyes
The declaration was signed by 56 angry old white guys who had had enough of what the Cousins were doing to them. In seceding from the mother country, these patriots put their lives, fortunes and honor on the line.
Four score and five years later, 11 states invoked the same right “to dissolve the political bands” of the Union and form a new nation. After 620,000 had perished, the issue of a state’s right to secede was settled at Appomattox. If that right had existed, it no longer did.
I have no idea why Buchanan refers to the signers as “old.” The mean average age of the men who signed the Declaration was 44.5. The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin at 70 (though given his personality his colleagues, and the ladies at the Court of France, would probably have pegged it considerably lower). The youngest signers were Thomas Lynch Jr. and Edward Rutledge, at 26. Nearly two-thirds of the signers were in their 30’s or 40’s. Unless he accepts the silly notion that anyone over thirty is old (even less true today than when it was in vogue back in the 60’s), calling the signers “old men” leaves rather a false impression.
Not being a leftist, or one of the dubiously self-professed “conservatives” who regrets the outcome of the War between the States, I see no reason even subtly to denigrate the physical or mental acuity of the people who signed the Declaration. Yet I can’t agree with Buchanan that the right to secede was settled at Appomattox. Buchanan’s statement to that effect reflects the inadequate thinking that results when people use the word “right” as though it’s synonymous with “freedom.” Every right is a use of freedom; but not every use of freedom is a right. The distinction rests on whether the use of freedom satisfies or violates the standard that justifies the assertion of right.
People with sufficient power may successfully use it to enslave others. But given the self-evident truths set out in the Declaration of Independence, such use of their freedom violates the standard of right which impelled the people of the United States “to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” The Civil War was therefore not about the right to secede. It was about whether some of the States, frustrated in their efforts to compel the others to enforce and extend their wrongdoing, should be allowed violently to disrupt and attack the government justly ordained and established by the consent of the whole people of the United States, including their own.
President Lincoln clearly anticipated war. But he carefully refrained from authorizing any military initiative against the Confederacy until a facility of the Constitutional government came under violent attack. He then acted to suppress armed insurrection against the Constitutionally-established government of the United States. This was Constitutionally his duty as President of the United States.
Lincoln’s restraint demonstrated his understanding of the issue at stake in the Civil War. In light of that understanding, the outcome of the war did not decide the issue of a state’s right to secede, because the Confederate States were not exercising a right. They were engaged in wrongdoing. Their actions were wrong in principle (i.e., according to the Declaration’s principles of God-endowed justice); and in terms of the U.S. Constitution. The latter requires the President, by oath, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It nowhere requires or authorizes the States (or any of their officers) to use force to attack the Constitutionally-established government of the United States.
This does not mean that there is no right to secede. It means that secession involves an issue of right that cannot be decided under the U.S. Constitution……