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A Southern View of History:  The War for Southern Independence


In Part One we briefly examine some of the principles and thoughts of government as colonies evolved into states and states joined for the common good to over through a tyrannical English   The history behind the war for independence in the 1700’s will set the stage for the secession of Southern states in the 1860’s. The independent nature of the people and the individual states could be seen early in the history of the United States.

Objective: Identify the need for the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution along with the early formation of a state sovereignty concept.

  1. Breaking Away from Great Britain, A Declaration of Independence:

image001  Following the end of the French and Indian Wars, Great Britain became the most powerful nation in the world.  The colonies in the Americas were proud of the British accomplishments and did their fair share to contribute to the success of the English domination.  Laws restricting American trade and commerce gave the colonists growing dissatisfaction with their role in the British Empire.  Laws that were considered unjust, particular taxing laws, caused great dissention. The imposition of taxes and other restrictive laws eventually resulted in the colonists revolting against their once beloved homeland.  At first it was a battle to secure the full rights as British citizens, but later it turned into a fight for independence from Great Britain. Each colony within the Americas raised its own militia and regulated operations within its borders independent of the others states.


image002In September 1774, an assembly or Congress of the “ablest and wealthiest men in America” met in Philadelphia. There were representatives from all the colonies, except Georgia, at the Congress. It voted that the British Parliament had no right to raise taxes in the colonies and that the colonies should neither pay taxes, nor trade with Britain, until the British government had given in.  This was the First Continental Congress formed in opposition to the Intolerable Acts.

The colonies that had risen up against Britain were by no means united in their opposition to the mother country. Some colonies were hostile to neighboring colonies. About half the colonialists remained loyal to Britain. It was obvious that, if they were to succeed in the coming struggle, some kind of union would be necessary.

image003A Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in May 1775 to address this issue.  This congress passed the Declaration ofIndependence in 1776. Congress felt it would give the independent colonies a common cause to fight and could attract help from European countries. Throughout June 1776, Thomas Jefferson, chairman of the Declaration committee, shut himself up in a room above a carpenter’s shop in Philadelphia to draft this Declaration. Many of the ideas were inspired by Locke’s “Treatises on Government” – that all men are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights, those of life, liberty and the “pursuit of happiness”, and that a government’s job is to protect these rights and, if it fails to protect them, it should be replaced. The key expression of the Declaration is “government by the consent of the governed”. This, and the other ideas contained in the Declaration, would inspire numerous similar declarations in other countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


image004The Congress also claimed the authority over all the colonies in order to establish the American Continental Army.  The Virginian landowner and militia colonel, George Washington, who had fought the French in the Seven Years’ War, was placed in command.





  1. The Articles of Confederation

On the advice of Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, a plan of union was needed. On June 11, 1776, a committee was appointed by the Continental Congress to prepare a form of government amongst the 13 independent states in the New World. This plan was to be the Articles of Confederation. The new republic was not a consolidated government, but a confederacy of thirteen independent states. “Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” (Article II, Articles of Confederation)


image010The committee reported on July 12, of the same year, but no plan was agreed upon until November 2, 1777. The delay was due to the fact that each state was afraid that some of its rights might be encroached upon, so, finally, it was decided that each state was to have only one vote in Congress. They next argued over the question of revenue, and it was decided that revenue should be raised by requisition on the states. The question of the public lands also prevented some colonies from giving hearty support of the plan. Marylanders would not ratify the Articles of Confederation, even after they were adopted.  This becauseVirginia and other states, including New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, refused to give up their claims to disputed land west of the Ohio river.  Finally, the states agreed to surrender their territory to the United States, then Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation and they went into force, March 2, 1781 ending a debate that had taken nearly five years.

It was the Thirteen Colonies who had won their independence from Britain, but certainly not a united, single country. After 1783, there remained little to bind the Thirteen Colonies together. The England had been defeated in war and each colony went its own way again.  The Continental army was neglected and each individual colony, now called a state, started minting its own money, making its own laws and imposing import duties on goods from other states. Some states were even preparing to raise their own army and navy and to sign treaties with European countries. One state, Rhode Island, printed lots of paper money and allowed its’ merchants to settle debts in other states with this worthless currency. The possibility of war between the newly independent states was a growing concern. There was little confidence in commerce between the states.

A call was made to hold a general convention of the states to revise the Articles of Confederation.  In September 1786 an attempt was made to regulate trade among all the states through revision.  Representatives from only five states met in Annapolis, Maryland. There were too few states in attendance to accomplish anything other that they concluded that another convention should meet in Philadelphia, to provide “a Federal Government adequate to the necessities of the Union.”  Each state would then send representatives to Philadelphia in May 1787, to draft a Constitution.


  1. The Constitution image008

In 1787 delegates from 12 of the existing 13 states met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for “the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” Rhode Island declined to attend. Patrick Henry, an ardent champion of state sovereignty, suspected that the convention planned to establish a strong central government at the expense of state power. Although named a delegate, he stayed away because, as he put it, he “smelt a rat.”

Samuel Adams, who also declined to attend the convention, shared Henry’s suspicions. The convention met behind closed doors. The doors were locked and the members pledged themselves to secrecy. This pledge was faithfully kept for fifty years.


After James Madison’s death, his journal was published, and the particulars, as to parties and debates in the convention became known to the world. Some members advocated three republics; others one, with three presidents. Several issues arose in the convention that required compromise. Equal and fair representation by each state in the union was settled by creating a Senate, where each state had equal representation, and a House of Representatives, where each state was represented according to its population.

Another compromise involved the counting of Negroes in determining representation. Northern states felt that Negroes should not be counted, as the Southern states had many more Negroes than did Northern states. Southern states felt the Negro population should be counted. The issue was settled by counting five Negroes as equal to three white men when determining representation.


image014In a third compromise the abolition of the slave-trade was introduced. South Carolina opposed immediate abolition. New England ship-owners made great profits by the trade. The New England states, South Carolina and Georgia voted that Congress should be powerless to stop the trade before 1808, extending the slave trade for twenty more years.

Important to all states was the issue of states rights, which brought about the tenth amendment which states:

“the powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, or to the people.” 

This was brought about after Massachusetts demanded “that it be explicitly declared, that all powers not delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several states, to be by them exercised.”

Each state firmly believed, that because they had freely entered into the Constitution they could withdraw from it as they saw necessary. Each state was to remain a separate entity and retain their individual sovereignty. Virginia, and New York, in their ratification of the Constitution, stated that they the reserved the right to secede from the union whenever the National Government used its powers to the oppression and injury of the people.

Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey ratified the Constitution in 1787. The following year Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia and New York ratified the Constitution. It was not until 1789 that North Carolina ratified the Constitution. Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution in 1790. Prior to the ratification by all states there was no complete Union. The Union was

created by the states, with the consent of each individual state and it only took nine states to validate the document.

The Articles of Confederation in the preamble and in Article XIII refer to “a perpetual union”,

“And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union. Know Ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained: And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said Confederation are submitted to them. And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual.”  (Article XIII, Articles of Confederation)

but each state chose to seceded  from the Articles, dissolving that bond by document, to seek a new union from whichever states might ratify a new constitution.  The term “perpetual union” was not incorporated into the United States Constitution, perhaps due to the poor performance and cooperation of states under the Articles of Confederation. The independent nature of the citizens and the states was already quite evident.

It is important to realize that the formation of the United States, under the Constitution, did not create a new nation or nationality that would supersede existing statehoods. The people still remained citizens of the state in which they lived. The “U.S. Citizen” did not exist. The Constitution of 1787 was a compact between sovereign states and was not perpetual nor national.

Daniel Webster, a noted orator, Senator from Massachusetts and three time Presidential candidate was quoted in numerous speeches that all “states are nations”, and “The contest, for ages, has been to rescue liberty from the grasp of executive power.”  Many of Webster’s earlier quotes can be seen reinforcement of states rights and would be condemning of a Federal Army the invading sovereign states.  For specific examples, Webster said in 1814:

“It is the true policy of government to suffer the different pursuits of society to take their own course, and not to give excessive bounty or encouragement to one over another. This also is the true spirit of the Constitution. It has not, in my opinion, conferred on the government the power of changing the occupation of the people of different states and sections and of forcing them into other employments.”  and

“Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it?”  (Rep. Daniel Webster, Remarks to the House, Dec. 9, 1814, _Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster, Vol. 14, p. 61, published 1903 and Respectfully Quoted: a Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 1989)

“I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe … Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. – – – From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing. Make them intelligent, and they will be vigilant; give them the means of detecting the wrong, and they will apply the remedy.” (Daniel Webster, June 1, 1837; Works 1:403)

“If the states were not left to leave the Union when their rights were interfered with, the government would have been National, but the (Constitutional) Convention refused to baptize it by the name …. If the Union was formed by the accession of States then the Union may be dissolved by the secession of States.” (Daniel Webster, U.S. Senate, Feb. 15, 1833)

“The Union is a Union of States founded upon Compact. How is it to be supposed that when different parties enter into a compact for certain purposes either can disregard one provision of it and expect others to observe the rest? If the Northern States willfully and deliberately refuse to carry out their part of the Constitution, the South would be no longer bound to keep the compact. A bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides.” (Daniel Webster, Capon Springs Speech, 1851)

Samuel Adams, a founding father also with New England roots has been quoted as saying:

“Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press,  or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; or to raise standing armies, unless necessary for the defense of the United States, or of some one or more of them; or to prevent the people from petitioning, in a peaceable and orderly manner, the federal legislature, for a redress of grievances; or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers or possessions. 

“The first proposition is, ‘that it be explicitly declared, that all powers not expressly delegated to Congress are reserved to the several States, to be by them exercised.’ This appears, to my mind, to be a summary of a bill of rights, which gentlemen are anxious to obtain. It removes a doubt which many have entertained respecting the matter, and gives assurance that, if any law made by the Federal Government shall be extended beyond the power granted by the proposed Constitution and inconsistent with the Constitution of this State, it will be an error, and adjudged by the courts of law to be void. It is consonant with the second article in the present Confederation, that each state retains its Sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not; by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled. I have long considered the watchfulness of the people over the conduct of their rulers the strongest guard against the encroachments of power; and I hope the people of this country will always be thus watchful.” (Elliot’s Debates, vol. ii, pp. 130, 131.)

 Finally a few quotes from delegates to the Constitutional Convention (Commentaries on the Constitution, Volt III, p 287):

The attributes of sovereignty are now enjoyed by every State in the Union”-Alexander Hamilton of New York

“The thirteen States are thirteen Sovereignties” James Wilson of Pennsylvania

“Each state enjoys sovereign power”-Gouverneur Morris of New York

“The Government made by a number of Sovereign States”-Roger Sherman of Connecticut

“The thirteen states are thirteen sovereign bodies”-Oliver Ellsworth-of Connecticut


References and Details: 

The Story of the Confederate States” by Joseph T. Derry, Part 1, Chapter 3.

The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates” by Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 1 and 2.

The South was Right” by James R. Kennedy & Walter D. Kennedy, Chapter 8.

The Story of the Confederate States” by Joseph T. Derry, Part 1, Chapter 3.

Truths of History” by Mildred Lewis Rutherford, Chapter 1.

The South Under Siege 1830-2000: A History of the Relations Between the North and the South” by Frank Conner, Chapter 3

Respectfully Quoted: a Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service,” Library of Congress


Part 1 Questions:

In short essay format give and support an opinion for at least two of these questions:

  1. What were some similarities between the American Revolutionary War and the War for Southern Independence?
  2. Were the Articles of Confederation a success for failure?
  3. Why was a Constitutional Convention called?
  4. Explain the different functions and results of the Continental Congresses.
  5. Pick one fact that you learned from Part I and explain its significance in your understanding of American history.

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