Libertarianism.org published a piece by Jonathan Blanks back in February, and for whatever reason, it made its way around Facebook yesterday with several groups debating its contents. In the article Blanks challenges the argument made by some libertarians that Southern secession was justified on libertarian grounds. Now I’ll agree that defending Southern secession can become tricky for a libertarian given a) most people’s relative misunderstanding of the events leading up to and during the war; and b) the motives of Southern politicians regarding the institution of slavery.
However, Blanks’ overall argument – that states may not secede – is not compelling overall. Virtually his entire argument is couched on the issue of slavery, which works when discussing the War Between the States, but falls apart when applied to other cases.
Imagine slavery wasn’t an issue at all, and the people of Vermont decided to secede and become their own Socialist republic. Where is Blanks to go now regarding secession?
The second issue I have is that he invokes Article I, section 8 of the constitution in reference to the Feds using the military to put down insurrections. The problem with this argument is that secession and insurrection are two separate issues. In the first case one subset of a larger group wants to leave and become their own entity; in the second case one subset wants to gain control of the entire body.
This is why calling the War Between the States a “civil war” is a misnomer. The south never attempted to capture the US Capitol and take over the federal government. They merely said “we quit.” And, since the states created the federal union, the states can leave the federal union. A more accurate description of the war is “the war against southern independence,” or “the war of Northern aggression,” as Thomas DiLorenzo refers to them in his books The Real Lincoln and Lincoln Unmasked.
Finally, a note on slavery: had the south been permitted to secede, the institution of slavery would have immediately been under enormous pressure, since slaves could flee to the north and seek asylum. This would have driven the cost of slavery well above its productive limits, and with the mechanization of agriculture becoming more common, slavery would have ended peacefully, instead of 750,000 people being killed.
“The question of treason is distinct from that of slavery; and is the same that it would have been, if free States, instead of slave States, had seceded.
On the part of the North, the war was carried on, not to liberate slaves, but by a government that had always perverted and violated the Constitution, to keep the slaves in bondage; and was still willing to do so, if the slaveholders could be thereby induced to stay in the Union.
The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.
No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom. Yet it triumphed in the field, and is now assumed to be established. If it really be established, the number of slaves, instead of having been diminished by the war, has been greatly increased; for a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle — but only in degree — between political and chattel slavery. The former, no less than the latter, denies a man’s ownership of himself and the products of his labor; and [*iv] asserts that other men may own him, and dispose of him and his property, for their uses, and at their pleasure.
Previous to the war, there were some grounds for saying that — in theory, at least, if not in practice — our government was a free one; that it rested on consent. But nothing of that kind can be said now, if the principle on which the war was carried on by the North, is irrevocably established.
If that principle be not the principle of the Constitution, the fact should be known. If it be the principle of the Constitution, the Constitution itself should be at once overthrown.“
- Lysander Spooner, No Treason
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