In his book A Constitutional View of the War Between the States, former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens methodically explained how slavery was the “incident” or “occasion” of secession and the War Between the States, but the true and ultimate cause of the war was the doctrine of state sovereignty. The Union fought for a consolidated nation-state and a sovereign federal government. The Confederacy fought for a voluntary union of sovereign states.
Little Aleck was telling the truth. He was a Unionist who had opposed and voted against secession at the Georgia Convention. Like Robert E. Lee in Virginia though, Alexander Stephens believed in the right of secession and understood the Union to be a voluntary compact of sovereign states. In a fight, there was no question that he owned his allegiance to Georgia, not to Washington, DC.
“All this manner of treatment of the subject is radically defective. It utterly ignores the true causes of the war, on alone which its Rightfulness depends. Slavery, so called, or that legal subordination of the black race to the white, which existed in all but one of the States, when the Union was formed, and in fifteen of them when the war began, was unquestionably the occasion of the war, the main exciting proximate cause on both sides, on the one as well as the other, but it was not the real cause, the “Causa causans” of it. That was the assumption on the part of the Federal authorities, that the people of the several States were, as you say, citizens of the United States, and owed allegiance to the Federal Government, as the absolute Sovereign power over the whole country, consolidated into one Nation. The war sprung from the very idea you have expressed, and from the doctrine embraced in the question propounded to me. It grew out of different and directly opposite views as to the nature of the Government of the United States, and where, under our system, ultimate Sovereign power or Paramount authority properly resides.
“Considerations connected with the legal status of the Black race in the Southern States, and the position of several of the Northern States toward it, together with the known sentiments and principles of those just elected to the two highest offices of the Federal Government (Messrs. Lincoln and Hamlin), as to the powers of that Government over this subject, and others which threatened, as was supposed, all their vital interests, prompted the Southern States to withdraw from the Union, for the very reason that had induced them at first to enter into it: that is, for their own better protection and security. Those who had the control of the Administration of the Federal Government, denied this right to withdraw or secede. The war was inaugurated and was waged by those at the head of the Federal Government, against these States, or the people of these States, to prevent their withdrawal from the Union. On the part of these States, which had allied themselves in a common cause, it was maintained and carried on purely in defense of this great Right, claimed by them, of State Sovereignty and Self-government, which they with their associates had achieved in their common struggle with Great Britain, under the Declaration of 1776, and which, in their judgement, lay at the foundation of the whole structure of American free institutions.”
It’s a question worth revisiting in our own times.
Who are you loyal to at the end of the day? Do you feel closer to your state or the federal government? Are you loyal to your family, kin and neighbors or Washington, DC and the US Empire? Do you even know your neighbors these days? Do you even have deep roots in your area?