Thursday, July 6, 2017

Traitors or victims?

Commenting on Walter E. Williams’s “Were Confederate Generals Traitors?,” June 28, 2017,

Williams chose a controversial question: “Did the South have a right to secede from the Union?” I think it’s as erroneous a question as “Why does anything exist instead of nothing?” A reasonable response to the treason question is: If the South had won, they would have established the right to secede. Perhaps the South was the victim of 1500 years of erroneous religious belief.

Williams answers that King George III would have held George Washington to be a traitor against England, and similarly might hold R. E. Lee a traitor to the USA, since both fought for independence.

However, Williams poses a false comparison. England was an empire that was unjustly ruling a colony---enslaving the loyal colonists to benefit loyal subjects in England---whereas the states were in a perpetual confederation. Williams overlooks this document of perpetual commitment by the colonies turned states:

Agreed to by Congress 15 November 1777

Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.

A critical phrase is “perpetual Union,” which would be denied by slave states in 1860. The USA did not accept their opinion.

Williams, as is typical of Western propriety, overlooks the ancient evil done by the Catholic Church, which led to the US slavery problem to start with. The evil of African slaves, that continental commodity, has always been known:  chains, whips, brutality and rape to black slaves with physical burdens to masters and psychological burdens to owners. The Church is without excuse for including books that condone slavery. In the 300 AD to 400 AD, the Church canonized the Christian Bible. The Church is also without excuse for assigning Portugal a monopoly on African slave trade in the east and Spain in the west and for the doctrine of discovery in the 15th century. I’ll return to religion later.

The colonists objected to the African slave trade during their decision to become statesmen. From 1720 to 1765, colonists accumulated the courage to confront England’s injustices, also debating how they would emancipate the slaves once they gained states’ independence. The statesmen found themselves in charge of persons displaced from their homelands and knew not how to either return them or accommodate them as free citizens in this land. As thirteen independent states, they soon realized they must establish a nation. They negotiated an organization with federalism: The people would govern their states and a limited nation would serve the people in their states. The draft constitution represented a drastic change from a confederation serving the states to a nation serving the people in their states.

The signers of the draft constitution provided for the end of slave trade and for representation of slaves in Congress but did not emancipate the slaves---left that justice for a viable future, perhaps yet to be attained even in 2017. When nine states ratified the draft constitution on June 21, 1788, the four lagging states had to decide whether to remain independent yet confederated or join the USA. The laggards included Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island, the later two joining many months after the 1st Congress was seated. Their ratification debates become moot as to effects on the USA, except insofar as the nine states had agreed to include a bill of rights to be negotiated by the 1st Congress. The 1st Congress neither proposed nor effected revision of the preamble.

The preamble does not break the commitment in perpetuity on which the thirteen states declared and won independence from England. The perpetual Union remained, but responsibility had been transferred from the states to the people in their states. So far, after 229 years, the people have neglected that responsibility. Many descendants of the slaves and other blacks dismiss the preamble. Some citizens look to government as surrogate to personal responsibility and some depend on their personal God, neither of which has proven reliable, as demonstrated by the Civil War, as explained below. Yet there are some citizens who willingly trust in the purpose and goals stated in the preamble: They look to other willing people for civic justice.

Returning to religion’s role in the injustices, America, so far, seems a willing victim of the canonization of the Bible, the Atlantic Slave trade, and the doctrine of discovery. It is difficult to separate the historical facts from the outcome: they are related. However, if most people adopt the preamble to the constitution for the USA they may establish public integrity for discovering civic morality. The outcome of a troubled history can be favorable, and the past may be put aside. Under that possibility, religious doctrine that conforms to civic morality may flourish. It does the people no harm if someone believes they must save their soul, as long as they do not ruin other people’s lives in the pursuit of salvation.

Rather than candidly rely on the-objective-truth, at each major step, all but two authors, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, appealed to divinity---however the authors chose to refer to whatever divinity may be. They started vaguely, in the Declarations of the first Congress, 1774:

That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS . . .

Then with specific divinity in the Declaration of Independence, 1776:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and 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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

In the Articles of Confederation, 1777:

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.

Breaking the tradition, George Washington, in June 1783, chose not to impose a divinity into civic morality. This quote seems a forecast of the subject of the preamble, We the People of the United States:

There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power:  An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head; A Sacred regard to Public Justice; The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment; and The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.

It disturbed dissidents during 1787 through 1791 that the preamble did not invoke divinity, and some dissidents to this day strive to add divine invocation to the preamble. The preamble states the purpose “to form a more perfect Union,” which does not signal terminating the perpetuity.

The South Carolina Declaration of Secession, 1860, invokes religion as a concluding concern:

. . . the non-slaveholding States . .  have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery. Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.

President Lincoln, on March 4, 1861, responded to the threat of war, returning to Washington and the preamble’s dependence on the people:

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

This last item in the catalog of possible appeals to divinity is Lincoln’s explicit claim that God, mysterious as God may be, leaves the consequence of war to the people. Civil War, like any other war, is determined by military might.

The confederate states, at that time 7 CSA states against 27 USA states, believed God would answer their prayers rather that the USA’s prayers. Having accused the North of “more erroneous religious belief,” they embarked on a war that shows that their interpretation of the Christian Bible cannot be trusted. I count them victims of the Catholic Church and personal rejection of reason more than traitors.

However, I don’t want apology or reform from the Catholic Church beyond, in the USA, the Church adopting the preamble more than church doctrine. To serve We the People of the United States, all religions must conform to civic morality.

I want most of the people in their states to adopt the preamble as a tool for establishing public integrity in the USA. After 229 years, the USA is still in the drastic change from a confederation serving the states to a nation serving the people in their states: the people may accept that responsibility by collaborating for comprehensive safety and security. The meaning of “comprehensive” in that phrase may be discovered in the-objective-truth.

Copyright©2017 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as this complete copyright notice is included.