Sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home

Saturday, May 21st, 2022

In 1866, long before he famously stated that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Action, an English Catholic, wrote to Robert E. Lee, the former Confederate General:

Without presuming to decide the purely legal question, on which it seems evident to me from Madison’s and Hamilton’s papers that the Fathers of the Constitution were not agreed, I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.

Lee’s response includes his own defense of States’ Rights:

I am conscious the compliment conveyed in your request for my opinion as to the light in which American politics should be viewed, and had I the ability, I have not the time to enter upon a discussion, which was commenced by the founders of the constitution and has been continued to the present day. I can only say that while I have considered the preservation of the constitutional power of the General Government to be the foundation of our peace and safety at home and abroad, I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. I need not refer one so well acquainted as you are with American history, to the State papers of Washington and Jefferson, the representatives of the federal and democratic parties, denouncing consolidation and centralization of power, as tending to the subversion of State Governments, and to despotism.

The New England states, whose citizens are the fiercest opponents of the Southern states, did not always avow the opinions they now advocate. Upon the purchase of Louisiana by Mr. Jefferson, they virtually asserted the right of secession through their prominent men; and in the convention which assembled at Hartford in 1814, they threatened the disruption of the Union unless the war should be discontinued. The assertion of this right has been repeatedly made by their politicians when their party was weak, and Massachusetts, the leading state in hostility to the South, declares in the preamble to her constitution, that the people of that commonwealth “have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free sovereign and independent state, and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, or may hereafter be by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in congress assembled.”

Such has been in substance the language of other State governments, and such the doctrine advocated by the leading men of the country for the last seventy years. Judge Chase, the present Chief Justice of the U.S., as late as 1850, is reported to have stated in the Senate, of which he was a member, that he “knew of no remedy in case of the refusal of a state to perform its stipulations,” thereby acknowledging the sovereignty and independence of state action. But I will not weary you with this unprofitable discussion.


  1. Bruce says:

    Lighthorse Harry Lee, Mars Robert’s father, died after years of fear and pain from torture inflicted by a pro-1812 war right-wing Southern mob in Baltimore. Lee was obviously a strong Confederate, but as a Virginian he had a strong family loyalty, and when right-wing Southerners died in, say, Pickett’s charge, well, okay. No doubt he felt a professional regret that troops under his command died.

  2. Chevalier de Johnstone says:


    Not everyone is an immoral deracinated disloyal Yankee scumbag like you. Some men can overlook their mistreatment by individuals and retain feelings of love and loyalty to their fellow men and their native institutions. Obviously, you wouldn’t know anything about how to be a man of moral virtue and character.

  3. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    “whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home”

    A fact which, at the same time, was incidentally true, while also that those who oppose it were impotent against those who seek it.

    The problem of bad power is not solved by attacking power itself. Telling good men that power is bad is simply another way of guaranteeing that only bad men claim power. An enduring character of almost every modern heresy is this, which is, fear of power — in so many different ways, places, and contexts.

  4. Adar says:

    Secession of itself is not such a bad thing, if done by negotiations in an amicably agreed upon manner with a framework for secession amicably agreed upon. In the case of the American Civil War, this was not the case.

  5. bruce says:

    Chevalier, I would not have told Lee that avenging his father made him a Yankee.

  6. Jim says:

    bruce: “Chevalier, I would not have told Lee that avenging his father made him a Yankee.”

    Ice. Fucking. Cold.

  7. VXXC says:

    The question begged: will centralization work? History’s answer is NO.

    All of History’s answers to governance in North America were Federations. The Iroquois Confederacy, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Republic, the Confederacy.

    Until now and not even successfully yet no one tried to have a central government, we are in fact witnessing a power struggle of centralization in DC, with the elites, with the Democratic Party as the standard bearer of Centralization but in actually centralizing power they are defeated by their own organic structure and New Deal compromises of Humphrey’s Executors, the APA, the Civil Service protections, the Federal Register….the party of the state is not even centralized at the National Level itself. Our government does not govern itself and it’s many individual and group, department selfish interests protected by laws, courts, statutes, rulings, public sector unions protect those many fragmented interests.

    We aren’t even getting into mutual regulatory capture of the various ‘governing’ departments such as Finance with the Treasury, Hollywood and the FCC…

    So while formal Federalism at the level of our Union has mostly failed it’s replaced by the ungoverned and unchecked free-for-all morass above. ^^

    It’s almost as if being Federated or hopelessly fragmented is our very nature and to attempt to defy it is denying our own gravitational bonds or our intrinsic core natures.

    We are a Federation whether we like it or not.

  8. VXXC says:

    Most revolutions end up being a version of the government and elites they replaced, with different titles and most importantly different people.

    The New Deal Revolution was and is no different in this respect — except — where we had before a Constitutional Federation that was formalized, legal, legitimate and open we now have informal, unconstitutional and so illegal, illegitimate except by obscure rulings and statutes and largely hidden in a hall of mirrors and clouds of smoke free-for-all oligarchy that constantly forms and dissolves shifting alliances and interests — American feudalism has replaced the Constitutional American Federation.

    However feudalism to the extent it holds together is a form of federation. Congratulations New Dealers: it worked. Well, it works for them, but there’s not enough, and soon nothing for the rest of us, which was always the problem with feudalism.

  9. VXXC says:

    Separation: Geography is merciless.

    Ask the Irish, the Balkans, The Middle East.

    American Geography mandates Ocean to Ocean, there will be only one. No competent government, people or faction will settle for anything less.

    There will be no separation ultimately, however if you need to or like to you can grab a piece. We have to start somewhere and live somewhere eh?

    If you entertain any delusions that separation is but to establish a base of operations for the wars of reunification you are utterly delusional and a coward, no doubt you went to an Ivy League school.

    The case for the Union was always Geography and it’s utterly non-negotiable. The case for separatism of course has always been selfish and proprietary interests, short sighted and hiding from reality until it marches in the door – this description by the way fits the Confederate government. The Confederacy’s soldiers and Generals were brave and often brilliant but the Confederate leadership at no time supported them but half heartedly. Lee was a butler, almost a slave himself to Jefferson Davis, Hunt kept back 100,000 men he never used, the entire Confederacy never gelled or centralized enough to become a government. There was for instance no unity of command until January 1865 when Lee is already trapped in Petersburg and Sherman is gutting the South- only then is Lee given total command by the coward J. Davis – the equivalent of Von Paulus being made a Field Marshall in Stalingrad in the hope’s he’d shoot himself and absolve Hitler and the rest.

    There will be one nation Atlantic to Pacific but if you must grab a piece but understand you must grab it all to win. Geography does not negotiate.

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