A Lonely Opposition
by Brion McClanahan
by Brion McClanahan: A
On 20 March
1861, United States Senator James A. Bayard of Delaware began a
three day speech on the prospects of war and the legality of secession.
He began by offering a resolution in the hope of avoiding what he
predicted would be a long, bloody conflict. It read:
by the Senate of the United States, That the President, with
the advice and consent of the Senate, has full power and authority
to accept the declaration of the seceding States that they constitute
hereafter an alien people, and to negotiate and conclude a treaty
with "the Confederate States of America" acknowledging
their independence as a separate nation; and that humanity and
the principle avowed in the Declaration of Independence that the
only just hosts of government is "the consent of the governed,"
alike require that the otherwise inevitable alternative of civil
war, with all its evils and devastation, should be thus avoided.
15, is Bayard’s birthday. His is one of the most important but forgotten
United States Senators in American history. There are no monuments
to his honor, no buildings named after him, and outside of Delaware
hardly anyone has heard his name, but he was one of the few men
in the Congress with the resolve to resist the headlong rush to
war the Lincoln administration and the Republican Party foisted
on the American people, North and South. He privately called Lincoln
an "ordinary Western man" that had no concept about American
government. Bayard was a rock, a crusader waging what seemed to
be, at times, a one-man defense of the Constitution and the Union
of the Founders. He was threatened by mob violence, his mail was
searched and was later confiscated, he was denounced in the press
as a traitor, was hung in effigy in Philadelphia, and later resigned
from the Senate rather than continue among the "reptiles"
in Congress as he called them. Such a man deserves our attention.
questioned the motivation behind the war against the South and wondered
aloud how people could defend such a cause. "Could there be
a more revolting proposition than that the individual man, who is
domiciled in the State, and residing there, shall be held in the
position that he is guilty of treason against the State if he does
not side with her, and of treason against the General Government
if he does?" He contended "humanity alone" must side
with the "law of domicile" in such a situation. When his
son-in-law joined the Union army in 1861, Bayard warned, "In
embarking on this war therefore, you enlist in a war for invasion
of another people. If successful it will devastate if not exterminate
the Southern people and this is miscalled Union. If unsuccessful
then peaceful separation must be the result after myriads of lives
have been sacrificed, thousands of homes made desolate, and property
depreciated to an incalculable extent. Why in the name of humanity
can we not let those States go?"
In a July 1861
speech entitled "Executive Usurpation," Bayard roasted
the Lincoln administration and lamented the loss of liberty. The
Constitution "which we had supposed gave us, as citizens of
a free country, free institutions, in contradiction to the absolutism
which reigned in France" was being subverted by an administration
that smacked of Louis XIV, Oliver Cromwell, or Napoleon Bonaparte.
Personal liberty was the cost of centralization. "If [you cherish]
the principle of civil liberty, [you] cannot sustain this action
of the President [suspension of habeas corpus] which violates
the laws of the land, and abolishes all security for personal liberty
to every citizen throughout…the loyal States….power always tends
to corruption, and especially when concentrated in a single person."
reserved his harshest statements for the Republican leaders in Congress.
He wrote in late 1861 that, "Their intent is the devastation
and obliteration of the Southern people as the means of retaining
power, and yet I doubt in the history of the world has ever, with
the exception of the French reign of terror, shown so imbecile,
so corrupt, so vindictive rulers over any people as those with which
this country is now cursed." He voted against appropriating
money for the war effort, was dismayed by the reckless government
spending – "God help the tax-payers if the money can be borrowed"
– urged his son to buy gold when the National Bank Acts passed,
thundered against their attempts to expel members of Congress for
their opposition to the War, denounced troops at the polls, the
military occupation of Delaware, and the arrest of dozens of Delawareans
for suspected disloyalty, and believed that the "more moderate"
Republicans were being "governed by the violent and ignorant."
He wrote, "If the people of the U.S. were not more practical
and informed than the element the French Jacobins dealt with I believe
we should have the atrocities of the ‘Mountain’ renewed. Fear alone
sustains them." In 1862 he wrote, "State necessity has
always been pleaded for the suppression of liberty."
of course, make Bayard relevant. Tomorrow, thousands of Americans
will flock to see Stephen Spielberg’s new film about "Honest
Abe," and will doubtless leave feeling a surge in admiration
for the "Great Emancipator." Assuredly, Bayard’s description
of events will not make the film. At the same time all fifty States
and over 675,000 people and counting have petitioned the White House
to accept the peaceful separation of their State from the Union.
Barack Obama has compared his administration to Lincoln’s. Perhaps
the two have more in common than he realizes.
dishonest, Hamiltonian, dictator, and Obama, the Marxist, Keynesian,
emperor, both have shredded the Constitution and both have faced
a decision on how to handle open defiance of their administration.
Obama’s will mirror Lincoln’s, at least in regard to the legality
of secession. Secession, he will say, is illegal, unconstitutional,
treasonous, and unpatriotic. And why not, he has so-called conservative
support. Bayard said in 1861 that "I believe the great
value of the American Union…is the preservation of liberty – by
which I mean a Government of laws, securing the right of free speech,
securing the freedom of thought, and securing the free and ample
discussion of any question." The American people may not be
ready for secession and are going about it the wrong way, but let’s
hope there is a James Bayard in the current crop of United States
Senators, someone with the manly resolve to contest the flimsy arguments
that will certainly be used against the American principles of independence
and self-determination. I don’t have much optimism.
[send him mail] holds
a Ph.D. in American history from the University of South Carolina
and is a faculty member at Tom
Woods's Liberty Classroom. He is the author or co-author
of four books: The
Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes (Regnery,
Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History,
Conservatives in American History (with Clyde Wilson, Pelican,
2012); and The
Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery,
2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part
is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.