Monday, November 20, 2006

The End of Conservatism

I received the text of the speech Joseph Sobran would have given to the Wisconsin Forum on September 28, 2006. The Forum rescinded the invitation when local blogger James Wigderson pointed out longstanding allegations that some of Mr. Sobran's writings have been anti-semitic.

The speech is mostly Sobran's view of the history and present condition of conservatism in America. In his historical analysis, Sobran shows his conservativism to be of the secessionist faction, exemplified by his views on Abraham Lincoln. Sobran asserts,
As far as I can tell, Lincoln was entirely ignorant of The Federalist Papers, as well as of the Articles of Confederation -- a point I'll return to.

When he does, he says,
After all, the whole point of the Declaration of Independence was that these "are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." Not, as Lincoln later said, a single "new nation," but (to quote [Willmoore] Kendall) "a baker's dozen of new sovereignties."

And the Articles of Confederation reinforced the point right at the beginning: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence." And at the end of the Revolutionary War, the British specifically recognized the sovereignty of all thirteen states! This is flatly contrary to Lincoln's claim that the states had never been sovereign.

But didn't the Constitution transfer sovereignty from the states to the Federal Government, outlawing secession? Not at all. The Constitution says nothing of the kind. And as [Jefferson] Davis wrote [in A Short History of the Confederate States of America (1889)], sovereignty cannot be surrendered by mere implication. In fact, several states ratified the Constitution on the express condition that they reserved the right to "resume" the powers they were "delegating" -- that is, secede. And if one state could secede, so could the others. A "state" was not a mere province or subdivision of a larger entity; it was sovereign by definition.

Here's Lincoln's summation of the case for union from his First Inaugural Address.
I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it--break it, so to speak--but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."

But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

Both Sobran and Lincoln argue, in part, from implication. But Lincoln appears far from "entirely ignorant" of the Articles of Confedation. While Sobran talks of what the Articles say "right at the beginning", he seems entirely ignorant of their full title, "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union." Lincoln alludes to this when he says of the union, "It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778." This is an express statement that the union is perpetual, and every state signed on to it. Nothing Sobran points to is an express contradiction of this.


  1. The excerpts from Sobran are not unusual for him--he's been on that kick for a LONG time.

    What about "the Controversy" was in there?

  2. He said nothing about it.