2007August14, Tuesday

Why We Call It “The War of Northern Aggression”

Posted in History, Politics at 12:14 by Trey Austin

Some of you may be familiar with the term “The War of Northern Aggression” to refer to the so-called “Civil War.” Those of Southron heritage have long used that term to describe what they saw as over-extended Federalist power to strong-arm the sovereign states into bowing before the assumed authority of the Federal Government. (This eerily shadows the growth and ascendency of the power of a centralized Western Church under the authority of a single monarch in the person of the Bishop of Rome, who claimed to be the head of the Church on earth in Christ’s place, displacing and undermining all of the rights and claims of all other regional church governments through local bishops and elders.)

Democrat Thomas Jefferson had much to say against that kind of Federalism, but even the Democrat Andrew Jackson was corrupted by its enticements to think that he could control the fortunes of all of the states in the Union by sheer force of power from the Federal government—and his great political move was to convince the great majority of the populace that he was actually protecting and standing for the people instead of stealing away their liberties, which is precisely what he did. His progeny are seen in the Democrat Party of the modern day, who claim to stand for individual liberties and freedoms for the people, but who steal away that liberty more and more every year by government control, oversight, and regulation. Of course, the freedoms that Jefferson advocated, which he referred to as “republican” virtues, aren’t well protected by the vast majority of modern day Republicans either; they don’t seem to have any kind of warriness toward governmnetal power, but are happy, like Jackson, to advocate just as much that kind of centralized power, just for a different political purpose (it was not without cause that the Republican Party became associated in the popular psyche with rich and powerful business interests).

Gene Healy wrote an article a while back that i had never read until i saw it linked on the Borg Blog. It was a great piece showing how the traditional “republican” (with a small “R”) or classical liberal view of states’ rights was, at one time, a check on Federalist aggrandizement of power. He reminds us of what traditional Southron folks have long sought to emphasize: that the War of Northern Aggression was called that, not because the North wanted to “force” the South to free all its slaves (a relatively minor, but still important, cause of the War for Southern Independence—but only one that came into the fore of the national mind when Lincoln, capitalizing on the abolitionist tendencies of New England, made it a political hot-button), but because the North had its mind to force the South, with its “nullification” mindset, to bow to the Federal will and be the cash-cow for Yankee industrialists bent on using the Federal power to grow the industry of the North and Mid-Atlantic by breaking the backs of the Southern citizenry with immensely burdensome and inequitable taxation.

In our day, we have no less that kind of Federalist grab for power. (Maybe “grab” is a bad word, since it implies that they don’t have it and are trying to get it; “lust” may be a better word, because, acknowledging our Federal Government today does indeed have that power to wield as it wills, they still seek to place more of the rights of the several states and of the people under the ginormous thumb of the hand of an Old-Glory-clad Uncle Sam pointing to us and telling us that he wants us.) However, in our day there is no check against that Federalist hunger for greater power. Since the stamping out of independence-seeking Southerners, Federal power has grown almost unchecked over the last 150 years. No longer does that monster of political power need explicit Constitutional authority to act (cf., the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the US Constitution), it can act with full authority to do anything, by any means, to ensure what it alone sees as a benefit of the people, even over against the protestations of the states that make up our Union (cf., the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution). A couple of symptoms of this kind of Federalism are also seen in Amendments to the US Constitution: the Sixteenth Amendment, giving the Federal Government ownership over all income of its citizens (because if the government can tell you how much of your income you can keep, that means that they own it all); and the Seventeenth Amendment, which circumvents a check on Federal authority that the framers saw fit to include in the original Constitution, namely the appointment by the State or Commonwealth Legislatures of the Senators in the upper house of the Federal Legislature, replacing it with direct election of Senators by the people, completely cutting states out of any check on Federalist assumption of power. Now that the “Civil War” has shown that the states actually have no right to question Federal claims, what can we do but submit to the continued interposition of government regulation and intervention into our everyday lives? What option do we have? The War of Northern Aggression succeeded; the greatest fears of all our ancestors that fought and died to secure liberty against centralized governmental power that thought that it could impose its will upon all people, regardless of what say they had in the matter (i.e., King George III, against whom we fought for our original independence), has now come true.

Most of you know that, theologically, Thornwell and i aren’t exactly on the same page. However, in this case, i couldn’t agree with him more. He preached in a sermon entited “Our Danger and Our Duty“:

We are fully persuaded that the triumph of the North in the present conflict will be as disastrous to the hopes of mankind as to our own fortunes. They are now fighting the battle of despotism. They have put their Constitution under their feet; they have annulled its most sacred provisions; and in defiance of its solemn guaranties they are now engaged, in the halls of Congress, in discussing and maturing bills which make Northern notions of necessity the paramount laws of the land. The avowed end of the present war is, to make the Government a government of force. It is to settle the principle, that whatever may be its corruptions and abuses, however unjust and tyrannical its legislation, there is no redress, except in vain petition or empty remonstrance. It was as a protest against this principle, which sweeps away the last security for liberty, that Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri seceded, and if the Government should be reëstablished, it must be reëstablished with this feature of remorseless despotism firmly and indelibly fixed. The future fortunes of our children, and of this continent, would then be determined by a tyranny which has no parallel in history.

We have that kind of despotism and tyranny today in the United States Government. It is a government that will do anything, attack anyone, demand any money, punish any citizen, and invade any nation to establish its own notion of well-being—and not even the well-being of its citizens as a whole, but the well-being of a certain sub-set of the population that the Federal Governmend deems favored for whatever reason. The only answer to this kind of absolute abuse of power is for the people to rise up and stand against it. We must not allow ourselves to be allured by the promise of some small benefit over some small hardship—a hardship which, most likely, the government herself caused by her own abuses—, but we should be willing to stand together, and to stand against government abuse. The whole point of having a written document that charters our government is to have set limits and protections against the power granted to it. Why ignore it? Why not demand that our government conform to the supreme law of the land? Why not elect a president, senators, and representatives who will return to us the freedom and liberty that the Constitution itself guarantees to us? Until we do that, we will continue to have a monster at the helm of our national ship. We will go where that monster drives us and we will have no say in it one way or the other, except to bow to that monstrous King, who has, like Napoleon and like all of the Bishops of Rome, crowned himself with usurped power that belongs to someone else.

My prayer is that my children and grandchildren will be freer than i am today because i and all of my fellow Americans throughout the several states will stand up against the tyranny of the warmongering taxmasters on the dole of all the special interests so that our government will, once again, be a government for the people and by the people.


  1. Mark said,

    Thornwell also said that one reason the South must secede was because the Federal government would not allow slavery to extend West. He made slavery the essence of the Southern identity saying that the Feds were in effect dictating that Southern men who moved westward do so not as southern men but as Northern men. (The book I read on this was entitled _The Metaphysical Confederacy_)

    I simply cannot stand Thornwell. Thornwell wask, in fact, one of the top most important apologists for slavery as well as the South. His name blackens the reputation of the PCA and I wish we would forget him. At least in Dabney’s case, I find actual worthwhile theology. Thornwell’s legacy is simply to make Presbyterians into wet-baby baptists as a matter of principle.

    When one finds oneself opposed to the expanded power of the Federal Government, one finds oneself holding a position espoused by all sorts of uglies like Mormon polygamists, skinists, and other human trash. My strategy is to ignore them. I think we would all be better off doing the same with Thornwell. I’d use Lord Acton or someone who has a deserved reputation for loving justice rather than Thornwell.

  2. Trey Austin said,

    Well, i happen to agree with Thornwell and Dabney (in the abstract) about the issue of slavery, but not their defense of the particular manifestation of it in American by way of racial subjugation. Biblically, they were right on the issue, and indeed, even when it came to the constitutional right for the existence of slavery, they were right as well. But, here again, the evil of race-based slavery was itself morally repugnant to Scripture and to the Gospel message itself.

    My point in quoting Thornwell was to show that seeing the Federal Government as obtrusive, abusive, and tyrannical is not new, and that it became what we see today as a totalitarian power over the American continent precisely in the War of Northern Aggression. It was through the victory of the Federalist cause in that conflict that states rights died (when was the last time you heard the ACLU defend someone’s or some state’s Ninth or Tenth Amendment rights?), and the despotism of the Federal Government could go on unabated.

    As i said, Thornwell isn’t my favorite theologian, but he was a faithful pastor, and he was an even better statesman and educator at what would become the University of South Carolina (then South Carolina College). I am a South Carolinian, and his influence in South Carolina is hard to deny. Likewise, though i don’t agree with him theologically, his influence in our Church is also hard to deny. Even if we ignore him, we ignore him at our own loss.

  3. tempe said,

    Trey, how much of an influence you think the southern church’s refusal/reluctance to deal with the issue of slavery (the American manifestation of it) led to the beginnings of modern day dependence on the federal government. That is, once the church dropped the ball on the issue, the focus began to shift to the government to solve the problem, imho. We are reaping the effects of that today, imho. Would you agree, or am I way off base here?

  4. Trey Austin said,

    Just yesterday, one of my sheep and i were discussing the failure of the Church to do what the Church should do in terms of benevolence has led people to depend on the government to step in and do the Church’s job. However, this is a situation that, in terms of Western Christendom, could only happen in the United States, because, in Old Europe and if the Church and State are so intermingled that, if a person was a citizen of the nation, he was a member of the Church, and when the State does something, the Church does it. But even that confusion means that the Church specifically isn’t doing what it should and is allowing the State to coopt its function. (Interestingly enough, there is a certain segment of socialistic Americanism that hates the idea of Christianity having any bearing on what our government stands for and enacts into law, but they have no qualms about *BECOMING* the Church by taking on the role that belongs properly to the Church alone.) Of course, the context of the discussion was that this guy likes Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative,” since it gives the opportunity for Churches to do what they should do; i disagreed, because, not only does the initiative give the same authority to Mohommadan mosques that Christian Churches receive, it is also unconstitutional for the Federal Government to be doling out cash to any group for any purpose, since what they’re trying to accomplish by it is not their job.

    However, even in my agreement with your original comment, i’m not sure what bearing that has on the slavery issue. As far as it goes, the Southern Church was correct about the issue of slavery (that it is a perfectly biblical institution that is nowhere in Scripture forbidden or deemed inherently sinful); what they failed in was their understanding of how Christ has joined all races together in the Church, and that there isn’t one which is inherently better, more civilized, or more qualified to be respected members of a society than any other. That’s where the Church failed, as i see it. Insofar as this was the foundation upon which almost all English and American slavery was based, failure of the Southern Church to deal with that aspect of slavery certainly didn’t show the people in general that it has much ability to deal with the evils of society; when the Federal government actually did do something about it, it became seen in many people’s eyes as the protector of the people and their liberties (though, ironically, at the expense of the liberties of the people in general; again, see what the Fourteenth Amendment actually says).

  5. Garrett said,


    I dig most of your stuff but the Southern thang is just way too emotional. I’ve read many of the revisionists: Osterweis, Ramsdell, etc. (Thornwell and Dabney fall in here too) and its pretty ugly stuff. Blacks are considered sub-human at some level and are never treated with the dignity they deserved as brethren. In the case of southern Presbys weren’t their slaves baptized into the faith? So, where are all the black elders and deacons (they should have held such positions in racially neutral Presbyterian churches if there was consistency with any sort of theological justification for slavery). Instead, they were almost always treated to the indignity of sitting in the “nigger heaven” balcony which often was designed so that blacks could not look down on whites.

    These arguments always remind me of Marxism/Communism. Given its ideal scenario (the eventual seizure of over 1/3 of the world’s land mass, it was never able to do more than to make the prolotariat’s life on earth a living hell. The same with southern slavery. If only there was more time, if only slavery were allowed into the non-cotton-growing regions, if only the Yankees hadn’t interfered things would have been settled peacefully and blacks and whites would be living together in harmony. I say, in dreams.

    BTW the revisionists do seem to historically consider slavery THE issue that lead to the war. It was not a minor issue.

    Anyway, like I said, I dig everything else I’ve read by you.

  6. Al said,

    Since I am relatively new to Presby thought, I have not read much particular history covering Southern Presbyterian life in the US…

    That being said, one of the things that struck me about this post is the ‘fact’ of the sermon quote. Was it really spoken from a pulpit? What about his tax exempt status? Did he not realize he put his congregation’s deductions in jeopardy? /sarcasm

    I find it difficult to imagine such a sermon today. We (the church) have been domesticated by the federal government to a large extent. It is strange, sadly, to think of the church as the leading institution in a fight against a tyrannical government.

  7. tempe said,

    Al, concerning tax exempt status, I believe that this (the 503 whatever status) is a fairly recent invention, and one that was never really intended for churches (but rather non-profit organizations and the like). Even though many churches today have elected to adopt such a status, it is wholly unnecessary according to what I have read of the tax codes (churches already have such a status by virtue of the fact that they are churches). However, if a church does elect to receive such a status, you are correct in that they possibly stand in danger of jeopardizing their status.

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