Introducing The Topic

This is a response to an interesting post at Smash Mouth Politics, Nullifying Tyranny. The post is a book review followed by an exchange of comments. Before you continue here, I suggest reading Nullifying Tyranny.

I also suggest reading A Matter of Legitimacy at the Prince William-Manassas Family Alliance. Since I largely share that author’s conclusions, reading that post will help to make what follows here a bit more easily understood.

The Criteria for Legitimate Government

Although Nullifying Tyranny is only about one book, its authors have written another book about the causes of the Civil War. Thus, it appears, that the comments at Nullifying Tyranny resulted in separate discussions about both books. However, even though I must admit I have yet to read either book, I see both books as closely related. At least I think both revolve about the following question. When does rebellion become immoral for a Christian? How do we know when a government has God’s approval? As the link I provided above suggests, I think that depends upon whether We the People accept the legitimacy of the governing authorities.

Consider that by and large we share the traditions of England. Over the years the character of the government of England has changed considerably. Thus, the People’s criteria for judging the legitimacy of their government had to change accordingly. For example, once the English chose their rulers according to their lineage. Now both they and we decide who rules with elections.

Through all human history, I think there is one common thread. Do We the People share the consensus that our rulers have the right to rule us? When we don’t share such a consensus, we rebel and try to throw the bums out.

The criteria we use to choose a legitimate government has vast ramifications. Because we can either accept or refuse our leaders right to rule over us, on the whole we get the government we deserve. That is, if we don’t like our rulers, we can rebel against them. The Civil War stands as an example. The institution of slavery created a great cultural divide between the Peoples of the North and the South. Because of slavery, each region had its own economic model, and they had competing economic interests. Because of slavery, each side even had different attitude towards manual labor.

Even though it required the enslavement of Blacks, Southerners liked their way of life. To protect slavery — to permanently establish its legitimacy — Southerners sought to spread slavery throughout the Union. Because Northerners wanted no part of slavery, they failed. War began when the South realized they had reached a deadlock with the North. Their differences had become so large the South would no longer submit to a governing authority acceptable to the North.

Today we find it hard to imagine starting a war over slavery. So we even argue over whether it was the root cause. Yet if we thought more about it, I suspect many modern Americans would find stranger than how the Civil War started how it ended.

Both sides fought with bitter ferocity and millions were wounded. Hundreds of thousands died. To bring the South to its knees, the North eventually laid waste to the South, forcing Southern soldiers to return home to feed both themselves and their families. Eventually, the Southern leadership capitulated. Then Southerner men, in return for their freedom, swore loyalty oaths.

Imagine Americans honoring such oaths today. Yet even after Union troops departed, even though they still seethed with anger against the North, the men of the South honored their oaths. Thus, the nation reached a new governing consensus, and the Civil War ended.

Relating The Past And Present

Growing new cultural divides threaten today’s consensus. Here are some examples.

  • Differences in language (English and Spanish) and culture (Northern European descent versus Hispanic). Mass immigration from Hispanic nations to our South is balkanizing America.
  • Differences in dependence on government. Many Americans have become dependent on government handouts. Government depends on other Americans for paying taxes. Thus, government tax and spend policies directly pit Americans against each other.
  • Differences in religious belief. Formerly, Americans just differed over Christianity. Some chose one sect. Others chose another. Yet almost all Americans believed in religious freedom. Today increasing numbers of Americans adhere to beliefs quite different from Christianity. Moveover, American society has become increasingly secular. As a result, the moral foundations of our nation have become uncertain. That is, it is becoming increasing more difficult for Americans to say with any certainty what we believe and why we believe what we believe.

Because it eventually created a deep cultural divide, creating contrary cultural and economic interests, slavery pulled our nation apart. Can differences due language, dependence upon government, and/or religion do the same thing? Time will tell. What is obvious is that the differences between the two major political parties have increased to the point where they stand almost in direct opposition on almost every issue. That is not a good thing.


  1. Hi, Tom:

    “Unfortunately, instead of looking out for each other, we all have been looking out for number 1. Because that is not the way our government was made to work, it is becoming dysfunctional.”

    I think you’ve exactly put your finger on it. Not our government (or government) only: human societies and combinations of any kind.

    That’s where I think Christianity has EVERYTHING to do with the questions we discuss here and on JD’s blog. Christianity is about what kind of people we are, and what ultimate ideas we operate on. “Looking out for Number One” is a destructive idea: to individuals who operate on it, and the societies they prey on. Not incidentally, it’s the opposite of Christianity.

    Best, Steve


  2. I have a book that was inherited from my grandfather. It is a first hand account of a Michigan calvary members’ life from early battles, to capture, and then ends in Andersonville prison. I have always known from him that his “Uncle Jack” was captured and survived Andersonville. I don’t know if the book came from his uncle, or if my grandfather got it because of his uncle, as I never knew it existed until after he died.

    Anyhooo, the interesting thing about it is it details the attitudes of the Johnny Rebs and the ? Yanks. The Yankees all thought that they were fighting both to preserve the union and to end the institution of slavery, and the rebs all thought that they were fighting to defend their land from invasion and to fend off oppression from people in other states telling them how to run their lives. At least from the southern perspective, the U.S. was viewed more like the European Union is today: A loose affiliation of sovereign states that voluntarily surrender some limited amount of authority to the federal government. It was a surprise and a shock to them that they could not voluntarily withdraw from the union that they had voluntarily entered.

    Legally, I think they absolutely had the right to withdraw, and I think states still do. There was never any mention that if any state joins the union that they can never get out. This is still an important issue, as Puerto Rico is considering becoming a state. Better be careful, ‘Ricans, as once you join yer stuck forever.


    1. Legally, you are probably right. The Founders I think would have agreed that a state had the right to secede, but they did not discuss it a great deal. Therefore, I think the absence of any procedure for succession has become quite relevant. In addition, Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution says that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” If a state were allowed to just leave the union whenever it wants, it would be difficult keep that guarantee.

      I suspect the writers of the Constitution deliberately did not include a procedure for succession. I don’t recall such a discussion in the Federalist Papers. Ratification was a close thing as it was, and succession would just have been another thing argue about. Moreover, any union that allowed the states to easily secede would not last long. So the issue was simply not addressed.
      One other thing to keep in mind comes from the Federalist papers. The union was intended to prevent wars. Here are a couple examples:

      From Federalist #3
      The number of wars which have happened or will happen in the world will always be found to be in proportion to the number and weight of the causes, whether REAL or PRETENDED, which PROVOKE or INVITE them. If this remark be just, it becomes useful to inquire whether so many JUST causes of war are likely to be given by UNITED AMERICA as by DISUNITED America; for if it should turn out that United America will probably give the fewest, then it will follow that in this respect the Union tends most to preserve the people in a state of peace with other nations.

      From Federalist #7
      IT IS sometimes asked, with an air of seeming triumph, what inducements could the States have, if disunited, to make war upon each other? It would be a full answer to this question to say–precisely the same inducements which have, at different times, deluged in blood all the nations in the world. But, unfortunately for us, the question admits of a more particular answer. There are causes of differences within our immediate contemplation, of the tendency of which, even under the restraints of a federal constitution, we have had sufficient experience to enable us to form a judgment of what might be expected if those restraints were removed.

      What is clear is that at least some the Founders expected without union the battles would fierce and inevitable. In addition, without union the colonies would be much more susceptible to foreign predations.
      Nonetheless, for what it is worth, this article, The Legality of Secession, makes a great case for the legality of succession.

      That said, even though I sympathize with state’s rights, I find it hard to find any sympathy for the cause of the states that seceded from the union. Slavery was an evil and vile thing.


      1. Hi, Tom:

        Granted slavery was an evil (which even the slaveholder Jefferson felt deeply). Not to minimize that whatever, but don’t you think the larger principle at issue in assertions of nullification, states’ rights, and secession is ultimately what the quote above says; we will be a “UNITED AMERICA” or “DISUNITED America” ?

        Unity too is a matter in which, I’d consider, America could learn a great deal from Christianity.

        Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

        Best, Steve


  3. Mike – Good comments, but consider. Even though many Republican and Democrat politicians behave like “different sides of the same coin,” they still vote in opposition. There are real philosophical differences. Nonetheless, even Conservative Republicans cannot do anything if they cannot get elected and reelected.

    We tend to blame the politicians, but voters created this problem. Voters nullify the differences between the parties. We put these people in office, and we give them their marching orders. Give me! Give me! Give me! Even Barack Obama is behaving largely the way he promised to behave. He spends and spends and spends because everyone in the electorate wants their own little goodies. The problem is that added together these goodies cost too much.

    Before we can discipline the people who lead us — hold them accountable — we have to account for our own behavior. Until we stop demanding so much from it, we cannot stop our government from spending so much .

    It comes back to JFK’s most memorable quote.

    Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

    Unfortunately, instead of looking out for each other, we all have been looking out for number 1. Because that is not the way our government was made to work, it is becoming dysfunctional.


    1. Citizen Tom wrote;
      “Unfortunately, instead of looking out for each other, we all have been looking out for number 1. Because that is not the way our government was made to work, it is becoming dysfunctional.”

      I see your point. The problem I think is, the folks who don’t demand “goodies” from the government have become so inured to the political process that they have become apathetic to it. They feel their vote doesn’t matter so they give up on voting. The people who are on the receiving end of the government largess have an abiding interest in keeping the status quo and never miss an election. At least that’s the way it seems to me.

      But after having said that: Perhaps folks are finally waking up and seeing what’s going on. They sense something’s wrong. The “hope and change” they hoped for didn’t happen exactly like they thought it would.


  4. Citizen Tom wrote;

    “What is obvious is that the differences between the two major political parties have increased to the point where they stand almost in direct opposition on almost every issue. That is not a good thing.”

    First off, thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. I haven’t read those books either, but you can tell a lot about a book from the synopsis.

    The way I feel about the two major political parties is that they are in actuality different sides of the same coin. Their rhetoric might be a little different, but by and large, you end up with the same kind of government with minor differences. That is why we have the Tea Parties springing up all over the country. Both Democrats and Republicans are spending America into bankruptcy.

    Perhaps what you meant is that we have major differences in political philosophy between the liberal left and the conservative right, which doesn’t neccesarily mean Democrats and Republicans. We need to get behind conservative candidates whether they’re Dems or Repubs. We need to get bipartinship back into government where compromise and working together for common goals works on both sides of the aisle.

    The way it has been lately on both sides of the aisle, which ever party controls the House and Senate has a “my way or the highway” mentality. The only way we can change this attitude is to fire them all and put new folks in there that have a public servant attitude instead of a what can you do for me attitude.

    Regards, Mike


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