A better constitution
By Lewis J. Goldberg
A quick glance at the US and Confederate States constitutions reveals that, appearance-wise at least, there is not much difference between the two. That assessment is correct. It appears that the delegates to the CSA (Confederate States of America) constitutional convention started with a copy of the Federal version, and modified it to suit their needs. Herein, the US Constitution will be referred to as F.V. (Federal Version) and the Confederate Constitution as C.V. (Confederate Version.) This commentary will skip large sections, primarily because in many places there are no changes worth mentioning.
The F.V. is a beautiful document, and our nation is blessed to have been founded under it. However, it does have weaknesses, which have become more evident in the last century. The C.V. sought to plug some of the holes left by the Founders, as well as add a few points particular to Southern politics. The C.V. is not an evil document, as many would have us believe. It is equal, and in some ways superior, to our own Constitution. It bears serious study by anyone with a patriotic bone.
Preamble and Article 1
The C.V begins, most appropriately, with a proclamation as to the "sovereign and independent character" of the respective states. As is claimed by Southern supporters, the 'Civil War' was a war in defense of States' Rights, not to preserve slavery. The Blessings of God are invoked upon this struggle for freedom, in place of the pesky 'general welfare' clause that a million camel's noses have squeezed under in the last 140 years.
Section 2 of Article 1 establishes that foreigners (born north of the border) cannot vote in any election, State or Federal. This was, presumably, to keep Yankee infiltrators from mucking with the internal political process. The condition to run for office is somewhat more lenient, only requiring seven years residence in the South. For the apportionment of representatives, one for every fifty-, rather than thirty-thousand is assigned. The three-fifths compromise is kept as part of the language in the C.V.
Just as in the F.V., sole impeachment power is granted to the House of Representatives, with one exception. Any Federal officer which, as per his duty, acts solely within the border of a single state (such as a Federal judge,) may be impeached by a 2/3 vote of both branches of the respective state combined. This gives more power to the individual states to control how they are governed.
In section 6 where Congressmen are prohibited from holding another Federal job and other Federal jobholders are prohibited from being Congressmen, the C.V. also adds the provision that the Executive Branch may send Cabinet members and other high office-holders to Congress to take part in debates and discussions of measures pertaining to their respective departments. These officers would not have a vote. This was a communications-enhancing measure.
Section seven gave the CSA President line-item veto power over any appropriation in a bill. Apparently, they had pork back in those days, as well.
Section eight gave Congress the power to tax, but only for what is necessary to carry on the required functions of government. Under this condition, a budget surplus would be illegal and taxes would have to be lowered. Also, this section prohibits Congress from manipulating or engineering changes in business with the tax law; all taxes had to be levied equally. This section also limits Congress from using tax money to construct any improvement (aside from navigation beacons, buoys, improvement of harbors, and the dredging of rivers,) that benefits commerce. No empowerment zones for the CSA. The F.V. clause which allows Congress to establish post roads is changed to routes in the C.V. No interstate highway system (and no billions in highway money to hold states hostage over compliance with unconstitutional demands from the feds.) Also, the post office was to operate on its own profit after March 1, 1863. It took the Union until what...nineteen-seventy-something to do that?
Section nine is the big surprise. The CSA prohibited international slave trade in their constitution. This was to include slaves brought in from non-CSA states. The Confederacy intentionally limited the institution of slavery to what it was at the point of writing of the Constitution; to either sustain itself or die-off. They sought to prevent its enhancement and growth by induction of new slaves from Africa. Another part of section 9 states that no law shall be passed denying the right of property in Negro slaves. To the casual reader, this may seem a permanent establishment of slavery, but it is merely a statement that the Federal government will not obstruct the rights of slave-holders. This does not prohibit the individual states from emancipating their slaves. Remember, 'States rights' is what this is all about.
Section nine also spells out that each appropriation item in a bill must have the exact dollar amount stated, and not a penny more will be spent. Appropriations from the treasury also require a 2/3 vote to pass. Think of the implications of this policy were it in force today!
Section nine also inserts the Bill of Rights in as part of the Constitution.
Section 10 prohibits the individual States from entering into compacts or agreements with each other, unless it be over navigation or improvement of a common river. Many legal reciprocities would be prevented by this change. This is also an item which serves to protect the sovereignty of the States and prohibit alternate alliances to the Federal government from cropping up.
Articles 2 and 3
No earth-shattering changes here.
This article further asserts that the feds will not interfere with slavery, and that if new states are brought into the Confederacy, the institution of slavery will be protected in those states also (if it exists.) It also establishes that a 2/3 vote of both houses is required to admit a new state.
This gives the power only to the States to call for amendments to the Constitution, rather than Congress as well, as in the F.V.
Article 6 and 7
No major changes.
Are you surprised? Did you expect to read language indicating that slavery is righteously ordained by God? Based on the education we get from public school and from the media, that should be the case. The honorable men of the Confederacy simply sought to return to the ideals first proposed by the Founding Fathers, not to create a slave-empire that would endure for a thousand years.
In the case of the 'Civil War,' we have let history be defined by the bad apples of society, and for the most part, defined by the actions of people who were not alive during that conflict. Most of the injustices against blacks, aside from slavery itself, that we can think of relate to Jim Crow laws and the struggles for equality fought in the last century. The Ku Klux Klan was started after the 'Civil War' as a knee-jerk reaction to having their cities reduced to rubble and their lands scorched by the government that was supposed to care about them and protect them. The KKK is certainly not justified for its actions, but in an historical context, we can see why the KKK came to be.
To allow the history of the South to be defined by examples of its worst behavior is like defining our modern Union by the massacre of thousands of Indians, simply to clear the land. In spite of that decades-long program of hate, racism, injustice, and murder (all performed under the star-spangled banner,) we still see this country as the "land of the free...home of the brave...etc...etc" The only reason the South is viewed as it is today by the unenlightened masses, is that they lost. To the victor go the spoils, and the rose-colored glasses, too.
When the South lost the war, our true freedom was lost as well. The great achievement of the Founders died under Lincoln's watch, and with his command. It is well documented that the President didn't really give a hoot about the rights of blacks. All the 'emancipation business' was about politics, not justice. Yes, emancipation was the right thing to do, but why did Lincoln wait until 1863 to do it, and why did he have to slaughter millions and rape the land? In the name of the Union? Oh, please. Lincoln should be one of the most vilified characters in American history. There is hope for Clinton's legacy yet!
Lewis J. Goldberg is the webmaster of PlanetGoldberg and a frequent contributor to Enter Stage Right.
© 1996-2013, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.