Monday, August 11, 2014

The New American Principle of Temporary Dictator


The Dunning School

The War Between the States was triggered by the ongoing process of the old giving way to the new, and where traditional principles were felt to be incompatible with existing circumstances and in this case, Republican party revolutionary goals.  The Republican’s pursued war as a necessity for saving the territorial Union and their dominance of it, not to save the Declaration of Independence or Constitution of 1787.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

The New American Principle of Temporary Dictator

“Granting the right in the President to decide when war was technically begun, both the powers in question spring naturally from the recognized authority of the commander-in-chief.  In the interval between April 12 and July 4, 1861, a new principle thus appeared in the constitutional system of the United States, namely, that of temporary dictatorship. 

All the powers of government were virtually concentrated in a single department, and that the department whose energies were directed by the will of a single man.

The dictatorial position assumed by the President was effective in the accomplishment of two most important results, namely, the preservation of the capital and the maintenance of Union sentiment in the wavering Border States. Congress labored with the utmost energy to fill the gaps which the crisis had revealed in the laws.  Small heed was given to the demands of the [conservative] minority for discussion of the great constitutional questions that constantly appeared.  The decisive majorities by which the Republicans controlled both houses enabled work to be transacted with great vigor. 

[The] executive had declined to recognize the State organizations as elements of the uprising against the general government [and] Congress necessarily adopted the same policy. Its measures were made to refer primarily to combinations of individuals against the laws of the United States. 

War is the negation of civil rights. Granting the power in Congress to designate certain citizens as public enemies in the technical sense, the exercise of that power puts in the hands of government a control over the life, liberty and property of all such citizens, limited only by the dictates of humanity and a respect for the practice of nations. 

From the moment that they assume the character [of belligerents their] constitutional guarantees of civil liberty lose their effect as against the executive.  It becomes authorized to enforce submission to the laws by bullets, not by indictments. 

The first step taken by Congress toward confiscation [of Southern property] was the act of August 6, 1861. This made it the duty of the President to seize, confiscate and condemn all property used in aiding, abetting or promoting the present of future insurrection against the government of the United States. For the purpose of freeing the slaves [to deny the South agricultural labor], the ultra-slavery men were perfectly willing to sacrifice their old scruples about regarding men as property . . . “

(Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction and Related Topics, William Archibald Dunning, The MacMillan Company, 1898, excerpts pp. 21-28)  

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