Jan 6, 2012

Ron Paul to the Constitution: Friend or Foe?

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ron Paul's opinion of Abraham Lincoln. At that time, I was puzzled not only by the unbridled hatred shown by Paul and his supporters toward our first Republican President, but by the conflict between Paul's statements on this subject and his supposed unwavering dedication to the Constitution. I found a video last night that answers the questions I had at that time, while simultaneously raising a host of new ones.

At the time of my last writing, I was perplexed by Paul's statements, which claimed that Lincoln could a) have just "gotten rid" of slavery, though he had no Constitutional authority to do so and b) that Lincoln did not have to "kill so many people and run a civil war," when it was the South that attempted to destroy the Union through secession and started the war by firing on a Federal Fort. I wondered how a great Constitutional scholar such as Paul could say things that indicate such disregard for the Constitution and the more perfect Union it was intended to create.

The answer is far more simple than I could ever have guessed it to be. Ron Paul believes that the secession of the Southern states from the Union was lawful and Constitutional. Had Ron Paul been president in 1861, he would have waved goodbye to the Southern states, the Union, the Republic, the experiment begun by the Founders, and then, by necessity, the Constitution.

I really cannot believe that no one has been talking about this, because it is actually really important and it calls into question everything Paul's supporters say about his unique fidelity to the Constitution. Below is the video and its transcript, in part. Discussion follows.

RON PAUL: The revolutionary spirit we have today, actually, is rather delightful. We're actually talking about nullification and the 10th amendment once again. But you know, you hear, you hear often on TV if you happen to listen to a liberal commentator, they come down real hard on you if you believe in nullification, that's some right-wing wild conspiracy theory, but just nullifying laws, what do you mean, yeah, yeah like California would like to nullify the laws against smoking marijuana, huhuhu. So the, the nullification principle I think is a good one. You know, it was also intended by the Founders, actually the principle of secession was based in the Constitution and the Northeast always threatened to secede from the terrible South. And, uh, that was there. But you know you can believe in the principle of secession and nullification without undermining our whole system. It's the idea that if we're mistreated or overtaxed and overregulated and fight too many wars that we have that option, that would put so much brakes on the federal government if they understood that.
Nullification is the idea that states are justified in refusing to recognize or enforce acts of Congress that they find unconstitutional or contrary to their own interests, a practice which James Madison, Father of the Constitution, maintained "would overturn the first principle of free government, and in practice necessarily overturn government itself.” Such practice not only upends the rule of law and tips the balance toward the rule of some men over other men, it also weakens the Constitutional system of checks and balances our Framers worked so carefully on. While the theory of nullification as it was originally articulated was not inherently disunionist, each of our nation's several nullification crises resulted in instability, uncertainty, the sentiment of disunion, and the forlorn threat of violence.

Naturally, nullification is the baby sister of secession, not only paving the way for the latter intellectually, but assuring the eventual escalation of ill will and noncooperation into full scale conflict. For a man so anti-war, so dedicated to peace as Congressman Paul to say that the principle of nullification is a good thing is quite perplexing to me. This, coupled with his delight over the "revolutionary spirit," conjures up images of violence that don't seem to jive with his public portrait.

Paul argues that secession does not undermine our whole system, but actually proves a positive good because it would put "so much brakes on the federal government," in his way of speaking. To determine the truth of that statement, how can we do better than to refer to the application of secession theory used by the Southern States at the dawn of the Civil War? In Paul's mind, secession would be appropriate at times when "we're mistreated or overtaxed and overregulated and fight too many wars." Ironically, however, the South's use of secession in 1860 was in response to, not an act of Congress or a war (they were about to start one), but an election, the results of which they did not like. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who, naturally, resisted the expansion of slavery into the territories, was so repugnant to the Southern institution of slavery that South Carolina seceded immediately following his election to the presidency, before he had even been sworn into office and the new administration installed. Such were the words of the people convened in the South Carolina convention of 1860:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. ... they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace of and eloin the property of citizens of other States... A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to Slavery. - South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession, 1860
As you can see, arguments such as the one made by Paul (addressed in my last post) that the war was fought over the economy, are disingenuous at best. The Southern States made clear, both at the time and in the decades leading up to the Civil War, that they would tolerate nothing less than the total acceptance and sanction of slavery among all the states in the Union. The South attempted to dissolve the Union on the grounds that Northern States had not been implicit in nurturing an institution that was contrary to the founding principles in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself. In so doing, they made an extra-Constitutional argument that the Union of States was nothing more than a legal arrangement, a compact that could be exited by any party on the perception that any other part had failed in its duties.

Both this and the theory of nullification advance an idea contradictory to that on which the Constitution was founded, the rule of the majority. Secession and nullification both grant an absolute power to the minority to alter or dismantle the Union and the Constitution without respect to the opinions of the rest of the states. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, rejected this idea on its face as "the essence of anarchy." His idea was in agreement with Madison, who had said himself that the Constitution “was formed by the states, that is, by the people in each of the states, acting in their highest sovereign capacity… It cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the states individually.”

In this opinion Madison and Lincoln were joined by fellow presidents Jackson and Washington. Jackson, responding to S. Carolina's attempt at nullification some years before their attempt at secession (1832) referred to nullification as "a course of conduct...contrary to the laws of their country, subversive of its Constitution, and having for its object the destruction of the Union." Washington, speaking long before any kind of nullification or secession crisis became an issue, told his countrymen that "your union ought to be considered the main prop of your liberty, and that the love of one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other."

The Constitution does not mention nullification or secession explicitly. Proponents of these measures, therefore, are forced to focus their arguments on the nature of the Union and the Constitution in the abstract. Lincoln met this argument head on in 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.
and also challenged the idea of the Union as a contract:
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?
Building from Lincoln's observation that the Constitution provides no means for its own termination, it would be a great wrong to not go to the document itself. Article I Section X of the Constitution, following the enumerated powers of Congress and specifications for absolute limitations on its powers, reads:
No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation... No State shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement of Compact with Another State...or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
Secessionists argue that states, having seceded, are no longer states and have suddenly become independent nations. But does it seem even a little strange to you that a document designed to protect the rights of the people, and ratified by the people in all of the states, would not have contained an exit clause if such a thing were implied?

The Framers of the Constitution gave no such way out because they knew that such a provision would have been adverse to the cause of liberty rather than helpful to it. They built a system of checks and balances and separation of powers that was designed to be effective by its very inclusiveness, by an entrapment of government, state and federal, that required those governments to work within its system. To advance the idea that any state may bring itself outside of that system is to endanger the liberty of all who live within it. To do such a thing most certainly does "undermine our whole system." 

Free elections are our exit clause. Representation, under the right of the people to be governed by their own consent, is our exit clause. Majority rule by law is our exit clause.

Nor do the principles asserted in the Declaration apply to the idea of secession. "Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." The People as a whole may "throw off such Government," not for "light or transient causes" but for those a majority and an onlooking world would agree to be "a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations." This reference to the People, and not the States, is an important one, emphasized by Madison's statement above. The Founders recognized the People of the Nation, not any combination of Governments, to be the ultimate repository of political authority. For any state to nullify an act of the Representatives of the People gathered in Congress, is an abuse of that authority. For any state to withdraw itself from the Union composed of the People is a tyrannical act of usurpation.

We have heard a lot about Ron Paul being the only candidate who stands up for liberty. I've been told that anyone who claims to support freedom and individual rights, peace, and limited government, but does not support Ron Paul, is a hypocrite, a liar, or an incompetent. I've heard a lot about Ron Paul being the only one who knows and adheres to the Constitution. I don't know about that, but I do know that he is the only one who advances the ideas of nullification and secession.  Those being unconstitutional ideas destructive of the Union, the rule of law, the principles of our Founding, and the success of our experiment in self-government, I would like to know from Paul supporters: will you pause and reflect on these things, or will you continue to indiscriminately assert that your man is the one and only friend of the Constitution?

"Union, the last anchor of our hope, and that alone which is to prevent this heavenly country from becoming an arena of gladiators." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Elbridge Gerry, May 13, 1797

"Whenever the dissolution of the Union arrives, America will have reason to exclaim, in the words of the poet: "FAREWELL! A LONG FAREWELL TO ALL MY GREATNESS." John Jay, Federalist #2

"If there be any any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

"Every man who loves peace, every man who loves his country, every man who loves liberty ought to have it ever before his eyes that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it." James Madison, Federalist #41


F.Mitchell said...

Very thoughtful and well reasoned out analysis, Priscilla. To add anything would just detract from it!

Let's hope that we Americans are not so far removed from our own Constitution and history to the point that too many of us can be fooled by flimsy arguments in support of nullification.

Unknown said...

I too am unable to add anything to this discuss. You have covered it very well. Thank you Priscilla for standing up against the unconstitutionalist Ron Paul. If he were to become President, my first response would be to call upon Governor Brewer to secede from the Union.

JMSTEK said...

Excellent Piece! Good quotes, and an argument with a lot more substance then Wrong Paul's version.

Ian Beuckelaere said...

As the others have stated, excellent analysis.

I've never bought that Ron Paul was truly a friend to the Constitution. Rather, he is a radical Libertarian and a closeted neo-anarchist. Because his rhetoric is that of limited government he inherently will gain a lot of support from the disillusioned conservatives in the Republican Party who have grown so weary of an unconstitutionally expansive federal government that they've reached a point where anyone who proclaims "limited government" must be good. A true limited government candidate has become such a rare commodity in the national discourse that many no longer stop to consider and question the limits on government that the candidate proposes.

The sort of government proposed by Ron Paul and his acolytes like Lew Rockwell is so limited and toothless as to in reality be no government at all. There is no supremacy of law, particularly if the principles of nullification are embraced (as you so adroitly pointed out in your analysis). He claims a fidelity and understanding of the Constitution beyond that of the other Republican candidates, but in reality his understanding of the Constitution is just as innovative as the most socialist of Democrats or activist of federal judges. He reads into and out of the Constitution several things from nullification or secession that fundamentally weaken the document and return the federal government into the toothless abomination that was framed by the defunct Articles of Confederation.

Certainly many of his claimed policy points are great! A return to a government with genuinely limited authority would be welcome. But again, the government envisioned by Ron Paul is not a government limited by the Constitution, it is still more limited.

Priscilla said...

Amen, Ian! You just gave succinct articulation to the crux of the matter. THANK you!