Sunday, October 9, 2016

Succession and Union: A Tale of Massachusetts and South Carolina (Part I)

Which states played the biggest role (impact) in American history? In my view, the choice is among the 13 original colonies who fought for our independence at its inception. It is also imperative to select both a Northern state and Southern state. Massachusetts was arguably the most important and influential northern state. Virginia would probably be the choice of many as the most influential Southern state. After all, 4 of the first 5 Presidents (and most famous founding fathers) came from the most populous colony – Virginia. However, South Carolina played a bigger role in terms of being the antithesis of Massachusetts. Massachusetts and South Carolina were arguably on opposite ends of every important issue in early American history.

Massachusetts was the biggest instigator for the Revolutionary War. Most pre-Revolutionary violence occurred in Massachusetts – the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. Because of this Boston was placed under military rule in 1774 since English Parliament saw Massachusetts as a rebellious state. Consequently, the Revolutionary war begins with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. In response to the British aggression the Continental Army is directed to Boston. A year-long siege of the city persists before the British finally retreat through the Boston Harbor and shift their focus on conquering New York City and the capital city of Philadelphia.

Although the British successfully capture both New York and Philadelphia they are unable to divide and conquer the colonies. After another long siege on New York, the British once again change their strategy and send a large contingent of their army down the Atlantic to attack South Carolina. South Carolina was seen as a favorable military strategy because it is populated with a high percentage of Tories (loyal to the British crown) and it was also assumed that the British could convince a large number of slaves to join their cause in exchange for freedom. However, British general Cornwallis was so brutal to the local population and literally committed hundreds of acts of war crimes, most of the populous turned on them – even Tories. The outcome was South Carolina organizing one of the biggest militias to fight Cornwallis. As Cornwallis advanced from South Carolina to Virginia, the South Carolina militia cut off British supply lines. Eventually, with no supplies, Cornwallis was forced to retreat to the Virginia coastal town of Yorktown to wait for supplies from the British Navy. However, to Cornwallis’s surprise the French Navy surrounded Yorktown at sea while French and Washington troops surrounded the city on land forcing him to surrender (essentially ending the war). America had earned its independence from England – what Massachusetts started, South Carolina helped to finish.

After the Constitution was ratified, both Massachusetts and South Carolina would be a thorn in the sides of the Union. Both states would threaten succession several times before the Civil War. When John Adams and Congress passed the Alien and Seditions Act, which essentially gave the government the right to jail anyone who spoke poorly of the administration (a violation of free speech), this brought about the concept of nullification. States wanted the option to nullify laws by the federal government they did agree with or did not want to implement. Most thought that this law would have been viewed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional (the Supreme Court did not do judicial reviews at this point in history). I am not convinced a modern Supreme Court would actually strike down this law. In 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act shortly after the U.S. entered WWI. In Schenck v. United States the Supreme Court upheld the law and said Schenck’s publications against the U.S. war effort violated the law and he was imprisoned for 2.5 years. The Supreme Court always provides the government more latitude in times of war. It is true, in 1798, the U.S. was not at war, but America was close to war with France and Adams thought these times called for extenuating circumstances to avoid war. I find both laws unconstitutional even under the circumstances of war, but it is very possible that a present day Supreme Court may uphold the Seditions Act if it were deemed as absolutely necessary to avoid a conflict or War.

First, it was Massachusetts causing problems when Jefferson tried to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France. Northerners (Federalists) thought this action was unconstitutional. Republicans countered that the Louisiana Purchase was a treaty and the President had powers to negotiate treaties in the constitution. I believe a modern Supreme Court would have concurred with Jefferson and Madison. Massachusetts mainly objected because the Louisiana Purchase provided another port option (New Orleans) for landlocked farmers to use instead of those on the Atlantic coast. Massachusetts also felt the new lands would reduce the price of land that New Englanders were speculating over in upstate New York. Senator Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts would put out some soft overtones for the succession of New England.

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