The letter “Columnist is suffering from ‘Southern guilt’” (Friday, April 28) invites Steve Gillespie (“How about an alternative?” Sunday, April 23) to “truly investigate history. Read the facts and then formulate an opinion.”

I agree. Let’s take a look at some facts and clarify some of the points Mr. David Sessums Jr. raised.

Mr. Sessums asked, “If Lincoln was so willing to sacrifice so much to free the slaves, why didn’t he free the ones he controlled (the border states and those areas under control of the Union armies at that time)?” There is a simple answer to this. Because they were controlled by the federal government and not under insurrection at the time, the federal government had no constitutional authority to free any slaves. If you read the First Confiscation Act, you will see that Lincoln’s speech essentially reinforced the position put forth by the U.S. Congress.

Despite Southern sympathizers’ attempts to convince us otherwise, Lincoln never abandoned the Constitution. As a matter of fact, even the suspension of habeus corpus was a constitutional power given to Congress in times of insurrection. Lincoln only used federal authority to do so because Congress was not in session.

One other point about suspending habeas corpus: Jefferson Davis also did so. Why is this fact so often overlooked?

Yes, Lincoln did say if he could save the Union by freeing all slaves, or by freeing no slaves, he would do so. This is a simplification of Lincoln’s racial policies. Lincoln initially favored transplanting slaves to another country or countries, but by the end of the war he believed that God had decided the question of freedom for the slave. No one is sure if he intended slaves to have full equality under the law. It is true, however, that his position had shifted on the issue of freedom for slaves.

The question of the legality of secession is still a murky one, but it is true the Supreme Court issued an opinion siding with Southern states. The chief justice at that time, appointed by Andrew Jackson, was Roger B. Taney. One of the chief characteristics of his court was favoring the powers of the states. The court did not, however, mind upholding the Constitution when it came to state sovereignty regarding slavery or fugitive slaves. Read Prigg v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Moore v. Illinois.

Did I mention that Taney owned slaves? I wonder if that could have played a part in his decision to side with the Southern states.

Four years after the war, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that secession was unconstitutional. That decision was no more partisan as the chief justice at that time was Salmon P. Chase, who had been appointed by Lincoln. This should give you an understanding of the politics of the day.

One last point I would like to make: If secession was legal, why did the Southern constitution not include any provisions for allowing a state to secede?

I could also go on and on, but I do agree with Mr. Sessums that we should read the facts and then formulate an opinion.



James Barry

Ambridge, Pa.



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