The Constitution, Slavery, and Guns

Submitted by kvaughn on Thu, 01/10/2013 - 02:49

Most Americans will claim that they strongly support the Constitution, but then again, most Americans don't really think about what that means. In fact, our school system routinely ignores, and sometimes celebrates, instances where past Presidents have blatently violated the Constitution. A prime example is when Lincoln freed the slaves.

Without a doubt, freeing the slaves was the only moral course. Slavery is a horrible practice and a horrible stain on our nation's history. Lincoln was a great man in many ways and was unquastionably right for wanting to free the slaves. Freeing the slaves was a great advancement for our country. However, none of this gave Lincoln the Constitutional authority to unilaterally free slaves by executive order. In fact, he even realized this and twisted logic like a pretzel in order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. 

On the one hand, Lincoln refused to recognize that any of the southern states had seceded, claiming that they never left the United States. On the other hand, his Proclomation made clear that he had no right to free slaves in Union states or even Union territory that had been reclaimed from rebel states. In short, even using his own logic, he had no authority to free them in any of the affected area. However, while he had no legal authority, he was Commander in Chief of a superior army and he succumbed to using this power to force compliance to his will.

Fortunately for America, the change was for the better and shortly afterwards we did officially amend the Constitution to ablish slavery, but the entire episode was hardly a great moment in American History on either side. Instead, it was a prime example of how politicians, like all of us, on both sides of the issue, are flawed human beings who too often put our own interests ahead of others- the result was a war. 

But the scenario highlights a central question that Lincoln faced: Was it better to free the slaves or to follow the Constitution? He chose the former and is credited as being a great President because of it; but few are willing to challenge the assumption made in the question. In fact, there are other scenarios, any of which wouuld have been better than the one he chose:

  1. Work within the Constitutional system to achieve the end objective. It was already illegal to import slaves and it would have been cheaper in financial terms (not even to mention in human terms) to buy every slave using immenent domain than it was to conduct a war. Attitudes were changing; it would have taken effort, but a great leader would have made this happen within the bounds of the Constitution.
  2. Allow the southern states to secede, in fact, there was a large movement within the abolishinst community to have the North secede from the South before Lincoln was elected. The Union could have then imposed trade sanctions against the South to break their economic back and force change.
  3. Allow the southern states to secede and then commence a war of aggression with the specific stated intent to free the slaves.

I recognize that none of these scenarios were ideal and it is somehwat speculative to state what would have happened in the first two scenarios. However, we do know that we lost over half a million lives for not choosing those options - as well as paying in many other ways (wounded, destruction of infrastructure, and a rift in the country that lasted for a century). 

I am concerned that our country is now going to face a similar crisis with the gun issue.  I support the second Amendment, but there are those that have clearly stated that it is simply immoral to allow people to own guns and that they must be confiscated - and these voices are growing louder. I support their right to state their beliefs and I even support their right to propose a Constitutional amendment - but they do not have the right to simply violate the Constitution.

A well regualted militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Many of the laws and proposals in existance today are in direct conflict with our rights, as clearly stated in the Supreme Law of the Land - and yet, we have suffered under these laws because it is better than the options given to us. At least these laws were passed using a Constitutional process, even if the laws themselves are clearly in violation. However, I am growing deeply concerned by the rhetoric coming from the Left at this point. Suggestions that the President should issue executive orders to address the "problem" and proposals to confiscate weapons are ideas that risk a Constitutional crisis on par with the Civil War. 

Regardless of your position on the issue, I encourage you to contact your Congressman to advise them against these extreme, unconstituional acts. I understand that if you support gun control, this may be a difficult concept for you, so I will give you a third example:

If a President can issue an executive order against guns, what prevents a President from issuing an executive order on abortion? If you are pro-choice, what would prevent a future President from issuing an executive order from banning abortion? If you are pro-life, what would prevent this or a future President from issuing an executive order requiring all doctors to perform abortions and/or allowing "abortions" of "deformed" babies until the first birthday?

The Constitution was developed to prevent this sort of unilateral action. The Constitution was also developed to prevent the government from violating free will. Our country is far from perfect and we do not have a flawless record in following the rules; but we are better off when we do follow the rules. The alternative is a dictatorship that will surely spiral out of control.

Please contact your congressman.