Colorado and Maine bumbling U.S. into an election civil war
Right after Christmas, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley threw up on her shoes trying to answer a typically simple question from a typically simple voter in New Hampshire: What was the Civil War about?
The correct and greatly simplified answer nowadays is that the Civil War was about slavery.
That’s true as far as it goes, but it, of course, omits some important facts. Slavery was allowed in the North until passage of the 13th Amendment, which was not ratified by the current president’s own state of Delaware until 1901. President Abraham Lincoln himself refused to accept the frame of slavery for his war effort until he needed something to rally the troops.
About 90% of Confederate soldiers owned no slaves. The Northern economy relied on Southern slavery.
There are more, but you get the point.
The more complicated truth is that the Civil War was at its root a dispute about whether states could secede from the Union. The proximal issue was, of course, slavery, but in the 70 years prior to the firing on Fort Sumter other issues had driven citizens to talk of secession or rebellion including taxation during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791; the War of 1812, during which the Hartford Convention of New England states made it plain that they believed secession was legitimate, and trade and tariffs during the nullification crisis in 1832.
In 1860, the rivening issue was slavery, but the underlying conflict was about secession.
For those keeping score, the U.S. Constitution — to which many Southern officers had taken an oath to defend — is silent on the question of whether states may leave the Union. The Federalist Papers were similarly silent on the authority of a state to exit the Union.
The South — and many in the North — believed that defending the ability of an individual state to leave the Union was in conformity with the Constitution as they understood it.
In short, the United States bumbled into the Civil War mostly because of differing interpretations of a foundational element of our governance — whether acceptance into the Union was reversible or not.
That’s an answer that is clearly beyond Mrs. Haley’s capability as well as the capacity and willingness of a campaign audience to hear. But if the bumbling toward some very bad outcome sounds familiar, it should.
The day after Mrs. Haley’s answer, Maine became the second state — following the footsteps of Colorado — to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the presidential ballot without any finding of guilt in a court of competent jurisdiction or due process of any kind. No doubt it will not be the last.
Like their intellectual forbears in the generation before the Civil War, the indifference of officials in Colorado and Maine to the practical consequences associated with their actions is inexplicable.
It’s not complicated. When people are precluded from expressing their preferences at the ballot box, they do not become silent. Rather, they find other, less gentle ways of expressing those preferences. The other side of that coin is, of course, that citizens are expected to abide by the results of free and fair elections.
When you wonder how it comes to pass that shooting at your fellow citizens becomes something that people not only consider but do, think about the Civil War — where political jurisdictions and their citizens who wanted to leave the United States in peace were not allowed to do so.
Then think for a moment about the 2024 elections, in which there may be some voters who want to vote for Mr. Trump as a peaceful expression of their political preferences and may not be allowed to.
As we start the new year, it is worth noting that we are sailing into choppy, mostly uncharted waters, and the charts that we do have suggest things may get worse before they get better.
• Michael McKenna is a contributing editor at The Washington Times and a co-host of the podcast “The Unregulated.”