The Story of Civil Liberty in the United States

By Leon Whipple | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IV
CIVIL LEBERTY AND CIVIL WAR

FOR civil liberty the Civil War ( 1861-1865) meant three things. First, it consummated the claim of one phase of the "tyranny of the majority," namely that a minority is not free to withdraw and set up a new state. Second, it proved again that war suspends constitutional guarantees. Third, it left the United States a legacy of violence and of weakened constitutional ideals.

The first is most important for liberty as an historic process. The majority of States in population and power finally asserted their rule over the rest--forbidding in effect any section from splitting off to install a new state guarantee in order to secure for itself some special liberty. The liberties the South wanted were: first, to own slaves, and second, to assert the opposite of tyranny by the majority of states, namely, tyranny by individual states under the principle of "states' rights." With the defeat of this second principle the Union established a "geographical tyranny" of the majority. A few years later the Mormons attempted to detach from the Union the Territory of Utah to create the polygamous state of Deseret. But the Union held Utah, and the Mormons have been denied liberty to practice polygamy.

In these cases the power of the majority achieved what are considered to be good ends. It freed the slaves and ended polygamy. But at the same time it created the machinery for crushing other minorities, which may not represent socially undesirable purposes. Now minorities must make their fight for existence inside the Union. They cannot set up independent states in which to function. Their liberty must be won at home, by education, not by migration. Out

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