Historical and Interesting facts

U.S. Constitution
Written by Stephen T. Foster

The first union of the original 13 colonies was effected by the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781. The articles established a confederation of sovereign states in a permanent union. The "permanence" lasted only until 1788, when 11 states withdrew from the confederation and ratified the new Constitution, which became effective on March 4, 1789. The founding fathers recognized the defects in the Articles of Confederation, learned from those defects, and scrapped the articles in favor of the "more perfect union" found in the Constitution.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there any mention of the union of the states being permanent. This was not an oversight by any means. Indeed, when New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia ratified the Constitution, they specifically stated that they reserved the right to resume the governmental powers granted to the United States. Their claim to the right of secession was understood and agreed to by the other ratifiers, including George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention and was also a delegate from Virginia. In his book Life of Webster Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge writes, "It is safe to say that there was not a man in the country, from Washington and Hamilton to Clinton and Mason, who did not regard the new system as an experiment from which each and every State had a right to peaceably withdraw." A textbook used at West Point before the Civil War, A View of the Constitution, written by Judge William Rawle, states, "The secession of a State depends on the will of the people of such a State."

Well into the 19th century, the United States was still viewed by many Americans as an experimental confederation from which states could secede just as they had earlier acceded to it. It took a bloody war to prove them wrong.

Fascinating Fact: It is significant that no Confederate leader was ever brought to trail for treason. A trail would have brought a verdict on the constitutional legality of secession. Federal prosecutors were satisfied with the verdict that had been decided in battle.

American Slavery
Slaves for Life
Written by Stephen T. Foster

A year before the Mayflower deposited the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock in 1620, American slavery began when a Dutch ship anchored at Jamestown, Va., and traded to the colonists, in exchange for food, 20 Spanish-named Africans the Dutch sailors had stolen from a Spanish ship, Within five years, two of these first slaves produced the first black baby to be born in English America.

Hundreds of thousands of blacks were brought to the land that would become the United States before their importation was discontinued. But blacks arrived slowly during the first decades of colonization. Most white immigrants during this time came as indentured servants, and many of the first blacks were also indentured and earned their freedom after a period of servitude.

The growing colonies were remarkably free of racial bias: free blacks voted, owned land, held elective office, and imported their own white indentured servants. The major prejudice of the time was by the English gentry toward the lower classes, without distinction as to color. Black and white indentured servants worked and lived together and sometimes ran away together. The primary distinction between the two groups was the longer "breaking-in" period for newly imported Africans, who understood neither the language nor the customs of their masters.

The numbers of white European indentured immigrants decreased during the second half of the century, and plantation owners increasingly turned to Africans to supply the labor necessary to meet the worldwide demand for tobacco and other colonial staple crops. American slavery gradually took on a new form. Most of the blacks who arrived in the colonies during the 17th century were slaves for life and had little hope of changing that status. For about the same money that would purchase a white European's services for seven years, a black African could be purchased for life, and the supply of slaves seemed to be inexhaustible.

Fascinating Fact: The first Spanish and Portuguese explores of the New World were accompanied by black men, some of whom were free. There were 30 black men with Balboa when he discovered the Pacific Ocean.

Sherman's March
Written by Stephen T. Foster

General William T. Sherman's march to the sea has been depicted in history books as a grand event equal in scope to the exploits of the Roman Empire or Napoleonic France. White Southerners, however, had quite a different view of the "grand event." They saw it as a marauding band of barbaric invaders intent only on plunder and utter devastation of all they touched.

Indeed, there were few strategic military objectives and no armies to fight-only defenseless civilians to whom Sherman showed merciless disdain as he systematically destroyed the accumulated wealth of generations.

Sherman's army entered Columbia, S.C., on February 17, 1865. Despite Sherman's assurance to the contrary, the city was, in the words of Rebel General Wade Hampton, "burned to the ground, deliberately, systematically, and atrociously" that night by tourch-wielding Union soldiers. "Having utterly ruined Columbia," according to Sherman, his army resumed its march northward on February 20, burning everything in its path until reaching North Carolina on March 7.

Sherman's men did not feel the same hatred toward North Carolina as they did for the "cradle of secession" to the south-or perhaps they were finally sickened by their actions. In any event, the great devastation abated, but plunder and robbery continued as Sherman's troops moved through the state.

By March 11, Sherman's force was concentrated at Fayetteville, N.C., and the next day he made contact with the federal force that had recently captured Wilmington, N.C. "Up to this point," Sherman reported, "I had perfectly succeeded in interposing my superior army between the scattered parts of the enemy." But now he found that Confederate forces commanded by General Joseph E. Johnson were concentrating in his path.

Fascinating Fact: Columbia's Ursuline Convent and Academy, where the daughters of prominent Southerners and Northerners had been educated, was burned to the ground despite the fact that the mother superior had once taught Sherman's daughter.