Is Davis A Traitor? – Interview With Brion McClanahan

todayMay 22, 2013 4

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Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – That’s what we did with Is Davis A Traitor?  It is, in our opinion and in the opinion of many people, the greatest book ever written about not only was secession a constitutional right prior to the war of 1861, but on the Constitution as a compact and the theory behind it and the facts of the case.  There’s even a chapter in the book that’s called “The Facts of the Case.”  It’s just a marvelous book that’s been lost to time.  Check out today’s transcript for the rest…


Begin Mike Church Show Transcript

Mike:  The book that Brion McClanahan and I have been working on Is Davis A Traitor? Or Was Secession A Constitutional Right Previous to the War of 1861? arrives here at Studio D today in hardback.  I haven’t authored any books.  I still haven’t really authored a book.  All I did was digitize the file, organize it, look for the myriad of mistakes that are made whenever you digitize old text — the way they used to set type is not the way we set type today.  OCR technology is what is used; optical character recognition is what it’s called.  It’s like if Andrew were to discover a letter written by his great, great, great, great uncle about the Society of the Cincinnati, say maybe it was an invitation to something or an essay about the society and had been typeset back in the early part of the 19th century, you could put it on a flatbed scanner and scan it.  Using OCR software, it will turn the printed analog images into text that you can edit.  The rub is that inevitably the text is always amazingly screwed up.  The software sees letters that aren’t there.  It invariably misses punctuation.  It doesn’t do a very good job.  You have to go through it and physically look for the mistakes and create them while you’ve got the main script in one hand and the computer version in the other.


That’s what we did with Is Davis A Traitor?  It is, in our opinion and in the opinion of many people, the greatest book ever written about not only was secession a constitutional right prior to the war of 1861, but on the Constitution as a compact and the theory behind it and the facts of the case.  There’s even a chapter in the book that’s called “The Facts of the Case.”  It’s just a marvelous book that’s been lost to time.  No one reads it anymore.  I read it.  As a matter of fact, I read it and I was so excited as I was reading it because of what I was learning.  I was checking all of Andrew Taylor Bledsoe’s facts as I was going.  I was so excited about it that I immediately went: I want to see what other versions of this are available; I may want to sell this in the Founders Tradin’ Post.  The only versions I could find are scanned versions of the actual text.  The world now has a text version.  Brion McClanahan is now on the Dude Maker Hotline with me.  We’ll talk a little bit about this and about some popular events going on today.  Brion, good morning.  How are you?

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Brion McClanahan:  I’m doing great, how you doing?  Thanks for having me.

Mike:  You’re very, very welcome.  To the text of Is Davis A Traitor? written by Albert Taylor Bledsoe, you are the one that had recommended to me that I read this book.  This was in an interview you and I did way back, I think it was September of last year.  You said: If you want to read the ultimate book about secession and the Constitution as compact, you need to read Albert Taylor Bledsoe.  I went and bought myself a used copy.  I actually have an 1866 version that was printed for the author.  That’s the version on which we based our version of the book.  I want to thank you for that.  If you would, as a professor of history, just walk the audience through a little bit of the history of why Taylor Bledsoe was inspired or hired or corralled or commissioned to write this book.

For more on Ben Franklin, pick up your copy of The Spirit of 76 right here!
For more on Ben Franklin, pick up your copy of The Spirit of 76 right here!

McClanahan:  Sure.  First of all, yes, it is the best defense of secession that’s ever been written.  As you said, in the introduction, the compact facts, that the Constitution is a compact between states.  I actually ran across this book because Clyde Wilson, who was my advisor in graduate school, actually edited a version of it as well. It was Wade Hansen’s version.  It was a similar copy.  In my copy, Wade Hansen has written in the margins and it’s been copied on, so you can see what Wade Hansen thought about different things.  Bledsoe, of course, wrote this book in 1866, but he started writing it during the war.  He actually was a lawyer with Abraham Lincoln in Illinois for a time.  Then he taught at various schools across the South.

When the war began, he actually worked for the Confederate War Department and eventually figured out Jefferson Davis, who was the president of the Confederacy, figured out along with Bledsoe’s assistance that that wasn’t really the job for him.  They sailed over to England to promote the Confederate cause in England.  Of course, the idea was to get Confederate recognition and then help break the blockade and ultimately maybe win the war.  That didn’t happen.  While Bledsoe was there, he’s writing this defense of secession, defense of the South.  He’s working on this thing, spending time in libraries, speaking with various British officials who were sympathetic.  Then eventually he comes back and meets with Jefferson Davis while Davis is in prison.  He says: I’ve got this book that I have that would defend secession in principle, and of course by default defend the South.  Davis said: You need to get this thing out there.

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He wrote it, polished it off, and published it in 1866.  He thought it was the definitive answer to the question as to whether secession was actually constitutional and legal.  I think it really hasn’t ever been answered since that time.  Most people don’t know about it.  Of course, Bledsoe was characterized as a Southern partisan, this guy who was just promoting a lost cause.  Bledsoe himself spent a lot of time in the North.  He was a Whig throughout much of his political career.  It’s not like he was a guy that was a rabid fire-eater secessionist throughout most of his life.  He came to that conclusion later.  He shows how Daniel Webster said the Constitution was a compact.  All these other people throughout time, even Hamilton said secession was possible or at least the Constitution was a compact.  He uses their own words against them, which is what makes the book so good.

Mike:  It’s intriguing to me as well that you say Bledsoe was not a Southern partisan.  He may have been during the war because he had to be, but it’s intriguing and you will note that in the introductory page of our version, we recreated the title page as Bledsoe had it created.  The book was printed by Innes & Company, New York, New York.

america-secede-or-die-t-shirtMcClanahan:  There were, of course, a lot of people that were sympathetic to the South and the cause of secession in New York City. In fact, New York City talked about seceding from New York during the war.  It’s not like this was some completely alien concept and the Southerners just decide in 1861: Secession sounds like a good idea; let’s do it.  It had been talked about all the way back in the 1790s, essentially in the North first.  I think it’s a farce to say that secession was just created out of thin air and this idea of Constitution as compact was created out of thin air.  It was the known fact all the way up through the founding period and even into the middle of the 19th century.  When people pointed this out, they were going back to the founding fathers themselves and saying this is true.  I think that’s the great thing about your cover.  You show that this really is about the founding generation, not about the war itself or the South, even though that will by default be a vindication for it.  This is about the founding generation.  I think that’s an important point to make throughout the entire promotion of this book.

Mike:  People are always asking me, it’s the number one question I get and I bet the number one question you get: Mike, where do I start?  What’s a good book to read about the Constitution?  Of course, I always respond you can read Kevin Gutzman’s Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution.  You can read Brion McClanahan’s phenomenal book you ought to keep on your desk as you research and write and talk about these things amongst friends and family, Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution.  As you point out on the cover of our book, it says this is a handbook on the Constitution as a compact.  If you want a glowing work that was written while the memory of the Constitution and what living under it was like before Lincoln and before nationalism and before the 16th and 17th Amendments and all those other things, you’re not going to find a finer piece of work.  You’re right, it is all about the historical case for the federal constitution, how it was made, who made it, and whether or not it was a compact among states.  The fact of the matter is, and as Bledsoe points out in Chapter 15, he presents the facts of the case.  The facts are unassailable.  Even Daniel Webster had to — the funniest part about — the book is very funny, too, right, Brion?

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McClanahan:  Absolutely.  My favorite, I’ll paraphrase, but he actually says something like: I know it might be sacrilege to people who admire Alexander Hamilton to say he’s wrong or he wasn’t a nationalist.  He makes funny little quips throughout the book.  If you know a little bit of history, you’re going to be in stitches reading this stuff.  It’s great.  He’s got a great sense of humor, too, and I think that’s also a nice part about the book.

Mike:  There’s a chapter called “Mr. Webster versus Mr. Webster.”

McClanahan:  Just the title is great.  It’s fantastic.

republican-shirt-ifyouhavetoask1Mike:  It’s an 1851 version of Daniel Webster seeing what he’s unleashed going: Oh, crap, I gotta put this genie back in the bottle.  These nutjobs are about to start killing people over South Carolina leaving the Union.  I didn’t mean for that to happen.  So the chapter contrasts Daniel Webster as he got old and Daniel Webster when he was young.  When he was young, he was a firebrand: Jackson is right.  We are a nation; we’re not a union of states.  It just adds, I think, to the charm of the book.  The cover title: A Classic Text of Constitutional Fact Finding Formatted & Indexed For Modern Audiences – This Edition Presented & Edited by Brion McClanahan & Mike Church.  This is Is Davis A Traitor? Or Was Secession A Constitutional Right Previous To The War Of 1861?  Some people may be wondering: Come on, Mike, get back to bashing Obama.  This has nothing to do with life today.  No one is going to secede.  You know it and I know it.  This is stupid, so stop talking about it.  I know because I get mail like this and I read my Facebook page.  This comes up every single day.  When I hear that, I always try to calmly respond: Those are the facts as you presented them today.  That is a product of this book and other books and other works like it being totally ignored.  How do you answer that statement when you hear it?

McClanahan:  Well, this stuff is contemporary history.  It’s 19th century stuff, but one point I think is essential with Webster, he actually was a secessionist back during the War of 1812.  He favored it at one point.  He made a speech, which Bledsoe didn’t put in the book, but he made a speech where he said he is a secessionist, then he became a nationalist, then later on after the Compromise of 1850, he believed in the compact again.  Webster is all over the place.   He’s a quintessential politician.

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With Obama, all this stuff is contemporary, as you said.  We’re here because of the mess that was created when the Constitution was trashed.  It all goes back to that.  I think the interesting thing about Obama, if you look at the Declaration of Independence, which is really where secession begins in the American policy, we’re here because of secession, that was an indictment of the king.  Even if the king didn’t do all those things personally, he was still responsible for those things.  If you look at all the things that are going on with Obama now, whether it’s the IRS or Benghazi or all these other things, even though he’s trying to say: It wasn’t me.  I don’t know who you’re talking about.  These were subordinates.  It wasn’t me.  Wasn’t me.  He is responsible for all those things.

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That was one of the selling points of the executive branch.  James Wilson, who was an ardent nationalist, one of the most ardent nationalists you can find, one of the biggest promoters of the presidency, said: The best thing about the single executive is that if anything bad happens, that person is responsible.  We can pin it on them.  When Madison was promoting impeachment as a process of getting rid of a president, he said negligence was one of the things that would lead to impeachment.  We have a situation where that exact thing has happened.  Obama should be impeached.  He should have been impeached years ago, but he should be impeached now and convicted for it.  He might be impeached, but he won’t get convicted.  What goes around comes around.  This is the same thing happening over and over again.  They pointed out this would happen.  Bledsoe said we’ve trashed the Constitution and we get what we deserve.  Here we are.

Mike:  I think that’s a great analogy, too, that President Obama, and President Bush before him and President Clinton before him, all had abuses or oversaw abuses whether it was in the executive branch or whether it happened in the legislative branch, which the executive branch is supposed to have some power to curb, or whether it happened in the judicial branch, abuses have been going on nonstop.  Going all the way back to the first Roosevelt, Teddy, and then all the way through Franklin and all modern American presidents, there has been some manner of activity that is very closely related to or analogous to the activity that Jefferson, John Adams, Richard Henry Lee, Ben Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Charles Carroll of Carrolton and many other founders, Luther Martin, said: The king’s doing this.  We don’t care whether or not he actually did it.  His troops did invade Boston.  Gage did order that troops be quartered in Boston.  There was a battle called Bunker Hill.  There were shots fired at Lexington and Concord.  You did assess a tax and didn’t allow us any representation.  You did fight a war without asking us and then tried to get us to pay for it after the fact.

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Most people also don’t know that Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration had 81 complaints.  He really didn’t like George III at all.  When Adams first read it, he said that he didn’t like Jefferson calling his majesty a tyrant.  Congress went through and peeled out 43 of those complaints, edited some, and what remains are the 38 complaints against the king.  You could easily just replace “He has ordered” with “The President has ordered” and you’d pretty much have American life today, wouldn’t you?

McClanahan:  That’s exactly right.  I think there’s no doubt about it. George III actually had less power than the American presidents have today.  George III, if you look at him from a British perspective, wasn’t a bad king.  The British people in England didn’t think he was a bad monarch.  He was called the “Mad Monarch” later because he went crazy, but when he was still young and vibrant and had his mind, he wasn’t a bad guy.  He was generally considered a good king.  All the power that the presidents have in the United States today, the founders would be rolling in their graves about this.

article-v-pamphlet-adIn my book Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution, I say every president in the last hundred years should have been impeached.  When I was talking about that, I was on G. Gordon Liddy’s show.  When he saw the show, he started laughing.  People started looking at this and focusing on that saying: That can’t be true.  It is.  If you look at the definition of impeachment, if you look at what they thought should be an impeachable offense, if you look at the Declaration, the presidents today have so much power, and it’s not just Obama.  As you said, it’s Bush and Clinton and Bush before that, and even Reagan abused his authority at times.  You have a situation where there are impeachable offenses occurring, but nobody knows the original Constitution, so we’re left with this mess.  That is something that I hope Bledsoe’s book corrects and all the great work you do and everything we try to say.  We just need to educate people.  If we start doing that, slowly but surely the seed is planted and hopefully it’ll germinate and produce the tree of liberty, which is what we need.

Mike:  It was a pleasure working with you, Brion.  I think we’ve created something that can be passed on.  As I said, for the first time now, the manuscript is actually available digitally.  It can be cut, copied, pasted.  It’s all been corrected.  It’s formatted.  It’s ready to go.  Hopefully modern audiences will rediscover their birthright, which is that the Constitution is a compact.  If we don’t like this government, we can reform, alter, abolish it, or we can leave it.  That is why it is important to revive great works like Is Davis A Traitor? Or Was Secession A Constitutional Right Previous to the War of 1861? by Albert Taylor Bledsoe.  Brion McClanahan and I put this version together.

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By the way, the other thing that makes our version just a little bit more charming for modern audiences is McClanahan and I each took half of the chapters, re-read them thoroughly, and then wrote very succinct, to-the-point one- or two-paragraph introductions to each chapter.  You can do this with Bledsoe’s book.  You can bounce around in between chapters.  You don’t have to read it linearly from start to finish.  You can read it one chapter at a time.  You can look at the introductions and go: I want to read this chapter.  Some of them are only maybe a page and a half, two pages long.  I think that’s another part of what we’ve added to the great story that Bledsoe told.

McClanahan:  You did the majority of the work.  You did a nice job.  I think readers will really enjoy it.  As you said, it has an index now, notes, things that it didn’t have before.  This is just a great job on your part.  I hope your readers enjoy it and I hope they really get some use out of it.

Mike:  Brion, thank you very much.  I appreciate it.  A pleasure working with you, my friend.  That’s Brion McClanahan.  The book is Is Davis A Traitor?  You can find it at Amazon and at Founders Tradin’ Post at my website

End Mike Church Show Transcript


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