Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right

Posted By on June 3, 2011

The conversation, and I use that term loosely, usually began something like this:

“David, don’t hit (kick, bite, scratch, push, shove, yell at, you get the picture) your brother!”

“But Mom/Dad, he hit (kicked, bit, pushed, etc., etc.) me first!”

“David, you’re the older one and you should know better.” OR “David, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Most of us who are old enough to know better have both heard this argument, and used it. Phooey! I guess I am like my parents.

So, before I continue I guess I should thank my parents for raising me the way they did, and for doing a really good job; even though sometimes they think they failed.

While in mathematics a double negative makes a positive, in morality two wrongs only lead to a greater wrong. I cannot correct a moral injustice with another moral injustice. We all know this is true, but we tend to gloss over this truth as we study history, and observe the plethora of social ills besetting our nation and the world at large.

I shall quote, once again, George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Or in the more popular misquoted version:

“Those who do not learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat its failures.”

While it is easy to focus on the misquote, the true version should suffice. If I “cannot remember the past…” I’ve never heard it, or never studied it adequately, or simply suckle at the allegorical breasts of those who taught me. I am now “CONDEMNED.” That is a very harsh word. No self-respecting individual wishes to be condemned, oh but how our mothers have tried to use this motivation to lead us down the “right” paths. When I am “CONDEMNED” I lose my freedom, my rights, control over my own destiny, and I – according to Santayana – am now on a path leading me straight to a repetition of history, and usually that is the direction of its failures, shortfalls and injustices.

As a result, it is my desire to learn history as thoroughly as possible, to investigate it, analyze it, mull it over, meditate on it and glean from it the truths, precepts, principles and lessons that will lead me down a new path, a path filled with promise and possibility. A path where freedom abounds and the glories of future victories, triumphs and successes outshine the noon day sun. Okay, I know that is probably a little overstated and exaggerated, but you get the picture.

Now, let’s go back to the premise on which I began this article; “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Let me preface what I am about to say by stating that I have always been what could be termed an abolitionist. I believe the institution of American slavery was wrong, and cannot be justified in any way shape or form. Truly there is a biblically described slavery, but the American version does not come within the qualifications of this type. I believe this institution was an egregious scourge upon the American psyche and reputation. I hold it should have been abolished, and up until recently would have considered myself a Unionist. I hail originally from a border state, one that was both Union and Confederate, I know we couldn’t make up our minds. We had both a pro-Union government operating under the State’s Constitution, and a Confederate government in exile. If the Union was Blue and the Confederacy Gray, then were we some kind of weird combination of the two?


Recently, with my growing sense of strict adherence to the US Constitution, and willingness to look at history through a different pair of glasses, I am beginning to look at the Civil War, the War of Northern Aggression, or the Most Recent Unpleasantness, from a new perspective. My position has not settled, but it is changing with each new discovery and understanding of the events leading up to this darkest time period in American history.

Throughout the early Nineteenth Century there was a growing movement within the churches and denominations of the Northern States. This movement was very evangelical and fundamentalist. Among the revivalists were men like Barton Stone, Charles Finney, Lyman Beecher and Lyman and Alexander Campbell. These were fiery preachers who taught personal responsibility and the need to “go into all the world” preaching the good news. This period is often called “The Second Great Awakening,” and the vast majority of its activity took place within the Northern States. It has been reported that Charles Finney attempted to go to the Southern States on at least two occasions, but according to him (Finney) God prevented him.

The Second Great Awakening was accompanied by the birth of the abolitionist movement, naturally in the Northern States. As the “revival” spread, so also did the abolitionist movement; complete with all the evangelical fervor experienced in the churches and camp meetings.

The growing abolitionist movement began to spread into the political arena, beyond the private citizens it was already influencing. In its zeal to correct the scourge of slavery, and bring freedom to the enslaved hordes, the Underground Railroad was established. thus not only openly, but secretly the people of the North began to assist fugitive slaves in their bid for freedom.

Now, we run smack dab into the problem…

The US Constitution in Article IV, Section 2 paragraph 3, states:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Uh-oh! The Constitution clearly addresses the activities mentioned above in regards fugitive slaves, the slave must be returned. Then when this is coupled to the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

We determine this is clearly addressed, and thus does not fall under the purview of this amendment. State authorities, when made aware of the existence of a fugitive slave, or slaves, and the Underground Railroad would have been required to abide by the mandates of the Constitution and return the slave; BUT the abolitionists with their power were circumventing this Constitutional provision.

As a result, the Southern States felt compelled to push forward a new piece of legislation to reinforce the Constitutional provision, The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This was a law which restated the Constitutional provision and gave it added force of law. At the time there were nineteen Northern States which did not permit slavery, and of these thirteen passed Nullification Acts against The Fugitive Slave Act, and two or three more simply refused to enforce its provisions. Wow! Thirteen States used the prerogative of States’ Nullification of Federal Laws. You don’t read about this in modern history books.

But herein lies the problem. Nullification as discussed and presented by the Founding Fathers was a State’s action to veto, or prohibit UN-Constitutional usurpations, encroachments or actions outside of the strict limits placed by the US Constitution on the Federal Government. This is the key, it was the State’s check and balance to protect its citizens against a growing, expanding government, or to protect and preserve the rights of either the State or the citizen. It was never intended to force a particular state’s, or region’s view on another.

Therefore these Nullification Acts were both UN-Constitutional and legally moot since they were outside the bounds of both Constitutional and founding principles. Additionally, the actions of the abolitionists, the Underground Railroad and the majority of Northern State governments were hypocritical. On the one hand they wanted to espouse the idea the Southern States had no Constitutional right of secession, BUT on the other they wanted to adhere to their completely UN-Constitutional actions in regards to fugitive and runaway slaves.

Slavery in the South may have been wrong, but the actions of the Northern States were just as wrong and egregious against the union of the States. While slavery was morally despicable, the actions of the abolitionists and Northern States to force their position and beliefs outside the borders of their states, and into the borders of equally sovereign States holding slavery to be legal is just as despicable and borders on tyranny.  While slavery was horrendous and a plague upon the landscape of the nation, why should I not hold the UN-Constitutional actions of the abolitionists and Northern States to the same judgment? One was morally repugnant, and the other drove a wedge between peaceable, sovereign States joined together for the mutual benefit of each other.

Yes, “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right,” and these two led to the darkest hours faced by this great nation. These two led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. These two led to the suffering of untold thousands upon thousands. These two led to the destruction of billions of dollars worth of property, revenue and production. These two marred and changed the makeup of the federal government, and led to the monstrosity under which we are now burdened.

A wrong, no matter how well-intentioned, is still a wrong; and wrong’s on the national scale which violate, or run counter to the Constitution only lead to tyranny.

Think about it, and let me know your thoughts.

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2 Responses to “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right”

  1. vmditton says:

    When anyone brings this topic up, the two wrongs dont make a right argument to me is not as important as the FACT that so many AMERICANS were forced to fight each other. And DIED. We are ONE Country, and Dear Lord WE are fighting each other again BECAUSE those who are supposed to work out differences of opinion PEACEFULLY simply are incapable of that. Being in and around military literally all of my life, I agree with “talk softly but carry a big stick”. When the stick comes before the speaking, I get all kinds of pissed off all kinds of fast.

  2. vmditton says:

    Oh yes, as the oldest of FOUR girls, I was always held accountable for anything they did that I did not stop. Who is being held accountable for what is going on now? All the “not me, I didn’t do it”, and finger pointing is worse than childish. Who and where are the adults?

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