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[247]

Was the Confederate soldier a Rebel?

Was the Confederate soldier a Rebel?

In The Green Bag for December, 1899, and January, 1900, this question is answered by Bushrod C. Washington. His argument is clean-cut, strong and convincing. His conclusion agrees with that of all southern men, and must be the verdict of posterity. He argues the legality of the course pursued by the seceding States, and plainly shows that the people of that section were not Rebels. No fairminded man can read history and deny the correctness of his conclusions. Quoting from unquestioned authority, he makes plain, beyond all controversy, that there was never any intention of any of the States in the original compact of union to give up the reserved rights not expressly delegated to the general government under the constitution. His argument, than which nothing can be clearer, is, that the North broke the compact and that the South, for that reason and that alone, sought to withdraw.

Candid men must admit that the compact was broken by the North. Admitting this, they must justify the South in the course taken by her people. The union was a union of political societies upon an agreed basis, and that basis was the constitution. Hamilton, as quoted by Mr. Washington, expresses this clearly, ‘If a number of political societies enter a larger political society, the laws which the latter may enact pursuant to the powers entrusted to it by its constitution must necessarily be supreme over those societies. But it will not follow from this that the acts of the larger which are not pursuant to its constituted powers but which are invasions of the residuary authorities of the smaller societies, will become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such.’

That Congress committed these acts of usurpation cannot now be denied, and the election of Mr. Lincoln in 1860, upon a platform pledged to override the constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States, was an unmistakable expression on the part of the people of the North of a determination to disregard the solemn mandates of that instrument which formed the bond of union between the sections. This determination once formed and expressed, the South had the legal right to withdraw from the compact, [248] quietly and peaceably, as she did. This right was clearly recognized by Mr. Webster, who was a statesman of much larger caliber than Harriet Beecher Stowe. He did not hesitate to say, at the same time that Uncle Tom's Cabin made its appearance, that if the northern States willfully and deliberately refused to carry into effect that part of the constitution which protected the southern people in the possession of their property, and Congress refused to provide a remedy, the South would no longer be bound to observe the compact. ‘A bargain,’ he said, ‘cannot be broken on one side and bind the other side.’

These words were not heeded at the North, but the false and scandalous utterances of Mrs. Stowe were allowed to drown them, and a flood of fanaticism swept over that section of our country, which culminated in the crime of 1860, and the terrible tragedy of the Civil War. There are men in the North who know this now, and there will be more of them as the years go by; and the verdict of posterity will be that if the sober and statesmanlike utterances of Daniel Webster had been allowed to prevail at the North, instead of the fanatical words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was no more worthy of comparison with that broad-minded and patriotic American than a rushlight to the sun; the horrors of the war might have been averted, and the problem of being rid of the evil of slavery, which bound the white man to one end of the chain and the black man to the other, would have been wrought out by the consent of the South itself, on peaceful lines, under the constitution and not in violation of it. That this would have been done before the close of the nineteenth century, if antagonisms had not been roused and kept alive by the fostering of the abolition sentiment at the North, and that the condition of the black man would be much better to-day than it is, can scarcely admit of a doubt. Abolition should have been the result of growth, not of revolution; and might have been wrought out patiently by means of the constitution, and should not have been brought about in bitter spite of it.

In the second series of Applelton's Popular Library, published in 1852, is an essay published from The London Times, in which the author reviews Uncle Tom's Cabin and predicts the evils that were liable to result from the book. He is no sympathizer with slavery, but shows that he was opposed to it with all his might. I will close this review by quoting a part of what he says. Let us remember that these words were written by an Englishman nearly fifty years ago: [249]

And be it stated to the credit of the slave owners of the South that they are fully alive to the danger of the portentous struggle, and have of late years shown no indisposition to help in their own emancipation as well in that of the slave, provided they may only escape the dire catastrophe we speak of. It is certain that a large class of slave owners in the South are most desirous to relieve their soil of the stain and inconvenience of slavery, if the tremendous step can be taken with safety to all parties concerned in the act of liberation. The efforts made in the South to improve the condition of the slave show at least that humanity is not dead in the bosom of the proprietors. Mrs. Stowe has certainly not done justice to this branch of the subject. Horrors in connection with slavery—itself a horror—unquestionably exist, but all accounts—save her own and those of writers actuated by her extreme views—concur in describing the general condition of the Southern slave as one of comparative happiness and comfort such as many a free man in the United Kingdom might regard with envy. One authority on this point is too important to be overlooked. In the year 1842 a Scotch weaver named William Thompson traveled through the Southern States. He supported himself on his way by manual labor; he mixed with the humblest classes black and white, and on his return home he published an account of his journeyings. He had quitted Scotland a sworn hater of slave proprietors, but he confessed that experience had modified his views on this supject to a considerable degree. He had witnessed slavery in most of the slave-holding States; he had lived for weeks among negroes in cotton plantations, and he asserted that he had never beheld one-fifth of the real suffering that he had seen among the laboring poor in England. Nay, more, he declared: “That the members of the same family of negroes are not so much scattered as those of workingmen in Scotland, whose necessities compel them to separate at an age when the American slave is running about gathering health and strength.”

Ten years have not increased the hardships of the Southern slave. During that period colonization has come to his relief; education has, legally or illegally, found its way into his cabin, and Christianity has added spiritual consolations to his allowed, admitted physical enjoyments. It has been justly said that to these men of the South who have done their best for the negro under the institution of slavery must we look for any great effort in favor of emancipation and they who are best acquainted with the progress of events in those parts declare that at this moment “there are powerful and [250] irresistible influences at work in a large part of the slave States tending toward the abolition of slavery within these boundaries.”

We can well believe it. The world is working its way toward liberty, and the blacks will not be left behind in the onward march. Since the adoption of the American Constitution seven States have voluntarily abolished slavery. When that Constitution was proclaimed there was scarcely a free black in the country. According to the last census, the free blacks amount to 418,173, and of these 233,691 are blacks of the South, liberated by their owners, and not by the force of law. We cannot shut our eyes to these facts. Neither can we deny that, desirable as negro emancipation may be in the United States, abolition must be the result of growth, not of revolution; must be patiently wrought out by means of the American Constitution, and not in bitter spite of it. America cannot for any time resist the enlightened spirit of our age, and it is manifestly her interest to adapt her institutions to its temper. That she will eventually do so if she be not a divided household—if the South be not goaded to illiberality by the North—if public writers deal with the matter in the spirit of conciliation, justice, charity and truth, we will not permit ourselves to doubt. That she is alive to the necessities of the age is manifest from the circumstances that, for the last four years, she has been very busy preparing the way for emancipation by a method that has not failed in older countries to remove national trouble almost as intolerable as that of slavery itself.

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