Origin of the late war.
The late civil war which raged in the United States
has been very generally attributed to the abolition of slavery as its cause.
When we consider how deeply the institutions of southern society and the operations of southern industry were founded in slavery, we must admit that this was cause enough to have produced such a result.
But great and wide as was that cause in its far-reaching effects, a close study of the history of the times will bring us to the conclusion that it was the fear of a mischief far more extensive and deeper even than this which drove cool and reflecting minds in the South
to believe that it was better to make the death struggle at once than submit tamely to what was inevitable, unless its coming could be averted by force.
Men, too old to be driven blindly by passion; women, whose gentle and kindly instincts were deeply impressed by the horrors of war, and young men, with fortune and position yet to be won in an open and inviting field, if peace could be maintained so as to secure the opportunities of liberty and fair treatment, united in the common cause and determined to make a holocaust of all that was dear to them on the altars of war sooner than submit without resentment to the loss of liberty, honor and property by a cruel abuse of power and a breach of plighted faith on the part of those who had professed to enter with them into a union of justice and fraternal affection.
When this Union was originally formed, the United States
embraced too many degrees of latitude and longitude, and too many varieties of climate and production, to make it practicable to establish and administer justly one common government which should take charge of all the interests of society.
To the wise men who were entrusted with the formation of that union and common government it was obvious enough that each separate society should be entrusted with the management of its own peculiar interests and
that the united government should take charge only of those interests which were common and general.
To enforce this necessary distinction, it was provided that all powers, not specially granted, should be reserved to the people and the States, and a list of the granted powers was carefully and specifically made.
But two parties soon arose in regard to these limitations.
Those who wielded the powers thus granted became interested to remove these limitations as far as possible, whilst the minority, who belonged to the governed rather than the governing party, early learned to regard these limitations as the best and surest defences against the abuses and oppression of a despotic majority.
A tendency soon became manifest in the non-slaveholding portion of the union to constitute themselves into that governing party.
Endowed with the greater share of power in the commencement, that preponderance was increased by the course of events.
The famous northwestern ordinance, to which the old Virginia
fathers were driven by their abhorrence of slavery, without looking too closely to its probable consequences, made the predominance of the non-slaveholding section in the government irresistible.
The abolition of the slave-trade, after a time, by the constitution and the northwestern ordinance, left the growing superiority of that section not even doubtful.
But the acquisition of Louisiana
made another order of growth in political power possible as between the two sections.
The bare possibility of such a result kindled a violent opposition in some portions of the non-slaveholding section.
In New England
it was particularly angry, and there sprung up for the first time in the history of our government audible threats of separation.
The “land hunger” of the Anglo-Saxon
race, as Theodore Parker
calls it, soon quieted the opposition to the acquisition of territory, but a far more bitter strife arose as to the equal rights of the two sections to settle the vacant territory of the Union
and grow possibly part passu
So fierce was the strife, and so loud its tumult, that for the first time it broke upon Mr. Jefferson
's ear like “a fire bell in the night.”
The contest between the two sections over the limitations in the constitution upon the governing party under it began with the commencement of its history, and ended only, as I shall presently show, with the revolution which destroyed the old form and established the despotism of a majority of numbers.
It is in the history of this contest we must look for the true causes of the war, and the use made of the victory by the winning party will show the object and nature of that contest.
When it became obvious that the only protection of
the rights of the minority against the encroachments of the majority was to be found in the limitations upon the power of the governing party, a death struggle arose between the two parties over the constitutional restraints upon this power.
The struggle between the two parties commenced at the beginning of the government.
These were respectively led by Hamilton
, the one with an avowed preference for monarchy, the other the great apostle of democracy — men of signal abilities, and each conscious of what would be the consequence of complete and perfect victory on either side.
The party of power showed a constant tendency to draw all important subjects of jurisdiction within the vortex of Federal control, and an equally persevering effort on the other to limit that control to the strict necessities of a common government.
A great leader, who came into the contest and figured in it until it was well nigh ended, used to say that in all good governments there existed a tax-consuming and a tax-paying party, between whom a constant conflict existed, and in the history of that conflict the history of party strife would be found to consist; but when the first acquired complete supremacy the nature, if not the form of the government — if it was originally republican — was sure to change.
The leaders of the States rights party, aware of this tendency, as the contest went on, became more and more anxious to preserve their constitutional defences, and loudly proclaimed the danger of yielding them up. Time and again they proclaimed that the worst of all governments was that of a majority of numbers with absolute and unrestricted powers.
Despotism of all sorts was bad, but the despotism of a majority of numbers in a democratic form of government was the worst of all — particularly was that the case in regard to slavery, as was often asserted.
In February, 1790, when two abolition petitions, one of them signed by Dr. Franklin
, were presented to Congress, that body “resolved that Congress had no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or even the treatment of them within any of the States, it remaining with the several States alone to provide any regulations therein which humanity or true policy may require.”
Congress thus clearly declared its view of its power over the subject.
Congress was petitioned to do all in its power to discourage slavery, of which a Massachusetts man, in an able history of the long contest, has said: “Congress could not move a hair's breadth towards discouraging it, either lawfully or honestly.
The powers of Congress being defined and nominated by the constitution which framed the government, all it could do in
regard to any specific subject was to act upon it, if within its province, and if otherwise, “to touch not, taste not, handle not.”” (Lunt
's Origin of the Late War
, p. 25.) In the debate upon the subject, one Southern gentleman objected to the commitment of these memorials as containing “unconstitutional requests,” and said “he feared the commitment would be a very alarming circumstance to the Southern States
; for if it was to engage Congress in an unconstitutional measure, it would be considered an interference with their rights, making them uneasy under the government, and causing them to lament that they had ever put additional power into their hands.”
Another declared “that the States would never have entered into the confederacy unless their property had been guaranteed to them, and that we look upon this measure as an attack upon the palladium
of our property” --meaning the constitution.
Another said if he was to hold these slaves in eternal bondage he would feel no uneasiness on account of the present menace, “because he would rely upon the virtue of Congress that they would not exercise any unconstitutional authority
This same historian well says “the impression made upon the southern members of Congress at the earliest period is also significant.
Although evidently considering it of no practical importance, they yet clearly made it known they regarded such action as in violation of the constitution, and that without the guaranty for their rights of property in slaves, permitted by that instrument, the States which they represented would not have assented to it, and hence the plan for the Union
must have failed.
No one can doubt that if they had deemed the guaranty afforded insufficient they could have obtained pledges of a still more precise character, either then or at a later period, since the object of the Union
was one of paramount interest to all. But neither they nor their northern compatriots entertained any question of the fidelity of their successors to engagements so solemnly undertaken both express and implied.”
, p. 27.) The history of this transaction shows how early the South
was taught to look to the constitution for the defences of their rights in regard to slavery, how fully, too, and clearly the Congress
admitted the existence of these defences, and that the South
disregarded the unauthorized menace of these “anarchic Quakers,” as Carlisle
calls them, because they “relied upon the virtue of Congress that they would not exercise any unconstitutional authority
Their property in slaves was guaranteed by the constitution; they felt authorized to say so by a solemn declaration of Congress made at the time; and they had
too much confidence in the northern majority, who were soon to control that body, to believe that directly or indirectly they would impair or destroy a right so solemnly guaranteed.
To have anticipated such an attack upon their property and peace, would have been to suppose that they had been made the easy victims of a perfidy, which, under all the circumstances, under all the traditions of common sufferings and exertions, was characterized by a wealth of deception which would have excited the envy even of a Carthagenian.
Especially would that be the case if the deceit was to be covered up by a constant course of perjury on the part of the officials of the government, who were to be sworn as a qualification for office to support the constitution which contained that pledge.
How justly our fathers relied upon that instrument to protect their rights, subsequent history has shown.
Nothing could be more clearly established than the right on one side to reclaim fugitive slaves, and the obligation on the other to return them — an obligation which surely ought to have rested lightly enough on those who brought them here and sold them.
Nor is it easy to see how the remorse for having sold them could be relieved by inveigling them away from those who had bought them.
But so it was, that during the existence of slavery there was an ever-living contest between the slave and the free States on this very subject; the former seeking to enforce, and the latter to evade the constitutional obligation for the return of fugitive slaves.
Long before the secession of the slave States, it had become almost impossible, without the assistance of armed forces, to reclaim a fugitive slave openly in the free States.
, p. 320, says: “At length fourteen of the sixteen free States had provided statutes which rendered any attempt to execute the fugitive slave act so difficult as to be practically impossible, and placed each of those States in an attitude of virtual resistance to the laws of the United States
When Mr. Toombs
, in the Senate of the United States, during the session in which he withdrew from that body, referred to these laws and taxed the free States with their violations of constitutional obligation, in evidence of which he produced these statutes, it was pitiful to hear the excuses by which the representatives of these States sought to squirm out of the difficulty — a difficulty for which the executives of Ohio
would scarcely have cared to apologize, if it be true, as doubtless it is, as Lunt
states, that “at a somewhat later period those officers refused to surrender to justice persons charged with participation in the John Brown
raid” --see note, p. 320. At the era of secession the
constitution had not only ceased to be a palladium for these rights of secession, but was hardly recognized to be binding at all.
If, then, this instrument was to be relied upon by the slave States to protect them, it was only in the event that they could arm themselves with enough political power to enforce its provisions.
So obvious had this become by 1819-20, when the State of Missouri
was struggling for admission as a slave State, that the slave States at that time solemnly asserted their right to settle the unoccupied and unappropriated territory of the United States
with their slave property, under the protection of its laws — a right which was as vehemently denied by the free States.
So bitter and fierce was this contest, that its agitations shook the very foundations of American society.
It was settled for a time by a compromise excluding slavery from the United States
Territories north of a line 36° 30′ north latitude, and admitting it south of that line.
Even this line left the South
in a condition of hopeless inferiority, which was but little helped by the acquisition of a portion of Texas
as a slave State.
When the vast territory obtained from Mexico
at the close of the war was organized, the Missouri
compromise line was set aside, and the non-intervention principle was adopted, by which it became between the sections a mere question of the ability to colonize — a question in regard to which there could scarcely be a doubt, with the superior resources in wealth and population of the free States.
It had become manifest that the South
had no protection for its rights but the constitution, nor could it hope to avail itself of that protection without an increase of power in the government.
Its hopes for acquiring that were daily becoming less, whilst sectional animosities were constantly becoming more angry and bitter.
A party had sprung up which proclaimed the constitution to be “an agreement with death and a covenant with hell.”
This party was daily becoming stronger and more dangerous in spirit.
It began at first by taking part in the contests between Whigs and Democrats, and grew upon the agitations in Congress and the newspaper press.
This war of petitions for abolition was commenced by John Quincy Adams
in 1831, when he presented a petition from Pennsylvania
for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, but at the same time declared that he could not vote for it. He who was so denounced when he left the Federal party, on account of its disunion tendencies, and joined the Democratic
under Mr. Jefferson
, became the “old man eloquent” when he fanned the smouldering spark of sectional division with the burning breath of hate and anger
which was yet to burst out in flames and consume the house with the fire whose initial spark he consented to bear and apply to the family dwelling, ever nursing the fire until the building was fairly ablaze.
And what was now, in 1860, the worth of the reliance which kept the South
quiet in 1790, because it “relied upon the virtue of Congress that it would exercise no unconstitutional authority?”
In regard to the right to recapture fugitive slaves, it was at that time obviously a dead better.
The free States had violated that obligation by their personal liberty statutes, which were consonant with the general spirit of their people.
The abolition party, which denounced the constitution as a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell,” was fast growing in power and influence in the free States, and threatened to become the most powerful political organization within their borders.
had adopted resolutions by her legislature, with the assent of her governor — if his message represented his opinions — resolutions which were denounced at the time as being of a disunion character.
Her senator, Bates
, presented them in silence, and Colonel King
, of Alabama
, regretted that a proposition should come from Massachusetts
to dissolve the Union
's Origin of the War
, 128-9). All hope of acquiring any additional political strength by the South
to defend their rights was gone.
The free States had announced their determination to exclude slavery from the territories of the United States
, and they had the strength to do it, if they believed, as they affected to do, that the constitution was no obstacle in their path.
The right of growth was thus denied to the power of the slaveholding States, and with the state of feeling then existing and cherished, they had nothing to expect but to be dwarfed and oppressed, judging of the future by the past.
Indeed, an armed invasion of Virginia
had been just made by John Brown
, with the avowed purpose of exciting servile insurrection, and although suppressed by the United States
and State forces, it excited no such outburst of horror and denunciation at the North
as it might reasonably be expected to have done.
On the contrary, he seemed to have been considered more as a martyr perishing in a great and holy cause, than a criminal seeking to excite a servile war, whose victims were to be women and children.
“The tolling of bells and the firing of minute guns upon the occasion of Brown
's funeral; the meeting houses draped in mourning, as for a hero; the prayers offered, the sermons and discourses pronounced in his honor, as for a saint — all are of a date
too recent and too familiarly known to require more than this passing allusion.”
, 328). Was there anything in all this calculated to discourage such attempts for the future?
On the contrary, would it not be apt to stir up still more deeply excited minds, and the next attempt would probably have caused much more suffering.
To expect that the attempt to cast a lighted match into a powder magazine would fail more than once, would be chimerical indeed.
In considering the value of his defences under the constitution, a Southern man could not well forget that Mr. Seward
, the leader of the party in power, had not only declared the conflict between freedom and slavery to be “irrepressible,” but had affirmed there was a higher law than the constitution, to which the latter must yield, or that the famous Helper
book, endorsed and recommended generally by the Republican
members of Congress, declared that “our own banner is inscribed: “no co-operation with slaveholders in politics; no fellowship with them in religion; no affiliation with them in society; no recognition of pro-slavery men, except as ruffians, outlaws and criminals.”” Again: “we are determined to abolish slavery at all hazards.”
With such a history of the administration of the constitution by the party in power, there was no very pleasant outlook for the slaveholder in the future.
Had he any hope from amendments?
That no effort to save the Union
should be spared, Mr. Crittenden
, of Kentucky
, introduced certain resolutions proposing amendments to the constitution, which would have saved the Union
, and which received every Southern vote except the South Carolina
senators, who had withdrawn.
They proposed to adopt, in effect, the Missouri
compromise line, to prohibit Congress from abolishing the slave trade between the States, or slavery in places where the United States
had exclusive jurisdiction, or in the District of Columbia, without the consent of Maryland
and of the slaveholders, and proposed a more effectual provision for the recovery of fugitive slaves.
For these, a substitute was offered by Mr. Clark
, of New Hampshire
, declaring, amongst other things, that the provisions of the constitution are ample for the preservation of the Union
, and the resolutions of Mr. Crittenden
were voted down, and the substitute adopted by a united vote of the Republicans.
: “The vote of the Republican
members of the Senate was a blank denial of the necessity of compromise, and showed, of course, that they had deliberately made up their minds to refuse any negotiation.”
's Origin of the War
, p. 411). The adoption of Mr. Crittenden
's resolutions, it was said by Mr. Douglass
, would have
saved every Southern State except South Carolina
Undoubtedly such would have been the effect of a general agreement upon these resolutions between the two sections.
But did the Rebublicans desire it?
It would seem not from the postscript to Mr. Chandler
's letter to Governor Blair
: “Some of the manufacturing States think that a fight
would be awful.
Without a little blood-letting, this Union will not, in my opinion, be worth a curse
This was from a senator from Michigan
, a man of much influence in his party.
, not yet giving up her hope of preserving the Union
, interposed to call “a peace conference.”
Resolutions were adopted by this body, composed of able and eminent men from the different States, very similar to Mr. Crittenden
's, which met with no better success.
Under these circumstances what were the slaveholding States to do?
In 1790 they kept quiet, because they “relied upon the virtue of Congress that they would do nothing without constitutional authority.”
Was such a faith any longer rational?
Had not the conduct of the free States proved that the guarantees of the constitution upon the subject of slavery were no longer of the slightest avail to them?
Upon that subject the majority in Congress., who were from these States, assumed whatever power they wanted.
Could the minority rely upon the constitution to protect any of their rights, if it suited the passions or the interests of the majority to invade them?
Our government was fast being revolutionized, and becoming one of a despotic majority of numbers; the limitations of a written constitution fast proving themselves to be without the defence of the political power to enforce them.
Had the South
the slightest hope of attaining any increase of that power?
It had proved itself unable to do this in the past: what was the hope for the future?
(p. 363) says with justice: “That it is impossible to regard the proceedings of the Chicago convention in. any other light than as equivalent to a proclamation of absolutely hostile purposes against the Southern
section of the country.
They were not, technically, a declaration of war, to be conducted by arms, simply because they proposed only to use the pacific
force of superior numbers, in order to deprive the minority of its rights under the constitution.”
's Origin of the War
, p. 362). Indeed, one of its resolutions was amended so as to declare: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle
them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the cause which impelled them to the separation.”
This amendment was introduced by a Pennsylvanian (Lunt
, p. 358), and passed unanimously by the convention.
(Ibid). To what did this look but secession and separation?
Did it not argue the consciousness of a purpose to drive the South
to those extremities?
What else could the South
do but separate, if possible, from the majority which ruled the government, and were animated by such feelings?
, the great apostle of Union in 1851, had said: “I do not hesitate to say and repeat, that if the Northern States
refuse wilfully or deliberately to carry into effect that part of the constitution which respects the restoration of fugitive slaves, the South
would no longer be bound to keep the compact.
A bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides.”
, p. 321). Had not the precise case occurred?
Had not the North
deliberately and persistently refused to carry into effect that part of the constitution?
Was the South
bound any longer to keep the compact, according to this high authority?
In this opinion of Mr. Webster
, Mr. Jefferson
, p. 203: “Mr. Jefferson
took a different view of the subject, and it is proper to give his opinion as stated by Mr. John Q. Adams
(who appears to have agreed with him) in his eulogy on Mr. Madison
. Mr. Adams
said: ‘Concurring in the doctrines that the separate States have a right to interpose
in cases of palpable infractions of the constitution by the government of the United States
, and that the alien and sedition acts presented a case of such infraction, Mr. Jefferson
considered them as absolutely null and void, and thought the State
legislatures competent, not only to declare, but to make them so, to resist their execution within their respective borders by physical force, and to secede from the Union
, rather than to submit to them, if attempted to be carried into execution by force.’
” On the 2d of March, 1861, Mr. Greeley
declared: “We have repeatedly said, and we once more insist, that the great principle embodied by Jefferson
in the Declaration of Independence
, ‘that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ is sound and just, and that if the slave States, the cotton States, or the gulf States only, choose to form an independent nation, they have a moral right to do so
, p. 388-9).
Is it strange that those States concurred in this opinion?
They believed that the government was now in hands which were fast converting it into one of a majority of numbers with unlimited
Did the South
enter into any such Union as that?
Had not her leaders constantly declared that in their opinion this was the worst of all forms of government, and if she was willing to stake life, liberty and property on the effort to escape it, did she not thereby demonstrate the earnestness of her conviction of her right to escape, and that her faith had been plighted to a very different instrument, by which she refused any longer to be bound to those who were seeking under its name to destroy the rights which it guaranteed to her, and force her to subserve the purposes of those who were seeking to ruin and degrade her own citizens, her men, women and children.
Who drove the South
to these extremities?
The very men who accuse her of treason.
When she accepted the contest, to which she was thus virtually invited on terms of contumelious threat and reproach, she was threatened with being wiped out and annihilated by the superior resources of her antagonist, with whom it was vain and foolish to contend, so unequal were the strength and resources of the two parties.
It is true that the South
parted in bitterness, but it was in sadness of spirit also.
She did not wish — certainly, Virginia
did not desire it — if she could maintain her rights within the Union
Probably few men foresaw the extent or the bitterness of the war. Surely it was a mighty contest to have been waged by two parties of such unequal strength in numbers and resources, with such a promise of success to the weaker for nearly four years, and doubtless there were periods during that time when those who provoked that trial by battle regretted that they had done so. The South at last fell from physical exhaustion — the want of food, clothes and the munitions of war; she yielded to no superiority of valor or of skill, but to the mere avoirdupois of numbers.
Physically, she was unable to stand up under such a weight of human beings, gathered from wherever they could be called by appeals to their passions or bought by a promise to supply their necessities.
It is said that after the battle of the Second Cold Harbor, where Grant
so foolishly assailed Lee
in his lines, and where his dead was piled in thousands after his unsuccessful attack, the northern leaders were ready to have proposed peace, but were prevented by some favorable news from the southwest.
They did not propose peace except upon terms of unconditional submission.
The South being forced to accept those terms to obtain it, the North
was not afraid to avow its purposes and carry them out. Slavery was abolished without compensation, and slaves were awarded equal rights with their masters in the government.
It was the fear of
these results which drove the South
into the war. Experience proved that this fear was reasonable.
The war was alleged as the excuse for such proceedings; but can any man doubt that the North
would have done the same thing if all constitutional restraints upon the power of the majority had been peaceably removed.
To submit peaceably to the unlimited power of the majority was plainly to submit to these consequences or any other action which this majority may strongly desire to take.
It is sought to be excused, I know, by assuming that these things were done with the assent of the South
That these constitutional amendments represent the well considered opinion of any respectable party in the South
, there is none so infatuated as to believe.
They were accepted as the terms of the conqueror, and so let them be considered by all who desire to know the true history of their origin.
To introduce hostile and conflicting statements in the formation of the public opinion, by which the action of the South
was to be regulated, might, indeed, weaken and injure that section, but how it would help or. benefit the North
is yet to be seen, if it should so turn out. I think I have shown that the South
had good reason to believe that the North
meditated the infliction of these things, and that there was but little hope of finding any defence against them in the constitution.
The alacrity with which she put these designs into execution so soon as our conquest enabled her to do so, proves that we did not suspect her wrongfully.
The South had either to acquiesce in this oppression tamely and submissively, or fight to avert it. According to Mr. Webster
, she had the constitutional right to do this; according to Mr. Greeley
, she had the moral right to do this.
She fought to avert these injuries, and because she was unwilling to remain under the government of a majority with unlimited powers.
What this latter change threatens remains to be seen.
Congress has already undertaken by her civil rights bill to regulate social intercourse amongst her people in the States.
Will Congress undertake to prescribe fast days, enforce temperance and take charge of the police laws of the States and the towns?
These are questions which posterity must answer.
Will they have no other remedy against this despotism but to substitute for it the one-man power.
They at least will be in no doubt as to the causes, and history will be equally clear as to what parties forced it upon us.
“There is no longer any room for hope.
We must fight.
I repeat it, Sir — we must fight.
An appeal to arms and to the God of
battles is all that is left us.”
So said and thought Patrick Henry
, in reply to the British
exactions upon the colonies.
So thought, too, the people of the Confederate States
, and they did fight.
They waged a war for which history has no parallel against such odds in resources and numbers.
Borne down by odds, against which it was almost vain to contend, we were bound to submit, and they have taken from us that which, in my opinion, it will be found
Not enriches them,
But leaves us poor indeed.
Had the South
permitted her property, her constitutional rights and her liberties to be surreptitiously taken from her without resistance and made no moan, would she not have lost her honor with them?
If the alternative were between such a loss and armed resistance, is it surprising that she preferred the latter?
Preamble and resolution
Offered in a large mass meeting of the people of Botetourt county, December 10th, 1860, by the Hon. John J. Allen, President of the Supreme court of Virginia, and adopted with but two dissenting voices.
The people of Botetourt county
, in general meeting
assembled, believe it to be the duty of all the citizens of the Commonwealth
, in the present alarming condition of our country, to give some expression of their opinion upon the threatening aspect of public affairs.
They deem it unnecessary and out of place to avow sentiments of loyalty to the constitution and devotion to the union of these States.
A brief reference to the part the State
has acted in the past will furnish the best evidence of the feelings of her sons in regard to the union of the States and the constitution, which is the sole bond which binds them together.
In the controversies with the mother country, growing out of the efforts of the latter to tax the colonies without their consent, it was Virginia
who, by the resolutions against the stamp act, gave the example of the first authoritative resistance by a legislative body to the British Government
, and so imparted the first impulse to the Revolution.
declared her independence before any of the colonies, and gave the first written constitution to mankind.
By her instructions her representatives in the General Congress
introduced a resolution to declare the colonies independent States, and the declaration itself was written by one of her sons.
She furnished to the Confederate States
the father of his country, under whose guidance independence was achieved, and the rights and liberties of each State, it was hoped, perpetually established.
She stood undismayed through the long night of the Revolution, breasting the storm of war and pouring out the blood of her sons like water on almost every battle-field, from the ramparts of Quebec
to the sands of Georgia
By her own unaided efforts the northwestern territory was conquered, whereby the Mississippi
, instead of the Ohio river
, was recognized as the boundary of the United States
by the treaty of peace.
To secure harmony, and as an evidence of her estimate of the value of the union of the States, she ceded to all for their common benefit this magnificent region — an empire in itself.
When the articles of confederation were shown to be inadequate to secure peace and tranquility at home and respect abroad, Virginia first moved to bring about a more perfect union.
At her instance the first assemblage of commissioners took place at Annapolis
, which ultimately led to the meeting of the convention which formed the present constitution.
This instrument itself was in a great measure the production of one of her sons, who has been justly styled the father of the constitution.
The government created by it was put into operation with her Washington
, the father of his country, at its head; her Jefferson
, the author of the Declaration of Independence
, in his cabinet; her Madison
, the great advocate of the constitution, in the legislative hall.
Under the leading of Virginia
statesmen the Revolution of 1798 was brought about, Louisiana
was acquired, and the second war of independence was waged.
Throughout the whole progress of the republic she has never infringed on the rights of any State, or asked or received an exclusive benefit.
On the contrary, she has been the first to vindicate the equality of all the States, the smallest as well as the greatest.
But claiming no exclusive benefit for her efforts and sacrifices in the common cause, she had a right to look for feelings of fraternity and kindness for her citizens from the citizens of other States, and
equality of rights for her citizens with all others; that those for whom she had done so much would abstain from actual aggressions upon her soil, or if they could not be prevented, would show themselves ready and prompt in punishing the aggressors; and that the common government, to the promotion of which she contributed so largely for the purpose of “establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility,” would not, whilst the forms of the constitution were observed, be so perverted in spirit as to inflict wrong and injustice and produce universal insecurity.
These reasonable expectations have been grievously disappointed.
Owing to a spirit of pharasaical fanaticism prevailing in the North
in reference to the institution of slavery, incited by foreign emissaries and fostered by corrupt political demagogues in search of power and place, a feeling has been aroused between the people of the two sections, of what was once a common country, which of itself would almost preclude the administration of a united government in harmony.
For the kindly feelings of a kindred people we find substituted distrust, suspicion and mutual aversion.
For a common pride in the name of American, we find one section even in foreign lands pursuing the other with revilings and reproach.
For the religion of a Divine Redeemer of all, we find a religion of hate against a part; and in all the private relations of life, instead of fraternal regard, a “consuming hate,” which has but seldom characterized warring nations.
This feeling has prompted a hostile incursion upon our own soil, and an apotheosis of the murderers, who were justly condemned and executed.
It has shown itself in the legislative halls by the passage of laws to obstruct a law of Congress passed in pursuance of a plain provision of the constitution.
It has been manifested by the industrious circulation of incendiary publications, sanctioned by leading men, occupying the highest stations in the gift of the people, to produce discord and division in our midst, and incite to midnight murder and every imaginable atrocity against an unoffending community.
It has displayed itself in a persistent denial of the equal rights of the citizens of each State to settle with their property in the common territory acquired by the blood and treasure of all.
It is shown in their openly avowed determination to circumscribe the institution of slavery within the territory of the States now recognizing
it, the inevitable effect of which would be to fill the present slaveholding States with an ever increasing negro population, resulting in the banishment of our own non-slaveholding population in the first instance and the eventual surrender of our country to a barbarous race, or, what seems to be desired, an amalgamation with the African.
And it has at last culminated in the election, by a sectional majority of the free States alone, to the first office in the republic, of the author of the sentiment that there is an “irrepressible conflict” between free and slave labor and that there must be universal freedom or universal slavery; a sentiment which inculcates, as a necessity of our situation, warfare between the two sections of our country without cessation or intermission until the weaker is reduced to subjection.
In view of this state of things, we are not inclined to rebuke or censure the people of any of our sister States in the South
, suffering from injury, goaded by insults, and threatened with such outrages and wrongs, for their bold determination to relieve themselves from such injustice and oppression, by resorting to their ultimate and sovereign right to dissolve the compact which they had formed and to provide new guards for their future security.
Nor have we any doubt of the right of any State, there being no common umpire between coequal sovereign States, to judge for itself on its own responsibility, as to the mode and measure of redress.
The States, each for itself, exercised this sovereign power when they dissolved their connection with the British Empire
They exercised the same power when nine of the States seceded from.
the confederation and adopted the present constitution, though two States at first rejected it.
The articles of confederation stipulated that those articles should be inviolably observed by every State, and that the Union
should be perpetual, and that no alteration should be made unless agreed to by Congress and confirmed by every State.
Notwithstanding this solemn compact, a portion of the States did, without the consent of the others, form a new compact; and there is nothing to show, or by which it can be shown, that this right has been, or can be, diminished so long as the States continue sovereign.
The confederation was assented to by the Legislature for each State; the constitution by the people of each State for such State alone.
One is as binding as the other, and no more so.
The constitution, it is true, established a government, and it operates
rates directly on the individual; the confederation was a league operating primarily on the States.
But each was adopted by the State
for itself; in the one case by the Legislature acting for the State
; in the other “by the people not as individuals composing one nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong.”
The foundation, therefore, on which it was established was federal
, and the State
, in the exercise of the same sovereign authority by which she ratified for herself, may for herself abrogate and annul.
The operation of its powers, whilst the State
remains in the Confederacy
, is national;
and consequently a State remaining in the Confederacy
and enjoying its benefits cannot, by any mode of procedure, withdraw its citizens from the obligation to obey the constitution and the laws passed in pursuance thereof.
But when a State does secede, the constitution and laws of the United States
cease to operate therein.
No power is conferred on Congress to enforce them.
Such authority was denied to the Congress
in the convention which framed the constitution, because it would be an act of war of nation against nation — not the exercise of the legitimate power of a government to enforce its laws on those subject to its jurisdiction.
The assumption of such a power would be the assertion of a prerogative claimed by the British Government
to legislate for the colonies in all cases whatever; it would constitute of itself a dangerous attack on the rights of the States, and should be promptly repelled.
These principles, resulting from the nature of our system of confederate States
, cannot admit of question in Virginia
Our people in convention, by their act of ratification, declared and made known that the powers granted under the constitution being derived from the people of the United States
, may be resumed by them whenever they shall be perverted to their injury and oppression.
From what people were these powers derived?
Confessedly from the people of each State, acting for themselves.
By whom were they to be resumed or taken back?
By the people of the State
who were then granting them away.
Who were to determine whether the powers granted had been perverted to their injury or oppression?
Not the whole people of the United States
, for there could be no oppression of the whole with their own consent; and it could not have entered into the conception of the convention that the powers
granted could not be resumed until the oppressor himself united in such resumption.
They asserted the right to resume in order to guard the people of Virginia
, for whom alone the convention could act, against the oppression of an irresponsible and sectional majority, the worst form of oppression with which an angry Providence
has ever afflicted humanity.
Whilst, therefore, we regret that any State should, in a matter of common grievance, have determined to act for herself without consulting with her sister States equally aggrieved, we are nevertheless constrained to say that the occasion justifies and loudly calls for action of some kind.
The election of a President, by a sectional majority, as the representative of the principles referred to, clothed with the patronage and power incident to the office, including the authority to appoint all the postmasters and other officers charged with the execution of the laws of the United States
, is itself a standing menace to the South
--a direct assault upon her institutions — an incentive to robbery and insurrection, requiring from our own immediate local government, in its sovereign character, prompt action to obtain additional guarantees for equality and security in the Union
, or to take measures for protection and security without it.
In view, therefore, of the present condition of our country, and the causes of it, we declare almost in the words of our fathers, contained in an address of the freeholders of Botetourt
, in February, 1775, to the delegates from Virginia
to the Continental Congress, “That we desire no change in our government whilst left to the free enjoyment of our equal privileges secured by the constitution;
but that should a wicked and tyrannical sectional majority
, under the sanction of the forms of the constitution
, persist in acts of injustice and violence towards us, they only must be answerable for the consequences.”
“That liberty is so strongly impressed upon our hearts that we cannot think of parting with it but with our lives; that our duty to God, our country, ourselves and our posterity forbid it; we stand, therefore, prepared for every contingency.”
, That in view of the facts set out in the foregoing preamble, it is the opinion of this meeting that a convention of the people should be called forthwith; that the State
, in its sovereign character, should consult with the other Southern States, and agree upon such guarantees as in their opinion will secure their equality,
tranquility and rights within the Union
; and in the event of a failure to obtain such guarantees, to adopt in concert with the other Southern States, or alone
, such measures as may seem most expedient to protect the rights and insure the safety of the people of Virginia
And in the event of a change in our relations to the other States being rendered necessary, that the convention so elected should recommend to the people, for their adoption, such alterations in our State constitution as may adapt it to the altered condition of the State