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Chapter 4: seditious movements in Congress.--Secession in South Carolina, and its effects.

  • Conduct of Southern Representatives in Congress
  • -- Committee of thirty — three, 86. -- amendments to the Constitution proposed, 87. -- the “Crittenden Compromise,” 89. -- temper and wishes of the South Carolina politicians, 91. -- earlier Secession movements, 92. -- Memminger on a revolutionary mission to Virginia -- why Virginians hesitated, 94. -- power of the politicians in South Carolina, 95. -- R. Barnwell Rhett and his incendiary speech, 96. -- appeals to the passions of the people -- officers of the Army and Navy invited to resign, 97. -- a gala day in Charleston -- Secession foreordained, 98. -- assembling of the South Carolina Secession Convention, 100. -- Reassembling in Charleston, 101. -- proceedings of the Convention, 102. -- rejoicings in Charleston, 104. -- signing of the Ordinance, 106. -- Commissioners to Washington appointed, 109. -- addresses and Declaration, 109-110. -- the nationality of South Carolina proclaimed, 111. -- rejoicings because of the revolutionary Act at Charleston, 113. -- Impressions in the Free-labor States, 114. -- financial condition of the country, 115.

Whilst Treason was rampant and defiant in the Senate Chamber, it was equally determined, but less demonstrative at first, in the hall of the House of Representatives. It first gave utterance there when Alexander R. Boteler, of Virginia, proposed, by resolution, to refer so much of the President's Message as “related to the present perilous condition of the country,” to a select committee, consisting of one from each State (thirty-three), with power to report at any time. This resolution was adopted by a vote of one hundred and forty-five to thirty-eight. During the voting, many members from the Slave-labor States exhibited their treasonable purposes, some by a few words, and all by a refusal to vote. “I do not vote,” said Singleton, of Mississippi, “because I have not been sent here to make any compromises or patch up existing difficulties. The subject will be decided by a convention of the people of my State.” Hawkins, of Florida, said:--“The day of compromise has passed. I am opposed, and so is my State, to all and every compromise. I shall not vote.” Clopton, of Alabama, considered secession as the only remedy for existing evils, and would not sanction any temporizing policy. Pugh, of Alabama, said:--“As my State intends following South Carolina out of the Union, by the 10th of January next, I pay no attention to any action taken in this body.”

No less than fifty-two members from the Slave-labor States refused to vote on this occasion. These comprised all of the South Carolina delegation, and most of those from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. By this action, they virtually avowed their determination to thwart all legislation in the direction of compromise or conciliation. And when Mr. Morris, a Democrat from Illinois, offered a resolution,

December 4, 1860.
that the House of Representatives were “unalterably and immovably attached to the Union of the States,” these men opposed it, and stayed the further consideration of it that day by carrying a motion to adjourn. It was clearly apparent that they had resolved on disunion, and that nothing in the way of concession would be accepted.

The appointment of the Select Committee of Thirty-three was made by the Speaker,1 and it became the recipient, by reference, of a large [87] number of resolutions, suggestions, and propositions offered in the House for the amendment of the National Constitution, most of them looking to concessions to the demands of the Slave interest; for there was such an earnest desire for the preservation of peace, that the people of the Free-labor States were ready to make every reasonable sacrifice for its sake. The most important of these conciliatory suggestions were made by Representatives John Cochrane and Daniel E. Sickles, of New York; Thomas C. Hindman, of Arkansas; Clement L. Vallandigham, of Ohio; and John W. Noell, of Missouri.

Mr. Cochrane, who was afterward a general in the National Army, fighting the Slave interest in rebellion, and also a candidate of the “Radical Abolitionists” for the office of Vice-President of the United States, proposed the

Hall of the House of Representatives.

acceptance of the decision of the Supreme Court, in the case of Dred Scott, that the descendant of a slave could not be a citizen of the United States,2 as the settled policy of the Government toward the inhabitants of the country, of African origin. He also proposed that neither Congress nor the people of any Territory should interfere with Slavery therein, while it remained a [88] Territory; that the Missouri Compromise, as to the limits of Slavery, should be revived; that Congress should not have power to abolish the inter-State Slave-trade; that the Fugitive Slave Law should be reaffirmed; that slave-holders might pass unmolested with their slaves through any Free-labor State, and that all nullifying laws of State Legislatures should be inoperative,; also, a declaration that the Constitution was an article of agreement between Sovereign States, and that an attempt of the National Government to, coerce a Sovereign State into obedience to it would be levying war upon a substantial power, and would precipitate a dissolution of the Union.3

Mr. Sickles, who afterward fought the secessionists in arms, as a commanding general, and lost a leg in the fray, proposed an amendment declaring that when a State, in the exercise of its sovereignty, should secede, the Government of the United States should appoint commissioners to confer with duly appointed agents of such State, and agree upon the disposition of the public property and territory belonging to the United States Tying within it, and upon the proportion of the public debt to be assumed and paid by that State; also authorizing the President, when all should be settled, to proclaim the withdrawal of such State from the Union. This was substantially Clingman's proposition, when he made his seditious speech in the Senate a fortnight before.4

Mr. Hindman, afterward a general in the armies of the conspirators arrayed against the Republic, proposed an amendment that should guarantee the express recognition of slavery wherever it existed; no interference with the inter-State or domestic Slave-trade, from which Virginia was receiving a large annual income; to give free scope for slaveholders with their slaves while traveling in Free-labor States; to prohibit to any State the right of representation in the Congress whose Legislature should pass laws impairing the obligations of the Fugitive Slave Law; to give the Slave-labor States a negative upon all acts of the Congress concerning Slavery; to make these, and all other provisions of the Constitution relating to Slavery, unamendable; and to grant to the several States authority to appoint all National officers within their respective limits.5

Mr. Vallandigham, who was afterward convicted of, and punished for, alleged treasonable acts,6 submitted a proposition for a change in the National Constitution, providing for a division of the Republic into four sections, to be called, respectively, The North, The West, The Pacific, and The South.7 His proposition, says a late writer, “: was the fullest and most logical embodiment yet made of Mr. Calhoun's subtle device for enabling a minority to [89] obstruct and baffle the majority under a political system preserving the forms of a republic.” 8

Mr. Noell proposed to instruct the Committee to inquire and report as to the expediency of abolishing the office of President of the United States, and establishing, in lieu thereof, an Executive Council of three members, to be elected by districts composed of contiguous States, as nearly as possible, and each member to be invested with a veto power. He wished the Committee also to inquire whether the equilibrium between the Free-labor and Slave-labor States might not be restored and preserved, particularly by a voluntary division on the part of some of the latter States into two or more States.9

There were other propositions for conciliation and the preservation of the Union presented, some similar and some quite dissimilar to those already mentioned; and it was evident to the people at large that the Republic: would not be saved by the wisdom of their representatives alone. There seemed to be a general desire among patriots to concede every thing but honor and the best interests of the country for the preservation of the Union,, while the conspirators, having trampled both honor and patriotism under their feet, would yield nothing, and even presented their requisitions in such. questionable shapes, that they might interpret them, at the critical moment, of final decision, as their interests should dictate.

The result of the labors of the Committee of Thirty-three, and the action on measures proposed outside of that Committee, will be considered hereafter.

In the Senate there was a like desire, on the part of many of the members; from the Free-labor and the Border Slave-labor States, for conciliation, and a disposition to compromise much for the sake of fraternal good — will and peace. On motion of

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