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Chapter 2:

  • The Federal principle ultimately fatal to the Union.
  • -- other causes of disunion. -- the sectional animosity. -- the geographical line in the Union. -- how the differences between North and South produced two distinct communities instead of rival parties within one body politic. -- the theory of a political North and a political South. -- its early recognition in the Convention of 1787. -- declaration of Madison. -- Mr. Pinckney's remarks. -- how the same theory was involved in the Constitution. -- the “treaty” clause between North and South. -- the Union not the bond of diverse States, but the rough companionship of two peoples. -- Gen. Sullivan's complaint to Washington. -- the slavery question, an incident of the sectional animosity. -- not an independent controversy, or a moral dispute. -- political history of negro slavery in the South. -- how it become the subject of dispute. -- the Hartford Convention. -- the Missouri line, the preliminary trace of disunion. -- declaration of Thomas Jefferson. -- why the North defamed “the peculiar institution” of the South. -- great benefits of this institution, and its contributions to the world. -- “slavery,” not the proper term for the institutions of labour in the South. -- the slavery question significant only of a contest for political power. -- differences between the Northern and Southern populations. -- the anti-revolutionary period. -- traces of the modern “Yankee.” -- how slavery established a peculiar civilizations the South. -- its bad and good effects summed up. -- coarseness of Northern civilization. -- no landed gentry in the North. -- scanty appearance of the Southern country. -- the sentiments and manners of its people. -- “American exaggeration,” a peculiarity of the Northern mind. -- sobriety of the South. -- how these qualities were displayed in the Northern and Southern estimations of the Union. -- “State Rights” the foundation of the moral dignity of the Union. -- Calhoun's picture of the Union. -- a noble vision never realized

Although the American Union, as involving the Federal principle, contained in itself an element ultimately fatal to its form of government, it is not to be denied that by careful and attentive statesmanship a rupture might have been long postponed. We have already briefly seen that, at a most remarkable period in American history, it was proposed by the great political scholar of his times-John C. Calhoun — to modify the Federal principle of the Union and to introduce an ingenious check [46] upon its tendencies to controversy — a measure that might long have extended the term of the Union, and certainly would have realized a very beautiful idea of political association.

But we must notice here another cause of disunion that supervened upon that of Federal incoherence, and rapidly divided the country. It was that Sectional Animosity, far more imposing than any mere discord of States, inasmuch as it put in opposition, as it were, two distinct nations on a geographical line, that by a single stroke divided the country, and thus summarily effected what smaller differences would have taken long to accomplish.

We have elsewhere briefly referred to the divisions of population between the Northern and Southern States, marked as they were by strong contrasts between the characters of the people of each. Had these divisions existed only in a contracted space of country, they might have resulted in nothing more than the production of parties or the formation of classes. But extending as they did over the space of a continent, these divisions ceased to be political parties or classes of one community, and really existed in the condition of distinct communities or nations. A recent English writer has properly and acutely observed: “In order to master the difficulties of American politics, it will be very important to realize the fact that we have to consider, not the action of rival parties or opposing interests within the limits of one body politic, but practically that of two distinct communities or peoples, speaking indeed a common language, and united by a federal bond, but opposed in principles and interests, alienated in feeling, and jealous rivals in the pursuit of political power.”

No one can read aright the history of America, unless in the light of a North and a South: two political aliens existing in a Union imperfectly defined as a confederation of States. If insensible or forgetful of this theory, he is at once involved in an otherwise inexplicable mass of facts, and will in vain attempt an analysis of controversies, apparently the most various and confused.

The Sectional Animosity, which forms the most striking and persistent feature in the history of the American States, may be dated certainly as far back as 1787. In the Convention which formed the Constitution, Mr. Madison discovered beneath the controversy between the large and small States another clashing of interests. He declared that the States were divided into different interests by other circumstances as well as by their difference of size; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of their having or not having slaves. “These two causes,” he said, “concurred in forming the great division of interests in the United States;” and “if any defensive power were necessary it ought to be mutually given to these two sections.” In [47] the South Carolina Convention which ratified the Constitution, Gen Pinckney spoke of the difference between the inhabitants of the Northern and Southern States. He explained: “When I say Southern, I mean Maryland and the States southward of her. There, we may truly observe that nature has drawn as strong marks of distinction in the habits and manners of the people, as she has in her climates and productions.”

There was thus early recognized in American history a political North and a political South; the division being coincident with the line that separated the slave-holding from the non-slave-holding States. Indeed, the existence of these two parties and the line on which it was founded was recognized in the very frame-work of the Constitution. That provision of this instrument which admitted slaves into the rule of representation (in the proportion of three-fifths), is significant of a conflict between North and South; and as a compact between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding interests, it may be taken as a compromise between sections, or even, in a broader and more philosophical view, as a treaty between two nations of opposite civilizations. For we shall see that the distinction of North and South, apparently founded on slavery and traced by lines of climate, really went deeper to the very elements of the civilization of each; and that the Union, instead of being the bond of diverse States, is rather to be described, at a certain period of its history, as the forced alliance and rough companionship of two very different peoples.

When Gen. Sullivan complained to Washington that there was a party in New England opposed to his nomination as minister of war, because they considered he had “apostatized from the true New England faith, by sometimes voting with the Southern States,” he declared thus early the true designs of the North to get sectional control of the government.

The slavery question is not to be taken as an independent controversy in American politics. It was not a moral dispute. It was the mere incident of a sectional animosity, the causes of which lay far beyond the domain of morals. Slavery furnished a convenient line of battle between the disputants; it was the most prominent ground of distinction between the two sections; it was, therefore, naturally seized upon as a subject of controversy, became the dominant theatre of hostilities, and was at last so conspicuous and violent, that occasion was mistaken for cause, and what was merely an incident came to be regarded as the main subject of controversy.

The institution of slavery, as the most prominent cause of distinction between the civilizations or social autonomies of North and South, was naturally bound up in the Sectional Animosity. As that animosity progressed, the slavery question developed. This explains, indeed, what is most curious in the political history of slavery-namely that the early part of that history is scarcely more than an enumeration of dates and [48] measures, which were taken as matters of course, and passed without dispute. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 was passed without a division in the Senate, and by a vote of forty-eight to seven in the House. Louisiana and Florida, slave-holding territories, were organized without agitation. Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama were admitted into the Union without any question as to their domestic institutions. The action of Congress, with respect to the north-west territory, was based upon a pre-existing anti-slavery ordinance, and had no significance. There was nothing or but little in the early days of the Union, to betoken the wild and violent controversy on slavery, that was to sweep the country like a storm and strew it with scenes of horrour.

With the jealousy of Southern domination came the slavery agitation; proving clearly enough its subordination to the main question, and that what was asserted as a matter of conscience, and attempted to be raised to the position of an independent controversy, was but part of or an attachment to an animosity that went far below the surface of local institutions. The Hartford Convention, in 1814, which originated in jealousy of the political power of the South, proposed to strike down the slave representation in Congress, and to have the representation conformed to the number of free persons in the Union. A few years later, the country was more distinctly arrayed into two sectional parties, struggling for supremacy with regard to the slavery question. The legislation on the admission of Missouri in 1820, by which the institution of slavery was bounded by a line of latitude, indicated the true nature of the slavery controversy, and simply revealed what had all along existed: a political North and a political South. It was here that we find the initial point of that war of sections which raged in America for forty years, and at last culminated in an appeal to arms. The Missouri legislation was the preliminary trace of disunion. “A geographical line,” wrote Mr. Jefferson, “coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men will not be obliterated; and every new irritation will make it deeper and deeper.”

The North naturally found or imagined in slavery the leading cause of the distinctive civilization of the South, its higher sentimentalism, and its superior refinements of scholarship and manners. It revenged itself on the cause, diverted its envy in an attack upon slavery, and defamed the institution as the relic of barbarism and the sum of all villainies. But, whatever may have been the defamation of the institution of slavery, no man can write its history without recognizing contributions and naming prominent results beyond the domain of controversy. It bestowed on the world's commerce in a half-century a single product whose annual value was two hundred millions of dollars. It founded a system of industry by which labour and capital were identified in interest, and capital therefore [49] protected labour. It exhibited the picture of a land crowned with abundance, where starvation was unknown, where order was preserved by an unpaid police; and where many fertile regions accessible only to the labour of the African were brought into usefulness, and blessed the world with their productions.

We shall not enter upon the discussion of the moral question of slavery. But we may suggest a doubt here whether that odious term “slavery,” which has been so long imposed, by the exaggeration of Northern writers, upon the judgment and sympathies of the world, is properly applied to that system of servitude in the South which was really the mildest in the world; which did not rest on acts of debasement and disenfranchisement, but elevated the African, and was in the interest of human improvement; and which, by the law of the land, protected the negro in life and limb, and in many personal rights, and, by the practice of the system, bestowed upon him a sum of individual indulgences, which made him altogether the most striking type in the world of cheerfulness and contentment. But it is not necessary to prolong this consideration.1 For, we repeat, the slavery question was not a moral one in the North, unless, perhaps, with a few thousand persons of disordered conscience. It was significant only of a contest for political power, and afforded nothing more than a convenient ground of dispute between two parties, who represented not two moral theories, but hostile sections and opposite civilizations.

In the ante-revolutionary period, the differences between the populations of the Northern and Southern colonies had already been strongly developed. The early colonists did not bear with them from the mother-country to the shores of the New World any greater degree of congeniality than existed among them at home. They had come not only from different stocks of population, but from different feuds in religion and politics. There could be no congeniality between the Puritan exiles who established themselves upon the cold and rugged and cheerless soil of New England, and the Cavaliers who sought the brighter climate of the South, and drank in their baronial halls in Virginia confusion to roundheads and regicides.

In the early history of the Northern colonists we find no slight traces [50] of the modern Yankee ; although it remained for those subsequent influences which educate nations as well as individuals to complete that character, to add new vices to it, and to give it its full development. But the intolerance of the Puritan, the painful thrift of the Northern colonists, their external forms of piety, their jaundiced legislation, their convenient morals, their lack of the sentimentalism which makes up the half of modern civilization, and their unremitting hunt after selfish aggrandizement are traits of character which are yet visible in their descendants.2 On the other hand, the colonists of Virginia and the Carolinas were from the first distinguished for their polite manners, their fine sentiments, their attachment to a sort of feudal life, their landed gentry, their love of field-sports and dangerous adventure, and the prodigal and improvident aristocracy that dispensed its stores in constant rounds of hospitality and gaiety.

Slavery established in the South a peculiar and noble type of civilization. It was not without attendant vices; but the virtues which followed in its train were numerous and peculiar, and asserted the general good effect of the institution on the ideas and manners of the South. If habits of command sometimes degenerated into cruelty and insolence; yet, in the greater number of instances, they inculcated notions of chivalry, polished the manners and produced many noble and generous virtues. If the relief of a large class of whites from the demands of physical labour gave occasion in some instances for idle and dissolute lives, yet at the same time it afforded opportunity for extraordinary culture, elevated the standards of [51] scholarship in the South, enlarged and emancipated social intercourse, and established schools of individual refinement. The South had an element in its society — a landed gentry — which the North envied, and for which its substitute was a coarse ostentatious aristocracy that smelt of the trade, and that, however it cleansed itself and aped the elegance of the South, and packed its houses with fine furniture, could never entirely subdue a sneaking sense of its inferiority. There is a singularly bitter hate which is inseparable from a sense of inferiority; and every close observer of Northern society has discovered how there lurked in every form of hostility to the South the conviction that the Northern man, however disguised with ostentation, was coarse and inferiour in comparison with the aristocracy and chivalry of the South.

The civilization of the North was coarse and materialistic. That of the South was scant of shows, but highly refined and sentimental. The South was a vast agricultural country; waste lands, forest and swamps often gave to the eye a dreary picture; there were no thick and intricate nets of internal improvements to astonish and bewilder the traveller, no country picturesque with towns and villages to please his vision. Northern men ridiculed this apparent scantiness of the South, and took it as an evidence of inferiority. But this was the coarse judgment of the surface of things. The agricultural pursuits of the South fixed its features; and however it might decline in the scale of gross prosperity, its people were trained in the highest civilization, were models of manners for the whole country, rivalled the sentimentalism of the oldest countries of Europe, established the only schools of honour in America, and presented a striking contrast in their well-balanced character to the conceit and giddiness of the Northern people.

Foreigners have made a curious and unpleasant observation of a certain exaggeration of the American mind, an absurd conceit that was never done asserting the unapproachable excellence of its country in all things. The Washington affair was the paragon of governments; the demagogical institutions of America were the best under the sun; the slip-shod literature of the country, the smattered education of the people were the foci of the world's enlightenment; and, in short, Americans were the lords of creation. De Tocqueville observed: “the Americans are not very remote from believing themselves to belong to a distinct race of mankind.”

But it is to be remarked that this boastful disposition of mind, this exaggerated conceit was peculiarly Yankee. It belonged to the garish civilization of the North. It was Daniel Webster who wrote, in a diplomatic paper, that America was “the only great republican power.” It was Yankee orators who established the Fourth-of-July school of rhetoric, exalted the American eagle, and spoke of the Union as the last, best gift [52] to man. This afflatus had but little place among the people of the South. Their civilization was a quiet one; and their characteristic as a people has always been that sober estimate of the value of men and things, which, as in England, appears to be the best evidence of a substantial civilization and a real enlightenment. Sensations, excitements on slight causes, fits of fickle admiration, manias in society and fashion, a regard for magnitude, display and exaggeration, all these indications of a superficial and restless civilization abounded in the North and were peculiar to its people. The sobriety of the South was in striking contrast to these exhibitions, and was interpreted by the vanity of the North as insensibility and ignorance, when it was, in fact, the mark of the superiour civilization.

This contrast between the Northern and Southern minds is vividly illustrated in the different ideas and styles of their worship of that great American idol — the Union. In the North there never was any lack of rhetorical fervour for the Union; its praises were sounded in every note of tumid literature, and it was familiarly entitled “the glorious.” But the North worshipped the Union in a very low, commercial sense; it was a source of boundless profit; it was productive of tariffs and bounties; and it had been used for years as the means of sectional aggrandizement.

The South regarded the Union in a very different light. It estimated it at its real value, and although quiet and precise in its appreciation, and not given to transports, there is this remarkable assertion to be made: that the moral veneration of the Union was peculiarly a sentiment of the South and entirely foreign to the Northern mind. It could not be otherwise, looking to the different political schools of the two sections. In the North, the doctrine of State Rights was generally rejected for the prevalent notion that America was a single democracy. To the people of the North the Union was therefore a mere geographical name, a political designation which had no peculiar claims upon their affection. In the South the Union was differently regarded. State Rights was the most marked peculiarity of the politics of the Southern people; and it was this doctrine that gave the Union its moral dignity, and was the only really possible source of sentimental attachment to it. The South bowed before neither an idol of gain, nor the shadow of a name. She worshipped that picture of the Union drawn by John C. Calhoun: a peculiar association in which sovereign States were held by high considerations of good faith; by the exchanges of equity and comity; by the noble attractions of social order; by the enthused sympathies of a common destiny of power, honour and renown. But, alas! this picture existed only in the imagination; the idea of Mr. Calhoun was never realized; and the South, torn from its moral and sentimental attachment to the Union, found that it had no other claims upon its affection. [53]

To understand how the Union became a benefit to the North and resulted in the oppression of the South, it is only necessary to compare the two sections in the elements of prosperity, and to explore the sources of those elements as far as they can be traced within the domain of the Union.

1 It may not be improper to note here a very sententious defence of the moral side of slavery occurring in a speech delivered, in 1856, by Senator Toombs of Georgia, in the Tremont Temple at Boston. It is briefly this: “The white is the superior race, and the black the inferior; and subordination, with or without law, will be the status of the African in this mixed society; and, there-Core, it is the interest of both, and especially of the black race, and of the whole society, that this status should be fixed, controlled, and protected by law.”

The whole ground is covered by these two propositions: that subordination is the necessary condition of the black man; and that the so-called “slavery” in the South was but the precise adjustment of this subordination by law.

2 It appears that in the revolutionary war Gen. Washington acquired a singular insight into the New England character. From his camp at Cambridge, in 1775, he wrote, in a private letter to Richard Henry Lee, an account of the New England part of his army, that reminds one of incidents of 1861-5. We append an extract from this letter, which remained for many years in the Lee family, and was only brought to light during the recent war:

... I submit it, therefore, to your consideration, whether there is, or is not, a propriety in that resolution of the Congress which leaves the ultimate appointment of all officers below the rank of general to the governments where the regiments originated, now the army is become Continental? To me, it appears improper in two points of view-first, it is giving that power and weight to an individual Colony which ought of right to belong to the whole. Then it damps the spirit and ardour of volunteers from all but the four New England Governments, as none but their people have the least chance of getting into office. Would it not be better, therefore, to have the warrants, which the Commander-in-Chief is authorized to give pro tempore, approved or disapproved by the Continental Congress, or a committee of their body, which I should suppose in any long recess must always sit? In this case, every gentleman will stand an equal chance of being promoted, according to his merit: in the other, all offices will be confined to the inhabitants of the four New England Governments, which, in my opinion, is impolitic to a degree. I have made a pretty good slam among such kind of officers as the Massachusetts Government abounds in since I came to this camp, having broken one colonel and two captains for cowardly behaviour in the action on Bunker's Hill, two captains for drawing more provisions and pay than they had men in their company, and one for being absent from his post when the enemy appeared there and burnt a house just by it. Besides these, I have at this time one colonel, one major, one captain, and two subalterns under arrest for trial. In short, I spare none, and yet fear it will not all do, as these people seem to be too inattentive to everything but their interest!

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