Chapter 1:

  • Civil action of the State in Seceding from the Federal Union
  • -- review of the reasons for secession -- legislature Provides for convention -- proceedings of the same.

A history of the military operations of the troops raised in the State of Mississippi during the war of the Confederacy should embrace their operations within the State and wherever they participated in battles fought in other States. Before proceeding to discharge this duty (assigned to the writer), it is proper to make a brief statement of the reasons which impelled the State of Mississippi to dissolve her connection with the Federal government, as expressed in her legislature, and more solemnly in her sovereign convention.

Our forefathers, in their solemn Declaration of Independence which severed the ties that bound them to the mother country, declared: ‘That these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent States.’ They waged the seven years war of the Revolution to maintain this declaration. They succeeded. When they came to form a civil government to protect the liberties thus dearly achieved, they refused to give the general or federal government, created under the Articles of Confederation, the power of taxation. The war of the Revolution had been waged by them to free the colonies from ‘unjust, onerous and oppressive taxation without representation.’ It was doubtless this recollection, fresh in their minds, which prompted them to deny the power of taxation to the newly constructed confederacy.

A very few years sufficed to show that a general or federal government, dependent on the voluntary quota of [4] taxes to be furnished by each State, and without the power of taxation, could not be self-sustaining. The Continental Congress passed an act authorizing a convention of all the original thirteen States, to assemble at Philadelphia in 1787 to adopt a new constitution. The convention, presided over by General Washington, adopted the new constitution known as the Constitution of 1789, and in accordance with its own provisions submitted it to the several States for their adoption or rejection. Let it at once be noted that by the very terms of this constitution, it was to become a constitution over the States only ‘when nine of the original thirteen States should, in convention assembled, adopt the same;’ thus placing it in the power of four of the smallest of the original thirteen States, with an insignificant and sparse population, to have defeated its adoption. It is also important to observe that this Constitution of 1789 further provided, that when adopted ‘by nine of the original thirteen States it should only be operative and binding on the States so ratifying the same.’ Each State ratified the Constitution for itself, by itself, and was bound only by its own ratification.

So, when the rights and liberties of the State of Mississippi and other Southern States were invaded by unlawful conspiracies and combinations to destroy their property and disturb their domestic tranquillity, what was more natural than that they should declare, as they acceded to the Union of their own right and free will to secure liberty and the peaceable possession of their property, when this was denied them they had the right of secession?

When the war closed we surrendered by capitulation, with arms in our hands. What were the terms of the capitulation with Grant at Appomattox and Sherman in North Carolina? They were that the Confederates should furl their flags, stack their arms, return to their homes and yield obedience to the Constitution and laws of the [5] Union then existing; and it was stipulated on the other side, that they should have the protection of the Constitution and laws of the Union. That the Confederates kept the terms of their capitulation, no one will be heard to deny.

The question soon arose as to how the seceded States were to be brought back into the Union. It was at first attempted to effect this by force, and on this plan military commanders were assigned to duty as governors over the seceded States. This proved a failure. It was then attempted to rehabilitate the seceded States by unjust and oppressive reconstruction laws. This, too, proved a failure. The United States government had at last to recognize the great principle of home rule and community independence, which is the corner stone of the Constitution of 1789, and allow the States, in their own conventions, to resume their places in the Union.

The sovereign power and entity of the States had not been destroyed by the secession of the States, nor had it been destroyed by the terrible four years war between the States. The Supreme Court itself, that august tribunal to whose ultimate decisions all good citizens bow, declared in the celebrated case of Garland that this was ‘an indissoluble Union, composed of indestructible States.’ And so the termination of the war found Mississippi and all the Southern States with indestructible sovereignties still theirs, and yielding a willing obedience to the laws of the Union.

Having thus prefaced my task with a brief resume of the causes of the war, I proceed to show, in detail, the civil action of the State of Mississippi and the history of the troops in the field.

The reasons that moved Mississippians to withdraw from the Federal Union were given by themselves in their legislative as well as their sovereign capacity. Before presenting these reasons, however, and for the purpose of comparison hereafter, and to show the unanimity with which the people acted, an observation or two may [6] be deemed necessary. The threatened invasion of Mississippi soil, the assailment of their right of property and its possible ultimate destruction, caused Whig and Democrat to stand shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand in support of a common cause. The report of the auditor of public accounts of Mississippi for the year 1860 shows that there were 60,001 free white polls between 21 and 50 years of age in the State, and 415,689 slaves under 60 years of age. In a memorial of the legislature to the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, adopted July 29, 1861, it is stated that fully one-fifth of the entire cotton crop, averaging $40 per bale, was gathered from the soil of Mississippi, and that at the time of separation the people were in a prosperous condition.

The Democratic party of the State, representing ‘an overwhelming majority of the people,’ says Governor McWillie in his message to the legislature, November, 1859, had ‘adopted the following resolutions:’

‘Resolved, That in the event of the election of a Black Republican candidate to the Presidency by the suffrages of one portion of the Union only, to rule over the whole United States upon the avowed purpose of that organization, Mississippi will regard it as a declaration of hostility, and will hold herself in readiness to co-operate with her sister States of the South in whatever measures they may deem necessary for the maintenance of their rights as co-equal members of the confederacy.’

Official returns of the vote for governor of the State of Mississippi, at an election held on the first Monday of October, 1859, as opened and counted by a joint convention of the two houses of the legislature on Thursday, the 10 day of November, 1859, show that the total vote cast was 44,882. Of this number, John J. Pettus received 34,559; H. W. Walter, 10,306; scattering 15.pettus majority, 24,253.

Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Hamlin having been elected, Governor Pettus convened the legislature in extraordinary session, saying in his message that he had assembled them [7] ‘to take into consideration the greatest and most solemn question that ever engaged the attention of any legislative body on the continent.’ The legislature met at Jackson, November 26, 1860, and, after citing in a preamble their reasons for so doing, adopted the following resolution: ‘Be it Resolved, by the legislature of the State of Mississippi: That, in the opinion of those who now constitute the said legislature, the secession of each aggrieved State is the proper remedy for these injuries.’ This resolution was approved by the governor on November 30, 1860.

This legislature also passed a bill providing for a convention of the people of Mississippi, agreeably to which an election was to be held, according to law, in each precinct of every county in the State, sixty in number, for delegates to the convention, just as in case of an election for representatives to the legislature, each county being entitled to the same number of delegates in the convention as in the legislature, including the representation of any city or town. The election was to be held on the 20th day of December, 1860. The legislature, having submitted the question to the people, adjourned sine die, November 30th. The question whether the State should secede or not was debated before the people in every county of the State, some of the most able and distinguished citizens upholding the negative of the issue.

Under the provisions of the bill convoking the sovereign people of the State in convention, passed by both branches of the legislature without a dissenting voice, an election for delegates to the convention was held at the time and places mentioned, resulting in favor of secession delegates by a popular majority of not less than 18,000. The delegates elected, one hundred in all, assembled at the capitol in the city of Jackson on Monday, the 7th day of January, 1861, and on the following Wednesday, the 9th day of January, 1861, the ordinance of secession was adopted. [8]

Subsequently Mr. Clayton, of Marshall, from the committee to which was referred the subject of preparing an address setting forth the causes which induce and justify the secession of Mississippi from the Federal Union, submitted the following report:

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which induce and justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

In the momentous step which our State has taken, of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—e greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and, by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few unquestionable facts will sufficiently prove. The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well known ordinance of 1787 in regard to the Northwestern Territory. The feeling increased until, in 1819 and 1820, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France. The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico. It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States has jurisdiction.

It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within [9] its present limits, denying the power of expansion. It tramples the original equality of the South under foot. It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain. It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst. It has enlisted its press, its pulpits and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists. It seeks not to elevate or support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.

It has invaded a State and invested with honors a wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings and the weapons of destruction to our lives. It has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security. It has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits and to destroy our social system. It knows no relenting or hesitation in its purposes; it stops not in its march of aggression, and leaves us no room to hope for cessation or for pause. It has recently obtained control of the government by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood. Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers to secure this as well as other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow in their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation and, for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights, with the full consciousness of the justice of our course and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.

On motion of Mr. Clayton, of Marshall, the report was received and agreed to. The address was then adopted.

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