The following letter was read at the dinner given by the New England Society of New York, on the 22d inst., in response to this sentiment:
4 The American Union--the great trust which we hold for succeeding ages.
The love of it is still uppermost in the hearts of the people.
This love of the whole people for the whole country will overwhelm all discontents and disaffections of all parts and of all parties, and declare, with a voice which all must hear and obey: ‘The Union must and shall be preserved!’
Richmond, Monday, Dec, 17, 1860.
When I answered your kind letter of invitation on behalf of the Committee of Arrangements, to dine with the New England
Society on the 22d inst., I entertained strong hopes that it would be in my power to attend.
Yesterday I received another letter from our friend Mr. Stetson
renewing the invitation, and urging its acceptance, that we might commune together on the condition of the nation; but I cannot leave home, and deeply regret the necessity which compels me to decline it.
I feel that I have been singularly unfortunate in never having had it in my power to accept any one of the numerous invitations to these Pilgrim meetings with which I have been honored; but necessity has no law, and I must submit.
One thing that reconciles me to the disappointment is, that while our country is in its present distracted and diseased condition.
I am in no mood and have no heart for festivities of any sort.
You meet to celebrate the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers
, and to keep alive a grateful recollection of the toils, the hardships, the sufferings and sacrifices they endured, in behalf of the great blessings of the freedom of conscience and freedom of speech; which through the mighty deeds of their descendants, your fathers
aided by the no less gallant and holy' works of our fathers,
were secured to you
and to us
as a common brotherhood by the most perfect and unexceptional system of government that the world has ever devised — a government that has alike excited the wonder, the admiration, and the hopes of the world.
The more I look into that system, and the deeper I penetrate into all its profundity, the more I am struck with its wonderful perfection, and with the superior wisdom, sagacity and fore sight displayed in its formation in every part.
A system of government under which we have lived and prospered, as no people have ever lived and prospered before, and under which, with a proper spirit of philanthropy, courtesy, forbearance and unusual explanation, we could continue to live in the full enjoyment of advantages and blessings never before vouchsafed to man on earth.
And yet, gentlemen, as a perfect and harmonious whole,
before you meet at the festive board, at the close of this week, this system will probably be no more; it will be numbered among the things that were, and that have passed away, to be seen and felt " never no more.
" perhaps "forever
Before the sun shall have passed again over our continent from the time at which I write, we shall probably be rent asunder, one State of the Union
will have rudely and violently robbed our flag of one star; God in his mercy grant that it may stop at that.
Even now, while I write at the dead hour of night, mischief makers and conspirators are at work to tear down the whole edifice of freedom to trample that flag in the dust, and to make us the jest and the scorn of civilization
Can this not be averted?
Are there no means by which the balance of the Union
can be preserved?
It rests with you, gentlemen of the North
, to determine the question, and there is no time for delay.
I have given abundant proof that I do not sympathize with South Carolina
in her rash and impetuous action.
If she is determined to go let us do all that men can do to prevent any other State from following her pernicious example.
She does not desire to be of
us, nor with
us, nor among
us. She does not seek to have her grievances redressed, and I would take no pains to redress them as far as she is concerned.
She goes out because she has no wish to remain in, but it is not so with the other disaffected States.
They can be retained, and retained with honor to themselves and to you.
You tell me that by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise
, and the attempt to force slavery into the Territory of Kansas
through the agency of the fraudulent Lecompton Constitution, the South
has done great wrong to the North
I know it,
and I have said it when,
and I have said it where
it was no light matter to say it — when I stood as one singled out from a whole community, but I say also that the North
, by the passage of the Personal Liberty
bills, so far as they were designed to obstruct the execution of the Fugitive Slave Law
, and by the general interference of their citizens with the subject of slavery in the States, have done great wrong to the South
Both have done wrong, and both must repair the errors of the past.
You tell me again, that Mr. Lincoln
and the party he represents have no design to interfere with the relation of master and slaves in the States where slavery exists by law. I answer, I believe it
--nay, I know it
--I know that the foulest misrepresentations are constantly made, and industriously circulated, by mischievous men and mischievous papers, to inflame the public mind; I know that great misunderstanding prevails between the two sections of the country, but to which.
I thank my Maker, I have never by word or deed contributed.
On the contrary, I have incurred unjust censure and reproach and suspicion at home, in consequence of my efforts to preserve a fairer and better understanding between the North
and the South
; because I saw from the first that, if this flame was fanned and not checked, it would ultimately lead to the present disastrous condition of things.
But, gentlemen permit me to say that this is no time to inquire who threw the first stone, or which section is most to blame; this is no time to stand upon ceremony, or upon etiquette; this is no time for bravado and defiance; and whosoever indulges in it either in Congress or out of it, will meet with a nation's contempt and a nation's curse.--The existence of an Empire is at stake: the happiness and the fortunes of millions at home, and of mankind over a large portion of the world, is in the balance, and the only question should be which shall be the first to come forward and tender the olive branch of peace, saying in solemn, earnest, strains.
Brothers, let us be friends again.
Whichever party is the most forward and active in atonement for the past, whichever yields the most to freedom and to the Union
, will surely enjoy the larger share of reputation for manliness, magnanimity and love of country.
is the larger and more powerful section; you cannot be suspected of any base timidity in a sacrifice for reconciliation.
is the successful party,
now to come into power; you are in no danger of having any of your rights disturbed; you labor under no apprehension of the loss or ruin of your property; you can afford not only to be just, but to be generous,
Magnanimous and great.
For the sake of our common country, I beg you to display these high and ennobling qualities as far as your own honor will permit you to go.
Let the North
give assurance in some authoritative and unmistakable form that it is not its purpose to interfere with any vested rights under the Constitution
; that whatever has been unwisely and unconstitutionally done shall be instantaneously undone, and that they will meet the disaffected Southern States in the spirit of that harmony and fraternal kindness, for the settlement of all the present difficulties, and let each section extend to the other forgiveness for the past and security for the future.
There is but one person alive whose position would entitle him to speak for the whole, and whose voice is sufficiently potential to allay the impending strife.
I could wish that in this extreme exigency of the State
, surrounded as we are with danger on every side, that he could find it compatible with his sense of propriety to anticipate, by a few weeks, the duty that will devolve upon him on the 4th of March, and indicate a policy, as I feel assured he would, that would relieve all present uneasiness, and afford more time for ultimate settlement of details.
There are a great many intemperate and unreasonable men in the South
each one of whom has his particular followers, but all of whom would be abandoned if such a policy were pursued; for I do not believe there is a majority in any one of the States (South Carolina
excepted, and we may count her out for the present,) that would claim more as a condition of their adhesion to the Union
than they would be fairly entitled to under the Constitution
as it was made for us, and which we all acknowledge ourselves bound to obey.
If a difference of interpretation should arise, how easy it would be to make a case and carry it at once before the judicial tribunal established for the purpose, and let its decision be final and conclusive with all parties.
Amendments to the Constitution
may be asked for which may or may not be yielded, but all that any State is at liberty to demand, or that any State will be sustained in demanding, will be a fair, honest and faithful execution of the provisions of the Constitution
, and the laws made in pursuance thereof, and if this is not cheerfully accorded, the Union
cannot and ought not to last; but if yielded, and further demands are made outside of the Constitution
, in order to occasion difficulty, then the party that adheres to the present Constitution as it is relieves itself of all responsibility for the consequences that may ensue by virtue of the course pursued by those who seek a departure from it.
At all times deprecating and abjuring sectionalism, in whatever form it might assume, whether in the North or South, I have for many years stood up in the face of this Southern community, unaided and alone, as the only apology at and defender of the North
; because, on every recurrence of disaffection and distrust, I snuffed ultimate disunion in the tainted breeze I had no confidence that men who would abrogate the Missouri Compromise
would respect the Constitution
any longer than it secured to them the powers of the Government
I have endorsed the integrity and patriotism of the great body of our Northern brethren, when all others shrunk back disheartened and dismayed, until I have been left a single mark for the shafts of my own party, as well as of my political opponents.
My motives have fallen under the injurious and unjust suspicion that I was actuated by a desire to advance my own political fortunes with the North
when not one man in ten thousand in the North
knew what I had said or done; while it was whispered and mattered and shouted, in every Southern car — My position and principles of nationality, to which I have been, perhaps, a too zealous devotee, have been rudely assailed; and when they have proved impregnable and could not be overthrown in order to destroy such influence as I had, my character, both personally and politically, has been traduced and aligned.
Yet never an inch did I budge; and it is this which gives me a claim as your endorser,
to appeal to you as friends,
in the name of a common country, and in view of a common destiny, to come forward and vindicate yourselves from the foul aspersions that have been cast upon you because of the misconduct of a handful of intemperate, misguided, fanatical and desperate men in your midst, who have been suffered, so far, to pass not only unpunished, but almost unrebuked.
I will not ask you to vindicate my endorsement of your fidelity to the Union
, the Constitution
, and the enforcement of the laws, for my own sake,
because it matters little to any but my own family what becomes of me; but I do ask it, I entreat it, and, without meaning to be presumptuous.
it, for your own sakes, and for the sake of a common country, which now hangs suspended by a hair, awaiting the decision of the sons of New England
, the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers
, whose spirits will look down upon you at the festive board, and add their entreaties to mine, that you will save us from a common and inevitable ruin, by exerting the influence you hold, each one with his native heath, to have full justice administered, peace restored, prosperity continued, and the Union of the States perpetuated for ages and ages yet to come.
If I have not deceived myself, this will be done by the conservative men who constitute the majority and the worth of the North
; and, if I am deceived.
I shall only have to confess the errors of my past life, retrace my steps, and make atonement to those whom I may have misted in my too earnest zeal to act the part of peacemaker to the great National family of the United States
So far as the President
of the United States
and his late Attorney General
, now Secretary of State
, are concerned, the citadel has already been surrendered; the right to prevent any one State from breaking up the entire Confederacy has been denied, and it is expected that South Carolina
, profiting by this unparalleled treachery to the rest of the States, will seize upon Fort Moultrie
, that has purposely been left in an almost deserted and helpless condition.
What disastrous consequence may result from this weakness and cowardice on the part of the Government
time alone can determine; but if civil war shall be forced upon us, with all its attendant evils, let the friends of the Union
first put themselves entirely in the right,
in every particular,
let no just ground of complaint exist against them — do all they can to prevent strife, then act on the defensive; but act with a vigor that will make their enemies respect them.