Chapter 3: assembling of Congress.--the President's Message.
- Meeting of the thirty-sixth Congress, 64.
-- President Buchanan's Message, 65.
-- the Fugitive Slave Law, 67.
-- Personal Liberty acts, 68.
-- opinion of Attorney
-- General Black.
-- Secession impossible, 71.
-- the President's indecision and recommendations
-- denunciations of the Message, 73.
-- disappointment of the people, 74.
-- movements of the Clergy
-- warnings of General Scott, 75.
-- General Wool's letter to General Cass, 76.
-- resignation of Cass
-- day proclaimed, 77.
-- Clingman's treasonable speech in the Senate, 78.
-- Crittenden's rebuke
-- Hale's defiance, and the anger of the conspirators, 79.
-- Iverson's treasonable speech in the Senate, 80.
-- speeches of Senators Davis and Wigfall, 81.
-- Cotton proclaimed King, 82.
-- the Cotton “kingdom,” 83.
-- Wigfall's insolent harangue, 84.
Whilst the Cotton-growing States were in a blaze of excitement, and the Slave-labor States north of them were surging, and almost insurgent, with conflicting opinions and perplexing doubts and fears, and the Free-labor States were looking on in amazement at the madness of their colleagues, who were preparing to resist the power of the Constitution
and laws of the land, the Thirty-Sixth Congress assembled at Washington City
It began its second and last session at the Capitol
, on Monday, the 3d of December, 1860.
It was on a bright and beautiful morning; and as the eye looked out from the western front of the Capitol
upon the city below, the winding Potomac and the misty hights of Arlington
beyond, it beheld a picture of repose, strongly contrasting with the spirits of men then assembling in the halls of Congress.
Never, since the birth of the Nation — more than seventy years before — had the people looked with more solemn interest upon the assembling of the National Legislature than at this time.
The hoarse cry of Disunion, which had so often been used in and out of Congress by the representatives of the Slave interest, as a bugbear to frighten men of the Free-labor States into compliance with their demands, now had deep significance.
Its tone was terribly earnest and defiant, and action was everywhere seen in support of words.
It was evident that a crisis in the history of the Republic
was present, with demands for forbearance, patience, wisdom, and sound statesmanship, in an eminent degree, to save the nation from dreadful calamities, if not from absolute ruin.
Therefore with the deepest anxiety the people, in all parts of the Republic
, listened to hear the voice of the President
in his Annual Message to Congress, which, it was supposed, would indicate, with clearness and precision, the line of policy which the Government
intended to pursue.
Both Houses of Congress convened at noon on the 3d of December.
The Senate, with Mr. Breckinridge
, the Vice-President
, in the chair, was opened by a prayer by the Rev.
D. Gurley, D. D.
, the Chaplain
of that House
, who fervently prayed that all the rulers and the people might be delivered from “erroneous judgments, from misleading influences, and from the sway of evil passions” The House of Representatives,
with William Pennington
, the Speaker
, in the chair, was opened with prayer by its Chaplain
, the Rev. Thomas H. Stockton
, who fervently thanked God for the “blessings we have enjoyed within this Union--natural blessings, civil blessings, spiritual blessings, social blessings, all kinds of blessings — such blessings as were never enjoyed by any other people since the world began.”
Committees were appointed by each House
to inform the President
of its organization, and readiness to receive any communication from him. These reported that he would send in to them a written message at noon on Tuesday.1
At the appointed hour, the President
's private Secretary
, A. J. Glossbrenner
, appeared below the bar of the Senate, and announced that he was there by direction of the Chief Magistrate
, “to deliver to the Senate a message in writing.”
The House of Representatives also received it. It was read to both Houses, and then its parts were referred to appropriate committees, in the usual manner.
The telegraph carried the President
's Message quickly to every part of the land.
The people sat down to read it with eagerness, and arose from its perusal with brows saddened with the gravest disappointment.
This feeling was universal.
The Message was full of evidences of faint-hearted-ness and indecision in points where courage and positive convictions should have been apparent in its treatment of the great topic then filling all hearts and minds, and bore painful indications that its author was involved in some perilous dilemma into which he had fallen, and was anxiously seeking a way of escape.
The method chosen was most unwise and unfortunate.
It recoiled fearfully upon the public character of the venerable President
; and, in the estimation of thoughtful men, a reputation gained by many important and useful public services, during a long and active life, was laid in ruins.
In the second paragraph of his Message, the President
began the consideration of the troubles which then beset the nation.
After recounting some of the blessings then enjoyed by the people, he asked, “Why is it, then, that discontent now so extensively prevails, and the Union of the States, which is the source of all these blessings, is threatened with destruction?”
He answered his own question, by alleging, in contradiction of the solemn assurances of leaders in the rising revolt
to the contrary, that “the long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern
people with the question of Slavery in the Southern States
had produced these estrangements and
He alleged that the immediate peril did not arise so much from the claims on the part of Congress, or of the Territorial Legislatures
, to exclude Slavery from the Territories
, or the enactment of Personal Liberty Laws by some of the Northern States
, “as from the fact of the incessant and violent agitation of the Slavery question throughout the North
, for the last quarter of a century.”
This agitation, he alleged, had “inspired the slaves with vague notions of freedom,” and hence “a sense of security no longer exists around the family altar.”
Then, with substantial repetition of the words of John Randolph
on the floor of Congress, fifty years before,3
he said:--“This feeling of peace at home has given place to apprehensions of servile insurrection.
Many a matron throughout the South
retires at night in dread of what may befall herself and her children before the morning.”
This state of things, he intimated, was a sufficient excuse, if continued, for the lifting of a fratricidal hand.
“Should this apprehension of domestic danger,” he said, “whether real or imaginary, extend and intensify itself, until it shall pervade the masses of the Southern
people, then disunion will become inevitable.
Self-preservation is the first law of nature. . . . And no political Union, however fraught with blessings and benefits in all other respects, can long continue, if the necessary consequence be to render the homes and the firesides of nearly half the parties to it habitually and hopelessly
Sooner or later, the bonds of such a union must be severed.”
He then referred to the efforts used by the Abolitionists, through “pictorial handbills and inflammatory appeals,” in 1835, calculated to stir up the slaves to insurrection and servile war, and said: “This agitation has ever since been continued by the public press, by the proceedings of State and County Conventions, and by Abolition sermons and lectures.
The time of Congress has been occupied in violent speeches on this never-ending subject; and appeals, in pamphlet and other forms, indorsed by distinguished names, have been sent forth from this central point, and spread broadcast over the Union
“How easy it would be,” the President
said, “for the American
people to settle the Slavery question forever, and to restore peace and harmony for this distracted country.
They, and they alone, can do it. All that is necessary to accomplish the object, and all for which the Slave States
have ever contended, is, to be let alone, and permitted to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. As Sovereign States, they, and they alone, are responsible before God and the world for the Slavery existing among them.
For this the people of the North
are not more responsible, and have no more right to interfere, than with similar institutions in Russia
Upon their good sense and patriotic forbearance I confess I greatly rely.”
Having said so much that might be pleasant for the ears of the people of the Slave-labor States, Mr. Buchanan
proceeded to argue that the election of a President obnoxious to the inhabitants of one section of the Republic
afforded no excuse for the offended ones to rebel.
“Reason, justice, a regard for the Constitution
,” he said, “all require that we shall wait for some overt and dangerous act on the part of the President elect
before resorting to such a remedy.”
He also argued, as Stephens
had done before him, that the hands of the new President
would be tied by a majority against him in Congress, and on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States
He then touched upon the provocations endured by the “Southern States” in connection with the subject of Slavery in the Territories
, and the Fugitive Slave Law
; and expressed a hope that the State Legislatures
would repeal any unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments on their statute-books — in other words, their Personal Liberty Acts — so offensive to the people of the Slave-labor States and the plain commands of the Constitution
; and that the President elect
would feel it to be his duty, as Mr. Buchanan
had done, to act vigorously in executing the Fugitive Slave Law
“against the conflicting enactments of State Legislatures.”
“The Southern States,” he said, “standing on the basis of the Constitution
, have a right to demand this act of justice from the States of the North
Should it be refused,” he continued, as he warmed with zealous sympathy for the oppressed people of the Slave-labor States, “then the Constitution
, to which all the States are parties, will have been willfully violated by one portion of them, in a provision essential to the domestic security and happiness of the remainder.
In that event, the injured States, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union
Let us look a moment at this Fugitive Slave Law and those Personal Liberty Laws, the non-execution of the one by the President
, and the non-repeal of the others by the State Legislatures
who enacted them, would, in
the opinion of Mr. Buchanan
, be a sufficient justification of the people of the Slave-labor States in “revolutionary resistance to the Government
of the Union
Knowledge concerning them is essential to a proper understanding of the early history of the rebellion.
In the year 1850, an act was passed by the National Congress, under the provisions of the third clause, second section, and fourth Article of the Constitution
, providing for the rendition of slaves who might escape from bondage into the Free-labor States.
The sixth section of that law provided that the master of a fugitive slave, or his agent, might go into any State or Territory of the Republic
, and, with or without legal warrant there obtained, seize such fugitive, and take him forthwith before any judge or commissioner whose duty it should be to hear and determine the case.
On satisfactory proof being furnished him, such as the affidavit in writing, or other acceptable testimony, by the pursuing owner or agent, that the arrested person “owes labor” to the party that had arrested him, or to his principal, it was made the duty of said judge or commissioner to use the power of his office to assist the claimant in taking the fugitive back into bondage.
It was further provided, that in no trial or hearing under the act, should the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence;
and that the parties claiming the fugitive should not be molested in their work of carrying the person back “by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate
, or other person whomsoever.”
The last clause of the act was so offensive to every sentiment of humanity and justice, and so repugnant to the feelings of the people in the Free-labor States, that while respect for law, so deeply interwoven in the texture of American society, caused a general acquiescence in the requirements of the statute, there was rebellion against it in every Christian heart.
It was plainly seen that, under that law, free negroes might, by the perjury of kidnappers, and the denial of the common right to defense allowed to the vilest criminal, be carried away into hopeless slavery, beyond the reach of pity, mercy, or law. This perception of possible wrong caused the Legislatures of several of the Free-labor States to pass laws for the protection of free colored citizens within their borders, made so by the circumstance of birth or existing laws.5
In the framing of laws consonant with the public sentiment against the Fugitive Slave Law
, some of the Legislatures perhaps transcended the constitutional limits, and enacted statutes in direct contravention of the National
law. Others were strictly within the limits of constitutional requirements; and all might be speedily made inoperative by a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States
, a majority of whose nine judges were slaveholders, and decidedly in sympathy with that class.
Up to the time of the delivery of the President
's Message, not a single case had been adjudicated under a Personal Liberty Law in any State, and their practical hostility to the interests of the slaveholders was as unreal as the tyranny and oppression of
the President elect
, neither of them having had occasion to act. They were made one of the several pretexts sought by the conspirators for rebellion; and yet some of the bolder ones, who did not care for a pretext, denied that opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law
was a grievance to be complained of. “The secession of South Carolina
,” said Robert Barnwell Rhett
(the most malignant and unscrupulous of the conspirators in that State), in the Secession Convention, “is not an event of a day. It is not any thing produced by Mr. Lincoln
's election, or by the non-execution of the Fugitive Slave Law
. It is a matter which has been gathering head for thirty years. . . . In regard to the Fugitive Slave Law
, I myself doubted its constitutionality, and doubted it on the floor of the Senate, when I was a member of that body. The States, acting in their sovereign capacity,
should be responsible for the rendition of fugitive slaves. That was our best security.” --“It is no spasmodic effort,” said Francis S. Parker
, another member of the Convention
, “that has come suddenly upon us; it has been gradually culminating for a long period of thirty years.” --“As my friend (Mr. Parker
) has said,” spoke John A. Inglis
, another member of the Convention
, “most of us have had this matter under consideration for the last twenty years.”
And Lawrence M. Keitt
, the supporter of Preston S. Brooks
, when he brutally assailed Senator Sumner
in the Senate Chamber
, in 1856, who was also a member of the Secession Convention, said:--“I have been engaged in this movement ever since I entered political life.”
Let us return to the Message.
Having informed the conspirators that they had many grievances, and that, under certain contingencies, the people of the Slave-labor States might be justified in rebellion, the President
proceeded to consider the right of secession and the relative powers of the National Government
This was the topic to which the attention of the people was most anxiously turned.
What will the President
do in the event of open rebellion?
was the momentous question on every lip. It greatly exercised the mind of the President
himself, and he turned to his legal adviser, Jeremiah S. Black
, the Attorney
of the Republic
, for advice.
This was given him, in liberal measure, on the 20th of November.
It was conveyed in no less than three thousand words.
Assuming that States, as States, might rebel, the Attorney-General
's argument gave much “aid and comfort” to the conspirators.
After speaking of occasions when the President
, as commander-in-chief of all the military forces of the Republic
, might properly use them in support of the laws of the land, he supposed the case of a State in which all the National
officers, including judges, district attorneys, and marshals, affected by the delirium of rebellious fever, should resign their places — a part of the programme of revolution in South Carolina
already adopted, and which was carried out a month later.
What then should be done?
It was clearly the duty of the President
to fill the offices with other men. “But,” he said, “we can easily conceive how it might become altogether impossible.”
Indeed, this contingency had been contemplated by the conspirators, and provided for by prospective vigilance committees.
“Then,” he continued, “there would be no courts to issue judicial process, and no ministerial officers to execute it.”
Why, the State
has virtually disappeared as a part of the Republic
; and the power of the Supreme Government
being only auxiliary to State life and force, National troops would certainly “be out of place, and their use wholly illegal.
If they are sent to aid the courts and marshals, there must be
courts and marshals to be aided.
Without the exercise of those functions which belong exclusively to the civil service, the laws cannot be executed in any event, no
matter what may be the physical strength which the Government
has at its command.
Under such circumstances, to send a military force into any State, with orders to act against the people, would be simply making war upon them.”
limited the exercise of the powers of the Executive
, in the matter in question, to a simple protection of the public property.
If he could not collect the revenue on account of insurrection, he had no warrant for the use of military force.
Congress might vote him the power, yet he doubted the ability of that body to find constitutional permission to do so. It seemed to him, that an attempt to force the people of a State into submission to the laws of the Republic
, and to desist from attempts to destroy it, would be making war upon them, by which they would be converted into alien enemies, and “would be compelled to act accordingly.”
If Congress should sanction such an attempt to uphold the authority of the National Government
, he wished to know whether all of the States would “not be absolved from their Federal obligations?
Is any portion of the people,” he asked, “bound to contribute their money or their blood to carry on a contest like this?”
virtually counseled the President
to suffer this glorious concrete Republic to become disintegrated by the fires of faction, or the blows of actual rebellion, rather than to use force, legitimately at his service, for the preservation of its integrity.
The vital weakness in the arguments of the conspirators, and of those who adopted their peculiar political views, appears at all times in the erroneous assumption, as premises, that States
, as such, had seceded, and that the National Government
, if it should take action against rebellious movements, must of necessity war against a “Sovereign State.”
The undeniable fact opposed to this argument was, that no State
, as such, had seceded, or could secede; that the secession of certain States had been declared only by certain politicians
in those States, who were usurpers, as we shall observe hereafter, of the rights and sovereignty which belonged only to the people;
that only certain persons in certain States were in rebellion, and that the Government
could only act against those certain persons in certain States as individuals collectively rebellious, like a mob in a city.
Therefore, there could be no such thing as the “coercion of a State.”
That which the conspirators and the politicians so adroitly and effectively exhibited as “coercion” was an unsubstantial phantom, created by the subtle alchemy of sophistry, for an ignoble purpose — an invention of disloyal metaphysicians in the Slave-labor States, bearing, to undisciplined and unreasoning minds, the semblance of truth and reality.
If we shall keep this fact in mind clearly, as we proceed in our consideration of the events of the civil war, we shall perceive the wisdom, righteousness, and dignity of the National Government
, and the opposing qualities in its enemies, from the beginning to the end of the troubles.
The President followed the counsel of his legal adviser in the preparation of that part of his Message which related to anticipated insurrection.
But before yielding wholly to that counsel, he said, in discussing the doctrine of the right of a State to secede :--“In order to justify secession as a constitutional remedy, it must be on the principle that the Federal Government
is a mere voluntary association of States, to be dissolved at pleasure by any one
of the contracting parties.6
If this be so, the Confederacy
is a rope of sandy to be penetrated and dissolved by the first adverse wave of public opinion in any of the States.
In this manner our thirty-three States may resolve themselves into so many petty, jarring, and hostile republics, each one retiring from the Union
without responsibility, whenever any sudden excitement might impel them to such a course.
By this process, a Union might be entirely broken into fragments in a few weeks, which cost our fathers many years of toil, privation, and blood to establish.”
In these wise, truthful, and statesmanlike sentences the President
cast off the restraints of the meshes of political and personal difficulty in which he was evidently entangled; and by so doing he gave unpardonable offense to the conspirators.
With the freedom of will and judgment which that momentary relief gave him, and with a lofty conception of the dignity of the Republic
and his own position, he continued:--“This Government is a great and powerful Government, invested with all the attributes of sovereignty over the special subjects to which its authority extends.
Its framers never intended to implant in its bosom the seeds of its own destruction, nor were they, at its creation, guilty of the absurdity of providing for its own dissolution.
It was not intended by its framers to be the baseless fabric of a vision, which, at the touch of the enchanter, would vanish into thin air; but a substantial and mighty fabric, capable of resisting the slow decay of time, and of defying the storms of ages.
Indeed, well may the zealous patriots of that day have indulged fears that a government of such high powers might violate the reserved rights of the States, and wisely did they adopt the rule of a strict construction of these powers to prevent danger.
But they did not fear, nor had they any reason to imagine, that the Constitution
would ever be so interpreted as to enable any State, by her own act, and without the consent of her sister States, to discharge her people from all or any of their Federal obligations.”
These were brave words, and the President
had constitutional and popular power to follow them with corresponding brave actions.
But a sense of restraint seems to have paralyzed his will, and while he declared that the forts and other public property must be protected, he yielded every thing to the conspirators by saying, in their own phraseology, that there was no power known to the Constitution
to compel a “seceding State” to return to its allegiance.
He saw no way in which a “subjugated State” could be governed afterward; and even if the National Government
had the power to compel the obedience of a State, “would it be wise to exercise it, under the circumstances?”
In the fraternal conflict that would ensue, a vast amount of blood and treasure would be expended, rendering future reconciliation impossible.
He declared that the States were colleagues of one another; and if some of them, he said, “should conquer the rest, and hold them as subjugated provinces, it would totally destroy the whole theory upon which they are now connected.
If this view of the subject be as correct as I think it is,” he said, “then the Union
must utterly perish at the moment
when Congress shall arm one part of the people against another, for any purpose beyond that of merely protecting the General Government
in the exercise of its proper constitutional functions.... Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation; but the sword was not placed in their hands to preserve it by force.”
Having declared that secession was a crime, and the doctrine of State Supremacy a heresy dangerous to the nationality of the Republic
, but that both might be indulged in to the fullest extent with impunity, because the Government
, as an executive force, was constitutionally and utterly impotent to protect the nation against rebellious hands uplifted to destroy it — in other words, that the hands of wicked assassins were ready with strength to crush out the National
life, but the Republic
possessed no power, excepting that of moral suasion, to protect and preserve that life — the President
proposed to conciliate its enemies, by allowing them to infuse deadly poison into the blood of their intended victim, which would slowly but as surely accomplish their purpose, in time.
To do this, he proposed an “explanatory amendment” to the Constitution
, on the subject of Slavery, which should give to the conspirators every thing which they had demanded, namely, the elevation of the Slave system to the dignity of a national institution, and thus sap the very foundations of our free government.
This amendment was to consist of an express recognition of the right of property in slaves, in the States where it then existed or might thereafter exist; of the recognition of the duty of the National Government
to protect that right in all the Territories
throughout their Territorial existence; the recognition of the right of the Slave-owner to every privilege and advantage given him in the Fugitive Slave Law
of 1850; and a declaration that all the State
laws impairing or defeating that law were violations of the Constitution
, and consequently null and void.
This Message, so indecisive, and, in many respects, inconsistent, alarmed the people.
They felt themselves, in a measure, adrift upon a sea of troubles without a competent pilot, a compass, or a pole-star.
As we have observed, it pleased nobody.
In the Chamber
of the United States Senate, when as motion for its reference was made, it was spoken lightly of by the friends and foes of the Union
, of North Carolina
, who, misrepresenting the sentiment of his State, was the first to sound the trumpet of disunion in that hall, at this time declared that it fell short of stating the case that was before the country.
, of Texas
, said he could not understand it; and, at a later period, Jefferson Davis
, of Mississippi
, said in the Senate, that it “had all the characteristics of a diplomatic paper, for diplomacy is said to abhor certainty, as nature abhors a vacuum; and it is not within the power of man to reach any fixed conclusion from that Message.
When the country was agitated, when opinions were being formed, when we are drifting beyond the power ever to return, this was not what we had a right to expect from a Chief Magistrate
. One policy or the other he ought to have taken.”
“He should have taken the position,” he said, either of a “Federalist, that every State is subordinate to the Federal Government
,” and he was bound to enforce its authority; or as a State Rights Democrat, which he professed to be, holding that “the Constitution
gave no power to the Federal Government
to coerce a State.”
He said, truly, “That the
should have brought his opinion to one conclusion or another, and, to-day, our country would have been safer than it is.”
, of New Hampshire
, said that, if he understood the Message on the subject of secession, it was this:--“South Carolina
has just cause for seceding from the Union
; that is the first proposition.
The second is, that she has no right to secede.
The third is, that we have no right to prevent her from seceding.
He goes on to represent this as a great and powerful country, and that no State has a right to secede from it; but the power of the country, if I understand the President
, consists in what Dickens
makes the English
constitution to be — a power to do nothing at all. Now, I think it was incumbent on the President
of the United States
to point out definitely and recommend to Congress some rule of action, and to tell us what he recommended
The Senate Chamber in 1860. |
us to do. But, in my judgment, he has entirely avoided it. He has failed to look the thing in the face.
He has acted like the ostrich, which hides her head, and thereby thinks to escape danger.”
So thought the people.
They saw great dangers, but could not comprehend the fearful proportions of those dangers.
Had they done so, they would almost have despaired.
They watched with intense interest the rising waves of rebellion in the Slave-labor States, and heard with alarm the roaring of their surges in the halls of Congress.
Their thoughts often wandered back to an earlier period in their history, when a Chief Magistrate
had the courage to check by a menace, and would have crushed by the force of arms, if it had been necessary, the foul serpent of rebellion, that appeared a generation before as a petted monster, among the politicians of South Carolina
, and was exhibited to the people whenever Calhoun
In the contrast between Jackson
, which that retrospect exhibited, they saw cause for gloomy forebodings.
Patriotic men wrote earnest letters to their representatives in Congress, asking them to be firm, yet conciliatory; and clergymen of every degree and religious denomination — Shepherds of the Church of Christ, the Prince
of Peace — exhorted their flocks to be firm in faith, patient in hope, careful in conduct, and trustful in God. “This is no time for noisy disputants to lead us,” wrote Bishop Lay
, at Fort Smith, Arkansas
. “We should ask counsel of the experienced, the sober, the God-fearing men among us. We may follow peace, and yet guard our country's rights; nor should we, in concern for our own, forget the rights and duties of others.”
--“In our public congregations, in our family worship, in each heart's private prayers,” wrote Bishop McIlvaine
, of Ohio
, “I solemnly feel that it is a time for all to beseech God to have mercy upon our country — not to deal with us according to our sins — not to leave us to our own wisdom and might — to take the counsels of our senators and legislators; and all in authority, into His own guidance and government.”
--“These evils are the punishment of sin,” wrote Bishop McFarland
, of Hartford, Connecticut
, to the clergy of his diocese, “and are to be averted only by appeasing the anger of Heaven.
You will, therefore, request your congregation to unite in fervent prayers for the preservation of the Union
and the peace of the country.
For this intention, we exhort them to say, each day, at least one ‘Our Father’ and one ‘Hail Mary;’ to observe with great strictness the Fast-days of this holy season; to prepare themselves for the worthy reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist
, at or before Christmas
; to give alms generally to the poor, and to turn their whole hearts in all humility to God.”
More than forty leading clergymen of various denominations in New York, New Jersey
, and Pennsylvania
united in sending forth
a circular letter, in the form of an appeal to the churches, in which they said:--“We cannot doubt that a spirit of candor and forbearance, such as our religion prompts, and the exigencies of the times demand, would render the speedy adjustment of our difficulties possible, consistently with every constitutional right.
Unswerving fealty to the Constitution
justly interpreted, and a prompt return to its spirit and requirements wherever there may have been divergence from either, would seem to be the first duty of citizens and legislators.
It is our firm, and, we think, intelligent conviction, that only a very inconsiderable fraction of the people of the North
will hesitate in the discharge of their constitutional obligations; and that whatever enactments are found to be in conflict therewith will be annulled.”
They urged the necessity of a more candid and temperate discussion, on the part of the press and the pulpit, of moral and political questions — a greater regard “for the rights and feelings of men.”
So early as the close of October,
that venerable soldier, Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott
, the General-in-chief
of the armies of the Republic
, perceiving the gathering cloud betokening a storm, spoke
words of warning to the President
and Secretary of War
He was evidently ignorant of the perplexities of the former and the wickedness of the latter, or he would never have wasted words, as he did, in saying: “From a knowledge of our Southern population, it is my solemn conviction that there is some danger of an early act of rashness preliminary to secession, namely, the seizure of some or all of the Southern
forts,” which he named.
“In my opinion,” he said, “all these works should be immediately so garrisoned as to make any attempt to take any one of them, by surprise or coup de main
, ridiculous.” . . . “It is the opinion that instructions should be given at once to the commanders of the Barancas [Pensacola], Forts Moultrie
, to be on their guard against surprises.”
Another veteran warrior, who had been Scott
's companion in arms for fifty years, full of patriotic zeal, and with a keen perception of danger, after reading the President
's message wrote a letter remarkable for its good sense, foresight, and wisdom.
That soldier was Major-General John Ellis Wool
, then commander of the Eastern Department, which included the whole country eastward of the Mississippi River
He wrote to the venerable General Lewis Cass
(also his companion-in-arms in the War
of 1812), Buchanan
Secretary of State
, on the 6th of December, saying :--“South Carolina
says she intends to leave the Union
Her representatives in Congress say she has already left the Union
It seems she is neither to be conciliated nor comforted.
I command the Eastern Department, which includes South Carolina
, and Mississippi
You know me well.
I have ever been a firm, decided, faithful, and devoted friend of my country.
If I can aid the President
to preserve the Union
, I hope he will command my services.
It will never do for him or you to leave Washington without every star in this Union in its place
. Therefore, no time should be lost in adopting measures to defeat those who are conspiring against the Union
Hesitation or delay may be no less fatal to the Union
than to the President
, or your own high standing as a statesman.”
This patriotic soldier then urged upon the Government
the absolute necessity of sending re-enforcements to the forts in Charleston harbor
; and he spurned the excuse for not doing so, urged by some, that such a step would serve to increase the excitement among the people of South Carolina
. “That is nonsense,” he said, “when the people are as much excited as they can be, and the leaders are determined to execute their long-meditated purpose of separating the State
from the Union
Do not leave the forts in the harbor in a condition to induce the attempt to take possession of them.
It might easily be done at this time.
If South Carolina
should take them, it might, as she anticipates, induce other States to join her. The Union can be preserved, but it requires firm, decided, prompt, energetic action on the part of the President
He has only to exert the power conferred on him by the Constitution
and laws of Congress, and all will be safe, and he will prevent a civil war, which never fails to call forth all the baser passions of the human heart.
If a separation should take place, be assured, blood would flow in torrents.
Let me conjure you to save the Union
, and thereby avoid the desolating example of Mexico
. . . . Think of these things, my dear General, and save the country, and save the prosperous South
from pestilence, famine, and desolation.
Peaceable secession is not to be thought of. Even if it should take place in three months, we would have a bloody war on our hands.”
The patriotic Cass
Fully convinced by recent developments that the Cabinet
was filled with traitors, bent upon the destruction of
Seal of the State Department. |
, and utterly unable, with his single hand and voice, to restrain or persuade them, he resigned the seals of his office on the 12th of December, and retired to private life.10
The President, too, conscious of his own impotence — conscious that the Goverment was in the hands of its enemies — and despairing of the salvation of the Union
by human agency, issued a Proclamation on the 14th of December, recommending the observance of the 4th day of January following as a day for humiliation, fasting, and prayer, throughout the Republic
“The Union of the States,” he said, “is at the present moment threatened with alarming and immediate danger; panic and distress, of a fearful character, prevail throughout the land; our laboring population are without employment, and, consequently, deprived of the means of earning their bread; indeed, hope seems to have deserted the minds of men. All classes' are in a state of confusion and dismay, and the wisest counsels of our best and purest men are wholly disregarded.
In this, the hour of our calamity and peril, to whom shall we resort for relief but to the God of our Fathers?
His omnipotent arm only can save us from the awful effects of our own crimes and follies — our own ingratitude and guilt toward our Heavenly Father.”
He then recommended a union of the people in bowing in humility before God, and said, in words not only of faith, but of remarkable prophecy:--“An Omnipotent Providence
may overrule existing evils for permanent good.”
In the mean time, the halls of Congress had become theaters wherein treason was openly and defiantly displayed, especially in the Senate Chamber
, where, as we have observed, Senator Clingman
, of North Carolina
, who afterward became a brigadier-general in the Confederate army, had first sounded the trumpet-note of revolt.
The occasion was the discussion of his
own motion to print the President
Adopting the false assumption as true, that the people of the Free-labor States had resolved, because they formed a constitutional majority, to oppress and despoil of their rights the people of the Slave-labor States, and had elected a President “because he was known to be a dangerous man” to the latter section, he boldly announced the determination of the South
--that is to say, the politicians, like himself, of the Slave-labor States--to submit no longer to the authority of the National Government
To his political opponents, on the other side of the House
, he said:--“I tell those gentlemen, in perfect frankness, that, in my judgment, not only will a number of States secede in the next sixty days, but some of the other States are holding on merely to see if proper guaranties can. be obtained.
We have in North Carolina
only two considerable parties.
The absolute submissionists are too small to be called a party.”
He falsely alleged that the great “mass of the people consist of those who are for immediate action,” and then threatened, that unless ample guaranties should be given, by amendments of the. Constitution, for the protection of the rights of the South
in regard to Slavery, they would see “most of the Southern States
in motion at an early day. I will not undertake to advise,” he said; “but I say that, unless some comprehensive plan of some kind be adopted, which shall be perfectly satisfactory, in my judgment, the wisest thing this Congress can do would be to divide the public property fairly, and apportion the public debt.
I say, Sir — and events in the course of a few months will determine whether I am right or not — in my judgment, unless decisive constitutional guaranties are obtained at an early day, it will be best for all sections that a peaceable division of the public property should take place.”
After thus demanding “guaranties” or concessions, Mr. Clingman
broadly intimated that no concessions would satisfy the South
; and, after drawing a picture of the advantages to be derived from secession by the people of the Slave-labor States, he protested against waiting for an overt act of offense on the part of the President elect
He wanted no further parley with the people of the Free-labor States.
“They wish,” he said “to have an opportunity, by circulating things like Helper
of arraying the non-slaveholders
and poor men against the wealthy.
I have no doubt that would be their leading policy, and they would be very quiet about it. They want to get up that sort of ‘free debate’ which has been put into practice in Texas
, according to the Senator
from New York [Mr. Seward
], for he is reported to have said, in one of his speeches in the Northwest
, alluding to recent disturbances, to burnings and poisonings there, that Texas
was ‘excited by free debate.’
Well, Sir,” continued Clingman
, with peculiar emphasis, “a Senator from Texas13
told me, the other day, that a good many of those ‘debaters’ were hanging up by the trees in that country
ceased speaking, the venerable John Jay Crittenden
, of Kentucky
, tottering with physical infirmities and the burden of seventy-five years--the Nestor of Congress — instantly arose and mildly rebuked the Senator
, while his seditious words were yet ringing in the ears of his amazed peers.
“I rise here,” he said, “to express the hope, and that alone, that the bad example of the gentleman will not be followed.”
He spoke feelingly of costly sacrifices made for the establishment of the Union
; of its blessings and promises; and hoped that “there was not a Senator present who was not willing to yield and compromise much for the sake of the Government
and the Union
's mild rebuke, and earnest appeal to the patriotism of the Senate, was met by more scornful and violent harangues from other Senators
, in which the speakers seemed to emulate each other in the utterance of seditious sentiments.
, more courteous than most of his compeers, said, “I think one of the wisest remarks that Mr. Calhoun
ever made was, that the Union
could not be saved by eulogies upon it.”
Senators Alfred Iverson
, of Georgia
, Albert G. Brown
, of Mississippi
, and Louis T. Wigfall
, of Texas
They had been stirred with anger by stinging words from Senator Hale
, of New Hampshire
, who replied to some of Clingman
's remarks:--“If the issue which is presented is, that the constitutional will of the public opinion of this country, expressed through the forms of the Constitution
, will not be submitted to, and war is the alternative, let it come in any form or in any shape.
The Union is dissolved, and it cannot be held together as a Union, if that is the alternative upon which we go into an election.
If it is preannounced and determined that the voice of the majority, expressed through the regular and constitutional forms of the Constitution
, .will not be submitted to, then, Sir, this is not a Union of equals; it is a Union of a dictatorial oligarchy on the one side, and a herd of slaves and cowards on the other.
That is it, Sir; nothing more; nothing less.”
The conspirators were not accustomed to hear such defiant words from their opponents.
They indicated a spirit of resistance to their demands — powerful, resolute, and unyielding.
They were astonished and enraged.
They felt compelled to cast off all disguises and cease circumlocution.
had said, “The plain, true way, is, to look this thing in the face — see where we are.”
The conspirators now thought so too, and accepted the challenge.
, the most outspoken of the disloyalists present,
revealed to the country, in bold outlines, the plans and intentions of the plotters against the life of the nation, in speeches marked by a superciliousness of tone and manner exceedingly offensive at that time, but perfectly ridiculous when viewed in the light of history to-day.
They evidently felt confident of success in all their treasonable undertakings.
They knew how well their people were prepared for military operations, by means of the teachings of their State military schools for years, their drillings during the past year, and the wealth of the arsenals in the Slave-labor States, made so by the impoverishment of those of the North
, by the Secretary of War
They had arranged deep plans, which were afterward carried out, for the subjugation of the people
of the Slave-labor States to their will; and they felt well assured that the great party in the Free-labor States which had been in political sympathy with them would keep the sword of the Republic
in its scabbard, while commerce, ever sensitive to the least disturbance of its peace and quiet, would join hands with the politicians in keeping bound in triple chains the fierce dogs of war.
, a man over sixty years of age, and a member of the Military Committee of the Senate, startled that body by his boldness in seditious speech.
He admitted that a State had no constitutional right to secede, but he claimed for all the right of revolution.
He then announced that the Slave-labor States intended to revolt.
“We intend to go out of this Union,” he said.
“I speak what I believe, that, before the 4th of March, five of the Southern States
, at least, will have declared their independence. . . . Although there is a clog in the way of the lone-star State of Texas
, in the person of her Governor (Houston
), who will not consent to call her Legislature together, and give the people of that State an opportunity to act, yet the public sentiment there is so decided in favor of this movement, that even the Governor
will be overridden; and if he does not yield to public sentiment, some Texan Brutus
will arise to rid his country of the hoary-headed incubus that stands between the people and their sovereign will.
We intend to go out peaceably, if we can; forcibly, if we must.
I do not believe there is going to be war.. . If five or eight States go out of this Union, I would like to see the man who would propose a declaration of war against them, or attempt to force them into obedience to the Federal Government
at the point of the bayonet or the sword. . . We shall, in the next twelve months, have a Confederacy of the Southern States
, and a government, inaugurated and in successful operation, which, in my opinion, will be a government of the greatest prosperity and power that the world has ever seen.
There will be no war, in my opinion. . . . The fifteen Slave States, or the five of them now moving, banded together in one government, and united as they are soon to be, would defy the world in arms, much less the Northern States
of this Confederacy.
Fighting on our own soil, in defense of our own sacred rights and honor, we could not be conquered, even by the combined forces of all the other States*; and sagacious, sensible men in the
Northern States would understand that too well to make the effort.”
He said that if they were allowed to go in peace, they would condescend to consider the Free-labor States as “a favored nation, and give them all the advantages of commercial and amicable treaties.”
He referred to the hostile feeling in the Senate as a type ,of that of the sections.
“You sit, upon your side,” he said, “silent and gloomy.
We sit, upon ours, with knit brows and portentous scowls ;” and added, wickedly or ignorantly, “I believe that the Northern
people hate the South
worse than ever the English
people hated France
; and I can tell my brethren over there, that there is no love lost upon the part of the South
He concluded with angry voice and gesture, saying, “I do not believe there will be any war; but if war is to come, let it come.
We will meet the Senator
from New Hampshire
, and all the myrmidons of Abolitionism and Black Republicanism everywhere, upon our own soil; and, in the language of a distinguished member from Ohio
in relation to the Mexican War
, we will ‘ welcome you with bloody hands to hospitable graves.’
Senator Jefferson Davis
followed with a few words, soft, but significant of treason in his purpose.
“I am here,” he said, “to perform the functions of a Senator of the United States
Before a declaration of war is made against the State
of which I am a citizen, I expect to be out of this Chamber; that when that declaration of war is made, the State
of which I am a citizen will be found ready and quite willing to meet it. While we remain here, acting as embassadors of Sovereign States
, at least under the form of friendship, held together by an alliance as close as it is possible for Sovereign States to stand to each other, threats from one to the other seem to be wholly inappropriate.”
, of Texas
, a truculent debater, of ability and ready speech, of whom it might have been truthfully said, in Shakspeare
Here's a large mouth, indeed,
That spits forth death, and mountains, rocks, and seas;
Talks as familiarly of roaring lions
As maids of thirteen do of puppy-dogs,
did not seem to agree with the cautious, wily, and polished Mississippi Senator
After declaring that State after State would soon leave the Union
, and that, so far as he was concerned,, he chose not to give a “reason for the high sovereign act,” he said, “Now, Sir, I admit that a constitutional majority has a right to govern. . . . . . If we proposed to remain in this Union, we should undoubtedly submit to the inauguration of any man who was elected by a constitutional majority.
We propose nothing of that sort.
We simply say that a man who is distasteful to us has been elected, and we choose to consider that as a sufficient ground for leaving the Union
, and we intend to leave the Union
Then, if you desire it,” he said, with a half sneering, half defiant tone, “bring us back.
When you undertake that, and have accomplished it, you may be
like the man who purchased the elephant-you will find it rather difficult to decide what you will do with the animal.”
Some days later, the same speaker, in a few sentences, revealed the mainspring of the hopes of success in their treasonable work, entertained by the conspirators.
It was the cotton crop
of the planting coast States, upon which England
, and the States north of the Potomac
, chiefly depended for the supply of their mills.
For fifty years the orators and publicists of the Cotton-growing States had proclaimed the power of cotton in the preservation of peace between the United States
and Great Britain
, because of the commanding influence of the commercial and manufacturing interests in the politics of the latter country, to which American cotton had become almost an indispensable commodity.
It had, indeed, become a power, both social and political, yet not so absolutely omnipotent as the conspirators believed it to be. So palpable was its commercial importance, however, and so evident was it that the mills of Europe
, and those of the Free-labor States in America
, with their five millions of spindles, were, and must continue to be, mostly dependent upon the product of only an inconsiderable portion of ten of the States of our Republic, that its puissance was generally conceded.
In the Senate of the United States, in March, 1858, Senator Hammond
, of South Carolina
, said, exultingly:--“You dare not make war upon Cotton.
No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is King
Until lately the Bank of England was king; but she tried to put her screws, as usual, the Fall
before last, on the cotton crop, and was utterly vanquished.
The last power has been conquered.
Who can doubt, that has looked at recent events, that Cotton is supreme?”
Cotton is King
shouted the great land and slave holders of the Gulf
States, whose fields were hoary with his bounteous gifts, when they thought of rebellion, and revolution, and independent empire; for they believed that his scepter had made England
their dependents, and that they must necessarily be the allies of the cotton-growers, in the event of war.
Cotton is King
echoed back submissively the spindles of Old and New England
a Old Cotton will pleasantly reign
When other kings painfully fall,
And ever and ever remain
The mightiest monarch of all,
sang an American bard14
years before; and now, a Senator (Wigfall
) of the Republic
, with words of treason falling from his lips, like jagged hail, in the very sanctuary where loyalty should be adored exclaimed:--“I say that Cotton is King
, and that he waves his scepter, not only over these thirty-three States, but over the Island
of Great Britain
and over Continental Europe
; and that there is no crowned head upon that island, or upon the continent, that does not bend the knee in fealty, and acknowledge allegiance to that monarch.
There are five millions of people in Great Britain
who live upon cotton.
You may make a short crop of grain, and it will never affect them; but you may cram their granaries to bursting; you may cram them
until the corn actually is lifting the shingles from the roofs of their barns, and exhaust the supply of cotton for one week, and all England
Then referring to threats of war, and expectations of negro insurrections that might follow, Wigfall
said:--“I tell you, Senators
, that next year you will see the negroes working as quietly and contentedly as if their masters were not leaving that country for a foreign land, as they did, a few years ago, when they were called upon to visit the Republic
The cotton crop, he said, was worth two hundred and fifty millions of dollars a year, and would never be less.
That amount, the people of the new Confederacy would export, and it would bring the same amount of imports into the country,
“ not through Boston
, and New York, and Philadelphia
,” but through their own ports.
“What tariff we shall adopt as a war tariff,” he said, “I expect to discuss in a few months later, in another chamber.
I tell you that Cotton is King
How utterly fallacious were all the promises, hopes, and expectations founded upon the assumption that Cotton was King
, will be seen hereafter.
It was plain to some of the least discerning, that the whole scheme of revolt had been deliberately planned long before the assembling of Congress, and that the talk about guaranties, and concessions, and compromises, on the part of the conspirators, was sheer hypocrisy, intended to deceive their constituents, and to lull the suspicions of the loyal people of the Republic
“You talk about concessions,” exclaimed the out-spoken Iverson
“You talk about repealing the Personal Liberty Bills
, as a concession to the South
Repeal them all to-morrow, Sir, and it would not stop the progress of this revolution. . . . It is the existence and the action of the public sentiment of the Northern States
that are opposed to this institution of Slavery, and are determined to break it down — to use all the power of the Federal Government
, as well as every other power in their hands, to bring about its ultimate and speedy extinction.
That is what we apprehend, and what, in part
, moves us to look for security and protection in secession and a Southern Confederacy.” --“Before this day next week,” said Wigfall
“I hazard the assertion that South Carolina
, in convention assembled, will have revoked the ratification of the treaty which makes her one of these United States
Having revoked that ratification, she will adopt an amendment to her constitution, by which she will have vested in the government of South Carolina
all those powers which she, conjointly with the other States, had previously exercised through this foreign department; and in the government of South Carolina
will be vested the right to declare war, to conclude peace, to make treaties, to enter into alliances, and to do all other matters and things which Sovereign States may of right do. When that is done, a minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary will be sent to present his credentials; and when they are denied, or refused to be recognized by this Government, I say to you, that the sovereignty of her soil will be asserted, and it will be maintained at the point of the bayonet.”
Then, referring to a threat that “seceding States would be coerced into submission,” he expressed a hope that such Democrats as Vallandigham
, and Richardson
, and Logan
, and Cox
, and McClernand
, and Pugh
, of Ohio
— members of the House of Representatives--would stand by the Slave power in this matter, and prevent
the erection of (what he was pleased to call the armed power of the United States
) “a military despotism.”
“The edifice is not yet completed,” he said.
, thank God!
has laid her hands upon one of the pillars, and she will shake it until it totters first, and then topples.
She will destroy that edifice, though she perish amid the ruins.”
Such were some of the ravings of conspirators in the Senate of the Republic
, who possessed only the “guinea stamp” of statesmen.
They were counterfeit coin, made of the basest metal, and lacking every ingredient of true statesmanship.
They had been palmed off upon the confiding inhabitants of the Southern States
by the arrogant Slave interest, as men fitted for the high and holy work of legislating for a free people.
They were mere demagogues — instruments chosen for their known usefulness as such, to an interest which had resolved to rule the Republic
with relentless rigor, and crush out from its political and social systems every element of Democracy, or to lay that Republic in ruins.
It will forever appear incredible — an inconsistent tale of romance — that these men should have thus played the traitor, undisturbed by competent authority, upon the very proscenium of the great theater of National legislation, with the Chief Magistrate
of the Republic
and his constitutional advisers sitting quietly as a part of the audience, while holding in their hands the lightning of the sovereign power of the people, which might, at their bidding, have consumed in a moment those enemies of the Constitution
and violators of the law. Why were they permitted thus to play the traitor, undisturbed?
Perhaps only at the Great Assize will the question be answered.