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Doc. 64: speech of Joseph Segar, delivered in the House of delegates of Virginia, march 30, 1861.

Whereas, It has come to the knowledge of the Legislature that a large number of heavy guns, manufactured at Bellona foundry, near the capital of Virginia, under an order of the Ordnance Department at Washington, D. C., have been ordered to Fortress Monroe, where they can only be needed for the purpose of intimidation and menace to Virginia at present, and of actual hostilities in a certain contingency that may change her future relations to the Federal Government and the non-slaveholding tyranny it represents:

Be it Resolved by the General Assembly, That the Governor of this Commonwealth be authorized, and he is hereby directed, to order out the public guard, and to call out such of the militia as may be necessary to arrest the contemplated removal of the guns aforesaid, and that he be further instructed to employ all needful force to resist every and any attempt to remove the same beyond the reach and the control of the government of the State.

The foregoing resolution, and others of like tenor, being under consideration, Mr. Segar said:--

I call you to witness, Mr. Speaker, that hitherto I have been strictly silent as to the great questions of federal import that have been discussed off and on during the session; but the extraordinary resolutions which have been sent us from the Senate, forbid my longer silence. They direct the Governor to seize and hold, by military force, the property of the United States, and I cannot sustain them. I would — so help me, God!--sooner die in my seat than cast my vote for them.

I maintain, first, that there is no adequate cause for the intense excitement which has sprung from this matter, and, of course, no necessity for the adoption of the resolutions; secondly, that we have no moral nor legal right [215] to pass them; thirdly, that the seizure will be an act of war; and, finally, that the great alarm pervading the country, and the revolutionary action of the secession party in this State and of the States actually seceded, find no just warrant in the facts of the case.

All this stir about the removal of the guns from Bellona arsenal, it seems to me, is wholly uncalled for. It scarcely rises to the dignity of a “tempest in a teapot.” What are the facts? In 1857, the Government, through Secretary Floyd, contracted with Dr. Archer for sundry cannon, to be delivered in Richmond. The very date of the contract exonerates the Government from all sinister purpose in reference to the guns. The guns having been made, the contractor wanted his money, and applied for payment. To his application it was replied, that on fall compliance with his contract, by the delivery of the guns in Richmond, the money would be paid; and the head of the Ordnance Department accordingly advised Dr. Archer to deliver the guns to Colquitt & Co., in Richmond, to be by them re-shipped to Fortress Monroe, the chief depository in Virginia for national arms and munitions of war. So the first movement of the guns had its origin in a simple act of indebtedness of the Government to a citizen of Virginia, in need of, and demanding his money. In such a movement no hostile intention can be detected. It was but the doing of an ordinary act in the ordinary routine of the business of a bureau of the War Office; and it was done on the responsibility of the head of the bureau, without any consultation with, or any regular military order from, the head of the War Department--which at once negatives the idea of any inconsistency between the statement of the officer of the Ordnance Department and that of the Secretary of War, and fully relieves the latter functionary of the charges of duplicity and falsehood so vehemently pressed by the gentleman from Madison (General Kemper) and others, who seem resolved to find in this insignificant affair something monstrous and unendurable.

The following letters — which I will read to the House — explain clearly the whole transaction, and will remove all ground for panic. First, a letter from Col. Craig, Chief of the Ordnance Bureau, to Dr. Archer, of date the 22d of March, which is as follows:--“You will please forward to Richmond the cannon at your foundry which has been inspected by the United States, with as little delay as possible; and as soon as they are shipped from that place, the amount due on the inspection will be paid.”

Secondly, a letter from Captain Kingsbury, of the Ordnance Department, dated March 28th, and addressed to my friend Mr. A. M. Barbour, a member of the convention, which is in these words:--“Col. Craig wishes me to say that Dr. Archer will be directed to-day not to remove the guns at present. The movement has been commenced, in order that the citizens of Virginia might receive their dues from the United States; and as the contract was completed, it seemed a fitting time to send forward the guns.”

The Secretary of War, as stated by him in letters to myself, and another member of the House, (Col. McCue,) made no order in the premises, but whatever was done, was the independent action of the Ordnance Bureau, in its ordinary course of business, and that action was nothing more nor less than the taking of proper steps, by the proper bureau, to liquidate a debt due by the Government to a citizen — a transaction of daily occurrence in the business operations of the various bureaus in the several chief departments of the Government. Gentlemen evidently confound the action of Col. Craig and that of the Secretary of War, supposing that the Ordnance Division does no official act without an express order from the Secretary, and this confusion of ideas has doubtless led to the harsh aspersions which have been applied in this debate to the latter.

Thus far, then, the facts offer no ground for the supposition that the Government designed to employ the guns against Virginia, or for menace, or for any improper use. And it is conclusive against any unfriendly or warlike intent, that the Ordnance Department, on being apprised that the removal of the guns had provoked excitement, forthwith notified Dr. Archer not to move them at all. What cause, then, is there for the panic that sounds its busy din in this hall, and in the streets of this city? or for the passage of these harsh and illegal resolutions? Besides, Gen. Scott has said that there is no need for the guns at Fortress Monroe, there being a large number of supernumerary guns already there.

The simple truth is, that the guns were to be sent to Fortress Monroe because it is the only convenient depot to receive them. It is not only the most natural and proper place to send them to, but the only one in the State within convenient reach. The panic, therefore, which has arisen from these simple circumstances is totally groundless, and is, I must say, unworthy the chivalry of Virginia. It can have no effect but to scare timid women and children, and does not become grown up and bearded men; and if this legislature, under provocation so slight, and circumstances so trivial, shall adopt these resolves, they will provoke the contempt of the brave and chivalrous throughout the land.

And, after all, is not all this outcry about these guns one in a series of devices designed to precipitate Virginia into secession? Sir, I verily believe it; for I have too much respect for Virginia and Virginians to suppose that they can be frightened by the moving of a few guns from Bellona Arsenal to Fortress Monroe.

No; it is nothing more nor less than the driving of a peg to hang excitement and panic on — an ingenious scheme of frenzied disunionists to effect, by the exasperation of the public mind, already strung to a high pitch, the darling object of their mad desires: the secession [216] of the State, and a thorough disruption of the Union. Outside pressure they know to be indispensable to the accomplishment of their unholy purpose; and this matter of the Bellona guns is too tempting a theme for sensation to be passed over without an effort to turn it to account.

Secondly, this General Assembly, with all its powers, has no right to pass these resolutions. The guns are the property of the United States Government--that all admit. Fortress Monroe, to which locality they were to have been transported, is also the property of the United States. Virginia, by solemn act of Assembly, and by formal deed, duly recorded in the Clerk's office of my County, (and which I have often read,) ceded and transferred “all her right, title, and interest of, in, and to the lands at Old Point Comfort to the United States, for purposes of fortification and national defence.” Then, if the guns are the property of the United States, and Old Point Comfort is also the property of the United States, what right, moral or legal, has Virginia to lay her hands upon the guns, or to hinder the transfer of them to the lands of the United States? A man takes and carries away for his own use my horse, and the law pronounces it larceny — in plainer language, stealing. Now, what difference, I beg to know, is there, either in morals or in law, between the act of an individual illegally taking and carrying away another's property, and that of a State doing the same thing? Do we make the matter better by paying for the guns after they have been seized? Not at all; for the wrong is in the seizure and appropriation. If a man steals my cow, does he, by tendering payment after the stealing, escape the moral infamy or legal penalty of the act?

Sir, I shall regard the passage of these resolutions as a foul stigma upon the good name of our State. It will blot her escutcheon dark and deep forever. God forbid she should do the dishonorable and dishonoring deed! I trust she is quite too proud — too mindful of her past renown — to imitate the example of those of her erring sisters who have not scrupled to lay violent hands on the forts, and dock-yards, and ships, and cannon, and muskets, and balls, and powder, and even the mints and money of the United States. Mr. Speaker, these guns are not ours — let us not take them.

I presume the extremest secessionist will scarcely contend that the United States must first obtain the consent of the State before transporting guns over her territory. No such consent can be required. The Government of the Union has the power to declare war, and to raise and maintain armies and navies. It has, in other words, and has exclusively, the war-making power; and from this power results, by irresistible deduction and necessity, the right to transport all implements and materials of war, to march troops through the territories of any and all the States, to navigate, with the national ships, all the navigable waters within them, and to anchor its shipping in any port or harbor within their territorial limits, and without asking leave of the State authorities.

I shall not undertake to say that there can be no circumstances under which the State might properly take possession of the cannon. If she were at war with the Federal Government on account of palpable and insufferable oppression, and if by a revolution inaugurated to break the shackles of that oppression, she had dissolved all connection with that Government, (as did our fathers in the Revolution,) the principles of self-defence and the inexorable necessities of the case might justify the act. But we are not at war with the Federal Government; our connection with it is yet undissolved; Virginia is still in the Union, and being yet a member of the Confederacy, she is bound by all the duties and responsibilities of that membership. Observing those duties and responsibilities, she cannot seize and appropriate to herself property that is held for national purposes — for the common defence — that, in other words, belongs to the Union, or the common Government.

Thirdly, the seizure of the guns by the State would be an act of war against the Federal Government. The taking of the property of one nation by another has always been regarded just cause of war. If I go into the port of Liverpool with my vessel, and the British Government seize it, it is an act which would justify war upon Great Britain, and would lead to it if the wrong should not .be redressed. Will it not, then, be an act of war on the part of Virginia if she should seize and appropriate to herself the property of the United States? And in this view, is not the act an unconstitutional act? Congress (as already said) alone can raise and maintain armies and navies, and declare war — do acts of war. Can Virginia, while she remains in the Union, declare war or do any act of war? I solemnly think the passage of the resolutions will involve an unconstitutional act, but trust the State will not tarnish her fair fame by its perpetration. Let not her honor be thus sullied. Let the jewel of that honor sparkle, and sparkle on, now as heretofore, lustrous, and more lustrous yet, now, henceforth, and forever! And the inconsistency of the thing, is it not apparent? We profess to desire peace, to avoid a collision with the Federal Government. The secessionists themselves all the time avow that such is their desire. And yet, while we all profess to desire peace, to avoid collision, we propose to do, ourselves, acts decidedly warlike — acts that invite collision and the destruction of peace.

Another objection I may here take to the passage of the resolutions, that it will much increase the excitement and panic already existing through the State, and so existing more by misapprehension and the ceaseless efforts of a sensation press, than for any just and sufficient cause. It will alarm unnecessarily the innocent women and the plain yeomanry of the [217] State, who have little time to investigate matters of public concern, and will lead to general disquiet. The adoption of the resolutions will be regarded as a sort of license to the wicked elements among us. Besides the mass of conscientious and honorable secessionists, there is in this State, as in all others, a class who desire revolution because they may be benefited and cannot be injured by change — that class so well described by the historian Sallust as studiosi novarum rerum--desirous of change — because, in the general upheaving of society, they might come to the surface, and be bettered in their condition. This class long for collision and blood, because they know well that the first clash between the State and Federal muskets — the first drop of blood that collision spills — will enkindle a flame that will light them on to the accomplishment of their foul, hellish purposes of blood and carnage. This class would, in a mere spirit of adventure, fire the very temples of liberty, and dash into fragments that proudest and noblest monument of human wisdom — the union of these States--the handiwork of Washington, and Franklin, and Madison, and Gerry, and Morris, and comrade conscript fathers — under which we have been the proudest, freest, happiest, greatest nation on the face of the earth. This class does exist in Virginia. It exists all over the civilized earth, and it is no detraction from Virginia to say that it exists within her domain; she would be an exception to all human society, if she did not hold in her bosom such a class. Now all this class will be stimulated by the passage of these revolutionary, and force-inviting, and lawless resolutions, to deeds of lawlessness, violence, and blood. Let this legislature beware how it holds out the seductive bait. It may encamp us on a mine, which a spark may explode, and the explosion of which may “deal damnation round the land,” and involve the fathers and mothers, and husbands and wives, and sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, and innocent children of Virginia in miseries and woes unnumbered, and the end whereof none of the present generation may live to see.

Lastly, there is nothing in the past political action of Virginia, nor any thing in the past or present relations between her and the Federal Government, to justify the extreme and revolutionary movement the secessionists propose for her, and which is plainly shadowed in the resolutions before us.

In 1798 she fixed her great general rule — that the Federal Government should not be resisted until it had committed some “deliberate, palpable, and dangerous” infraction of the Constitution. What infraction of this sort has been committed by the Federal Government? What is it — where is it — when was it committed? Has the present Administration per-petrated any such aggression? And if the seceding States had remained in the Union, could Congress, with twenty-one majority in one House, and eight in the other, have committed any outrage upon the rights of Virginia, or of the South? Virginia, then, on her own established principles of political action, ought not now to present the spectacle she does of extreme excitement, and ought not and cannot, consistently rush upon the violent and unconstitutional measures involved in these Senate resolutions, much less secede from the Union. She ought — it becomes her dignity and her ancient renown — to look calmly, even placidly, around her, and from the stand-point of that dignity and renown surveying the whole ground, consider and advise, and remonstrate and forbear, and forbear yet again, until every pacific and constitutional expedient for composition and safety shall have been exhausted. And furthermore: these radical measures of seizing the United States arms and seceding from the Union, are totally unwarranted by the more recent political action of Virginia. In 1850, when the subject of the Wilmot Proviso was up for consideration in her Legislature, she took a new position. She declared that if any one of four things should be done by the Federal Government, she would “resist at all hazards, and to the last extremity:” first, the application of the Wilmot Proviso to the common territories; secondly, the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; thirdly, interference with slavery in the States; and fourthly, interference with the slave trade between the States. Has any one of these things been done? Has the Wilmot Proviso been applied to the Territories? No. On the contrary, at the late session of Congress, though it had, by the secession of the Gulf States, a clear majority, that body, Black Republican as it is, passed three Territorial bills — from all of which the Wilmot Proviso was excluded — no slavery prohibition whatsoever; and more than this, a provision was incorporated in each of them that all rights of property questions of personal freedom should be determined by the principles and proceedings of the common law, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States--provisions that open the Territories to every citizen of the Union who may choose to carry his slaves thither. The Black Republicans, as my friend from Stafford so delights, with peculiar emphasis, to call them, have themselves surrendered, given up, the Wilmot Proviso. And had the Cotton States remained in the Union, could this Black Republican party, with its minority of twenty-one in one house and eight in the other, have ever applied the Wilmot Proviso to the Territories that belong to us all, “share and share alike” ? No law, then, has been passed applying the Wilmot Proviso. Has any been enacted abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia? No. Even Mr. Lincoln assures us that he will approve no such law, except with the consent of the slaveholders of the District, and then not without compensation to the owners. Has any law been passed interfering with slavery in the States? Not at all. Such a doctrine is [218] not even in the Chicago platform. Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Seward, Mr. Caleb B. Smith, Attorney-General Bates, Senator Wilson, and all the chief men of the Republican party repudiate it — none maintain it but professed and extreme Abolitionists, such as Gerritt Smith, Henry Ward Beecher, Wm. Lloyd Garrison, Arthur Tappan, Charles Sumner, and Wendell Phillips, whose fanatical and wicked efforts, backed by all the aid they can enlist from the rank and file of pure Abolitionism, can never any more disturb or harm the institution of slavery in the States than the zephyr's breath can unseat the everlasting hills, and whose impotent assaults upon the constitutional rights of the South, and on the Constitution and the Union, not sympathized in by the great mass of the Northern people — on the contrary, expressly disavowed by near two millions of conservative voters of the North at the late Presidential election — should be laughed to scorn by the Southern people, and heeded only “as the idle wind that passeth by.” I repeat, there is no such doctrine in the Chicago platform ; and — what, in my judgment, ought forever to quiet Southern apprehension in regard to slavery in the States, and even elsewhere — at the late session of Congress — in which, by the secession of the Gulf States, as already stated, the Republicans have the majority — a resolution was adopted by the necessary constitutional majority, recommending an amendment to the Constitution, whereby, hereafter, interference with slavery in the States by the Federal Government is to be totally and forever forbidden. Has the proposition to interfere with the slave trade between the States been ever heard of in Congress, or has it been even talked about except by the worst class of Abolitionists? Not one, then, of the four things has been done for which Virginia said she would withdraw from the Union. Why, then, all this hot excitement, and this hot haste to get out of the Union? Can Virginia on her own principles, so far as the question of slavery is concerned, proceed. hastily to extreme measures of resistance, or to the adoption of the seizure and appropriation proposed by the resolutions before us?

Verily, if her sons in this Hall, who are constituted the special guardians of her honor, regard her consistency as one of her jewels, they will make that jewel glow all the brighter by voting down these shame-bringing resolutions, and repudiating secession until, on her own solemnly avowed principles, the hour for resistance and revolution shall have come.

Beyond all this, I desire to be informed what wrong has been done me, or any citizen of the South, or the South at large, by that Federal Government which some regard as accursed, and which they so hurry to destroy. I, for one am not aware of any. If there be any law on the Federal statute-book impairing the right of one Southern man, or impeaching the equality of the Southern States with the Northern, let it be pointed out. The production of it is defied. No man has ever shown it, and no man ever can, because it is not on the statute-book. If it be there, it is easy to show it. If I am wrong, let my colleagues here set me right; and lest, perhaps, I may be in error, I ask them, one and all — I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to the gentleman from Madison, Gen. Kemper, to my ardent disunion friend from Stafford, Mr. Seddon, to all the confessed secessionists in this body, and to all such outside of this body, to put their finger on one Federal law in the least degree infringing the constitutional rights of the South. If it exist, let me see it, that I may recant the error.

More than this, there is not only no such statute to be found from 1789 to this moment, but the Federal Government has been to the South the most parental of Governments. It has yielded to the South all it ever asked or demanded. In 1793 the South wanted a fugitive slave law, and, as it was entitled, received it. It demanded afterwards a better and more stringent fugitive slave law, and it was not only granted, but the drafting of it was left to a Virginia Senator of the United States, Mr. Mason. In 1820 we made with the Federal Government a certain compact, the celebrated Missouri Compromise, with which we were then so well pleased that every Southern Senator but one voted for it, and a large majority of Southern Representatives. But in the course of time, when the wave of politics set high, and politics became a trade, we became dissatisfied with the compromise of 1820, and we appealed to the Federal Government to break up the old, and make a new contract. The Federal Government — this accursed Federal Government that we are so anxious to annihilate — took us at our word, broke up the old and gave us a new bargain, whereby the Missouri Compromise was repealed, and the Kansas-Nebraska pro-slavery act substituted. The Federal Government, then, has not been unkind or unjust to the South. It has been even especially kind and parental to our section; and more than this, the South, by Northern accord, has had the Federal Administration in its own hands during nearly the whole period of our national existence. It has not only had the Legislative and Executive Departments, but the Supreme Judiciary, the possession of which last is priceless assurance to the South; for every good citizen, every lover of law and order and good government, will bow willing acquiescence to the decisions of the Supreme Court, and those decisions, whenever involving the delicate subject of slavery, have thus far been all on the side of the South. Why, then, should we of the South desire to part with such a government? And why should we make such haste to rid ourselves of it when we know by official returns that we had at the North at the last election 1,600,000 friends standing fast and faithfully by us? Some wrongs we are undoubtedly suffering at the [219] hands of some of the Northern States, as the continued slavery agitation, the incendiary effusions of a portion of the Northern pulpit and press, the personal liberty statutes, the operations of the underground railroad, and the emigrant-aid societies, and the occasional non-extradition of fugitive slaves. These are unquestionably offences against Southern peace and against all good neighborhood, and they ought to cease, as I doubt not in time they will, or at least be materially mitigated; but these grievances lie not at the door of that parental federal Government, whose blessings drop upon us as gently as the dews of heaven, nor are they now for the first time existing. They existed and we endured them under the Democratic administrations of Mr. Polk, Mr. Pierce, and Mr. Buchanan, never dreaming of making them a cause for the dissolution of the Union; and I presume if Mr. Breckinridge had been elected they would never have been even heard of as causes for disruption. Patiently and meekly we bore these grievances when Democratic Presidents held sway; but under the rule of Mr. Lincoln they became wrongs so enormous and intolerable that for them we must in an instant shiver this blessed Union into fragments.

But the practical inquiry here arises — that which so much concerns the masses of the people — shall we redress these grievances or make them lighter, or remedy any wrong by disunion? Most assuredly not. Whatever ills we are suffering will be a thousand times aggravated by a separation of the States. The slavery agitation will be intensified; we shall lose scores of slaves where now we lose one; because, by the abolition of the Fugitive Slave Law, and by reason of the readier facilities for escape, there will be no effectual impediment to such escape; the underground railroad will be sped, and its operations vastly extended; emigrant-aid societies will be augmented in number, and means, and efficiency; and for one Henry Ward Beecher and Garrison's Liberator, we shall have a thousand. The alienation which will be left behind disunion, the bitter and deep-seated sectional hates, and incessant border feuds and wars that must and will flow from the source of disruption, will as surely bring about these lamentable results as God's sun will send down his rays upon the earth when his broad disc glories above the horizon.

These Senate resolutions, Mr. Speaker, are evidently designed as a stepping stone to the secession of the State--as the entering wedge — the preliminary notice — a scheme to “fire” the Virginia heart and rush us out of the Union; and, so regarding them, I might inquire by what warrant it is we may retire from the confederacy? But I shall not argue this doctrine of secession. The simple history of the Constitution; its simpler and yet plainer reading; the overwhelming authority of our fathers against it; the crushing weight of opinion against it in our own State-her Jefferson declaring that even the old Confederation, a Government far weaker than the present Federal Union, possessed the power of coercion — her Madison, the very father of the Constitution, solemnly asserting that its framers never for one moment contemplated so disorganizing and ruinous a principle — her great and good Marshall decreeing more than once, from the bench of the Supreme Judiciary, that the Federal Constitution did not constitute a mere compact or treaty, but a government of the whole people of the United States, with supreme powers within the sphere of its authority--Judge Spencer Roane, the Ajax Telamon, in his day, of her State-rights republicanism, endorsing the sentiment: “It is treason to secede!” --her Thomas Ritchie, the “Napoleon of the press” and Jupiter Tonans of the modern democracy, heralding through the columns of the Richmond Enquirer, the impregnable maxims that “no association of men, no State or set of States has a right to withdraw from the Union of its own accord,” and that “the first act of resistance to the law is treason to the United States;” the decisions of some of the most enlightened of the State judiciaries in repudiation of the dangerous dogma; the concurrent disavowal of it by the Marshalls, and Kents, and Storys, and McLeans, and Waynes, and Catrons, and Reverdy Johnsons, and Guthries, and all the really great jurists of the land; the brand of absurdity and wickedness which has been stamped upon it by Andrew Jackson, and Webster, and Clay, and Crittenden, and Everett, and Douglas, and Cass, and Holt, and Andrew Johnson, and Wickliffe, and Dickinson, and the great body of our truly eminent statesmen: these considerations and authorities present the doctrine of secession to me with one side only.

But I do wish to inquire of my colleagues, if they have seriously reflected on the consequences of secession, should it come?

Do you expect (as I have heard some of you declare) that the power and influence of Virginia are such that you will have peaceable secession, through an immediate recognition of the separate independence of the South? Alas! you hug a delusion.

Peaceable secession — secession without war I You can no more have it than you can crush in the rack every limb and bone of the human frame without agonizing the mutilated trunk. “Peaceable secession! (said Mr. Webster) peaceable secession! Sir, (continued the” great expounder, “) your eyes and mine are not destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! The breaking up of the fountains of the great deep without ruffling the surface!” No! Secede when you will, you will have war in all its horrors: there is no escape. The President of the United States is sworn to see that the laws be faithfully executed, and he must and will — as Gen. Washington did, and as Gen. Jackson [220] would have done in 1833--use the army, and the navy, and the militia, to execute the laws, and defend the Government. If he does not, he will be a perjured man. Besides, you cannot bring the people of the South to a perfect union for secession. There are those — and “their name is legion” --whom no intimidation can drive into the disunion ranks. They love the old Union which their fathers transmitted to them, and under which their country has become great, and under which they and their children have been free and happy. Circumstances may repress their sentiments for a while, but in their hearts they love the Union; and the first hour they shall be free to speak and to act, they will gather under and send up their joyous shouts for the Stars and Stripes. They will not fight with you against the flag; so that there must be a double war — a Federal war and a war among ourselves. And it may be that whole States may refuse to join in the secession movement, (which is most probable,) and then we shall witness the revolting spectacle of one Southern State warring against and in deadly conflict with another; and then, alas! will be over our unhappy country a reign of terror none the less terrific than that which deluged with blood and strewed with carnage revolutionary France.

Supposing, then, the State to have seceded, and war to have opened, what trophies do you look for?--what are you to gain?

Will you win greater security for the institution of slavery in the States? You do not want it. None except demented abolitionists assail it. The Supreme Court has raised an impregnable bulwark for its defence. And even the Republican party (as already remarked) has voluntarily tendered you an amendment of the Constitution forever guaranteeing slavery in the States against even the touch of Federal legislation. “Hands off!” is their emphatic warning to the abolitionists.

Will you strengthen your claim to the common Territories-advance your privilege of carrying your slaves thither? Here, too, the Supreme Court by the Dred Scott decision, has settled your rights; and the Administration party in Congress have abandoned the Wilmot Proviso — passed territorial laws without any slavery restriction whatever — thus leaving every slaveholder in the South free to enter the Territories with his slaves, and even throwing the aegis of judicial protection over that species of property when there. Moreover, what care you for this Territorial right? It is of not the least practical concern. Slavery will go wherever it is profitable, just as sure as water finds its level. No human legislation can prevent it, because the instincts of the human constitution and the laws of soil and climate are stronger than any law-giving of finite man. Just as sure will slavery never go where soil and climate forbid. Now, in none of the Territories do the laws of soil and climate allow slaves to abide. Thus, in New Mexico, which is five times as large as the State of New York, and where slavery exists by law, being recognized and protected by a slave-code, there are, according to the late census, but twenty-six slaves, and they are the body servants of officers of the civil Government and of the army! Why, then, should the North care to exclude slavery from Territories from which God and nature have ordained its exclusion; and what should the South care for the right to carry slaves where Almighty God has decreed they shall never go? Of what practical value to the South is a privilege which, admitted, has carried to an area five times the territorial extent of New York only twenty-six slaves? Now, I ask, if for so worthless a boon we shall give up this great and glorious Union, whose benefits are pre-eminently practical, and as genial and numerous as they are practical? And shall we aggravate our folly by stickling for this right to the point of disunion, when the right, if worth any thing, is fortified and secured by the decision of the highest judicial tribunal of the land, and controverted by none? Shall we go to war, and to civil war, for a bauble so empty and worthless?

But it is often insisted that we may hereafter acquire territory adapted to slavery, and that then we may be denied our rights. Well, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” When those things happen, and the evil is upon us, or obviously approaching, it will be quite time enough to get ready for resistance and defence. But, in God's name, let us not take disunion “by the forelock.” Let us not, in mere anticipation of evils that may never reach, and of wrongs that may be never done us, destroy the best government that man was ever blessed with, and under whose happy auspices we, the people of the United States, have attained a growth, and grandeur, and power, and freedom, and prosperity, and happiness, unparalleled, for so brief a period, in the history of the nations of the earth.

Nor shall we lose by waiting. We are not prepared now for war. We have few of the materials of war. We have no arms, no ships, no forts, little or no commerce, no manufactures — all of which are indispensables of war. Suddenly going to war, we should be at a great disadvantage in every respect, except in the unflinching bravery and indomitable spirit of our people. Waiting for some actual and dangerous aggression, and in the mean time preparing for the worst, if the signs indicate the necessity, we shall be in a condition to meet our foes whenever and wherever they come.

Shall we, by secession and war, lose fewer slaves by obtaining a better execution of the fugitive slave law? Why, by secession you annul the fugitive slave law, and forfeit all its benefits. Moreover, you bring Canada, the great asylum for fugitive slaves, to the Virginia line; so that, to get his freedom, a slave has but to cross a narrow stream or an imaginary line: and, by avoiding all obligation to return fugitives, [221] and discouraging all willingness to do so, you create other asylums north of us, immediately contiguous to the border Slave States--the inevitable consequence of which will be, not only that those States will lose a much larger number of slaves than heretofore, but that in a few years slavery will disappear from them altogether.

The truth is, there is but one safety for the slave interests of the border States, and that is in having friendly neighbors on the north of them, and not only friendly neighbors, but friendly, stringent, coercive, penal legislation. With Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and Indiana, and Illinois, and Iowa, made enemies of — as enemies, and bitter enemies, secession will surely make them — no human power can prevent the extinction of slavery in the States of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Fire will not more effectually reduce the fagot to cinders, or water extinguish flame, than secession will bring slavery in those States to annihilation.

To bring the matter home, if with a stringent fugitive slave law, executed (as I think) with all reasonable fidelity and success, and with friends north of us acknowledging the obligation to execute its provisions, and reasonably willing to do so — I say, if under these favorable circumstances we now lose slaves enough to make us feel the loss, and excite alarm, how infinitely greater will be the loss and the danger when the facilities of escape shall be infinitely multiplied, when we shall have no law to enforce our rights, and none to help us but embittered and spiteful enemies.

Shall we, by secession and war, get clear of the personal liberty bills? Quite the contrary. Not half the Free States have as yet enacted personal liberty laws. All of them will pass them if you break up the Union. Revenge will do its work, and the enactments it will dictate will be far more inimical to the interests of the slaveholders than any that now blot the statute-books of the North. Besides, time, reflection, and better understanding may lead to the repeal of all these offensive statutes.

So far from strengthening the institution of slavery by secession, we shall weaken, if not destroy it. If the war which disunion is to bring with it shall continue for a few years, England and France, cut off from their supplies of American cotton, will seek them from other sources; and as it is well ascertained that cotton can be grown to any extent in India, Australia, South America, Central America, the West Indies, and other parts of the globe, the new sources of supply will be found. India already furnishes to England, per annum, 600,000 bales. And the high prices which the article will command during the continuance of the war, and the opening of railroads to transport it to the sea, will so stimulate the production that, before the lapse of many years, England and France will not be dependent on the Southern States for their supplies and the Southern cotton monopoly being thus gone, what will slavery be worth? And what will the Cotton States be worth without slavery?

In my judgment, there is no safety for this institution save in the Constitution of the United States. There it is recognized and protected. No other property is specially protected. Slaves are represented; no other property is. This Union of ours is the great bulwark of slavery. Nowhere else has it flourished; and break up the Union when you will, you knock away its strongest prop. A Southern Confederacy will be to it its deadliest blast, if not its grave. The whole civilized world is intensely hostile to slavery; and the moment a new confederacy is formed, based on the single idea of slavery, numerous and malignant antagonisms will be provoked, which may endanger the institution. Buit under the shield of the Constitution of the United States, these antagonisms, whether foreign or domestic, are, and ever will be, harmless. In that blessed instrument it is a recognized institution — part and parcel of our frame of government, and of our social and industrial system — to the protection of which the entire power of the great Government of the United States stands pledged before the entire world. Thus secure under the wing of the Union, why shall we risk its security by rushing on untried experiments?

Then we gain nothing for our peculiar institution by secession. For what, then, are we plunging into the dark abyss of disunion? In God's name tell me. I vow I do not know, nor have I ever heard one sensible or respectable reason assigned for this harsh resort. We shall lose every thing; gain nothing but war, blood, carnage, famine, starvation, social desolation, wretchedness in all its aspects, ruin in all its forms. We shall gain a taxation, to be levied by the new government, that will eat out the substance of the people, and “make them poor indeed.” We shall gain alienation and distrust in all the dear relations of life. We shall gain ill blood between father and son, and brother and brother, and neighbor and neighbor. Bereaved widowhood and helpless orphanage we shall gain to our hearts' content. Lamentation, and mourning, and agonized hearts we shall gain in every corner where “wild war's deadly blast” shall blow. We shall gain the prostration — most lamentable calamity will it be — of that great system of internal development, which the statesmen of Virginia have looked to as the basis of all her future progress and grandeur, and the great hope of her speedy regeneration and redemption. We shall gain repudiation; not that Virginia will ever be reluctant to redeem her engagements, but that she will be disabled by the heavy burdens of secession and war. We shall gain the blockade of our ports and entire exclusion from the commerce, and markets, and storehouses of the world. We shall gain the hardest times the people of this once happy country have known this side the War of Independence. I know not, indeed, of [222] one single interest of Virginia that will not be wrecked by disunion. And, entertaining these energies, views, I do shrink with horror from the very idea of the secession of the State. I can never assent to the fatal measure. No I am for the Union yet. Call me submissionist or traitor, or what else you will, I am for the Union--as I said upon another occasion, “while Hope's light flickers in the socket.” In Daniel Webster's immortal words, “Give me Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”

And if I may presume to tender an humble exhortation to my colleagues in this hall, I would say to them, as I said to a number of my respected constituents, who recently called on me for my views of the crisis that besets us--“As Washington advised all his countrymen, cling fondly to the Union. Take every chance to save it. Conference with the Border States, convention of the Slave States, general convention of all the States--try these and all other conceivable means of saving the Union from wreck. And when all conceivable expedients shall have seemingly failed, if there be but one faint ray of hope, let that light you to yet one more effort to save it.”

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