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Chapter 5:

Another brief historical Retrospect.

in the previous chapters, I have given a brief outline of the history and formation of the Federal Constitution, proving, by abundant reference to the Fathers, and to the instrument itself, that it was the intention of the former to draft, and that they did draft, a federal compact of government, which compact was ‘ordained, and established,’ by the States, in their sovereign capacity, and not by the people of the United States, in the aggregate, as one nation. It resulted from this statement of the question, that the States had the legal, and constitutional right to withdraw from the compact, at pleasure, without reference to any cause of quarrel. Accordingly, nothing has yet been said about the causes which impelled the Southern States to a separation, except indeed incidentally, when the tariff system was alluded to, as the motive which had induced Massachusetts and the other. Northern States, to change their StateRights doctrine.

It was stated in the opening chapter, that the judgment which posterity will form, upon the great conflict between the sections, will depend, mainly, upon the answers which we may be able to give to two questions: First, Had the South the right to dissolve the compact of government, under which it had lived with the North? and secondly, Was there sufficient ground for this dissolution? Having answered the first question—imperfectly, I fear, but yet as fully, as was consistent, with the design of these pages—I propose now to consider, very briefly, the second. I would gladly have left all this preliminary work to other, and abler pens, but I do not consider that the memoirs of any actor in the late war, who, like myself, was an officer in the old service, and who withdrew from that service, because of the breaking out of the war—or rather because of the secession of his State—would be complete [53] without, at least, a brief reference to the reasons, which controlled his judgment.

The American Constitution died of a disease, that was inherent in it. It was framed on false principles, inasmuch as the attempt was made, through its means, of binding together, in a republican form of government, two dissimilar peoples, with widely dissimilar interests. Monarchial governments may accomplish this, since they are founded on force, but republican governments never. Austria, and Russia, pin together, in our day, with their bayonets, many dissimilar peoples, but if a republic should make the attempt, that moment it must, of necessity, cease to be a republic, since the very foundation of such a government is the consent of the governed. The secession of the Southern States was a mere corollary of the American proposition of government; and the Northern States stultified themselves, the moment they attempted to resist it. The consent of the Southern States being wanted, there should have been an end of the question.

If the Northern States were not satisfied to let them go, but entertained, on the contrary, a desire to restrain them by force, this was a proof, that those States had become tired of the republican form, and desired to change it. But they should have been honest about it; they should have avowed their intentions from the beginning, and not have waged the war, as so many republics, endeavoring to coerce other republics, into a forced union with them. To have been logical, they should have obliterated the State boundaries, and have declared all the States—as well the Northern States, as the Southern—so many counties of a consolidated government. But even then, they could not have made war upon any considerable number of those counties, without violating the fundamental American idea of a government—the consent of the governed. The right of self-government was vindicated in the Declaration of Independence, in favor of three millions of the subjects of Great Britain. In the States of the Southern Confederacy, there were eight millions.

The American Republic, as has been said, was a failure, because of the antagonism of the two peoples, attempted to be bound together, in the same government. If there is to be but [54] a single government in these States, in the future, it cannot be a republic. De Toqueville saw this, thirty years ago. In his ‘Democracy in America’ he described these States, as ‘more like hostile nations, than rival parties, under one government.’

This distinguished Frenchman saw, as with the eye of intuition, the canker which lay at the heart of the federal compact. He saw looming up, in the dim distance, the ominous, and hideous form of that unbridled, and antagonistic Majority, which has since rent the country in twain—a majority based on the views, and interests of one section, arrayed against the views, and interests of the other section. ‘The majority,’ said he, ‘in that country, exercises a prodigious, actual authority, and a moral influence which is scarcely less preponderant; no obstacles exist, which can impede, or so much as retard its progress, or which can induce it to heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. * * * This state of things is fatal, in itself, and dangerous for the future. * * * If the free institutions of America are ever destroyed, that event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority. * * * Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.’

Precisely so; liberty is always destroyed by the multitude, in the name of liberty. Majorities within the limits of constitutional restraints are harmless, but the moment they lose sight of these restraints, the many-headed monster becomes more tyrannical, than the tyrant with a single head; numbers harden its conscience, and embolden it, in the perpetration of crime. And when this majority, in a free government, becomes a faction, or, in other words, represents certain classes and interests to the detriment of other classes, and interests, farewell to public liberty; the people must either become enslaved, or there must be a disruption of the government. This result would follow, even if the people lived under a consolidated government, and were homogenous: much more, then, must it follow, when the government is federal in form, and the States are, in the words of De Toqueville, ‘more like hostile nations, than rival parties, under one government.’ These States are, and indeed always have been rival nations.

The dissimilarity between the people of the Northern, and [55] the people of the Southern States has always been remarked upon, by observant foreigners, and it has not escaped the attention of our own historians. Indeed it could not be otherwise, for the origin of the two sections has been diverse. Virginia, and Massachusetts were the two original germs, from which the great majority of the American populations has sprung; and no two peoples, speaking the same language, and coming from the same country, could have been more dissimilar, in education, taste, and habits, and even in natural instincts, than were the adventurers who settled these two colonies. Those who sought a new field of adventure for themselves, and affluence for their posterity, in the more congenial climate of the Chesapeake, were the gay, and dashing cavaliers, who, as a class, afterward adhered to the fortunes of the Charleses, whilst the first settlers of Massachusetts were composed of the same materials, that formed the ‘Praise-God-Barebones’ parliament of Cromwell.

These two peoples, seem to have had an instinctive repugnance, the one to the other. To use a botanical phrase, the Puritan was a seedling of the English race, which had been unknown to it before. It had few, or none of the characteristics of the original stock. Gloomy, saturnine, and fanatical, in disposition, it seemed to repel all the more kindly, and generous impulses of our nature, and to take a pleasure in pulling down everything, that other men had built up; not so much, as its subsequent history would seem to show, because the work was faulty, as because it had been done by other hands than their own. They hated tyranny, for instance, but it was only because they were not, themselves, the tyrants; they hated religious intolerance, but it was only when not practised by themselves.

Natural affinities attracted like unto like. The Cavalier sought refuge with the Cavalier, and the Puritan with the Puritan, for a century, and more. When the fortunes of the Charleses waned, the Cavaliers fled to Virginia; when the fortunes of Cromwell waned, the Puritans fled to Massachusetts. Trade occasionally drew the two peoples together, but they were repelled at all other points. Thus these germs grew, step by step, into two distinct nations. A different [56] civilization was naturally developed in each. The two countries were different in climate, and physical features—the climate of the one being cold and inhospitable, and its soil rugged, and sterile, whilst the climate of the other was soft, and genial, and its soil generous, and fruitful. As a result of these differences of climate, and soil, the pursuits of the two peoples became different, the one being driven to the ocean, and to the mechanic arts, for subsistence, and the other betaking itself to agriculture.

Another important element soon presented itself, to widen the social, and economical breach, which had taken place between the two peoples—African slavery. All the Colonies, at first, became slaveholding, but it was soon found, that slave labor was unprofitable in the North, where the soil was so niggard, in its productions, and where, besides, the white man could labor. One, by one, the Northern States got rid of their slaves, as soon as they made this discovery. In the South, the case was different. The superior fertility of the soil, and the greater geniality of the climate enabled the planter to employ the African to advantage; and thus slave labor was engrafted on our system of civilization, as one of its permanent features.

The effect was, as before remarked, a still greater divergence between the two peoples. The wealth of the South soon began to outstrip that of the North. Education and refinement followed wealth. Whilst the civilization of the North was coarse, and practical, that of the South was more intellectual, and refined. This is said in no spirit of disparagement of our Northern brethren; it was the natural, and inevitable result of the different situations of the two peoples. In the North, almost every young man was under the necessity, during our colonial existence, of laboring with his own hands, for the means of subsistence. There was neither the requisite leisure, nor the requisite wealth to bring about a very refined system of civilization. The life of a Southern planter on the other hand with his large estates, and hundreds of vassals, with his profuse hospitality, and luxurious style of living, resembled more that of the feudatories of the middle ages, than that of any modern gentleman out of the Southern States.

It is not my object to express a preference for either of these [57] modes of civilization—each, no doubt, had its advantages, and disadvantages—but to glance at them, merely, for the purpose of showing the dissimilarity of the two peoples; their uncongeniality, and want of adaptation, socially, the one to the other With social institutions as wide asunder as the poles, and with their every material interest antagonistic, the separation of the two peoples, sooner or later, was a logical sequence.

As had been anticipated by Patrick Henry, and others, the moment the new government went into operation, parties began to be formed, on sectional interests and sectional prejudices. The North wanted protection for her shipping, in the way of discriminating tonnage dues, and the South was opposed to such protection. The North wanted a bank, to facilitate their commercial operations; the South was opposed to it. The North wanted protection for their manufactures, the South was opposed to it. There was no warrant, of course, for any of these schemes of protection in the Federal Constitution; they were, on the contrary, subversive of the original design of that instrument. The South has been called aggressive. She was thrown on the defensive, in the first Congress, and has remained so, from that day to this. She never had the means to be aggressive, having been always in a minority, in both branches of the Legislature. It is not consistent with the scope of these memoirs, to enter, at large, into the political disputes which culminated in secession. They are many, and various, and would fill volumes. It will be sufficient to sketch the history of one or two of the more important of them.

The ‘American System,’ of which Mr. Clay, of Kentucky, became the champion, and to which allusion has already been made, became the chief instrument of oppression of the Southern States, through a long series of years. I prefer to let a late distinguished Senator, from the State of Missouri, Mr. Benton, tell this tale of spoliation. On the slavery question, Mr. Benton was with the North, he cannot, therefore, be accused of being a witness unduly favorable to the South. In a speech in the Senate, in 1828, he declared himself, as follows: ‘I feel for the sad changes, which have taken place in the South, during the last fifty years. Before the Revolution, [58] it was the seat of wealth, as well as hospitality. Money, and all it commanded, abounded there. But how is it now? All this is reversed. Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac; and this in the face of the fact, that the South, in four staples alone, has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing. Such an export would indicate unparalleled wealth, but what is the fact? In the place of wealth, a universal pressure for money was felt—not enough for current expenses—the price of all property down—the country drooping, and languishing—towns and cities decaying—and the frugal habits of the people pushed to the verge of universal self-denial, for the preservation of their family estates. Such a result is a strange, and wonderful phenomenon. It calls upon statesmen to inquire into the cause. Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue. * * * Virginia, the two Corolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths, of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing, or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of Government expenditures. That expenditure flows in an opposite direction—it flows northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. Federal legislation does all this. It does it by the simple process of eternally taking from the South, and returning nothing to it. If it returned to the South the whole, or even a good part, of what it exacted, the four States south of the Potomac might stand the action of the system, but the South must be exhausted of its money, and its property, by a course of legislation, which is forever taking away, and never returning anything. Every new tariff increases the force of this action. No tariff has ever yet included Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, except to increase the burdens imposed upon them.’

This picture is not overdrawn; it is the literal truth. Before the war the Northern States, and especially the New England States, exported next to nothing, and yet they ‘blossomed as [59] the rose.’ The picturesque hills of New England were dotted with costly mansions, erected with money, of which the Southern planters had been despoiled, by means of the tariffs of which Mr. Benton spoke. Her harbors frowned with fortifications, constructed by the same means. Every cove and inlet had its lighthouse, for the benefit of New England shipping, three fourths of the expense of erecting which had been paid by the South, and even the cod, and mackerel fisheries of New England were bountied, on the bald pretext, that they were nurseries for manning the navy.

The South resisted this wholesale robbery, to the best of her ability. Some few of the more generous of the Northern representatives in Congress came to her aid, but still she was overborne; and the curious reader, who will take the pains to consult the ‘Statutes at Large,’ of the American Congress, will find on an average, a tariff for every five years recorded on their pages; the cormorants increasing in rapacity, the more they devoured. No wonder that Mr. Lincoln when asked, ‘why not let the South go?’ replied, ‘Let the South go! where then shall we get our revenue.?’

This system of spoliation was commenced in 1816. The doctrine of protection was not, at first, boldly avowed. A heavy debt had been contracted during the war of 1812, with Great Britain, just then terminated. It became necessary to raise revenue to pay this debt, as well as to defray the current expenses of the government, and for these laudable purposes, the tariff of 1816 was enacted. The North had not yet become the overshadowing power, which it has become in our day. It was comparatively modest, and only asked, that, in adjusting the duties under the tariff, such incidental protection, as might not be inconsistent with the main object of the bill, to wit, the raising of revenue, should be given to Northern manufactures. It was claimed that these manufactures had sprung up, sua sponte, during the war, and had materially aided the country in prosecuting the war, and that they would languish, and die, unless protected, in this incidental manner. This seemed but just and reasonable, and some of the ablest of our Southern men gave their assent to the proposition; among others, Mr. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Mr. Clay of Kentucky. [60]

The latter, in particular, then a young member of the House of Representatives, espoused the Northern side of the controversy, and subsequently became known, as we have seen, as the father of the system. Much undeserved obloquy has beer thrown upon Mr. Clay, for this supposed abandonment of his section. The most that he claimed, was that a temporary protection, of a few years' duration only, should be given to these infant manufactures, until they should become self-sustaining. In later life, when he saw the extent to which the measure was pushed, he did, indeed recoil from it, as Mr. Calhoun, with keener intellect, had done, years before. The wedge, being thus entered, was driven home by the insatiable North.

In less than twenty years, or during the early part of General Jackson's administration, the public debt was paid off, and it became necessary to reduce the tariffs, to prevent a plethora in the public treasury; but the North, by this time, had ‘waxed fat,’ and like the ox in the scriptures, began to kick. From incidental protection, it advanced, boldly, to the doctrine of ‘protection, for the sake of protection’—thus avowing the unjust doctrine, that it was right to rob one section, for the benefit of the other; the pretence being the general good— the ‘general welfare’ clause of the Constitution as well as the expression ‘We, the people,’ in the Preamble, being invoked to cover the enormity. Under the wholesale system of spoliation, which was now practised, the South was becoming poorer, and poorer. Whilst her abundant cotton crops supplied all the exchanges of the country, and put in motion, throughout the North, every species of manufacturing industry, from the cut-nail, which the planter put in the weather-boarding of his house, to the coach in which his wife, and daughters took an airing, it was found, that, from year to year, mortgages were increasing on her plantations, and that the planter was fast becoming little better, than the overseer of the Northern manufacturer, and the Northern merchant. A statesman of England once declared, that ‘not so much as a hob-nail should be manufactured, in America.’ The colonial dependence, and vassalage meant to be proclaimed by this expression, was now strictly true, as between the North, and the South. The South was compelled to purchase her hob-nails, in the North, being excluded by the Northern tariffs, from all other markets. [61]

South Carolina, taking the alarm at this state of things, resorted as we have seen, to nullification, in 1832. The quarrel was compromised in 1833, by the passage of a more moderate tariff, but the North still growing, in strength, and wealth, disregarded the compromise, in 1842, and enacted a more oppressive tariff than ever. From this time onward, no attempt was made to conciliate the South, by the practice of forbearance, and justice, and the latter sank, hopelessly, into the condition of a tributary province to her more powerful rival.

All this was done under a federal compact, formed by sovereign States, for their common benefit! Thus was the prophecy of Patrick Henry verified, when he said: ‘But I am sure, that the dangers of this system [the Federal Constitution] are real, when those who have no similar interest with the people of this country [the South] are to legislate for us—when our dearest rights are to be left, in the hands of those, whose advantage it will be to infringe them.’ And thus also, was verified the declaration of Charles Cotesworth Pinkney, of South Carolina: ‘If they [the Southern States] are to form so considerable a minority, and the regulation of trade is to be given to the general Government, they will be nothing more than overseers of the Northern States.’

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