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Chapter 6:

The question of slavery, as it affected secession.

great pains have been taken, by the North, to make it appear to the world, that the war was a sort of moral, and religious crusade against slavery. Such was not the fact. The people of the North were, indeed, opposed to slavery, but merely because they thought it stood in the way of their struggle for empire. I think it safe to affirm, that if the question had stood upon moral, and religious grounds alone, the institution would never have been interfered with.

The Republican party, which finally brought on the war, took its rise, as is well known, on the question of extending slavery to the Territories—those inchoate States, which were finally to decide the vexed question of the balance of power, between the two sections. It did not propose to disturb the institution in the States; in fact, the institution could do no harm there, for the States, in which it existed, were already in a hopeless minority. The fat, Southern goose could not resist being plucked, as things stood, but it was feared that if slavery was permitted to go into the Territories, the goose might become strong enough to resist being plucked. If proof were wanted of this, we have it, in the resolution passed by the Federal Congress, after the first battle of Manassas, in the first year of the war, as follows: ‘Resolved, That the war is not waged on our part, in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest, or for interfering with the rights, or established institutions of these States, but to defend, and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity and rights of the several States unimpaired.’

In 1820, in the admission of Missouri into the Union, the North and the South had entered into a compromise, which provided, that slavery should not be carried into any of the [63] Territories, north of a given geographical line. This compromise was clearly violative of the rights of the South, for the Territories were common property, which had been acquired, by the blood, and treasure, of the North and the South alike, and no discrimination could justly be made between the sections, as to emigration to those Territories; but discrimination would be made, if the Northern man could emigrate to all of them, and the Southern man to those of them only that lay South of the given line. By the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, introduced into the House of Representatives, in 1854 by Mr. Stephen A. Douglas, this unjust compromise was repealed; the repealing clause declaring, that the Missouri Compromise ‘being inconsistent with the principles of non-intervention, by Congress, with slavery in the States, and Territories, as recognized by the legislation of 1850, commonly called the Compromise Measures, is hereby declared inoperative, and void; it being the true intent, and meaning of this act, not to legislate slavery into any Territory, or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form, and regulate their domestic institutions, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.’

Nothing would seem more just, than the passage of this act, which removed the restriction which had been put upon a portion of the States, threw open the Territories to immigration from all the States, alike, and left the question of local government, the question of slavery included, to be decided by the inhabitants of the Territories themselves. But this act of justice, which Mr. Douglas had had the address and ability to cause to be passed, was highly distasteful to the Northern people. It was not consistent with their views of empire that there should be any more Southern Slave States admitted into the Union. The Republican party, which, up to that time, had made but little headway, now suddenly sprang into importance. and at the next elections in the North, swept every thing before it. The Northern Democratic members of Congress who had voted for the hated measure, were beaten by over whelming majorities, and Republicans sent in their places; and the Republican Convention which assembled at Chicago in 1860, to nominate a candidate for the Presidency, adopted [64] as one of the ‘planks of its platform’—to use a slang political phrase of the day—the principle that slavery should thereafter be excluded from the Territories; not only from the Territories North of the geographical line, of the Missouri Compromise, but from all the Territories! The gauntlet of defiance was thus boldly thrown at the feet of the Southern States.

From 1816 to 1860, these States had been plundered by tariffs, which had enriched the North, and now they were told without any circumlocution, that they should no longer have any share in the Territories. I have said that this controversy, on the subject of slavery, did not rest, in the North, on any question of morals or religion. The end aimed at, in restricting slavery to the States, was purely political; but this end was to be accomplished by means, and the Northern leaders had the sagacity to see, that it was all-important to mix up the controversy, as a means, with moral, and religious questions. Hence they enlisted the clergy in their crusade against the South; the pulpit becoming a rostrum, from which to inflame the Northern mind against the un-Godly slave-holder; religious papers were established, which fulminated their weekly diatribes against the institution; magazine literature, fiction, lectures, by paid itinerants, were all employed, with powerful effect, in a community where every man sets himself up as a teacher, and considers himself responsible for the morals of his neighbor. The contumely and insult thus heaped upon the South were, of themselves, almost past endurance, to say nothing of the wrongs, under which she suffered. The sectional animosity which was engendered by these means, in the North, soon became intense, and hurried on the catastrophe with railroad speed.

Whilst the dispute about slavery in the Territories was drawing to a focus, another, and if possible, a still more exciting question, had been occupying the public mind—the rendition of fugitive slaves to their owners. Our ancestors, in the Convention of 1787, foreseeing the difficulty that was likely to arise on this subject, insisted that the following positive provision, for their protection, should be inserted in the Constitution: ‘No person held to service, or labor, in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in [65] consequence of any law, or regulation therein, be discharged from such service, or labor; but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service, or labor may be due.’

In 1793, a law, called the fugitive slave law, had been passed, for the purpose of carrying out this provision of the Constitution. This law was re-enacted, with some alterations, the better to secure the object in question, in 1850. Neither of those laws was ever properly executed in the North. It soon became unsafe, indeed, for a Southern man to venture into the North, in pursuit of his fugitive slave. Mr. Webster sought, in vain, in the latter part of his life, when he seemed to be actuated by a sense of returning justice to the South, to induce his countrymen to execute those laws, and he lost much of his popularity, in consequence. The laws were not only positively disobeyed, but they were formally nullified by the Legislatures of fourteen of the Northern States; and penalties were annexed to any attempt to execute them. Mr. Webster, in speaking on this subject, says: ‘These States passed acts defeating the law of Congress, as far as it was in their power to defeat it. Those of them to whom I refer, not all, but several, nullified the law of 1793. They said in effect, “We will not execute it. No runaway slave shall be restored.” Thus the law became a dead letter. But here was the Constitution, and compact still binding; here was the stipulation, as solemn as words could form it, and which every member of Congress, every officer of the General Government, every officer of the State government, from governors down to constables, is sworn to support. It has been said in the States of New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio, over and over again, that the law shall not be executed. That was the language in conventions, in Worcester, Massachusetts; in Syracuse, New York, and elsewhere. And for this they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. Now, gentlemen, these proceedings, I say it upon my professional reputation, are distinctly treasonable. And the act of taking Shadrick [a fugitive slave] from the public authorities, in Boston, and sending him off, was an act of clear treason.’ Great outcry was raised against South Carolina when she nullified the tariff law of 1830, passed in clear violation of the spirit of the Constitution; here we see [66] fourteen States nullifying an act, passed to carry out an express provision of the same instrument, about which there was not, and could not be any dispute.

Let us again put Mr. Webster on the witness stand, and hear what he says, was the effect of this wholesale nullification by the Northern States of this provision of the Constitution. ‘I do not hesitate,’ says he, ‘to say, and repeat, that if the Northern States refuse wilfully, and deliberately to carry into effect that part of the Constitution, which respects the restoration of fugitive slaves, the South would be no longer bound to keep the compact. A bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides.’ That was spoken like Daniel Webster, the able jurist, and just man, and not like the Daniel Webster, whom I have before quoted, in these pages, as the casuist, and the sophist. The reader cannot fail to see what a full recantation we have here, of Mr. Webster's heresy, of 1833, when he contended that the Constitution had been ‘ordained and established,’ by the people of the United States, in the aggregate, as one nation.

Mr. Webster now calls the States, the parties to the instrument, and claims that the infraction of it, by some of the States, releases the others from their obligations under it. It is then, after all, it seems, a federal compact; and if it be such, we have the authority of Mr. Webster, himself, for saying that the States may withdraw from it, at pleasure, without waiting for an infringement of it, by their co-States.

But the Southern States did not desire to withdraw from it, without reason. They were sincerely attached to the Union. and were willing to suffer, and endure much rather than that it should be destroyed. They had stood, shoulder to shoulder, with the North in two wars against the mother country, and had freely spent their wealth, and shed their blood in defence of the common rights. They had rushed to the defence of New England, in the war of the Revolution, and had equally responded to her call in 1812, in defence of her shipping interest.

Mr. Madison relied much upon these ties, as a common bond of union. When Patrick Henry and other Southern patriots were warning their people against the new alliance, proposed [67] to them in the Federal Constitution, he spoke the following fervid language in reply to them, in one of the numbers of the ‘Federalist.’ ‘Hearken not to the unnatural voice, which tells you, that the people of America, knit together, as they are, by so many natural cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue mutual guardians of their mutual happiness. * * * No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys. The kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defence of their sacred rights, consecrate their union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies.’ Much of this feeling still lingered in the bosoms of Southern men. They were slow to awaken from this dream of delusion. A rude and rough hand had been necessary to disenchant them. But they were compelled, in spite of themselves, to realize the fact at last, that they had been deceived, and betrayed into the federal compact, that they might be made slaves. Like an unhappy bride, upon whose brow the orange-wreath had been placed, by hands that promised tenderness, and protection, the South had been rudely scorned, and repelled, and forced, in tears, and bitter lamentation, to retract the faith which she had plighted. To carry still further our simile; like the deceived, and betrayed bride, the least show of relenting, and tenderness was sufficient to induce the South to forgive, and to endeavor to forget.

The history of our unhappy connection with the North is full of compromises, and apparent reconciliations—prominent among which was the compromise of 1833, growing out of the nullification of South Carolina, on the tariff question; and the compromise of 1850, in which it was promised, that Congress should not interfere with the question of slavery, either in the States, or Territories. The South, like the too credulous bride, accepted these evidences of returning tenderness, in good faith; the North, like the coarse and brutal husband, whose selfishness was superior to his sense of justice, withdrew them, almost as soon as made. The obnoxious laws which had [68] been modified, or repealed, under these compromises, were reenacted with additional provocations, and restrictions.

So loth was the South to abandon the Union, that she made strenuous efforts to remain in it, even after Mr. Lincoln had been elected President, in 1860. In this election, that dreaded sectional line against which President Washington had warned his countrymen, in his Farewell Address, had at last been drawn; in it,—‘the fire-bell of the night,’—which had so disturbed the last days of Jefferson, had been sounded. There had, at last, arisen a united North, against a united South. Mr. Lincoln had been placed by the Chicago Convention on a platform so purely sectional, that no Southern State voted, or could vote for him. His election was purely geographical; it was tantamount to a denial of the co-equality of the Southern States, with the Northern States, in the Union, since it drove the former out of the common Territories. This had not been a mere party squabble—the questions involved had been federal, and fundamental. Notwithstanding which, some of the Southern States were not without hope, that the North might be induced to revoke its verdict. Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, introduced into the Senate, a series of resolutions, which he hoped would have the effect of restoring harmony; the chief feature of which was, the restoration of the Missouri Compromise, giving the Southern States access to the Territories south of a geographical line. Although this compromise was a partial abandonment of the rights of the South, many of the ablest, and most influential statesmen of that section, gave in their adhesion to it; among others, Mr. Jefferson Davis. The measure failed.

Various other resolutions, looking to pacification, were introduced into both houses of Congress; but they failed, in like manner. The border Slave States aroused to a sense of their danger—for by this time, several of the Gulf States had seceded—called a Convention in the city of Washington, to endeavor to allay the storm. A full representation attended, composed of men, venerable for their years, and renowned for their patriotic services, but their labors ended also in failure; Congress scarcely deigned to notice them. In both houses of Congress the Northern faction, which had so recently triumphed [69] in the election of their President, was arrayed in a solid phalanx of hostility to the South, and could not be moved an inch. The Puritan leaven had at last ‘leavened the whole loaf,’ and the descendants of those immigrants who had come over to America, in the May Flower, feeling that they had the power to crush a race of men, who had dared to differ with them in opinion, and to have interests separate and apart from them, were resolved to use that power in a way to do no discredit to their ancestry. Rebels, when in a minority, they had become tyrants, now that they were in a majority.

Nothing remained to the South, but to raise the gantlet which had been thrown at her feet. The Federal Government which had been established by our ancestors had failed of its object. Instead of binding the States together, in peace, and amity, it had, in the hands of one portion of the States, become an engine of oppression of the other portion. It so happened, that the slavery question was the issue which finally tore them asunder, but, as the reader has seen, this question was a mere means, to an end. The end was empire, and we were about to repeat, in this hemisphere, the drama which had so often been enacted in the other, of a more powerful nation crushing out a weaker.

The war of the American sections was but the prototype of many other wars, which had occurred among the human race. It had its origin in the unregenerated nature of man, who is only an intellectual wild beast, whose rapacity has never yet been restrained, by a sense of justice. The American people thought, when they framed the Constitution, that they were to be an exception to mankind, in general. History had instructed them that all other peoples, who had gone before them, had torn up paper governments, when paper was the only bulwark that protected such governments, but then they were the American people, and no such fate could await them. The events which I have recorded, and am about to record, have taught them, that they are no better—and perhaps they are no worse—than other people. It is to be hoped that they will profit by their dear-bought experience, and that when they shall have come to their senses, and undertake to lay the [70] foundation of a new government, they will, if they design to essay another republic, eliminate all discordant materials. The experiment of trusting to human honesty having failed, they must next trust to human interests—the great regulator, as all philosophy teaches, of human nature. They must listen rather to the philosophy of Patrick Henry, than to that of James Madison, and never attempt again to bind up in one sheaf, with a withe of straw, materials so discordant as were the people of the North, and the people of the South.

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