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The ex-confederate, and what he has done in peace. An address delivered before the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, by Hon. Wm. C. P. Breckinridge.

Richmond, Virginia, October 26th, 1892.

The annual reunion of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia was held in the hall of the House of Delegates on the night of October 26th, 1892. A large audience filled the hall and galleries.

At 8 o'clock General Thomas L. Rosser called the Association to order, and asked Rev. J. William Jones, D. D., the chaplain, to lead in prayer.

General Rosser then, in a few graceful words, introduced Hon. William C. P. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, the orator who had been invited to deliver the annual address, which was as follows:


Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, and my Comrades during the late War:

It had always occurred to me that a true history of the Confederate cause and of those who participated in it could not fairly be written that did not include a history of the struggles of the Anglo- [226] Saxon people for liberty, of the peculiar development which took place in America resulting in the successful establishment of the Constitution and the peculiar complex and duplex relations between the States and the Federal Union, and of the development of the country from the time of the establishment of that Constitution until the late war, a history of that war, and then a history of what the Confederates have done since the war.

There is in every great transaction of history a permanent and a transitory element, and it is nearly always in the inverse relation of their importance that the generation that participates in it looks at these different elements. That which is in the eye of the subsequent thinker or philosopher nearly always incidental, if not accidental, seems to be of the highest importance in the opinion of the actors in the transaction. The glamour of battle, the eloquence of the advocates of contending sides, the questions which seem to lie nearest to the people who live in the midst of the changes, so blind the eyes of those who participate in those great epochs that that which is permanent seems to be scarcely regarded. The mere trickling stream of human blood which undermines the foundations of the turreted castle of wrong is sometimes not seen amidst the heat of the conflict and the cries of the battlefield; the mere grain of mustard seed which takes root where the plowshare of battle has left the field fit for it to grow in is not regarded by those who are contending upon that battlefield. But when the castle tumbles into ruin, or the tree grows to its full height and strength and beauty, so that the birds of the air may find lodgment in its branches and the laborer rest beneath its shade, the thinker and philosopher reverse the importance of these transitory elements and the permanent is shown.

It is, therefore, always difficult for a generation to decide whether the cause which marks it as peculiar is lost or won; because it is not always true that the verdict of the generation in which the transaction has occurred is the verdict which posterity will pass upon the same struggle. It was two thousand years from the time when Arminius overwhelmed the legions of Varus in the Black Forest until the Teutons of a different age were enabled to erect a statue to him as the ‘Father of the Fatherland;’ and when Charles II came to his own, who then supposed that the lost cause of Cromwell and of Pym and of Hampden was yet to blossom as the civilization of modern England, and the principles for which they fought to become nearly as universal as the wondrous tongue in which those principles were uttered seems to be destined to become. [227]

Now we know that the cause for which we fought, in a sense, is a lost cause. The formation of a separate Confederacy, bounded by the geographical boundaries of those States which attempted to establish it, has forever passed away. It would now be an anomaly; it would not receive the support of those who survive that war—the causes which made that geographical boundary important having passed away. When the surrender took place at Appomattox—when the greatest of modern soldiers laid down the noblest of modern swords—the hope of the South for a separate independence was forever ended. How far the matters involved in that controversy passed away in that surrender may become a matter of dispute. What loss was involved in it, what was the permanent element therein, are matters to which we may revert for discussion.

All of us will admit that the problem of African slavery changed its form as a result of that war. The equality of man was derived from that fundamental principle enunciated by Jefferson, that all men were created free and equal by the Almighty Jehovah; free, because the Son of God could not be a slave to any one; equal, because there could be no superior to the Son of God. That the problem of the African race, in accordance with constitutional amendments founded upon this great truth, has changed its form, no one will undertake to deny or dispute. The problem has not passed away; the race is still here; the essence of the problem remains with us and our children. It is still with us—on our consciences and patriotism and philanthropy. The permanent element of the problem cannot in our generation cease to be of the utmost importance.

The relation of the States to the general government—that delicate adjustment of the right of local self-government with the broader powers of the Federal government—can never cease to be prominent in our country, How it is that States can be united under a form of government so flexible that all local matters can be determined by those living within the territorial boundaries of each State, and yet all dwell together within the same union, is a problem that had not known solution in the world. Our children will have their questions to solve and their duties to perform, as our fathers had and as we have had; and with the Dominion of Canada on the north and and the Republic of Mexico on the south, all of which is to be ours, and with four hundred millions of Orientals across the ocean, there will have to be a delicate readjustment of that great problem of all the ages, as to how we can retain local self-government absolutely, and yet give to [228] the general Federal government power to protect us as to all eternal but general matters, and as against all external and foreign foes. The element that is predominant in the development is the great principle which our Teutonic fathers brought with them—a federated representative government, in which alone resides the hope of universal peace. The problem how diverse-speaking people, with different traditions and separate religions, can by representative government so unite themselves that their local interests, being protected by themselves, will not find hostility but friendship in the powers of the Federal government, remains to be solved by our children hereafter. Let us not add to the labors of our children by handicapping them with improper reverence for us by teaching them that the war settled that question in any of its aspects.

Now, what light does the last twenty seven years cast upon what we tried to do in the preceding four years; especially what is its value historically? What we have done in the past twenty-seven years is of value in casting up the account upon which the verdict is to be rendered upon what we tried to do during that war. I will say that in one aspect of it—the personal aspect—the answer lies upon the surface, that whatever else may be involved in the question what was undertaken by the Confederates and what will be the verdict of history upon that undertaking, one element will always stand out, the high personal character of the men who were involved in it. It may be that history may decide that what we did was not only unwise, but criminal. There is many a man whose heart is touched and whose eyes are made to overflow as he thinks upon the lives of such men as Claverhouse, and yet he steeled against all that Claverhouse tried to do. It is one of the paradoxes of God's dealing with mankind that he who causes the martyr to be led to the scaffold is as honest, as earnest, as intelligent as the martyr himself. Why it is that men may be so good and yet so criminal remains an unanswered question. * * * It is something to know, however that the men who advocated our cause were not only men who charged inflinchingly where the whizzing minie-ball made death meet them, who bore the hardships of the camp and submitted to the sacrifices of disastrous war, but they were men who after as before the war bore unblemished civic characters, adorning the communities in which they lived, and would with their lives give radiance to the noblest community whose history could be written. It is something when your children come around you and ask you of your comrades—something [229] when they come to you with school—books in which hard things are said of one or another of these comrades; it is much to be able to say he is a man who for thirty years has lived in the utmost peace, and in such a way that the community has been redeemed from bankruptcy, has been saved from reconstruction, has been enriched by his superb and noble manhood.

And in that aspect of it the story that can be told of the last twenty-seven years is a story that will always have value; but there is a broader value to it. We are charged that if our cause had been successful it would have been a mere rope of sand; that we were dreamers—men without knowledge of technical principles, and ignorant of the practical affairs of life; that we were a race of planter gentlemen, living in pastoral retirement; and that the government we founded would have been swept away at the first phrenetic impulse from within. Now, if it be true that we were a race of dreamers, a mere visionary race, it would seem to follow that when disaster came, when the storm had beaten upon us until there was nothing left, when the lightning (apparently) of God's indignation had shorn us of the values accumulated during one hundred years and carried away everything we had that was valuable, our institutions and our private corporations, that we would have passed the remainder of our lives in either despair or repining. But when the storm came there was left to us God, manhood and faith, and out of that struggle, with nothing but our own courage, we have fought our way with such success that we can now say to the world, ‘See what we have done in disaster, and estimate what we might have done in success.’

No man can fitly portray the condition of the South when the war ended, and I do not attempt it, and if I were to attempt it I beg you to believe that I do not do it for the purpose of bringing back sad .memories. You who are old enough to have passed through that period recollect it. It was not that there had passed over us a pecuniary disaster; it was not, in its main features, that our corporations were bankrupt, that our fences were destroyed, that our houses were burnt or greatly impaired, that we were starting life afresh without money or organized credit—and any one who has ever thought about it can see what there is of doubt and difficulty in that single sentence, ‘without money or organized credit’—but it was that we were in a perfectly unprecedented condition in all those relations which up to that time had been considered stable among [230] us. Every form of government to which we had been accustomed had been twisted and dislocated in its adjustment. We returned to stateless States, to States which had no certain form of government; we returned to municipalities whose government had been substantially wiped out, and in their place no new rules would apply; and yet we returned able to form out of the elements which remained undestroyed, our own government.

There is something in this Anglo-Saxon race—or I think it would be better to say in this Teutonic family of ours, for that is the broader term—there is something peculiarly constructive and orderly. We are the law-makers of the world. We are the constructors of empires; we are the builders of States; anywhere, everywhere this language of ours is spoken, the very fact that it is spoken is conclusive proof that order there abides. If it is in a camp on the western plains, there was, every night, where the camp was pitched, order; and he who violated the law was tried and hung or acquitted. You can take an isolated body of us, whether at Plymouth Rock or in the Mayflower, or in Jamestown or Newport News, or down in Georgia, or on the gold coasts of California, and instantly a solemn compact is made in which there is an element of constitutional government, and that element set out in an orderly form.

Now, if the Confederate had returned home absolutely without government he would have made a government. But he returned without government and without the power to make government. There was a power over him, by virtue of conquest, which stood between him and orderly reconstruction of his government. Over him, controlling him, was a non-resident power. We were infinitely worse off than we were when we landed at Jamestown. We were our own masters then. Now to be a slave was supposed to be the worst condition to which a freeman can ever be reduced; but to be a slave without a master is an infinitely worse condition. We were a surrendered army, under a pretended constitution, with many clamorous masters, who did not know what they wanted to do with us and could not agree among themselves. I do not say this in censure of anybody; I am not recalling those sad days to discuss them; I am simply trying to present them to you for the purposes which I may hereafter indicate.

Now we were in another condition. We were five or six millions of white people with four millions of black people. A hostile minority a man knows somewhat what to do with. If you put five [231] millions of white people and four millions enemies in their midst, they know what to do. But these were friends, many of them persons for whom we felt not only kindness, but unutterable thanks. The institution of domestic slavery was not so many million dollars. It is true that it represented the accumlated labors of many years; it is true that in a certain sense they bore a pecuniary value that was extremely great; it is true that on the large plantations where there were large numbers of slaves there did not exist much affection between the whites and the blacks; but as a rule, domestic slavery, especially in the border States and in the cities and on the farms, as distinguished from the large plantations, was an entirely different institution from either the money that was in it or the chattel character of the negro. There were many to whom we owed thanks for many kindnesses; in many cases there were bonds of affection between master and slave which extended back through generations. We knew them to be helpless, we knew them to be unfit for their freedom, and we knew them to be incapable of exportation. Christ had died for them; he had in his providence put them upon us; they were the responsibility that we had to take with us as we went upwards in our march. And we did not intend that they should be our enemies; we did not intend to be barbarous or cruel; and yet we knew that their domination meant ruin and disaster, and that we could not leave the country any more than we could export them. And so we were slaves not only to a non-resident master, but slaves to our own consciences, as it bore upon our relations to this race resident with us and among us. I avow, as I look back upon the twenty-seven years that have passed, that the treatment accorded by the Southern people to this dependent race will hereafter be esteemed a monument to the courage and magnanimity of our people that will separate them from all other people as being able to treat an humble race with kindness and an inferior race with will and courage.

Well, now, under such circumstances we began to build again; and yet it is probably a badly chosen word to say that we began to build. Nobody in modern times ever is at the genesis of anything. We are always in the midst of the evolution of our problems of civilization. We therefore, if I may change the phrase, took up anew the conditions of life under this new environment, and the first thing to which I desire to call your attention to-night in reference to the Confederate soldier is, that at a time when everything would seem to require a new remedy, he had the sense to utterly condemn [232] every new remedy and every new principle. There was no pretence of originality. Every prophet that arose with a new evangel immediately found his religion thrown aside. We considered that under the new conditions and under the changed relations the remedy to be applied was the same old principles which our fathers had applied and for which they had fought. We adhered to the same old doctrines that man as man was capable of self-government; man as man was created by his God in his own likeness and was capable of infinite possibilities. We who had thus been developed through those ages under the power of those principles, were to apply them to a new condition, and those principles were the old principles of the equality of manhood under the law. So we stood unflinchingly for the equal freedom of every man, and resolutely and without division or question for like treatment of every comrade. The broad and universal principle was to our future vital; its narrow and immediate application involved our personal honor, and this can never be made a matter of barter. We stood by all our comrades; we rejected all vicarious sacrifices; if any were manacled, we felt the chains on our wrists; if casemates imprisoned any, our hearts were in jail. It was not that he was our president—our valiant chieftain; it was not that he had shed lustre on the American arms at Buena Vista; it was not that in the Senate chamber he had been the equal of the most august senator that ever sat in that great body; it was not that as Secretary of War he was the best official the American nation ever had; it was not that he had championed our cause and lost; but it was that he was selected as our victim that made us surround Jefferson Davis with all our hearts. So long as for our sins he was selected as our victim to suffer in our place, we bear to him the utmost loyalty, that all the world may know that no man who had been our comrade would we ever desert when he was in the hour of trial.

And we also built upon the second great principle—the same old idea of the autonomy of the States—and out of these two principles we worked our salvation. Of course there were all the private hardships which war and disaster bring. When we recall that period—the men who returned to their homes and found nothing but ruins and their families—when we recall what the women of the South did during those times, we can scarcely repress our tears. I have had it beat into my ears that in olden times the life of the Southern people was an idle life. It never was true. There never was a time [233] when the Southern matron was not the typical busy woman. She who nursed the sick, laid out the dead for burial, of all the women of the time was the type of the woman that gives to man happiness and morality. And when the time of trial came, her daughters showed themselves worthy of her training. Who ever saw a Southern wife, mother, sister or sweetheart in those days whose face was not wreathed in smiles, that he whom she loved might think that she was comfortable and happy?

On these two great principles—the equality of man and the autonomy of the States—we went to work carefully, laboriously, patiently, yet manfully, and yet under circumstances that seemed daily to grow worse. Military rule became so commingled with orgies of a complex masterhood that we can look back upon that period scarcely yet with patience and hardly without a smile; the traversities upon Anglo-Saxon legislation; the so-called legislatures of some of the Southern States where the white men who participated in the government gave the ignorance of the black men credit by his associations. And then, amidst conditions which were thus overwhelming, we are paying a war tribute than which no nation has ever paid so great. Has any one ever estimated the war tribute which the Southern people paid? At one fell swoop was confiscated whatever money had been involved in the purchase of the negro. There was no war debt owned by the South, yet we paid our share of it. No pensions were granted in that section, yet we paid our share of them. Without murmuring, without making any special row about it, day by day, in innumerable forms, we paid this war tribute.

And what have we done? I cannot tell you—no figures can tell you—what we have done. But we have done this, to start with: There were eleven States that had been made provinces, and we made these States again. There is not in America to day, thanks be to God, a single spot where there is any doubt of the administration of the law according to the olden traditions of English liberty. There is no place to-day in America where the officer of the law, with the warrant signed by the proper official and with the seal of the State upon it, does not know his duty, and the person to whom he goes does not submit to his act. Civil law is dominant in every part of this land.

We have restored to the generation to come after us civil liberty in its broadest sense. The courts are open to the humblest suitor; honest judges preside over them; honest juries sit in the jury-box. [234] Our officers are chosen according to the prescribed form, the lawmakers are selected by those who obey the laws, and all over that Southern land, wherever to night there is a home, it may send up its praises to God that the ex-Confederates are a law-making, as well as a law-abiding people.

Another thing we have done is that out of our poverty we have more than restored our old educational institutions. We have in every State a university and colleges, and in every State a system of free schools. Wherever in that South there is a child who wants an education, we have furnished him with the means to get that education. Your University of Virginia, with all the credit that can be given it, finds fit competitors in every part of the South. We have said to Science: ‘You are our mistress; come and dwell among us.’ We have adorned her with the gems of our love and crowned her with the jewels of our benedictions, that she might enrich us with her smiles. And to night I can truly say, that for our means and according to our circumstances there is no part of the world that furnishes so ample, so free, and so many means for education as the South which formed the late Confederacy.

Another thing we did: Formerly we were an agricultural people. There was no reason why we should do anything but till the soil. It was the richest soil in the world; it lay under the most fruitful sun. How teeming the lands of the South were in those days! It was a new country—so new that you never wore its freshness off. We worked, as it were, in the twilight of the dawn, before the sun was warm enough to dry the dew from the leaves. The slave labor is necessarily an isolated labor; it requires that the master should live with the slave, that he might secure the largest production of the soil. And land was so cheap, it rewards so great, that we needed no other vocation than agriculture, while its necessities were so many and so varied as to give to the best intellect full employment. He who owned a plantation of several thousand acres of land, with the necessary number of slaves, was a manufacturer in the highest sense of the word. He had those men daily to take care of. He was a provider in the sense that the Northern employer never knew of. Thus it gave the very beat play to the mental faculties, and it gave a certain leisure with it that was delightful. Therefore the South was naturally and neccessarily agricultural. And now there came that disastrous war. It swept away this plant in that particular form. It did not destroy the race, but the changed condition of things [235] required of us a different mode of life, and we have adapted ourselves to that change. Before the war there was but one South. It was an agricultural South. It was diverse in its agriculture, for the wheat and tobacco grower of Virginia was materially different from the cotton producer of the Mississippi Valley, and the raiser of stock in the blue-grass land was different from the tobacco grower and the cotton producer; but all were agricultural. The war changed all this. We have in the last year produced nine million bales of cotton, so that you may see that the agricultural South has not gone back; but we have also gone into new industries, and have shown that the ex-Confederate is competent for the discharge of any industrial duty. The great Appalachian range, whose bosom has been throbbing with eager and expectant yearning that we might obtain its riches, is now being turned into wealth by the ex-Confederates. You come to Richmond and you find a new Richmond, in the sense that her streets have lengthened, her buildings are more stately, and her bank accounts have grown larger; your sons are mining engineers, or chemists, or railroad kings. And so with Nashville, or Mobile, or Savannah.

The old South of Richmond and Charleston and Mobile in a certain sense has passed away. No longer do the men merely talk of crops or politics, but we are the same old South in the sense that we are the same men. It is not a new South in the idea that it is inhabited by a new race of men; no more is that true than that we are new men ourselves. Our sons, who will not own large plantations, but will manage great railroads and be masters of industrial occupations, will have liberty, and preserve its principles for their posterity as their fathers did. And today, if there were a necessity for it, Virginia would step to the front, not under new men in the sense that they came from the North or are foreigners, but only new men in the sense that they came from our loins fitted for the day in which they were born.

And this is what we have done in these twenty-seven years; we have preserved, in the form in which they were handed down to us, and as sacredly as our fathers ever did, the principles of constitutional liberty—principles not only of constitutional liberty, but principles which are a part of all constitutions. For liberty was before the constitution—it created the constitution and is its animating spirit. We are not the creatures of the law, but its creators, and this we must always bear in mind. [236]

It has saved us that we believed in the sanctity of human nature, and built upon it as the corner-stone. No doubtful future can dismay the man who feels that he is going to do his best; no darkness of to-morrow can frighten him whose reliance is in God as his father and in himself as his son.

I sometimes hear that the South in these days is to express some sort of added patriotism—a greater amount of patriotism than any other part of the country; that we are under a sort of a cloud which requires us to give some additional bond of security for good behavior; that we are to be a little more extravagant in our utterances. Standing in this old Capitol, whose very walls, redolent of the utterances of history, have an interest almost as great as the men whose statues adorn your squares, and in the presence of the great men who have gone before, I claim for the South that she has always been equal to her duty, and gives to every other section the equality she claims for herself.

And as I look through the South to-day, my heart is filled with an infinite joy. There was a time when it seemed that you could not complain if our young men left us; if they talked about the teeming fields of the Northwest; if they spoke of the wider opportunities of the Northeast; you could hardly put an obstacle in the way of your bright son, who wanted some broader field in which to labor. You yourself could not leave the graveyard and those who lay in it, the battlefield and those who fell on it; the memories of loved ones gone before tied you; but you could hardly say nay to your son who felt that the disasters of the war were permanent and the blight upon the land irremediable. Who now wants to go to a wider field than this South. Where is there a wider field than these old Confederates have made for their sons and younger brothers? Do you want to go where industrial progress is richer than elsewhere? Go to Alabama, Virginia, or over the river into Arkansas. Do you want to go where the country is improving? Go to our new waterways running to the sea, gradually getting commerce upon their bosoms which will not only whiten the rivers with their sails, but make those rich who settle in their vicinity. Do you want scientific agriculture as your vocation? The rich lands of the South, worn out by the marauding agriculture of the past, beckon to you with new hopes to come and settle on them, and they will make you rich. Do you want a place to bring your children up where piety and religious influence will lead them up to higher life? Carry [237] them to any village or hamlet in this Southern land, and you will find it. No matter what your son may want, we offer it to him with a rich provision. Our future is full of hope as our past is full of sanctity.

One by one the Army of Northern Virginia will pass into history—a defeated army; not like the Tenth Legion or the Phalanx; not with the honors of a successful war upon its bayonets. No pensions have aided it in the struggles of life; no tax upon a widow's poverty has helped any member of that army in the contest since. In the humble phrase of my beautiful country, each one of them, whether he had but one arm or one leg, has ‘hoed his own row,’ with no tax-gatherer helping to make that row more comfortable. He now knows better than he ever could have known the sweetness of the divine declaration, ‘It is better to give than to receive.’ He has given to his people peace and plenty; he has given to his children the example of an honest, an industrious, and an heroic life. And as that defeated army passes into immortality, it will live upon the future of the world an example which to follow will make of any son a free man, and give to every girl a noble lover.

At the close of the address, Rev. Dr. J. William Jones moved that the thanks of the Association be returned to Colonel Breckinridge, and that a copy be requested for publication.

Adopted unanimously.

Major Thomas A. Brander moved that a committee of five be appointed to propose the names of the officers and the Executive Committee. Adopted; and the following gentlemen were appointed: N. V. Randolph, Thomas O. Ranson, James White, D. Gardner Tyler, and Robert Stiles.

Other addresses.

In response to calls, the following gentlemen also came forward and made short, appropriate addresses: General Jubal A. Early, Captain W. Gordon McCabe, of Virginia, and Major Robert Stiles.

By this time the committee had returned, and reported the names of the following gentlemen as officers for the ensuing year, and the report was unanimously agreed to: [238]

PresidentJudge George L. Christian.

First Vice-President—Judge T, S. Garnett.

Second Vice-PresidentGeneral Thomas L. Rosser.

Third Vice-PresidentHon. R. T. Barton.

SecretaryCaptain Thomas Ellett.

Treasurer—Private Robert J. Bosher.

Executive CommitteeColonel W. E. Cutshaw (chairman), Private J. T. Gray, Captain E. P. Reeve, Captain John Cussons, and Captain W. Gordon McCabe.

On motion, the meeting adjourned.

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