Slavery & the Civil War
[Copied by Justin Sanders from J.A. May & J.R. Faunt, South Carolina Secedes (U. of S. Car. Pr, 1960), pp. 76-81.]
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice
fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
Adopted December 24, 1860
[Copied by Justin Sanders from “Journal of the State Convention”, (Jackson, MS: E. Barksdale, State Printer, 1861), pp. 86-88]
A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.
The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory.
The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.
The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.
It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.
It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.
It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.
It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.
It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.
It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.
It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.
It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.
It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.
It has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security.
It has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits and to destroy our social system.
It knows no relenting or hesitation in its purposes; it stops not in its march of aggression, and leaves us no room to hope for cessation or for pause.
It has recently obtained control of the Government, by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood.
Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.
Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.
[Copied by Justin Sanders from the Official Records, Ser IV, vol 1, pp. 81-85.]
The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. Our people, still attached to the Union from habit and national traditions, and averse to change, hoped that time, reason, and argument would bring, if not redress, at least exemption from further insults, injuries, and dangers. Recent events have fully dissipated all such hopes and demonstrated the necessity of separation. Our Northern confederates, after a full and calm hearing of all the facts, after a fair warning of our purpose not to submit to the rule of the authors of all these wrongs and injuries, have by a large majority committed the Government of the United States into their hands. The people of Georgia, after an equally full and fair and deliberate hearing of the case, have declared with equal firmness that they shall not rule over them. A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state. The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen. The opposition to slavery was then, as now, general in those States and the Constitution was made with direct reference to that fact. But a distinct abolition party was not formed in the United States for more than half a century after the Government went into operation. The main reason was that the North, even if united, could not control both branches of the Legislature during any portion of that time. Therefore such an organization must have resulted either in utter failure or in the total overthrow of the Government. The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests. Even the owners of fishing smacks sought and obtained bounties for pursuing their own business (which yet continue), and $500,000 is now paid them annually out of the Treasury. The navigating interests begged for protection against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade. Congress granted both requests, and by prohibitory acts gave an absolute monopoly of this business to each of their interests, which they enjoy without diminution to this day. Not content with these great and unjust advantages, they have sought to throw the legitimate burden of their business as much as possible upon the public; they have succeeded in throwing the cost of light-houses, buoys, and the maintenance of their seamen upon the Treasury, and the Government now pays above $2,000,000 annually for the support of these objects. Theses interests, in connection with the commercial and manufacturing classes, have also succeeded, by means of subventions to mail steamers and the reduction in postage, in relieving their business from the payment of about $7,000,000 annually, throwing it upon the public Treasury under the name of postal deficiency. The manufacturing interests entered into the same struggle early, and has clamored steadily for Government bounties and special favors. This interest was confined mainly to the Eastern and Middle non-slave-holding States. Wielding these great States it held great power and influence, and its demands were in full proportion to its power. The manufacturers and miners wisely based their demands upon special facts and reasons rather than upon general principles, and thereby mollified much of the opposition of the opposing interest. They pleaded in their favor the infancy of their business in this country, the scarcity of labor and capital, the hostile legislation of other countries toward them, the great necessity of their fabrics in the time of war, and the necessity of high duties to pay the debt incurred in our war for independence. These reasons prevailed, and they received for many years enormous bounties by the general acquiescence of the whole country.
All these classes saw this and felt it and cast about for new allies. The anti-slavery sentiment of the North offered the best chance for success. An anti-slavery party must necessarily look to the North alone for support, but a united North was now strong enough to control the Government in all of its departments, and a sectional party was therefore determined upon. Time and issues upon slavery were necessary to its completion and final triumph. The feeling of anti-slavery, which it was well known was very general among the people of the North, had been long dormant or passive; it needed only a question to arouse it into aggressive activity. This question was before us. We had acquired a large territory by successful war with Mexico; Congress had to govern it; how, in relation to slavery, was the question then demanding solution. This state of facts gave form and shape to the anti-slavery sentiment throughout the North and the conflict began. Northern anti-slavery men of all parties asserted the right to exclude slavery from the territory by Congressional legislation and demanded the prompt and efficient exercise of this power to that end. This insulting and unconstitutional demand was met with great moderation and firmness by the South. We had shed our blood and paid our money for its acquisition; we demanded a division of it on the line of the Missouri restriction or an equal participation in the whole of it. These propositions were refused, the agitation became general, and the public danger was great. The case of the South was impregnable. The price of the acquisition was the blood and treasure of both sections– of all, and, therefore, it belonged to all upon the principles of equity and justice.
The Constitution delegated no power to Congress to exclude either party from its free enjoyment; therefore our right was good under the Constitution. Our rights were further fortified by the practice of the Government from the beginning. Slavery was forbidden in the country northwest of the Ohio River by what is called the ordinance of 1787. That ordinance was adopted under the old confederation and by the assent of Virginia, who owned and ceded the country, and therefore this case must stand on its own special circumstances. The Government of the United States claimed territory by virtue of the treaty of 1783 with Great Britain, acquired territory by cession from Georgia and North Carolina, by treaty from France, and by treaty from Spain. These acquisitions largely exceeded the original limits of the Republic. In all of these acquisitions the policy of the Government was uniform. It opened them to the settlement of all the citizens of all the States of the Union. They
emigrated thither with their property of every kind (including slaves). All were equally protected by public authority in their persons and property until the inhabitants became sufficiently numerous and otherwise capable of bearing the burdens and performing the duties of self-government, when they were admitted into the Union upon equal terms with the other States, with whatever republican constitution they might adopt for themselves.
Under this equally just and beneficent policy law and order, stability and progress, peace and prosperity marked every step of the progress of these new communities until they entered as great and prosperous commonwealths into the sisterhood of American States. In 1820 the North endeavored to overturn this wise and successful policy and demanded that the State of Missouri should not be admitted into the Union unless she first prohibited slavery within her limits by her constitution. After a bitter and protracted struggle the North was defeated in her special object, but her policy and position led to the adoption of a section in the law for the admission of Missouri, prohibiting slavery in all that portion of the territory acquired from France lying North of 36 [degrees] 30 [minutes] north latitude and outside of Missouri. The venerable Madison at the time of its adoption declared it unconstitutional. Mr. Jefferson condemned the restriction and foresaw its consequences
and predicted that it would result in the dissolution of the Union. His prediction is now history. The North demanded the application of the principle of prohibition of slavery to all of the territory acquired from Mexico and all other parts of the public domain then and in all future time. It was the announcement of her purpose to appropriate to herself all the public domain then owned and thereafter to be acquired by the United States. The claim itself was less arrogant and insulting than the reason with which she supported it. That reason was her fixed purpose to limit, restrain, and finally abolish slavery in the States where it exists. The South with great unanimity declared her purpose to resist the principle of prohibition to the last extremity. This particular question, in connection with a series of questions affecting the same subject, was finally disposed of by the
defeat of prohibitory legislation.
The Presidential election of 1852 resulted in the total overthrow of the advocates of restriction and their party friends. Immediately after this result the anti-slavery portion of the defeated party resolved to unite all the elements in the North opposed to slavery an to stake their future political fortunes upon their hostility to slavery everywhere. This is the party two whom the people of the North have committed the Government. They raised their standard in 1856 and were barely defeated. They entered the Presidential contest again in 1860 and succeeded.
The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.
With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.
The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.
For forty years this question has been considered and debated in the halls of Congress, before the people, by the press, and before the tribunals of justice. The majority of the people of the North in 1860 decided it in their own favor. We refuse to submit to that judgment, and in vindication of our refusal we offer the Constitution of our country and point to the total absence of any express power to exclude us. We offer the practice of our Government for the first thirty years of its existence in complete refutation of the position that any such power is either necessary or proper to the execution of any other power in relation to the Territories. We offer the judgment of a large minority of the people of the North, amounting to more than one-third, who united with the unanimous voice of the South against this usurpation; and, finally, we offer the judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest judicial tribunal of our country, in our favor. This evidence ought to be conclusive that we have never surrendered this right. The conduct of our adversaries admonishes us that if we had surrendered it, it is time to resume it.
The faithless conduct of our adversaries is not confined to such acts as might aggrandize themselves or their section of the Union. They are content if they can only injure us. The Constitution declares that persons charged with crimes in one State and fleeing to another shall be delivered up on the demand of the executive authority of the State from which they may flee, to be tried in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. It would appear difficult to employ language freer from ambiguity, yet for above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property. Our confederates, with punic faith, shield and give sanctuary to all criminals who seek to deprive us of this property or who use it to destroy us. This clause of the Constitution has no other sanction than their good faith; that is withheld from us; we are remediless in the Union; out of it we are remitted to the laws of nations.
A similar provision of the Constitution requires them to surrender fugitives from labor. This provision and the one last referred to were our main inducements for confederating with the Northern States. Without them it is historically true that we would have rejected the Constitution. In the fourth year of the Republic Congress passed a law to give full vigor and efficiency to this important provision. This act depended to a considerable degree upon the local magistrates in the several States for its efficiency. The non-slave-holding States generally repealed all laws intended to aid the execution of that act, and imposed penalties upon those citizens whose loyalty to the Constitution and their oaths might induce them to discharge their duty. Congress then passed the act of 1850, providing for the complete execution of this duty by Federal officers. This law, which their own bad faith rendered absolutely indispensible for the protection of constitutional rights, was instantly met with ferocious revilings and all conceivable modes of hostility. The Supreme Court unanimously, and their own local courts with equal unanimity (with the single and temporary exception of the supreme court of Wisconsin), sustained its constitutionality in all of its provisions. Yet it stands to-day a dead letter for all practicable purposes in every non-slave-holding State in the Union. We have their convenants, we have their oaths to keep and observe it, but the unfortunate claimant, even accompanied by a Federal officer with the mandate of the highest judicial authority in his hands, is everywhere met with fraud, with force, and with legislative enactments to elude, to resist, and defeat him. Claimants are murdered with impunity; officers of the law are beaten by frantic mobs instigated by inflammatory appeals from persons holding the highest public employment in these States, and supported by legislation in conflict with the clearest provisions of the Constitution, and even the ordinary principles of humanity. In several of our confederate States a citizen cannot travel the highway with his servant who may voluntarily accompany him, without being declared by law a felon and being subjected to infamous punishments. It is difficult to perceive how we could suffer more by the hostility than by the fraternity of such brethren.
The public law of civilized nations requires every State to restrain its citizens or subjects from committing acts injurious to the peace and security of any other State and from attempting to excite insurrection, or to lessen the security, or to disturb the tranquillity of their neighbors, and our Constitution wisely gives Congress the power to punish all offenses against the laws of nations.
These are sound and just principles which have received the approbation of just men in all countries and all centuries; but they are wholly disregarded by the people of the Northern States, and the Federal Government is impotent to maintain them. For twenty years past the abolitionists and their allies in the Northern States have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions and to excite insurrection and servile war among us. They have sent emissaries among us for the accomplishment of these purposes. Some of these efforts have received the public sanction of a majority of the leading men of the Republican party in the national councils, the same men who are now proposed as our rulers. These efforts have in one instance led to the actual invasion of one of the slave-holding States, and those of the murderers and incendiaries who escaped public justice by flight have found fraternal protection among our Northern confederates.
These are the same men who say the Union shall be preserved.
Such are the opinions and such are the practices of the Republican party, who have been called by their own votes to administer the Federal Government under the Constitution of the United States. We know their treachery; we know the shallow pretenses under which they daily disregard its plainest obligations. If we submit to them it will be our fault and not theirs. The people of Georgia have ever been willing to stand by this bargain, this contract; they have never sought to evade any of its obligations; they have never hitherto sought to establish any new government; they have struggled to maintain the ancient right of themselves and the human race through and by that Constitution. But they know the value of parchment rights in treacherous hands, and therefore they refuse to commit their own to the rulers whom the North offers us. Why? Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of
the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides. To avoid these evils we resume the powers which our fathers delegated to the Government of the United States, and henceforth will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquillity.
[Approved, Tuesday, January 29, 1861]
[Copied by Justin Sanders from E.W. Winkler, ed., Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, pp. 61-66.]
A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.
The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions — a provision founded in justice and wisdom, and without the enforcement of which the compact fails to accomplish the object of its creation. Some of those States have imposed high fines and degrading penalties upon any of their citizens or officers who may carry out in good faith that provision of the compact, or the federal laws enacted in accordance therewith.
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.
By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.
They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a ‘higher law’ than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.
They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.
They have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens, and through the press their leading men and a fanatical pulpit have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes, while the governors of several of their States have refused to deliver parties implicated and indicted for participation in such offenses, upon the legal demands of the States aggrieved.
They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides.
They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.
They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.
They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.
And, finally, by the combined sectional vote of the seventeen non-slave-holding States, they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States.
In view of these and many other facts, it is meet that our own views should be distinctly proclaimed.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.
For these and other reasons, solemnly asserting that the federal constitution has been violated and virtually abrogated by the several States named, seeing that the federal government is now passing under the control of our enemies to be diverted from the exalted objects of its creation to those of oppression and wrong, and realizing that our own State can no longer look for protection, but to God and her own sons– We the delegates of the people of Texas, in Convention assembled, have passed an ordinance dissolving all political connection with the government of the United States of America and the people thereof and confidently appeal to the intelligence and patriotism of the freemen of Texas to ratify the same at the ballot box, on the 23rd day of the present month.
Adopted in Convention on the 2nd day of Feby, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one and of the independence of Texas the twenty-fifth.
Ordinances of Secession
The ordinances of secession were the actual legal language by which the seceded states severed their connection with the Federal Union. The declarations of causes, given elsewhere on this Web site, are where they tended to disclose their reasons for doing so, although only four states issued separate declarations of causes.
The political theory of the time among secessionists required that the act of secession be carried out by a specially elected convention or by referendum. In this sense the “secessions” of both Missouri and Kentucky were flawed, as neither was carried out in this manner. The Missouri secession ordinance was passed by a rump legislature and never approved by the people at large. The Kentucky secession ordinance was adopted by a convention of 200 participants representing 65 counties, held in Russellville.
These are offered in chronological order. If the state convention passed a declaration of causes document, then the header for that ordinance provides a link back to that document.
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”
We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the “United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.
Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 1.
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of Mississippi and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”
The people of the State of Mississippi, in convention assembled, do ordain and declare, and it is hereby ordained and declared, as follows, to wit:
Section 1. That all the laws and ordinances by which the said State of Mississippi became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America be, and the same are hereby, repealed, and that all obligations on the part of the said State or the people thereof to observe the same be withdrawn, and that the said State doth hereby resume all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws or ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the said United States, and is absolved from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred to the said Federal Union, and shall from henceforth be a free, sovereign, and independent State.
Sec. 2. That so much of the first section of the seventh article of the constitution of this State as requires members of the Legislature and all officers, executive and judicial, to take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution of the United States be, and the same is hereby, abrogated and annulled.
Sec. 3. That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or under any act of Congress passed, or treaty made, in pursuance thereof, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
Sec. 4. That the people of the State of Mississippi hereby consent to form a federal union with such of the States as may have seceded or may secede from the Union of the United States of America, upon the basis of the present Constitution of the said United States, except such parts thereof as embrace other portions than such seceding States.
Thus ordained and declared in convention the 9th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 42.
ORDINANCE OF SECESSION
We, the people of the State of Florida, in convention assembled, do solemnly ordain, publish, and declare, That the State of Florida hereby withdraws herself from the confederacy of States existing under the name of the United States of America and from the existing Government of the said States; and that all political connection between her and the Government of said States ought to be, and the same is hereby, totally annulled, and said Union of States dissolved; and the State of Florida is hereby declared a sovereign and independent nation; and that all ordinances heretofore adopted, in so far as they create or recognize said Union, are rescinded; and all laws or parts of laws in force in this State, in so far as they recognize or assent to said Union, be, and they are hereby, repealed.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 54.
[Passed Jan. 10, 1861]
An Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Alabama and the other States united under the compact styled “The Constitution of the United States of America”
Whereas, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of president and vice-president of the United States of America, by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the Northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and manacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security, therefore:
Be it declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama, in Convention assembled, That the State of Alabama now withdraws, and is hereby withdrawn from the Union known as “the United States of America,” and henceforth ceases to be one of said United States, and is, and of right ought to be a Sovereign and Independent State.
Sec 2. Be it further declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled, That all powers over the Territory of said State, and over the people thereof, heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America, be and they are hereby withdrawn from said Government, and are hereby resumed and vested in the people of the State of Alabama.
And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States,
Be it resolved by the people of Alabama in Convention assembled, That the people of the States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, be and are hereby invited to meet the people of the State of Alabama, by their Delegates, in Convention, on the 4th day of February, A.D., 1861, at the city of Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, for the purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security.
And be it further resolved, That the President of this Convention, be and is hereby instructed to transmit forthwith a copy of the foregoing Preamble, Ordinance, and Resolutions to the Governors of the several States named in said resolutions.
Done by the people of the State of Alabama, in Convention assembled, at Montgomery, on this the eleventh day of January, A.D. 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 43-44.
We the people of the State of Georgia in Convention assembled do declare and ordain and it is hereby declared and ordained that the ordinance adopted by the State of Georgia in convention on the 2nd day of Jany. in the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the constitution of the United States of America was assented to, ratified and adopted, and also all acts and parts of acts of the general assembly of this State, ratifying and adopting amendments to said constitution, are hereby repealed, rescinded and abrogated.
We do further declare and ordain that the union now existing between the State of Georgia and other States under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Georgia is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.
Passed January 19, 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 70.
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of Louisiana and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”
We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance passed by us in convention on the 22d day of November, in the year eighteen hundred and eleven, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America and the amendments of the said Constitution were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and abrogated; and that the union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States under the name of “The United States of America” is hereby dissolved.
We do further declare and ordain, That the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government; and that she is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.
We do further declare and ordain, That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or any act of Congress, or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
Adopted in convention at Baton Rouge this 26th day of January, 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 80.
To dissolve the Union between the State of Texas and the other States united under the Compact styled “the Constitution of the United States of America.”
WHEREAS, The Federal Government has failed to accomplish the purposes of the compact of union between these States, in giving protection either to the persons of our people upon an exposed frontier, or to the property of our citizens, and
WHEREAS, the action of the Northern States of the Union is violative of the compact between the States and the guarantees of the Constitution; and,
WHEREAS, The recent developments in Federal affairs make it evident that the power of the Federal Government is sought to be made a weapon with which to strike down the interests and property of the people of Texas, and her sister slave-holding States, instead of permitting it to be, as was intended, our shield against outrage and aggression; THEREFORE,
SECTION 1.– We, the people of the State of Texas, by delegates in convention assembled, do declare and ordain that the ordinance adopted by our convention of delegates on the 4th day of July, A.D. 1845, and afterwards ratified by us, under which the Republic of Texas was admitted into the Union with other States, and became a party to the compact styled “The Constitution of the United States of America,” be, and is hereby, repealed and annulled; that all the powers which, by the said compact, were delegated by Texas to the Federal Government are revoked and resumed; that Texas is of right absolved from all restraints and obligations incurred by said compact, and is a separate sovereign State, and that her citizens and people are absolved from all allegiance to the United States or the government thereof.
SEC. 2. This ordinance shall be submitted to the people of Texas for their ratification or rejection, by the qualified voters, on the 23rd day of February, 1861, and unless rejected by a majority of the votes cast, shall take effect and be in force on and after the 2d day of March, A.D. 1861. PROVIDED, that in the Representative District of El Paso said election may be held on the 18th day of February, 1861.
Done by the people of the State of Texas, in convention assembled, at Austin, this 1st day of February, A.D. 1861.
[Ratified Feb. 23, 1861 by a vote of 46,153 for and 14,747 against]
AN ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution.
The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States:
Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain, That the ordinance adopted by the people of this State in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying and adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.
And they do further declare, That said Constitution of the United States of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.
This ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day, when ratified by a majority of the voter of the people of this State cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.
Adopted by the convention of Virginia April 17,1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 223.
[ratified by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 on May 23, 1861]
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union now existing between the State of Arkansas and the other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”
Whereas, in addition to the well-founded causes of complaint set forth by this convention, in resolutions adopted on the 11th of March, A.D. 1861, against the sectional party now in power in Washington City, headed by Abraham Lincoln, he has, in the face of resolutions passed by this convention pledging the State of Arkansas to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas:
Therefore we, the people of the State of Arkansas, in convention assembled, do hereby declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the “ordinance and acceptance of compact” passed and approved by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas on the 18th day of October, A.D. 1836, whereby it was by said General Assembly ordained that by virtue of the authority vested in said General Assembly by the provisions of the ordinance adopted by the convention of delegates assembled at Little Rock for the purpose of forming a constitution and system of government for said State, the propositions set forth in “An act supplementary to an act entitled `An act for the admission of the State of Arkansas into the Union, and to provide for the due execution of the laws of the United States within the same, and for other purposes,'” were freely accepted, ratified, and irrevocably confirmed, articles of compact and union between the State of Arkansas and the United States, and all other laws and every other law and ordinance, whereby the State of Arkansas became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, in all respects and for every purpose herewith consistent, repealed, abrogated, and fully set aside; and the union now subsisting between
the State of Arkansas and the other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby forever dissolved.
And we do further hereby declare and ordain, That the State of Arkansas hereby resumes to herself all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government of the United States, and that she is in full possession and exercise of all the rights and sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.
We do further ordain and declare, That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States of America, or of any act or acts of Congress, or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in full force and effect, in nowise altered or impaired, and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
Adopted and passed in open convention on the 6th day of May, A.D. 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 287-88.
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of North Carolina and the other States united with her, under the compact of government entitled “The Constitution of the United States.”
We, the people of the State of North Carolina in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by the State of North Carolina in the convention of 1789, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified and adopted, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly ratifying and adopting amendments to the said Constitution, are hereby repealed, rescinded, and abrogated.
We do further declare and ordain, That the union now subsisting between the State of North Carolina and the other States, under the title of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of North Carolina is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.
Done in convention at the city of Raleigh, this the 20th day of May, in the year of our Lord 1861, and in the eighty-fifth year of the independence of said State.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 335-336.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND ORDINANCE dissolving the federal relations between the State of Tennessee and the United States of America.
First. We, the people of the State of Tennessee, waiving any expression of opinion as to the abstract doctrine of secession, but asserting the right, as a free and independent people, to alter, reform, or abolish our form of government in such manner as we think proper, do ordain and declare that all the laws and ordinances by which the State of Tennessee became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America are hereby abrogated and annulled, and that all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws and ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the United States, and to absolve ourselves from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred thereto; and do hereby henceforth become a free, sovereign, and independent State.
Second. We furthermore declare and ordain that article 10, sections 1 and 2, of the constitution of the State of Tennessee, which requires members of the General Assembly and all officers, civil and military, to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States be, and the same are hereby, abrogated and annulled, and all parts of the constitution of the State of Tennessee making citizenship of the United States a qualification for office and recognizing the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of this State are in like manner abrogated and annulled.
Third. We furthermore ordain and declare that all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or under any act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof, or under any laws of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 290.
[Sent to referendum May 6, 1861 by the legislature, and approved by the voters by a vote of 104,471 to 47,183 on June 8, 1861.]
An act declaring the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America dissolved.
Whereas the Government of the United States, in the possession and under the control of a sectional party, has wantonly violated the compact originally made between said Government and the State of Missouri, by invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri and their institutions; and
Whereas the present Administration of the Government of the United States has utterly ignored the Constitution, subverted the Government as constructed and intended by its makers, and established a despotic and arbitrary power instead thereof: Now, therefore,
Be it enacted by the general assembly of the State of Missouri, That all political ties of every character new existing between the Government of the United States of America and the people and government of the State of Missouri are hereby dissolved, and the State of Missouri, resuming the sovereignty granted by compact to the said United States upon admission of said State into the Federal Union, does again take its place as a free and independent republic amongst the nations of the earth.
This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Approved, October 31, 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 752-53.
[This act was passed by a rump legislature called into session in Neosho, by Gov. C.F. Jackson (who had been removed from office by the State Convention)]
Whereas, the Federal Constitution, which created the Government of the United States, was declared by the framers thereof to be the supreme law of the land, and was intended to limit and did expressly limit the powers of said Government to certain general specified purposes, and did expressly reserve to the States and people all other powers whatever, and the President and Congress have treated this supreme law of the Union with contempt and usurped to themselves the power to interfere with the rights and liberties of the States and the people against the expressed provisions of the Constitution, and have thus substituted for the highest forms of national liberty and constitutional government a central despotism founded upon the ignorant prejudices of the masses of Northern society, and instead of giving protection with the Constitution to the people of fifteen States of this Union have turned loose upon them the unrestrained and raging passions of mobs and fanatics, and because we now seek to hold our liberties, our property, our homes, and our families under the protection of the reserved powers of the States, have blockaded our ports, invaded our soil, and waged war upon our people for the purpose of subjugating us to their will; and
Whereas, our honor and our duty to posterity demand that we shall not relinquish our own liberty and shall not abandon the right of our descendants and the world to the inestimable blessings of constitutional government: Therefore,
Be it ordained, That we do hereby forever sever our connection with the Government of the United States, and in the name of the people we do hereby declare Kentucky to be a free and independent State, clothed with all power to fix her own destiny and to secure her own rights and liberties.
And whereas, the majority of the Legislature of Kentucky have violated their most solemn pledges made before the election, and deceived and betrayed the people; have abandoned the position of neutrality assumed by themselves and the people, and invited into the State the organized armies of Lincoln; have abdicated the Government in favor of a military despotism which they have placed around themselves, but cannot control, and have abandoned the duty of shielding the citizen with their protection; have thrown upon our people and the State the horrors and ravages of war, instead of attempting to preserve the peace, and have voted men and money for the war waged by the North for the destruction of our constitutional rights; have violated the expressed words of the constitution by borrowing five millions of money for the support of the war without a vote of the people; have permitted the arrest and imprisonment of our citizens, and transferred the constitutional prerogatives of the Executive to a military commission of partisans; have seen the writ of habeus corpus suspended without an effort for its preservation, and permitted our people to be driven in exile from
their homes; have subjected our property to confiscation and our persons to confinement in the penitentiary as felons, because we may choose to take part in a cause for civil liberty and constitutional government against a sectional majority waging war against the people and institutions of fifteen independent States of the old Federal Union, and have done all these things deliberately against the warnings and vetoes of the Governor and the solemn remonstrances of the minority in the Senate and House of Representatives: Therefore,
Be it further ordained, That the unconstitutional edicts of a factious majority of a Legislature thus false to their pledges, their honor, and their interests are not law, and that such a government is unworthy of the support of a brave and free people, and that we do therefore declare that the people are thereby absolved from all allegiance to said government, and that they have a right to establish any government which to them may seem best adapted to the preservation of their rights and liberties.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, p. 741.
[Adopted Nov. 20, 1861, in Russellville, by a group of Kentuckians styling itself as a “Convention of the People of Kentucky.”]
South Carolina’s Address to the Slaveholding States
South Carolina’s secession convention reported out two documents. One was titled, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” and was written by C. G. Memminger, who would serve as the Confederacy’s Secretary of the Treasury. The other document was written by Robert Barnwell Rhett and was styled as an address to the other slaveholding states. I am indebted to Linda Teasley for typing this in and sending it to me. Her source was Edward McPherson’s Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion.
Robert Barnwell Rhett
The Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States
It is now seventy-three years since the union between the United States was made by the Constitution of the United States. During this period their advance in wealth, prosperity, and power, has been with scarcely a parallel in the history of the world. The great object of their union was external defence from the aggressions of more powerful nations; now complete, from their more progress in power, thirty-one millions of people, with a commerce and navigation which explores every sea, and of agricultural productions which are necessary to every civilized people, command the friendship of the world. But, unfortunately, our internal peace has not grown with our external prosperity. Discontent and contention has moved in the bosom of the Confederacy for the last thirty-five years. During this time South Carolina has twice called her people together in solemn convention, to take into consideration the aggressions and unconstitutional wrongs perpetrated by the people of the North on the people of the South. These wrongs were submitted to by the people of the South, under the hope and expectation that they would be final. But these hopes and expectations have proved to be void. Instead of being incentives to forbearance, our submission has only instigated to new forms of aggressions and outrage, and South Carolina, again assembling her people in convention, has this day dissolved her connection with the States constituting the United States.
The one great evil from which all other evils have flowed, is the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States. The Government of the United States is no longer the government of a confederate republic, but of a consolidated democracy. It is no longer a free government, but a despotism. It is, in fact, such a government as Great Britain attempted to set over our fathers, and which was resisted and defeated by a seven years struggle for independence.
The revolution of 1776 turned upon one great principle, self-government, and self-taxation the criterion of self-government. Where the interests of two people united together under one Government are different, each must have the power to protect its interests by the organization of the Government, or they cannot be free. The interests of Great Britain and of the colonies were different and antagonistic. Great Britain was desirous of carrying out the policy of all nations toward their colonies of making them tributary to their wealth and power. She had vast and complicated relations with the whole world. Her policy toward her North American colonies was to identify them with her in all these complicated relations, and to make them bear, in common with the rest of the empire, the full burden of her obligations and necessities. She had a vast public debt; she had a European policy and an Asiatic policy, which had occasioned the accumulation of her public debt, and which kept her in continual wars. The North American colonies saw their interests, political and commercial, sacrificed by such a policy. Their interests required that they should not be identified with the burdens and wars of the mother country. They had been settled under charters which gave them self-government, at least so far as their property was concerned. They had taxed themselves, and had never been taxed by the Government of Great Britain. To make them a part of a consolidated empire the Parliament of Great Britain determined to assume the power of legislating for the colonies in all cases whatsoever. Our ancestors resisted the pretension. They refused to be a part of the consolidated Government of Great Britain.
The Southern States now stand exactly in the same position toward the Northern States that our ancestors in the colonies did toward Great Britain. The Northern States, having the majority in Congress, claim the same power of omnipotence in legislation as the British Parliament. “The general welfare” is the only limit to the legislation of either; and the majority in Congress, as in the British Parliament, are the sole judges of the expediency of the legislation this “general welfare” requires. Thus the Government of the United States has become a consolidated Government, and the people of the Southern States are compelled to meet the very despotism their fathers threw off in the Revolution of 1776.
The consolidation of the Government of Great Britain over the colonies was attempted to be carried out by the taxes. The British Parliament undertook to tax the colonies to promote British interests. Our fathers resisted this pretension. They claimed the right of self-taxation through their Colonial Legislatures. They were not represented in the British Parliament, and therefore could not rightfully be taxed by its Legislature. The British Government, however, offered them a representation in the British Parliament; but it was not sufficient to enable them to protect themselves from the majority, and they refused it. Between taxation without any representation, and taxation without a representation adequate to protection, there was no difference By neither would the colonies tax themselves. Hence they refused to pay the taxes paid by the British Parliament.
The Southern States now stand in the same relation toward the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation, that our ancestors stood toward the people of Great Britain. They are in a minority in Congress. Their representation in Congress is useless to protect them against unjust taxation, and they are taxed by the people of the North for their benefit exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British Parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years the taxes laid by the Congress of the United States have been laid with a view of subserving the interests of the North. The people of the South have been taxed by duties on imports not for revenue, but for an object inconsistent with revenue — to promote, by prohibitions, Northern interests in the productions of their mines and manufactures.
There is another evil in the condition of the Southern toward the Northern States, which our ancestors refused to bear toward Great Britain. Our ancestors not only taxed themselves, but all the taxes collected from them were expended among them. Had they submitted to the pretensions of the British Government, the taxes collected from them would have been expended on other parts of the British Empire. They were fully aware of the effect of such a policy in impoverishing the people from whom taxes are collected, and in enriching those who receive the benefit of their expenditure. To prevent the evils of such a policy was one of the motives which drove them on to revolution. Yet this British policy has been fully realized toward the Southern States by the Northern States. The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected three-fourths of them are expended at the North. This cause, with others connected with the operation of the General Government, has provincialized the cities of the South. Their growth is paralyzed, while they are the mere suburbs of Northern cities. The bases of the foreign commerce of
the United States are the agricultural productions of the South; yet Southern cities do not carry it on. Our foreign trade is almost annihilated. In 1740 there were five shipyards in South Carolina to build ships to carry on our direct trade with Europe. Between 1740 and 1779 there were built in these yards twenty-five square-rigged vessels, beside a great number of sloops and schooners to carry on our coast and West India trade. In the half century immediately preceding the Revolution, from 1725 to 1775, the population of South Carolina increased seven-fold.
No man can for a moment believe that our ancestors intended to establish over their posterity exactly the same sort of Government they had overthrown. The great object of the Constitution of the United States, in its internal operation, was, doubtless, to secure the great end of the Revolution — a limited free Government — a Government limited to those matters only which were general and common to all portions of the United States. All sectional or local interests were to be left to the States. By no other arrangement would they obtain free government by a Constitution common to so vast a Confederacy. Yet, by gradual and steady encroachments on the part of the North, and submission on the part of the South, the limitations in the Constitution have been swept away, and the Government of the United States has become consolidated, with a claim of limitless powers in its operations.
It is not at all surprising, while such is the character of the Government of the United States, that it should assume to possess power over all the institutions of the country. The agitations on the subject of Slavery in the South are the natural results of the consolidation of the Government. Responsibility follows power; and if the people of the North have the power by Congress “to promote the general welfare of the United States,” by any means they deem expedient, why should they not assail and overthrow the institution of Slavery in the South? They are responsible for its continuance or existence, in proportion to their power. A majority in Congress, according to their interested and perverted views, is omnipotent. The inducements to act upon the subject of Slavery, under such circumstances, were so imperious as to amount almost to a moral necessity. To make, however, their numerical power available to rule the Union, the North must consolidate their power. It would not be united on any matter common to the whole Union — in other words, on any constitutional subject — for on such subjects divisions are as likely to exist in the North as in the South. Slavery was strictly a sectional interest. If this could be made the criterion of parties at the North, the North could be united in its power, and thus carry out its measures of sectional ambition, encroachment, and aggrandizement. To build up their sectional predominance in the Union, the Constitution must be first abolished by constructions; but that being done, the consolidation of the North to rule the South, by the tariff and Slavery issues, was in the obvious course of things.
The Constitution of the United States was an experiment. The experiment consisted in uniting under one Government different peoples, living in different climates, and having different pursuits of industry and institutions. It matters not how carefully the limitations of such a government are laid down in the constitution — its success must at least depend upon the good faith of the parties to the constitutional compact in enforcing them. It is not in the power of human language to exclude false inferences, constructions, and perversions, in any constitution; and when vast sectional interests are to be subserved involving the appropriation of countless millions of money it has not been the usual experience of mankind that words on parchment can arrest power. The Constitution of the United States, irrespective of the interposition of the States, rested on the assumption that power would yield to faith — that integrity would be stronger than interest, and that thus the limitations of the
Constitution would be observed. The experiment has been fairly made. The Southern States, from the commencement of the Government, have striven to keep it within the orbit prescribed by the Constitution. The experiment has failed. The whole Constitution by the constructions of the Northern people, has been swallowed up by a few words in its preamble. In their reckless lust for power they seem unable to comprehend that seeming paradox, that the more power is given to the General Government the weaker it becomes. Its strength consists in its generality and limitations. To extend the scope of its power over sectional or local interests is to raise up against it opposition and resistance. In all such matters the General Government must necessarily be a despotism, because all sectional or local interests must ever be represented by a minority in the councils of the General Government — having no power to protect itself against the rule of the majority. The majority, constituted from those who do not represent these sectional or local interests, will control and
govern them. A free people cannot submit to such a Government; and the more it enlarges the sphere of its power the greater must be the dissatisfaction it must produce, and the weaker it must become. On the contrary, the more it abstains from usurped powers, and the more faithfully it adheres to the limitations of the Constitution, the stronger it is made. The Northern people have had neither the wisdom nor the faith to perceive that to observe the limitation of the Constitution was the only way to its perpetuity.
Under such a Government there must, of course, be many and endless “irrepressible conflicts,” between the two great sections of the Union. The same faithlessness which has abolished the Constitution of the United States, will not fail to carry out the sectional purposes for which it has been abolished. There must be conflict; and the weaker section of the Union can only find peace and liberty in an independence of the North. The repeated efforts made by South Carolina, in a wise conservatism, to arrest the progress of the General Government in its fatal progress to consolidation, have been unsupported and denounced as faithless to the obligations of the Constitution by the very men and States who were destroying it by their usurpations. It is now too late to reform or restore the Government of the United States. All confidence in the North is lost in the South. The faithlessness of half a century has opened a gulf of separation between them which no promises or
engagements can fill.
It cannot be believed that our ancestors would have assented to any union whatever with the people of the North if the feelings and opinions now existing among them had existed when the Constitution was framed. There was then no tariff — no negro fanaticism. It was the delegates from New England who proposed in the Convention which framed the Constitution, to the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, that if they would agree to give Congress the power of regulating commerce by a majority, that they would support the extension of the African slave-trade for twenty years. African Slavery existed in all the States but one. The idea that they would be made to pay that tribute to their Northern confederates which they had refused to pay to Great Britain, or that the institution of African Slavery would be made the grand basis of a sectional organization of the North to rule the South, never crossed their imaginations. The Union of the Constitution was a Union of slaveholding States. It rests on Slavery, by prescribing a representation in Congress for three-fifths of our slaves. There is nothing in the proceedings of the Convention which framed the Constitution to show that the Southern States would have formed any other union; and still less that they would have formed a union with more powerful non-slaveholding States, having a majority in both branches of the Legislature of the Government. They were guilty of no such folly. Time and the progress of things have totally altered the relations between the Northern and Southern States since the Union was first established. That identity of feeling, interests, and institutions which once existed is gone. They are now divided between agricultural and manufacturing and commercial States — between slaveholding and non-slaveholding States. Their institutions and industrial pursuits have made them totally different peoples. That equality in the Government between the two sections of the Union which once existed, no longer exists. We but imitate the policy of our fathers in dissolving a union with non-slaveholding confederates, and seeking a confederation with slave-holding States.
Experience has proved that slave-holding States can not be safe in subjection to non-slaveholding States. Indeed, no people ever expect to preserve their rights and liberties unless they are in their own custody. To plunder and oppress where plunder and oppression can be practiced with impunity, seems to be the natural order of things. The fairest portions of the world have been turned into wildernesses, and the most civilized and prosperous communities have been impoverished and ruined by Anti-Slavery fanaticism. The people of the North have not left us in doubt as to their designs and policy. United as a section in the late Presidential election, they have elected as the exponent of their policy one who has openly declared that all the States of the United States must be made Free States or Slave States. It is true that among those who aided in this election, there are various shades of Anti-Slavery hostility. But if African Slavery in the Southern States be the evil their political combinations affirm it to be, the requisitions of an inexorable logic must lead them to emancipation. If it is right to preclude or abolish Slavery in a territory, why should it be allowed to remain in the States? The one is not at all more unconstitutional than the other, according to the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. And when it is considered that the Northern States will soon have the power to make that Court what they please, and that the Constitution has never been any barrier whatever to their exercise of power, what check can there be in the unrestrained councils of the North to emancipation? There is sympathy in association, which carries men along without principle; but when there is principle, and that principle is fortified by long existing prejudices and feelings, association is omnipotent in party influences. In spite of all disclaimers and professions there can be but one end to the submission by the South to the rule of a sectional Anti-Slavery Government at Washington; and that end, directly or indirectly, must be the emancipation of the slaves of the South. The hypocrisy of thirty years — the faithlessness of their whole course from the commencement of our union with them — show that the people of the non-slaveholding North are not and cannot be safe associates of the slaveholding South under a common Government. Not only their fanaticism, but their erroneous views of the principles of free governments, render it doubtful whether, separated from the South, they can maintain a free Government among themselves. Brute numbers with them is the great element of free Government. A majority is infallible and omnipotent. “The right divine to rule in kings” is only transferred to their majority. The very object of all constitutions, in free, popular Governments, is to restrain the majority. Constitutions, therefore, according to their theory, must be most unrighteous inventions, restricting liberty. None ought to exist, but the body politic ought simply to have a political organization, to bring
out and enforce the will of a majority. This theory may be harmless in a small community, having an identity of interests and pursuits, but over a vast State — still more, over a vast Confederacy, having various and conflicting interests and pursuits — it is a remorseless despotism. In resisting it, as applicable to ourselves, we are vindicating the great cause of free government, more important, perhaps, to the world than the existence of the United States. Nor in resisting it, do we intend to depart from the safe instrumentality the system of government we have established with them requires. In separating from them we invade no rights — no interest of theirs. We violate no obligation of duty to them. As separate, independent States in Convention, we made the Constitution of the United States with them; and as separate, independent States, each State acting for itself, we adopted it. South Carolina, acting in her sovereign capacity now thinks proper to secede from the
Union. She did not part with her sovereignty in adopting the Constitution. The last thing a State can be presumed to have surrendered is her sovereignty. Her sovereignty is her life. Nothing but a clear, express grant, can alienate it. Inference should be dumb. Yet it is not at all surprising that those who have construed away all the limitations of the Constitution, should also by construction claim the annihilation of the sovereignty of the States. Having abolished all barriers to their omnipotence by their faithless constructions in the operations of the General Government, it is most natural that they should endeavor to do the same toward us in the States. The truth is, they having violated the express provisions of the Constitution, it is at an end as a compact. It is morally obligatory only on those who choose to accept its perverted terms. South Carolina, deeming the compact not only violated in particular features, but virtually abolished by her Northern confederates, withdraws herself as a party from its obligations. The right to do so is denied by her Northern confederates. They desire to establish a despotism, not only omnipotent in Congress, but omnipotent over the
States; and as if to manifest the imperious necessity of our secession, they threaten us with the sword, to coerce submission to their rule.
Citizens of the slaveholding States of the United States, circumstances beyond our control have placed us in the van of the great controversy between the Northern and Southern States. We would have preferred that other States should have assumed the position we now occupy. Independent ourselves, we disclaim any design or desire to lead the councils of the other Southern States. Providence has cast our lot together, by extending over us an identity of pursuits, interests, and institutions. South Carolina desires no destiny separated from yours. To be one of a great slaveholding confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any Power in Europe possesses — with population four times greater than that of the whole United States when they achieved their independence of the British Empire — with productions which make our existence more important to the world than that of any other people inhabiting it — with common institutions to defend, and common dangers to encounter — we ask your sympathy and confederation. While constituting a portion of the United States, it has been your statesmanship which has guided it in its mighty strides to power and expansion. In the field, as in the Cabinet, you have led the way to its renown and grandeur. You have loved the Union, in whose service your great statesmen have labored, and your great soldiers have fought and conquered — not for the material benefits it conferred, but with the faith of a generous and devoted chivalry. You have long lingered and hoped over the shattered remains of a broken Constitution. Compromise after compromise, formed by your concessions, has been trampled under foot by your Northern confederates. All fraternity of feeling between the North and the South is lost, or has been converted into hate; and we of the South are at last driven together by the stern destiny which controls the existence of nations. Your bitter
experience of the faithlessness and rapacity of your Northern confederates may have been necessary to evolve those great principles of free government, upon which the liberties of the world depend, and to prepare you for the grand mission of vindicating and re- establishing them. We rejoice that other nations should be satisfied with their institutions. Self-complacency is a great element of happiness, with nations as with individuals. We are satisfied with ours. If they prefer a system of industry in which capital and labor are in perpetual conflict — and chronic starvation keeps down the natural increase of population — and a man is worked out in eight years — and the law ordains that children shall be worked only ten hours a day — and the sabre and bayonet are the instruments of order — be it so. It is their affair, not ours. We prefer, however, our system of industry, by which labor and capital are identified in interest, and capital, therefore, protects labor; by which our population doubles every twenty years; by which starvation is unknown, and abundance crowns the land; by which order is preserved by unpaid police, and the most fertile regions of the world where the Caucasian cannot labor are brought into usefulness by the labor of the African, and the whole world is blessed by our own productions. All we demand of other peoples is to be let alone to work out our own high destinies. United together, and we must be the most independent, as we are the most important among the nations of the world. United together, and we require no other instrument to conquer peace than our beneficent productions. United together, and we must be a great, free and prosperous people, whose renown must spread throughout the civilized world, and pass down, we trust, to the remotest ages. We ask you to join us in forming a confederacy of Slaveholding States.
Address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana to the Texas Secession Convention
[Address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana, written 11 Feb 1861, and presented to the Texas Secession Convention 9 Mar 1861, from E.W. Winkler, ed., Journal of the Secession Covention of Texas, pp 120-123. My thanks to Justin Sanders for sending me this.]
To the Hon. O.M. Roberts, President of the Convention of the People of Texas.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the people of Texas.
I have the honor to address you as the commissioner of the people of Louisiana, accredited to your honorable body. With this communication, by the favor of your presiding officer, will be laid before you my credentials, the ordinance of secession, a resolution in regard to the Mississippi river and the ordinance to provide for the appointment of delegates to a convention to form a Southern Confederacy. These ordinances and the resolution were adopted at their respective dates by the people of Louisiana in convention assembled, after serious debate and calm reflection.
Being desirous of obtaining the concurrence of the people of Texas in what she has done, Louisiana invites you to a candid consideration of her acts in resuming the powers delegated to the government of the late United States, and in providing for the formation of a confederacy of “The States which have seceded and may secede.” The archives of the Federal Government bear ample testimony to the loyalty of Louisiana to the American Union. Her conservatism has been proverbial in political circles. The character and pursuits of her people, her immense agricultural wealth, her large banking capital, her possession of the great commercial metropolis of the South, whose varied trade almost rivals that of the city of “ten thousand masts” present facts sufficient to make “assurance double sure” she did not take these grave steps for light or transient causes. She was impelled to this action to preserve her honor, her safety, her property and the free institutions so sacred to her people. She believed the federal agent had betrayed her trust, had become the facile instrument of a hostile people, and was usurping despotic powers. She considered that the present vacillating executive, on the 4th of March next, would be supplanted by a stalwart fanatic of the Northwest, whose energetic will, backed by the frenzied bigotry of unpatriotic masses, would cause him to *establish* the military despotism already inaugurated.
The people of Louisiana were unwilling to endanger their liberties and property by submission to the despotism of a single tyrant, or the canting tyranny of pharisaical majorities. Insulted by the denial of her constitutional equality by the non-slaveholding States, outraged by their contemptuous rejection of proffered compromises, and convinced that she was illustrating the capacity of her people for self-government by withdrawing from a union that had failed, without fault of hers, to accomplish its purposes, she declared herself a free and independent State on the 26th day of January last. History affords no example of a people who changed their government for more just or substantial reasons. Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery, and of the free institutions of the founders of the Federal Union, bequeathed to their posterity. As her neighbor and sister State, she desires the hearty co-operation of Texas in the formation of a Southern Confederacy. She congratulates herself on the recent disposition evinced by your body to meet this wish, by the election of delegates to the Montgomery convention. Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws and institutions. Between the citizens of each exists the most cordial social and commercial intercourse. The Red river and the Sabine form common highways for the transportation of their produce to the markets of the world. Texas affords to the commerce of Louisiana a large portion of her products, and in exchange the banks of New Orleans furnish Texas with her only paper circulating medium. Louisiana supplies to Texas a market for her surplus wheat, grain and stock; both States have large areas of fertile, uncultivated lands, peculiarly adapted to slave labor; and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence, and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. Each of the States has an extended Gulf coast, and must look with equal solicitude to its protection now, and the acquisition of the entire control of the Gulf of Mexico in due time. No two States of this confederacy are so identified in interest, and whose destinies are so closely interwoven with each other. Nature, sympathy and unity of interest make them almost one. Recognizing these facts, but still confident in her own powers to maintain a separate existence, Louisiana regards with great concern the vote of the people of Texas on the ratification of the ordinance of secession, adopted by your honorable body on the 1st of the present month. She is confident a people who so nobly and gallantly achieved their liberties under such unparalleled difficulties will not falter in maintaining them now. The Mexican yoke could not have been more galling to “the army of heroes” of ’36 than the Black republican rule would be to the survivors and
sons of that army at the present day.
The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery, if Texas either did not secede or having seceded should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy. If she remains in the union the abolitionists would continue their work of incendiarism and murder. Emigrant aid societies would arm with Sharp’s rifles predatory bands to infest her northern borders. The Federal Government would mock at her calamity in accepting the recent bribes in the army bill and Pacific railroad bill, and with abolition treachery would leave her unprotected frontier to the murderous inroads of hostile savages. Experience justifies these expectations. A professedly friendly federal administration gave Texas no substantial protection against the Indians or abolitionists, and what must she look for from an administration avowedly inimical and supported by
no vote within her borders. Promises won from the timid and faithless are poor hostages of good faith. As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slaveholding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery. The isolation of any one of them from the others would make her a theatre for abolition emissaries from the North and from Europe. Her existence would be one of constant peril to herself and of imminent danger to other neighboring slave-holding communities. A decent respect for the opinions and interests of the Gulf States seems to indicate that Texas should co-operate with them. I am authorized to say to your honorable body that Louisiana does not expect any beneficial result from the peace conference now assembled at Washington. She is unwilling that her action should depend on the border States. Her interests are identical with Texas and the seceding States. With them she will at present co-operate, hoping and believing in his own good time God will awaken the people of the border States to the vanity of asking for, or depending upon, guarantees or compromises wrung from a people whose consciences are too sublimated to be bound by that sacred compact, the constitution of the late United States. That constitution the Southern States have never violated, and taking it as the basis of our new government we hope to form a slave-holding confederacy that will secure to us and our remotest posterity the great blessings its authors designed in the Federal Union. With the social balance wheel of slavery to regulate its machinery, we may fondly indulge the hope that our Southern government will be perpetual.
Commissioner of the State of Louisiana
City of Austin Feby 11th 1861.
Speech of E.S. Dargan, in the Convention of Alabama, Jan. 11, 1861
E.S. Dargan was a member of the Alabama State Senate and Mayor of Mobile in the early 1840’s, U.S. Representative in 1845-47, elected to the State Supreme Court in 1847, and became Chief Justice in 1849 serving 5 years. He was a delegate to the secession convention from Mobile County. After secession, he was elected to a term in the Confederate Congress. My thanks to Justin Sanders for sending me this.
Source: “The History and Debates of the Convention of the People of Alabama,” William R. Smith (Montgomery, Ala: White, Pfister, & Co, 1861; reprint Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Company Publishers, 1975), pp. 93-94.
I wish, Mr. President, to express the feelings with which I vote for the secession of Alabama from the Government of the United States; and to state, in a few words, the reasons that impel me to this act.
I feel impelled, Mr. President, to vote for this Ordinance by an overruling necessity. Years ago I was convinced that the Southern States would be compelled either to separate from the North, by dissolving the Federal Government, or they would be compelled to abolish the institution of African Slavery. This, in my judgment, was the only alternative; and I foresaw that the South would be compelled, at some day, to make her selection. The day is now come, and Alabama must make her selection, either to secede from the Union, and assume the position of a sovereign, independent State, or she must submit to a system of policy on the part of the Federal Government that, in a short time, will compel her to abolish African Slavery.
Mr. President, if pecuniary loss alone were involved in the abolition of slavery, I should hesitate long before I would give the vote I now intend to give. If the destruction of slavery entailed on us poverty alone, I could bear it, for I have seen poverty and felt its sting. But poverty, Mr. President, would be one of the least of the evils that would befall us from the abolition of African slavery. There are now in the slaveholding States over four millions of slaves; dissolve the relation of master and slave, and what, I ask, would become of that race? To remove them from amongst us is impossible. History gives us no account of the exodus of such a number of persons. We neither have a place to which to remove them, nor the means of such removal. They therefore must remain with us; and if the relation of master and slave be dissolved, and our slaves turned loose amongst us without restraint, they would either be destroyed by our own hands — the hands to which they look, and look with
confidence, for protection — or we ourselves would become demoralized and degraded. The former result would take place, and we ourselves would become the executioners of our own slaves. To this extent would the policy of our Northern enemies drive us; and thus would we not only be reduced to poverty, but what is still worse, we should be driven to crime, to the commission of sin; and we must, therefore, this day elect between the Government formed by our fathers (the whole spirit of which has been perverted), and POVERTY AND CRIME! This being the alternative, I cannot hesitate for a moment what my duty is. I must separate from the Government of my fathers, the one under which I have lived, and under which I wished to die. But I must do my duty to my country and my fellow beings; and humanity, in my judgment, demands that Alabama should separate herself from the Government of the United States.
If I am wrong in this responsible act, I hope my God may forgive me; for I am not actuated, as I think, from any motive save that of justice and philanthropy!
First Message of Governor Isham Harris to the Tennessee Assembly
NASHVILLE, January 7, 1861
Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:
THE ninth section of the third article of the Constitution, provides that, on extraordinary occasions, the Governor may convene the General Assembly. Believing the emergency contemplated, to exist at this time I have called you together. In welcoming you to the capitol of the State, I can but regret the gloomy auspices under which we meet. Grave and momentous issues have arisen, which, to an unprecedented degree, agitate the public mind and imperil the perpetuity of the Government.
The systematic, wanton, and long continued agitation of the slavery question, with the actual and threatened aggressions of the Northern States and a portion of their people, upon the well-defined constitutional rights of
the Southern citizen; the rapid growth and increase, in all the elements of power, of a purely sectional party, whose bond of union is uncompromising hostility to the rights and institutions of the fifteen Southern States, have produced a crisis in the affairs of the country, unparalleled in the history of the past, resulting already in the withdrawal from the Confederacy of one of the sovereignties which composed it, while others are rapidly preparing to move in the same direction. Fully appreciating the importance of the duties which devolve upon you, fraught, as your action must be, with consequences of the highest possible importance to the people of Tennessee; knowing that, as a great Commonwealth, our own beloved State is alike interested with her sisters, who have resorted, and are preparing to resort, to this fearful alternative, I have called you together for the purpose of calm and dispassionate deliberation, earnestly trusting, as the chosen representatives of
a free and enlightened people, that you will, at this critical juncture of our affairs, prove yourselves equal to the occasion which has called for the exercise of your talent and patriotism.
A brief review of the history of the past is necessary to a proper understanding of the issues presented for your consideration.
Previous to the adoption of the Federal Constitution, each State was a separate and independent Government – a conplete sovereignty within itself — and in the compact of union, each reserved all the rights and powers incident to sovereignty, except such as were expressly delegated by the Constitution to the General Government, or such as were clearly incident, and necessary, to the exercise of some expressly delegated power. The Constitution distinctly recognizes property in slaves — makes it the duty of the States to deliver the fugitive to his owner, but contains no grant of power to the Federal Government to interfere with this species of property, except “the power coupled with the duty,” common to all civil Governments, to protect the rights of property, as well as those of life and liberty, of the citizen, which clearly appears from the exposition given to that instrument by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Chief Justice Taney said:
“Now, as we have already said in an earlier part of this opinion upon a different point, the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.”
“And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress a greater power over slave property, or which entitles property of that kind to less protection than property of any other description. The only power conferred, is the power coupled with the duty, of guarding and protecting the owner in his rights.”
This decision of the highest judicial tribunal, known to our Government, settles the question, beyond the possibility of doubt, that slave property rests upon the same basis, and is entitled to the same protection, as every other description of property; that the General Government has no power to circumscribe or confine it within any given boundary; to determine where it shall, or shall not exist, or in any manner to impair its value. And certainly it will not be contended, in this enlightened age, that any member of the Confederacy can exercise higher powers, in this respect, beyond the limits of its own boundary, than those delegated to the General Government.
The States entered the Union upon terms of perfect political equality, each delegating certain powers to the General Government, but neither deterring any power to the other to interfere with its reserved rights or domestic affairs; hence, there is no power on earth which can rightfully determine whether slavery shall or shall not exist within the limits of any State, except the people thereof acting in their highest sovereign capacity.
The attempt of the Northern people, through the instrumentality of the Federal Government — their State governments, and emigrant aid societies–to confine this species of property within the limits of the present Southern States–to impair its value by constant agitation and refusal to deliver up the fugitive–to appropriate the whole of the Territories, which are the common property all the people of all the States, to the Southern man who is unwilling to live under a government which, may by law recognize the free negroe as his equal; “and in fine, to put the question where the Northern mind will rest in the belief of its ultimate extinction” is justly regarded by the people of the Southern States as a gross and palpable violation of the spirit and obvious meaning of the compact of Union–an impertinent intermeddling with their domestic affairs, destructive of fraternal feeling, ordinary comity, and well defined rights.
As slavery receded from the North, it was followed by the most violent and fanatical opposition. At first the anti-slavery cloud, which now overshadows the nation, was no larger than a man’s hand. Most of you can remember, with vivid distinctness, those days of brotherhood, when throughout the whole North, the abolitionist was justly regarded as an enemy of his country. Weak, diminutive and contemptible as was this part in the purer days of the Republic, it has now grown to collossal proportions, and its recent rapid strides to power, have given it possession of the present House of Representatives, and elected one of its leaders to the Presidency of the United States; and in the progress of events, the Senate and Supreme Court must also soon pass into the hands of this party — a party upon whose revolutionary banner is inscribed, “No more slave States, no more slave Territory, no return of the fugitive to his master” — an “irrepressible conflict” between the Free and Slave States; “and whether it, be long or short, peaceful or bloody, the struggle shall go on, until the
sun shall not rise upon a master or set upon a slave.”
Nor is this all; it seeks to appropriate to itself, and to exclude the slaveholder from the territory acquired by the common blood and treasure of all the States.
It has, through the instrumentality of Emigrant Aid Societies, under State patronage, flooded the Territories with its minions, armed with Sharp’s rifles and bowie knives, seeking thus to accomplish, by intimidation, violence and murder what it could not do by constitutional legislation.
It demanded, and from our love of peace and devotion to the Union, unfortunately extorted in 1819-’20, a concession which excluded the South from about half the territory acquired from France.
It demanded, and again received, as a peace offering in 1845, all of that part of Texas, North of 36 deg. 30′ North latitude, if at any time the interest of the people thereof shall require a division of her territory.
It would submit to nothing less than a compromise in 1850, by which it dismembered that State, and remanded to territorial condition a considerable portion of its territory South of 36 30.
It excluded, by the same Compromise, the Southern people from California, whose mineral wealth, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate, is not surpassed on earth, by prematurely forcing her into the Union under a Constitution, conceived in fraud by a set of adventurers, in the total absence of any law authorizing the formation of a Constitution, fixing the qualification of voters, regulating the time, place, or manner of electing delegates, or the time or place of the meeting of such Convention. Yet all these irregular and unauthorized proceedings were.sanctified by the fact that the Constitution prohibited slavery, and forever closed the doors of that rich and desirable territory against the Southern people. And while the Southern mind was still burning under a humiliating sense of this wrong, it refused to admit Kansas into the Union upon a Constitution, framed by authority of Congress, and by delegates elected in conforinity to law, upon the ground that slavery was
recognized and protected.
It claims the constitutional right to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, the forts, arsenals, dock-yards and other places ceded to the United States, within the limits of slaveholding States.
It proposes a prohibition of the slave trade between the States, thereby crowding the slaves together and preventing their exit South, until they become unprofitable to an extent that will force the owner finally to abandon them in self-defence.
It has, by the deliberate Legislative enactments of a large majority of the Northern States, openly and flagrantly nullified that clause of the Constitution which provides that —
“No person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such labor may be due.”
This provision of the Constitution has been spurned and trampled under foot by these “higher law ” nullifiers. It is utterly powerless for good, since all attempts to enforce the fugitive slave law under it are made a felony in some of these States, a high misdemeanor in others, and punishable in all by heavy fines and imprisonment. The distempered public opinion of these localities having risen above the Constitution and all other law, planting itself upon the anarchical doctrines of the “higher law,” with impunity defies the Government, tramples upon our rights, and plunders the Southern citizen.
It has, through the Governor of Ohio, openly nullified that part of the Constitution which provides that-“A person charged in any State with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice and be found in another State, shall, on demand of the executive authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having jurisdiction of the crime.”
In discharge of official duty, I had occasion, within the past year, to demand of the Governor of Ohio “a person charged in the State (of Tennessee) with the crime” of slave stealing, who had fled from justice, and was found in the State of Ohio. The Governor refused to issue his warrant for the arrest and delivery of the fugitive, and in answer to a letter of inquiry which I addressed to him, said: ‘The crime of negro stealing not being known to either the common law or the criminal code of Ohio, it is not of that class of crimes contemplated by the Federal Constitution, for the commission of which I am authorized, as the executive of Ohio, to surrender a fugitive from the justice of a sister State, and hence I declined to issue a warrant,” &c.; thus deliberately nullifying and setting at defiance the clause of the Constitution above quoted, as well as the act of Congress of February 12th, 1793, and grossly violating the ordinary comity existing between separate and independent nations, much less the comity which should exist between sister States of the same great Confederacy; the
correspondence connected with which is herewith transmitted.
It has, through the executive authority of other States, denied extradition of murderers and marauders.
It obtained its own compromise in the Constitution to continue the importation of slaves, and now sets up a law, higher than the Constitution, to destroy this property imported and sold to us by their fathers.
It has caused the murder of owners in pursuit of their fugitive slaves, and shielded the murderers from punishment.
It has, upon many occasions, sent its emissaries into the Southerri States to corrupt our slaves; induce them to run off, or excite them to insurrection.
It has run off slave property by means of the “underground railroad,” amounting in value to millions of dollars, and thus made the tenure by which slaves are held in the border States so precarious as to materially impair their value.
It has, by its John Brown and Montgomery raids, invaded sovereign States and murdered peaceable citizens.
It has justified and “exalted to the highest honors of admiration, the horrid murders, arsons, and rapine of the John Brown raid, and has canonized the felons as saints and martyrs.”
It has burned the towns, poisoned the cattle, and conspired with the slaves to depopulate Northern Texas.
It has, through certain leaders, proclaimed to the slaves the terrible motto, “Alarm to the sleep, fire to the dwellings, poison to the food and water of slaveholders.”
It has repudiated and denounced the decision of the Supreme Court.
It has assailed our rights as guarantied by the plainest provisions of the Constitution, from the floor of each house of Congress, the pulpit, the hustings, the school-room, their State Legislatures, and through the public press, dividing and disrupting churches, political parties, and civil governments.
It has, in the person of the President elect, asserted the equality of the black with the white race.
These are some of the wrongs against which we have remonstrated for more than a quarter of a century, hoping, but in vain, for their redress, until some of our sister States, in utter despair of obtaining justice at the hands of these lawless confederates, have resolved to sever the ties which have bound them together, and maintain those rights out of the Union, which have been the object of constant attack and encroachment within it.
No one will assert that the Southern States or people have, at any time, failed to perform, fully and in good faith, all of the duties which the Constitution devolves upon them.
Nor will it be pretended that they have, at any time, encroached or attempted aggression upon the rights of a Northern sister State. The Government was for many years under the control of Southern statesmen, but in originating and perfecting measures of policy, be it said to the perpetual bonor of the South, she has never attempted to encroach upon a single constitutional right of the North. The journals of Congress will not show even the introduction of a single proposition, by any Southern Representative, calculated to impair her rights in property, injure her trade, or wound her sensibilities. Nor have they at any time demanded at the hands of the Federal Government, or Northern States, more than their well-defined rights under the Constitution. So far from it, they have tolerated these wrongs, from a feeling of loyalty and devotion to the Union, with a degree of patience and forbearance uparalleled in the history of a brave and free people. Moreover, they have quietly
submitted to a revenue system which indirectly, but certainly, taxes the products of slave labor some fifty or sixty millions of dollars annually, to increase the manufacturing profits of those who have thus presistently and wickedly assailed them.
To evade the issue thus forced upon us at this time, without the fullest security for our rights, is, in my opinion, fatal to the institution of slavery forever. The time has arrived when the people of the South must prepare either to abandon or to fortify and maintain it. Abandon it, we cannot, interwoven as it is with our wealth, prosperity, and domestic happiness. We owe it to the mechanic whose shop is closed, to the multiplied thousands of laborers thrown out of employment, to the trader made bankrupt by this agitation. We owe it to ourselves, our children, our self- respect and equality in the Government, to have this question settled permanently and forever upon terms consistent with justice and honor, and which will give us peace and perfect securiity for the present and future.
Palliatives and opiates, in the character of legislative compromises, may be applied, afording momentary relief; but there will be no permanent safety, security, or peace, until Northern prejudice has been eradicated, and the public sentiment of that section radically changed and nationalized. To attempt the application of effective remedies before this great object has been accomplished, is like cleansing the stream while the fountain itself is poisoned.
The consequences and immense interests which are involved in the proper solution of the difficulties that surround us, the deep, lasting, and vital importance of settling them upon principles of justice and equality, demand the most serious consideration of the whole people, as well as that of the public functionaries of the State. Whilst I cheerfully submit to your discretion the whole question of our federal relations, having no doubt myself as to the necessity and propriety of calling a State Convention, yet I respectfully recommend that you provide by law for submitting to the people of the State the question of Convention or No Convention, and also for the election of delegates by the people, in the ratio of legislative representation, to meet in State Convention, at the Capitol, at Nashville, at the earliest day practicable, to take into consideration our federal relations, and determine what action shall be taken by the State of Tennessee for the security of the rights and
the peace of her citizens.
The question of Convention or No Convention, can and should be determined, and the delegates chosen at the same election, which can be very easily accomplished by heading one set of tickets CONVENTION, and another set NO CONVENTION. If a majority of the people vote for Convention, then the persons receiving the largest number of votes in their respective counties and districts, to be commissioned as delegates.
This will place the whole matter in the handhow far their rights have been violated, the character of redress or guaranty they will demand, or the action they will take for their present and future security.
If there be a remedy for the evils which afflict the country, consistent with the perpetuity of the Union, it will, in my opinion, be found in such constitutional amendments as will deprive the fanatical majorities of the North of the power to invade our rights, or impair the security or value of our property.
Clear and well defined as our rights are, under the present Constitution, to participate equally with the citizens of all other States in the settlement of the common Territories, and to hold our slaves there until excluded by the formation of a State Constitution, yet every organized Territory will become a field of angry, if not bloody, strife between the Southern man and the Abolitionist, and we shall see the tragedies of Kansas reenacted in each of them, as they approach the period of forming their State Constitutions.
Plain and unmistakable as is the duty of each State to deliver up the fugitive slave to his owner, yet the attempt to reclaim is at the peril of the master’s life. These evils can be obviated to a great extent, if not entirely, by the following amendments to the Constitution:
1st. Establish a line upon the northern boundary of the present Slave States, and extend it through the Territories to the Pacific Ocean, upon such parallel of latitude as will divide them equitably between the North- and South, expressly providing that all the territory now owned, or that may be hereafter acquired North of that line, shall be forever free, and all South of it forever slave. This will remove the question of existence or nonexistence of slavery in our States and Territories entirely and forever from the arena of politics. The question being settled by the Constitution, is no longer open for the politician to ride into position by appealing to fanatical prejudices, or assailing the rights of his neighbors.
2d. In addition to the fugitive slave clause provide, that when slave has been demanded of the executive authority of the State to which he has fled, if lie is not delivered, and the owner permitted to carry him out of the State in peace, that the State so failing to deliver, shall pay to the owner double the value of such slave, and secure his right of action in the Supreme Court of the United States. This will secure the return of the slave to his owner, or his value, with a sufficient sum to indemnify him for the expenses necessarily incident to the recovery.
3d. Provide for the protection of the owner in the peaceable possession of his slave while in transitoin, or temporarily sojourning in any of the States of the Confederacy; and in the event of the slave’s escape or being taken from the owner, require the State to return, or account for him as in case of the fugitive.
4th. Expressly prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, in any dock yard, navy yard, arsenal, or district of any character whatever, within the limits of any slave State.
5th. That these provisions shall never be changed, except by the consent of all the slave States.
With these amendments to the Constitution, I should feel that our rights were reasonably secure, not only in theory, but in fact, and should indulge the hope of living in the Union in peace. Without these, or some other amendments, which promise an equal amount and certainty of security, there is no hope of peace or security in the government.
If the non-slaveholding States refuse to comply with a demand so just and reasonable ; refuse to abandon at once and forever their unjust war upon us, our institutions, and our rights ; refuse, as they have heretofore done, to perform, in good faith, the obligations of the compact of union, much as we may appreciate the power, prosperity, greatness and glory of this government; deeply as we deplore the existence of causes which have already driven one State from the Union ; much as we may regret the imperative necessity which they have wantonly and wickedly forced upon us, every consideration of self-respect require that we should assert and maintain our “equality in the Union, or independence out of it.”
In my opinion, the only mode left us of perpetuating the Union upon the principles of justice and equality, upon which it was originally established, is by the Southern States, identified as they are in interest, sentiment, and feeling, and must, in the natural course of events, share a common destiny, uniting in the expression of a fixed and unalterable resolve, that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution must be respected, and fully and perfectly secured in the present government, or asserted and maintained in a homogeneous Confederacy of Southern States.
Mere questions of policy may be very often properly compromised, but there can be no compromise of cardinal and vital principles; no compromise between right and wrong. Principle must be vindicated, and right triumphant, be the consequences what they may. To compromise the one, or abandon the other, is not only unmanly and humiliating in the extreme, but always disastrous in its final results.
The South has no power to reunite the scattered fragments of a violated Constitution and a once glorious government. She is acting on the defensive. She has been driven to the wall, and can submit to no further aggression. The North, however, can restore the Constitutional Union of our fathers, by undoing their work of alienation and hate, engendered by thirty years of constant aggression, and by unlearning the lessons of malignant hostility to the South and her institutions, with which their press, pulpit, and schools have persistently infected the public mind.
Let them do this, and peace will again establish her court in the midst of this once happy country, and the union of these States be restored to that spirit of fraternity, equality, and justice, which gave it birth.
Let them do this, and the vitality which has been crushed out of the Constitution may be restored, giving renewed strength and vigor to the body politic.
But can we hope for such results? Two months have already passed, since the development of facts which make the perpetuity of the Union depend, alone, upon their giving to the South satisfactory guarantees for her chartered rights. Yet, there has been no proposition at all satisfactory, made by any member of the dominant and aggressive party of that section. So far from it, their Senators and Representatives in Congress have voted down and spurned every proposition that looked to the accomplishment of this object, no matter whence emanating ; and the fact that their constituents have, in no authoritative manner, issued words of rebuke or warning to them, must be taken as conclusive proof of their acquiescence in the policy.
In view of these facts, I cannot close my eyes to the conclusion that Tennessee will be powerless in any efforts she may make to quell the storm that pervades the country. The work of alienation and disruption has gone so far, that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to arrest it; and before our adjournment, in all human probability, the only practical question for the State to determine will be whether she will unite her fortunes with a Northern or Southern Confederacy; upon which question, when- presented, I am certain there can be little or no division in sentiment, identified as we are in every respect with the South.
If this calamity shall befall the country, the South will have the consolation of knowing that she is in no manner responsible for the disaster. The responsibility rests alone upon the Northern people, who have wilfully broken the bond of union, repudiated the obligations and duties which it imposes, and only cling to its benefits. Yet even in this dark hour of responsibility and peril, let no man countenance the idea for a moment, that the dissolution of the Federal Union reduces the country to anarchy, or proves the theory of self government to be a failure. Such conclusions would be not only erroneous but unworthy of ourselves, and our revolutionary ancestry, while our State governments exist, possessing all the machinery, perfect and complete, which is necessary to the purposes of civil government, just as they existed before the Union was formed.
The sages and patriots of the revolution, when in the act of severing their connection with the mother country, and establishing the great cardinal principles of free government, solemnly declared that governments were instituted among men to secure their rights “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same obiect,
evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
Recognizing these great principles, the people of Tennessee incorporated in their declaration of rights, as a fundamental article of the Constitution of the State, “That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”
Whatever line of policy may be adopted by the people of Tennessee, with regard to the present Federal relations of the State, I am sure that the swords of her brave and gallant sons will never be drawn for the purpose of coercing, subjugating, or holding as a conquered province, any one of her sister States, whose people may declare their independence of the Federal Government, for the purpose of being relieved from “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” To admit the right or policy of coercion, would be untrue to the example of our fathers and the glorious memories of the past, destructive of those great and fundamental principles of civil liberty, purchased with their blood ; destructive of State soveriegnty and equality; tending to centralization, and thus subject the rights of the minority to the despotism of an unrestrained majority.
Widely as we may differ with some of our sister Southern States as to the wisdom of their policy; desirous as we may be that whatever action taken in this emergency, should be taken by the South as a unit; hopeful as we may be of finding some remedy for onr grievances consistent with the perpetuity of the present Confederacy, the question, at last, is one which each member of the Confederacy must determine for itself, and any attempt on the part of the others to hold, by means of military force, an unwilling sovereignty as a member of a common Union, must inevitably lead to the worst form of internecine war, and if successful, result in the establishment of a new and totally different government from the one established by the Constitution-the Constitutional Union being a Union of consent, and not of force, of peace, and not of blood-composed of sovereignties, free, and
politically equal. But the new and coercive government, while it would “derive its powers” to govern a portion of the States “from the consent of the governed” would derive the power by which it governed the remainder from the cannon and the sword, and not from their consent — a Union, not of equals, but of the victors and the vanquished, pinned together by the bayonet and congealed in blood.
I devoutly trust that a merciful Povidence may avert such a calamity, and believe that there is no respectable portion of our people, whatever may be their differences of opinion upon other questions, who are so blind to reason, or so lost to patriotism and every sentiment of civil liberty, as to give countenance to a policy so fatal in its results, and so revolting to every sentiment of humanity.
While I sincerely trust that Tennessee may never be driven to the desperate alternative of appealing to arms in defence of the rights of her people, I nevertheless deem it proper, in view of the present excited state of the public mind and unsettled condition of the country, to call your attention to the fact that, with the exception of a small number of volunteer companies, we have no military organization in the State, the militia havig disorganized immediately after the repeal of the law which required drills and public parades. Independent of the impending crisis, I regard a thorough re-organization of the militia as imperatively demanded by every considerition of prudence and safety. I therefore submit the question to your consideration, with the earnest hope that you will adopt such plan of organization as will secure to the State at all times, and under all circumstances, an efficient and reliable military force.
I am unable, in the absence of full reports from the clerks of the several counties, to inform you as to the military strength of the State. Such reports as have been made to this department sliall be laid before you. I do not doubt, however, that the milita strength of the State may be safely estimated at one hundred and twenty thousand men.
It is proper, in this connection, that I call your attention to the report of John Heriges, Keeper of Public Arms, herewith transmitted, showing the number, character, and condition of the public arms of the State, and respectfully recommend that you provide for the purchase of such number and character of arms, for the use of the State, as may be necessary to thoroughly arm an efficient military force.
I regret that I cannot close this communication with the foregoing recital of facts pertaining to the all important political crisis of the day.
But a comparative failure of crops for two successive years, with the destruction of commercial confidence, resulting in the suspension of commercial transactions, general stagnation of trade, and financial embarrassment which pervade the whole country, with its ever attendant evil of general pecuniary distress, at the beginning of which many of the banks in the State suspended specie payment, thereby incurring the penalties prescribed by the banking code of the last session.
It is asserted, and I suppose truly, that the condition of the banks was such as not to make suspension necessary on their own account; that by the adoption of a purely selfish policy, they could have weathered the storm and sustained themselves, but to have done so they must have cut off all discounts, and enforced the collection of their debts from the people, which would have increased the general distress. It is also argued, with great earnestness, by a very large number of the people, that you should pass laws for relief, and in order to enable the banks to afford the greatest possible assistance to the people until another crop can be made, that the penalties incurred by the suspension of the banks should be released.
While I am confident in the opinion that the suspension of specie payment by the banks is wrong in principle, and tends to depreciate the currency and unsettle the standard of value, I am equally confiderit that the policy of relief laws, to which this general pecuniary distress has driven the public mind, is, to say the least of it, of doubtful policy, and generally injurious in their ultimate effects upon the community. The idea of freeing a people from pecuniary distress by legislation, is, to my mind, an impossibility. Yet so universal is the anxiety expressed, and so confident the hope of relief from the adoption of the policy suggested, that while I cannot concur in the truth of the argument, or recommend the adoption of the policy, I do not feel at liberty obstinately to stand between the people of the State and their chosen Representatives, to prevent the adoption of such legislation connected with these questions as they may think will promote their interest and general welfare.
I therefore submit to your consideration these questions for such action as you in your discretion, may see proper to take with regard to them.
I am aware that there are many questions of a general character with regard to which the constituents of many of you desire legislation, but having convened you in extraordinary session, upon what I conceived to be an extraordinary occasion in the history of the country, and feeling the necessity of prompt and immediate action upon the absorbing questions connected with the political crisis of the day, I have intentionally avoided submitting any others than those to which I have especially called attention, trusting that no material interest will suffer by being postponed until the next regular session of the General Assembly.
With the earnest hope that your session may be short and agreeable, and devoutly trusting that an All Wise Providence may watch over your deliberations, and guide and direct you in the adoption of such measures as will redound to the general welfare, peace, prosperity, and glory of our State and country, the questions, fraught as they are with weighty responsibilities and fearfully important consequences, are respectfully committed to your hands.
ISHAM G. HARRIS.
Text and photo courtesy of Allen Sullivant. Source: “Public Acts of the State of Tennessee, Passed at the Extra Session of the Thirty-Third General Assembly, for the Year 1861.” Published by Authority. Nashville, Tenn.; E. G. Eastman & Co., Public Printers, Union and American Office, 1861.
Second Message of Governor Isham Harris to the Tennessee Assembly
WHEREAS, an alarming and dangerous usurpation of power by the President of the United States has
precipitated a state of war between the sovereign States of America:
Therefore, I, ISHAM G. HARRIS, Governor of the State of Tennessee, by virtue of the power and authority in me vested by the Constitution, do hereby require the Senators and Representatives of the two Houses of the
General Assembly of said State, to convene at the Capitol in Nashville, on Thursday, the 25th day of April
inst., 1861, at 12 o’clock M., to legislate upon such subjects as may then be submitted to them.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the great seal of the State to be affixed at the
Department at Nashville, on the 18th day of April, A.D. 1861.
By the Governor: Isham G. Harris,
J. E. R. Ray, Secretary of State
Text and photo courtesy of Allen Sullivant
Legislative Message, April 25, 1861.
Nashville, April 25,1861
GENTLEMEN OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
The President of the United States – elected according to the forms of the Constitution, but upon principles openly hostile to its provisions –having wantonly inaugurated an internecine war between the people of the slave and non-slave holding States, I have convened you again at the seat of Government, for the purpose of enabling you to take such action as will most likely contribute to the defence of our rights, the preservation of our liberties, the sovereignty of the State, and the safety of our people; all of which are now in imminent peril by the usurpations of the authorities at Washington, and the unscrupulous fanaticism which runs riot throughout the Northern States.
The war thus inaugurated is likely to assume an importance nearly, if not equal, to the struggle of our revolutionary fathers, in their patriotic efforts to resist the usurpations and throw off the tyrannical yoke of the English Government; a war the duration of which and the good or evil that must result from it, depends entirely, in my judgment, upon the readiness with which the citizens of the South harmonize as one people, and the alacrity with which they respond to the demands of patriotism.
I do not think it necessary to recapitulate, at this late hour, the long train of abuses to which the people of Tennessee, and our sister States of the South have been subjected by the anti-republican spirit that has for many years been manifesting itself in that section, and which has at last declared itself our open and avowed enemy. In the message which I addressed to you at your called session in January last, these things were somewhat elaborately referred to, as constituting, in my judgment, the amplest reason for considering ourselves in imminent danger, and as requiring such action on the part of the Legislature as would place the State in an attitude for defence, whenever the momentous crisis should be forced upon us; and, also, as presenting to the North the strongest argument for peace, and if possible, securing a reconstruction of the Union, thus already dissolved by the most authoritative, formal, and matured action of a portion of the slaveholding States. Minor differences upon abstract questions the ardent devotion of our people to the preservation of the Union, originating with their great loyalty to the Government – and a more hopeful view of the subject than I had been able to take, coupled with the supposed peaceful intentions of the authorities at
Washington, have resulted in leaving the State poorly prepared for the sad realities which are now upon us.
But unfortunate as this may be, I am nevertheless encouraged with the belief that we are at last, practically, a united people. Whatever differences may have heretofore existed amongst us, growing out of party divisions, as to the right of Secession as a Constitutional remedy against Federal usurpation, all admit the moral right asserted by our fathers, of each and every people to resist wrong, and to maintain their liberties by whatever means may be necessary; ‘that Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was created, it is the right of the people to alter and abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as shall to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’ Standing by this common sentiment, with the bloody and tyrannical policy of the Presidential usurper fully before us; in the face of his hordes of armed soldiery, marching to the work of Southern subjugation; the people of the proud Commonwealth of Tennessee – true to their honor, true to the great principles of free institutions, true to the lessons of their fathers, and true to their brethren of the South, the subjects of a common oppression – have united, almost with one voice, in declaring their fixed resolve to resist the tyrant; and in pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the maintenance of their rights, and the rights of their sister States of the South.
It cannot be overlooked that, in assuming an attitude of this character-forced upon us by the remarkable exigency of the times – we are, in effect, dissolving our connection with the Federal Union. As established by our fathers, that Union no longer exists. However much we may have cherished it heretofore, no intelligent and candid man can deny that it has ceased to be a blessing, and has become a curse; that it is no longer a high and sacred means of protection, but an engine of oppression; that it has ceased to be a bond of brotherhood, and has become a hateful connection between communities at war. It would be idle, therefore, to speak of ourselves any longer as members of the Federal Union; and while it is believed by many, whose opinions are entitled to the highest respect, that, by reason of the subversion of the Constitution by the authorities in power,
inaugurating a revolution between the States thereof, each and every individual is already released from his former obligations to that government, yet, as best comporting with the dignity of the subject, and also from a due regard to those who may hold a different opinion -and farther still, that all the world may be advised of our action – I respectfully suggest that our connection with the Federal Union be formally annulled in such manner as shall involve the highest exercise of sovereign authority by the people of the State, and best secure that harmony, so much to be desired, in times like the present, upon questions even of mere detail. Until this is done many conscientious citizens may feel embarrassed in their action from their supposed relation to the General Government. In emergencies like the present, while it is our duty to act with due deliberation and prudence, unbiased as far as possible by excitement or prejudice, it is nevertheless of the highest importance that we should act with promptitude and decision.
Whatever grounds of hope may have been supposed to exist heretofore for an adjustment of the difficulties between the two sections of the Federal Union; however anxious we may have been to continue members of the same common family with the people of the North, such hope and expectation no longer exist in the mind of any rational man, who desires to maintain the honor and equality of the State, and the inviolability of her peculiar institutions.
The present administration, elected upon avowed purposes of hostility to the South – purposes which all knew then as well as now, could not be carried into effect, without an internecine war and a dissolution of the Union – has exerted every energy, resorted to every strategy, and disregarded every constitutional barrier, in order to hasten the accomplishment of the unholy mission for which the people of the Northern section had elevated it to power. They have lost no time -they have neither hesitated or faltered. The low duplicity in which their Administration was inaugurated – trusting, while conceding nothing, to lull the South into a fatal security, furnishing ground for divisions in the border slave States, while constant though secret preparation for the work of subjugation was going on, is now exposed and leaves us no alternative but independence out of the Union, or subjugation in it.
The dishonorable and treacherous practices which have so far characterized the authorities at Washington, admonish us, that in the impending struggle we are scarcely to expect the rules of honorable warfare. Having its origin in a disordered moral sentiment of the North – not finding the ordinary restraints of patriotism among their people – deriving its power from a usurpation and perversion of the functions of government – having no middle-ground short of positive subjugation of the South, or a defeat which exposes its disgrace to the civilized world – I fear the time has passed when peace can be hoped for by the more moral force of a united South, without a trial of arms.
Having succeeded in confusing and dividing the border slave States, they have had ample time for military preparations. The veil which concealed their recent movements has been thrown aside. The note of war has been sounded, and in the imperial proclamation, recently issued, the people of the Confederate States and all who sympathize with them are treated as rebels, and twenty days is allowed them to ‘disperse’ – and return to their allegiance to the authorities at Washington. Without waiting for the expiration of the twenty days, in addition to the regular army and naval forces, a militia force of seventy-five thousand has been called into the field to execute this edict, by the power of arms. As if purposely intended to add additional insult to the people of Tennessee, I have been called upon, as their Governor, to furnish a portion of these troops. I have answered that demand as in my judgment became the honor of the State, and leave the people to pass upon my action.
The Federal Union of the States, thus practically dissolved, can never be restored; or if ever thus restored, it must, by the very act, cease to be a Union of free and independent States, such as our fathers established. It will become a consolidated, centralized Government, without liberty or equality, in which some will reign and others serve -the few tyrannize and the many suffer. It would be the greatest folly to hope for the reconstruction of a peaceful Union, upon terms of fraternity and equality, at the end of an internecine war. There can be no desirable Union without fraternity. And if we could not have that, before the unholy crusade which is now being waged against us, we cannot have it after they shall have wantonly imbrued their unholy hands in the innocent blood of our people, from no worthier motive than a desire to destroy our equality and subvert our liberties.
Therefore, I respectfully recommend the perfecting of an Ordinance by the General Assembly, formally declaring the independence of the State of Tennessee of the Federal Union, renouncing its authority, and reassuming each and every function belonging to a separate sovereignty; and that said Ordinance, when it shall have been thus perfected by the Legislature, shall, at the earliest practicable time, be submitted to a vote of the people, to be by them adopted or rejected.
When the people of the State shall formally declare their connection with the remaining States of the Union dissolved, it will be a matter of the highest expediency, – l might almost say of unavoidable political necessity – that we shall at the same time, or as soon thereafter as may be, connect ourselves with those with whom a common interest, a common sympathy, and a common destiny identify us, for weal or for woe. That each of the Southern States, as they throw off their connection with the Federal Government, should take an independent position in the contest, without that concert of action which alone can be secured by political unity, is a proposition which surely no one will assent to, who anticipates the dangers of the hour and the necessity for perfect harmony in the work of our general defence.
Such a political Union with the people of the Confederate States is rendered essential, by the fact, that we have made no provision for arming, organizing, provisioning, and embodying our military forces, while the Government of the Confederate States, foreseeing this invasion, has had an eye to the necessities of the emergency, and stands prepared generously to lend us its assistance in this unprovoked and cruel struggle. If we accept that assistance, we should do it in a spirit of mutual trust and confidence, prepared to share its burdens equally, while we avail ourselves of its advantages. A Government thus perfectly organized can more thoroughly command the resources and aggregate the revenues of the country than isolated States, fighting without unity, and moving without a common and responsible head. These resources, being thus concentrated, because it is natural intuition to rally round such a Government, in such an emergency, for self-preservation and defence, can be disbursed with more efficiency, and with less cost to the people than when the revenues,
necessary to support the war, are scattered by divided counsels and not controlled by a common bureau. The same may be said with regard to military operations. Unity of movement, to secure unity of purpose in attack or defence, is absolutely necessary to success. The people of the whole South, thus united by a firm political compact, moving under the direction of one Government, and animated by the sense of common perils and by a unanimous determination to maintain their rights, liberties, and institutions, are invincible, and must speedily conquer an honorable peace. The war must necessarily be protracted or brief in proportion to the union among themselves.
I, therefore, further recommend that you perfect an ordinance, with a view to our admission as a member of the Southern Confederacy, which, it is evident, must soon embrace the entire slaveholding States of the South, to be submitted in like manner, and at the same time, but separately, for adoption or rejection by the people; so that they may have the opportunity to approve the former and reject the latter, or adopt both, as in their wisdom may seem most consistent with the future welfare of the State. However fully satisfied the Executive and Legislature may be, as to the urgent necessity for the speedy adoption of both these propositions, it is our duty to furnish the amplest means for a fair and full expression of the popular will.
In the opening of a revolution, fraught with such consequences, and the close of which no one can foresee, it is a matter of the highest moment that we determine, as speedily as possible our future political relations, delaying only long enough to reach the will and voice of the people. Under existing circumstances, I can see no propriety for encumbering the people of the State with the election of delegates, to do that which it is your power to enable them to do directly for themselves. The most direct as well as the highest act of sovereignty, according to our theory, is that by which the people vote, not merely for men, but for measures submitted for their approval or rejection. Since it is only the voice of the people that is to be heard, there is no reason why they may not as readily and effectively express themselves upon an ordinance framed and submitted to them by the Legislature, as if submitted to them by a Convention. The Southern States, all of whom are now engaged in resistance to the encroachment of Abolition power, will necessarily encounter embarrassments,
arising from a want of unity of action, until such time as they shall all be united under a common Government.
The mode of action suggested, in addition to the advantage of its being the speediest of all others, will be attended with less expense to the State, which is of far greater importance now than at any former period of our history, owing to the general embarrassment of the people, which must continue at least during these troubles, and to the heavy appropriations that you will have necessarily to make to defray the expense of our defences.
If, however, it should be deemed advisable that a Convention, representing the sovereignty of the people, should be called by the General Assembly, in preference to submitting an ordinance of independence directly to them, though I deem the latter measure more expedient, under the circumstances, I am not prepared to say that harmony and unanimity will not thus be effected. The Senators and Representatives, coming, as they do, directly from their constituents, are the best judges of this measure. It cannot be regarded other than a question of detail, inasmuch as a very large majority of the people regard themselves as being forever absolved from all obedience to a Government that has developed the coldest and most deliberate purpose to inaugurate a civil and sanguinary war among them.
I deem it proper to remark in this connection that the Constitution of the Confederate States, while it retains all that is valuable of the Constitution of the former United States, is an improvement in many essential points upon that instrument, as conceded by those even those who were unfriendly to the mode and manner in which it originated.
The only additional matter to which I shall call your attention and first in importance – is the necessity of such legislation as will put the State upon war footing immediately. I will not insult your intelligence or question your patriotism so far as to resort to argument to prove the necessity of this measure, but content myself by recommending the passage of a law regulating the raising and thorough organization of an efficient volunteer force for immediate service, in any emergency which may arise, and a thorough and perfect organization of the militia, so that in case of necessity the whole force of the State can be speedily brought into action.
In my message to your extra session in January last, I laid before you the report of the Keeper of Public Arms, showing the number, character, and condition of the arms of the State, to which I refer you for information on that subject. Since that report was made, I have ordered and received at the arsenal, fourteen hundred rifle muskets. If upon this subject further or more accurate information is desired, it shall be laid before you by the report of the proper officer.
It requires no argument from me to prove the absolute necessity of an immediate appropriation of a sum sufficient to thoroughly arm and equip such military force as the State may probably need in the prospective difficulties which lie before us. In addition to which, I respectfully recommend that you appropriate a sum sufficient to provision and maintain such force as is intended for the field, and an ample contingent military fund, to be subject to the order and disbursement of a Military Board, under such restrictions as you may see proper to impose.
The establishment of a Military Board, to consist of at least three persons, and invested with power to make all needful rules and regulations for organization and maintenance, I regard as indispensably necessary to a perfect military organization and equipment in the State, and the fact that the Legislature cannot foresee and provide for the various contingent expenses necessarily incidental to a state of war, justifies and makes necessary the contingent military fund referred to.
I trust, gentlemen, that I have not so far mistaken your intelligence and patriotism, as to render necessary that I should invoke you in the name of all that is sacred and dear to us as a people – even the sanctity of our domestic firesides – to forget past differences, and whatever may tend in the least to distract your counsels in the present momentous crisis, in which we have been involved by the unprovoked and tyrannical usurpation of a people who, forgetting the lessons of their fathers, have overthrown the fairest government upon earth, in the mere wantonness of an unnatural sectional prejudice amounting to a sectional hate, and a disregard of those great principles of justice and equality upon which the Federal Union was based. I trust that to -day there are in Tennessee no Whigs, no Democrats; but that we are one people – all patriots, all brothers, recognizing a common interest and a common destiny; and that we will stand as one man in defence of our honor and of our
rights. I pray you to cultivate a feeling of this kind, and to disseminate it amongst your constituents. It is only by such united and determined action, on the part of the people of the whole South, that we can hope to avoid the calamities of the bloodiest and most devastating civil war that has afflicted any nation in the history of the civilized world.
I trust that a few days will be amply sufficient to dispose of the business which I have laid before you.
Your presence may soon be needed in the field, and if not, will be required at home for counsel
among your constituents.
Trusting that an All Wise Providence may watch over your deliberations, and direct you in the adoption of such measures, as may most subserve the maintenance of the rights and liberties of the people, I submit the determination of these matters to your hands.
ISHAM G. HARRIS
From an email message:
“CONFEDERATE RESPONSE TO THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
An Address to the People of the Free States by the President of the Southern Confederacy
Richmond, January 5, 1863.
“Citizens of the non-slaveholding States of America, swayed by peaceable motives, I have used all my influence, often thereby endangering my position as the President of the Southern Confederacy, to have the unhappy conflict now existing between my people and yourselves, governed by those well established international rules, which heretofore have softened the asperities which necessarily are the concomitants of a state of belligerency, but all my efforts in the premises have heretofore been unavailing. Now, therefore, I am compelled e necessitati rei to employ a measure, which most willingly I would have omitted to do, regarding, as I always must, State Rights, as the very organism of politically associated society.
“For nearly two years my people have been defending their inherent rights their political, social and religious rights against the speculators of New England and their allies in the States heretofore regarded as conservative. The people of the Southern Confederacy have — making sacrifices such as the modern world has never witnessed — patiently, but determinedly, stood between their home interests and the well paid, well fed and well clad mercenaries of the Abolitionists, and I need not say that they have nobly vindicated the good name of American citizens. Heretofore, the warfare has been conducted by white men — peers, scions of the same stock; but the programme has been changed, and your rulers despairing of a triumph by th employment of white men, have degraded you and themselves, by inviting the cooperation of the black race. Thus, while they deprecate the intervention of white men — the French and the English — in behalf of the Southern Confederacy, they, these Abolitionists, do not hesitate to invoke the intervention of the African race in favor of the North.
“The time has, therefore, come when a becoming respect for the good opinion of the civilized world impels me to set forth the following facts:
“First. Abraham Lincoln, the President of the Non-Slaveholding States, has issued his proclamation, declaring the slaves within the limits of the Southern Confederacy to be free.
“Second. Abraham Lincoln has declared that the slaves so emancipated may be used in the Army and Navy, now under his control, by which he means to employ, against the Free People of the South, insurrectionary measures, the inevitable tendency of which will be to inaugurate a Servile War, and thereby prove destructive, in a great measure, to slave property.
“Now, therefore, as a compensatory measure, I do hereby issue the following Address to the People of the Non-Slaveholding States:
“On and after February 22, 1863, all free negroes within the limits of the Southern Confederacy shall be placed on the slave status, and be deemed to be chattels, they and their issue forever.
“All negroes who shall be taken in any of the States in which slavery does not now exist, in the progress of our arms, shall be adjudged, immediately after such capture, to occupy the slave status, and in all States which shall be vanquished by our arms, all free negroes shall, ipsofacto, be reduced to the condition of helotism, so that the respective normal conditions of the white and black races may be ultimately placed on a permanent basis, so as to prevent the public peace from being thereafter endangered.
“Therefore, while I would not ignore the conservative policy of the Slave States, namely, that a Federal Government cannot, without violating the fundamental principles of a Constitution, interfere with the internal policy of several States; since, however, Abraham Lincoln has seen fit to ignore the Constitution he has solemnly sworn to support, it ought not be considered polemically or politically improper in me to vindicate the position which has been at an early day of this Southern republic, assumed by the Confederacy, namely, that slavery is the corner-stone of a Western Republic. It is not necessary for me to elaborate this proposition. I may merely refer, in passing, to the prominent fact, that the South is emphatically a producing section of North America; this is equally true of the West and Northwest, the people of which have been mainly dependent on the South for the consumption of their products. The other States, in which slavery does not exist, have occupied a middle position, as to the South, West and Northwest. The States of New England, from which all complicated difficulties have arisen, owe their greatness and power to the free suffrages of all other sections of North America; and yet, as is now evident, they have, from the adoption of the Federal Constitution, waged a persistent warfare against the interests of all the other States of the old Union. The great centre of their opposition has been Slavery, while the annual statistics of their respective State Governments abundantly prove that they entertain within all their boundaries fewer negroes than any single State which does not tolerate slavery.
“In view of these facts, and conscientiously believing that the proper condition of the negro is slavery, or a complete subjection to the white man, — and entertaining the belief that the day is not distant when the old Union will be restored with slavery nationally declared to be the proper condition of all of African descent, and in view of the future harmony and progress of all the States of America, I have been induced to issue this address, so that there may be no misunderstanding in the future.
Source: Broadside, Jefferson Davis Papers, University Library, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA. This is printed in Ervin L. Jordan, _Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia,_ University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, 1995, Appendix C, pages 319-320.
This document shows Jefferson Davis, the commander-in-chief of the confederate armies, firmly promulgating the national policy that the southern armies were fighting for slavery. It also belies any supposed confederate support for blacks in their own ranks, as Davis clearly regards having blacks as soldiers degrades white society.
From Reminiscences of the Civil War, by Confederate Major General John B. Gordon, published in 1905, pages 18-19:
“If asked what was the real issue involved in our unparalleled conflict, the average American citizen sill reply, ‘The negro’; and it is fair to say that had there been no slavery there would have been no war. . . .
“Slavery was undoubtedly the immediate fomenting cause of the woful [sic] American conflict. It was the great political factor around which the passions of the sections had long been gathered — the tallest pine in the political forest around whose top the fiercest lightnings were to be shivered in the earthquake shocks of war. . . .”
Five myths about why the South seceded
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 12:00 AM
One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War began, we’re still fighting it — or at least fighting over its history. I’ve polled thousands of high school history teachers and spoken about the war to audiences across the country, and there is little agreement even on why the South seceded. Was it over slavery? States’ rights? Tariffs and taxes?As the nation begins to commemorate the anniversaries of the war’s various battles — from Fort Sumter to Appomattox — let’s first dispense with some of the more prevalent myths about why it all began.
1. The South seceded over states’ rights.
Confederate states did claim the right to secede, but no state claimed to be seceding for that right. In fact, Confederates opposed states’ rights — that is, the right of Northern states not to support slavery.
On Dec. 24, 1860, delegates at South Carolina’s secession convention adopted a “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” It noted “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” and protested that Northern states had failed to “fulfill their constitutional obligations” by interfering with the return of fugitive slaves to bondage. Slavery, not states’ rights, birthed the Civil War.
South Carolina was further upset that New York no longer allowed “slavery transit.” In the past, if Charleston gentry wanted to spend August in the Hamptons, they could bring their cook along. No longer — and South Carolina’s delegates were outraged. In addition, they objected that New England states let black men vote and tolerated abolitionist societies. According to South Carolina, states should not have the right to let their citizens assemble and speak freely when what they said threatened slavery.
Other seceding states echoed South Carolina. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world,” proclaimed Mississippi in its own secession declaration, passed Jan. 9, 1861. “Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. . . . A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”
The South’s opposition to states’ rights is not surprising. Until the Civil War, Southern presidents and lawmakers had dominated the federal government. The people in power in Washington always oppose states’ rights. Doing so preserves their own.
2. Secession was about tariffs and taxes.
During the nadir of post-civil-war race relations – the terrible years after 1890 when town after town across the North became all-white “sundown towns” and state after state across the South prevented African Americans from voting – “anything but slavery” explanations of the Civil War gained traction. To this day Confederate sympathizers successfully float this false claim, along with their preferred name for the conflict: the War Between the States. At the infamous Secession Ball in South Carolina, hosted in December by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “the main reasons for secession were portrayed as high tariffs and Northern states using Southern tax money to build their own infrastructure,” The Washington Post reported.
These explanations are flatly wrong. High tariffs had prompted the Nullification Crisis in 1831-33, when, after South Carolina demanded the right to nullify federal laws or secede in protest, President Andrew Jackson threatened force. No state joined the movement, and South Carolina backed down. Tariffs were not an issue in 1860, and Southern states said nothing about them. Why would they? Southerners had written the tariff of 1857, under which the nation was functioning. Its rates were lower than at any point since 1816.
3. Most white Southerners didn’t own slaves, so they wouldn’t secede for slavery.
Indeed, most white Southern families had no slaves. Less than half of white Mississippi households owned one or more slaves, for example, and that proportion was smaller still in whiter states such as Virginia and Tennessee. It is also true that, in areas with few slaves, most white Southerners did not support secession. West Virginia seceded from Virginia to stay with the Union, and Confederate troops had to occupy parts of eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama to hold them in line.
However, two ideological factors caused most Southern whites, including those who were not slave-owners, to defend slavery. First, Americans are wondrous optimists, looking to the upper class and expecting to join it someday. In 1860, many subsistence farmers aspired to become large slave-owners. So poor white Southerners supported slavery then, just as many low-income people support the extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy now.
Second and more important, belief in white supremacy provided a rationale for slavery. As the French political theorist Montesquieu observed wryly in 1748: “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures [enslaved Africans] to be men; because allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.” Given this belief, most white Southerners — and many Northerners, too — could not envision life in black-majority states such as South Carolina and Mississippi unless blacks were in chains. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Henry Benning, trying to persuade the Virginia Legislature to leave the Union, predicted race war if slavery was not protected. “The consequence will be that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.” Thus, secession would maintain not only slavery but the prevailing ideology of white supremacy as well.
4. Abraham Lincoln went to war to end slavery.
Since the Civil War did end slavery, many Americans think abolition was the Union’s goal. But the North initially went to war to hold the nation together. Abolition came later.
On Aug. 22, 1862, President Lincoln wrote a letter to the New York Tribune that included the following passage: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
However, Lincoln’s own anti-slavery sentiment was widely known at the time. In the same letter, he went on: “I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.” A month later, Lincoln combined official duty and private wish in his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
White Northerners’ fear of freed slaves moving north then caused Republicans to lose the Midwest in the congressional elections of November 1862.
Gradually, as Union soldiers found help from black civilians in the South and black recruits impressed white units with their bravery, many soldiers — and those they wrote home to — became abolitionists. By 1864, when Maryland voted to end slavery, soldiers’ and sailors’ votes made the difference.
5. The South couldn’t have made it long as a slave society.
Slavery was hardly on its last legs in 1860. That year, the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them – or forced them to abandon slavery?
To claim that slavery would have ended of its own accord by the mid-20th century is impossible to disprove but difficult to accept. In 1860, slavery was growing more entrenched in the South. Unpaid labor makes for big profits, and the Southern elite was growing ever richer. Freeing slaves was becoming more and more difficult for their owners, as was the position of free blacks in the United States, North as well as South. For the foreseeable future, slavery looked secure. Perhaps a civil war was required to end it.
As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of that war, let us take pride this time – as we did not during the centennial – that secession on slavery’s behalf failed.
Sociologist James W. Loewen is the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and co-editor, with Edward Sebesta, of “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.”