Speech of Hon. P. G. Van Winkle, of West Virginia, Delivered in the Senate of the United States, First Session, Thirty-eighth Congress, Thursday, April 21, 1864, on the Reorganization of Virginia, and Admission of West Virginia. Washington, DC: Gibson Brothers, 1864.
The Bill to repeal all acts for the rendition of fugitives from service or labor being under consideration,
MR. VAN WINKLE said -
MR. PRESIDENT: Although the remarks I am about to make may not apply peculiarly to the bill under discussion, yet considering it as one of a series of projected measures now pending in one or both Houses of Congress, they will not be deemed inappropriate. It is to the probable operation and effect of these measures in the so improperly called border States, including that which I in part represent on this floor, that I wish to call the attention of the Senate and the country.
The burdens of the existing war in the shape of contributions of men and money have been at least proportionally borne by the States further North, and their free gifts for the relief of sick and wounded soldiers have been poured forth like water, and have doubtless exceeded ours; yet they have escaped the devastation and ruin to which we have been subjected. There is wailing and affliction in almost every household of the North; but we also mourn the husband and the father, the son and the brother. We have seen the accumulations of life-long industry perish in a moment; ashes and ruins conceal the spots where the homes of many a happy family once stood; desolation usurps the place of cultivated fields, and the eye roams at will over acres of fertile soil with nothing to arrest its observation but noxious weeds, and, in many cases, ungathered crops rotting on the ground. Of the former loyal occupants many are with the armies of the Union, fighting the battles of their country; some sleep sweetly in gory winding-sheets beneath the soil they have defended, while the wives, children, and aged parents of both are aliens in their own land, dwelling or wandering among those who, however friendly, are yet strangers, earning a subsistence by unusual employments, or in some cases maintained by the contributions of the benevolent and patriotic.
As to my own people, let it be remembered that the rebel armies were at their doors before they were compelled to make their election between loyalty and disloyalty. That many loving the Union as we do, in the face of impending danger not only to their possessions but to their wives and little ones, and unable to remove them, or to maintain them when removed, should have succumbed and given an unwilling adhesion to the rebel cause is not surprising; but that the large majority of our farmers and workingmen refused such adhesion is now beyond controversy. I am personally acquainted with many who boldly repelled the degradation tendered them as the price of safety, and escaping at the peril of their lives have been constant to this day in their devotion to the cause of the Union. Some with such an experience sat in the conventions and Legislature of West Virginia. It was the politicians, mostly those of the then dominant party, and those whom they induced to believe that secession was but a party measure, or a threat, not the people at large, who turned their backs on their country and became its malignant enemies. These remarks are to a greater or less extent true of all the border States.
In the States nearest the seat of war, loyalty to the Union has a meaning which does not attach to it elsewhere. This remark is made in no invidious spirit, nor is it intended to depreciate in the slightest degree the sterling patriotism of the North. It is intended simply to vindicate that of the border States, by proving its sincerity, as the large majority of their people have remained constant under the most trying circumstances. If I may venture to appear to-day as the self- constituted advocate of the people of those States, I do not speak to vaunt their sufferings or their services, or as their suppliant for even deserved favors. Through you, Mr. President, I address the Senate and the country, in the name of a common patriotism and a common humanity, urging that what more particularly concerns them may, in the deliberations of those assembled here, and in the thoughts of those whom they represent, have just consideration. I make no charge, for I entertain no suspicion, of intentional wrong on the part of any member of this body; but it may be that in the desire to accomplish instantaneously some long-cherished object, however praise- worthy, difficulties will be thrown in the way of others, which might be avoided by a little forbearance.
I do not, I cannot, doubt that every one who hears me desires, at the earliest possible moment, the complete pacification of the whole country. I know that such pacification cannot be effected until the rebellion is crushed, and those who uphold it, from whatever cause, have acknowledged and submitted to the supremacy of the Constitution and the Government it created. I have, unfortunately, seen too much of the spirit of those who are waging war against their country, and of those in our midst who sympathize with them, to believe that the former will lay down their arms until compelled. I cannot see where we can, with just self-respect, concede one jot or one tittle to those who are in arms against us. But the day will come, in the pleasure of a righteous Providence, when this calamity will be overpast, and when every right-minded man will desire to take by the hand, in all cordiality and affection, those who have repented them of the evil they in their madness sought to do unto us, their brethren. In saying this I assume no spirit of prophecy. I speak only from a knowledge of what has been the sequence of wars between brethren in other countries and from my confidence in the better part of human nature. Will not all who hear me join in saying, would God the day of complete reconciliation were at hand?
There is in the northern States, and unfortunately in the border States also, a class of men who occupy a most equivocal position. With their lips they profess adherence to the Union, while their acts give countenance and encouragement to the rebellion. Admitting their professions of abhorrence of secession and of love for the Union, do they act wisely even for themselves, in so loudly and constantly denouncing those who are charged with the duty of carrying on the war? Is there not danger that they will confound the principal and the agent, and by perseverance in their denunciations of the Administration, the mere instrument, include their country in their maledictions? Let them remember that in the exigencies of war it frequently happens that there is not time for due deliberation. If errors have been committed, is it certain that they proceeded from unworthy motives? There may be just difference of opinion as to the policy those charged with the administration of the Government should pursue in time of war, as well as in time of peace, and there may be acts of the Government at any time which should be rebuked. But need the rebuke be angry? A man may with propriety rebuke his friend, but will the rebuke be heeded if the friend is overwhelmed with calamity? Will the friendship be appreciated which seizes such a time for its animadversions? If these fault-finders have ears to hear let them hear and heed the voice that is everywhere addressed to them from the true friends of the country, and is daily growing louder. It calls upon them to manifest their own respect for the Constitution by cordially fostering and aiding the efforts making to maintain and vindicate its authority, before they assume to censure those who, in their sincere efforts to save the country, have, as their censors allege, exceeded the powers it confers upon them.
There is another class of persons found in the border States whose situation is peculiar to that region, and requires not only consideration but forbearance. This class is composed of those firm friends of the Union who have proved their faith by their works, and who have suffered from this evil rebellion and are suffering still, not alone from the loss of property, which they may have endured in common with many others, but in a way peculiar to themselves. There are fathers of this class whose sons, in defiance of their authority, have left their hearth-stones and have joined and are serving in the rebel armies. Brothers have encountered brothers on the battle-field, and there are very few born in the border States who have not near connections or endeared friends adhering to the pseudo-confederacy. Say that they should renounce all affection and friendship for these traitors, it may yet be pertinently asked whether the heart-strings can be rudely disrupted without suffering amounting in some cases to torture? If we estimate our own patriotism by what we have suffered or sacrificed for the good of the common cause, shall not these men who have also suffered and sacrificed as we have not been called upon to do, be entitled to the consideration and forbearance I have invoked in their behalf?
Let it be remembered that of the class of citizens of whom I have last spoken many were slaveholders at the time they were called upon to take part on one side or the other of this unhappy controversy, and that all of them have spent their lifetimes in slaveholding communities. They, I speak particularly of the border States, had not witnessed the cruelties to slaves which are recited with so much unction at gatherings in the northern States, save as very exceptional cases promptly punished by the law and universally condemned by public opinion. The slaves they saw were domestic and farm servants, treated with much kindness and consideration; and looking at the slavery around them only in its practical aspects, and considering the limited capacities of those subject to it, they may have come to regard it as a benignant institution. It was nevertheless this class of men, slaveholders and the sons of slaveholders, who, in 1832, looking at the moral and political aspects of the case, as my colleague showed the other day by numerous citations, made a nearly successful effort to inaugurate gradual emancipation in Virginia, while the tendency in all the border States at that time was in the same direction.
Thus far I have assumed to speak for the border States generally, and trust I have not assumed too much. For my own State I am entitled to speak, not only as a witness of much that I have related, but by my position on this floor, if indeed West Virginia is a State of this Union. That having been denied, I shall before going further make this the opportunity I have desired ever since I first occupied this seat, to prove that West Virginia is formally, legally, and constitutionally, one of the United States, on an equal footing with the original States.
It was denied by the Senator from Kentucky, [MR. DAVIS,] who I regret to see is not present, and those who voted with him, when he opposed the admission to seats on this floor of my colleague and myself, on the ground that there was no such State as West Virginia. I do not remember what the Senator said besides on that occasion, nor have I sought for the record. One impression, derived from his remarks at the time, is indelibly fixed on my mind, namely, that the Senator had not given to our case that exhaustive examination and consideration which he usually devotes to the subjects of the speeches with which he occasionally refreshes the Senate. I, however, considered it a very unkind cut; not that I deemed it personal to myself, or that it derived any aggravation from the fact that it emanated from the distinguished Senator. The unkindness consisted in this: it came from Kentucky, a State which had less right than any other to be over particular upon the subject. Kentucky was also erected within the jurisdiction of Virginia; but before she obtained the consent of that State she had, in defiance of her authority, assembled a Legislature and organized an army with the view of fighting her way into the Union. It is a little queer that the elder sister, who had herself snubbed the old lady, and, resisting the maternal blandishments, had insisted upon setting up housekeeping for herself, should be tart upon the younger for following at a modest distance in her footsteps. We console ourselves with the reflection, that caprice is a characteristic of the sex.
The Legislature of New Jersey, I am informed, some time since passed a resolution adverse to the admission of West Virginia into the Union as a separate State. I have not seen it, and consequently do not know what "whereas" is the ground of her objection, and can only, conjecture it. Considering the time at which the resolution was passed, and that the majority who passed it were of the "peace at any price" persuasion, it may be they were anxious to make themselves friends at Richmond, in case General Lee should penetrate to Trenton. Or, as the only question connected with the admission of West Virginia is, whether the Legislature of the reorganized government of Virginia is a true Legislature, the peace men at Trenton may have imagined there could be but one Legislature in a State; and as they were disposed to recognize that at Richmond, the inference was easy that the other was spurious. Possibly they claimed and exercised a right of choice as arbitrary as that accorded to the very young lady who visited the menagerie. Asking which was the elephant and which the hyena, the polite keeper replied, "Vitch ever you pleases, my little dear; you pays your money and you takes your choice." But, on the whole, it is most probable they were governed by a precedent in the history of their own State. There were two Legislatures sitting in New Jersey for some time after the Declaration of Independence - one loyal to the king, and the other to the country; and the peace men, like their Tory predecessors, repudiated that which represented the country and favored that which sought its overthrow. This may be only another instance of feminine caprice.
But the unkindest cut of all has been given recently. There is a newspaper published at Boston called the Commonwealth, which being somewhat fast itself, agrees with the National Executive Committee - that vox et preterea nihil, saving always the Senator from Kansas - that our worthy President is too slow. It is transcendental, and, like several of its fellows, entirely above the weakness of believing that the founder of Christianity was anything better than a young man of very correct morals, endowed with the same kind and possibly no greater degree of inspiration than one of its own literary contributors of a school as difficult to interpret as any of the prophets. It is besides radical, which word I use "pure and simple," because until a degree of comparison above the superlative is invented, it cannot be properly characterized. It will not do to call it transcendentally radical, as that might imply that it is all root, and furnishes neither food for the hungry nor shade for the weary. This same newspaper, being uninformed, I am bound to presume, that the reorganized Legislature of Virginia, on the recommendation of the reorganized Executive, had called a convention to abolish slavery throughout that State, denounced that Legislature as a "bogus" Legislature, and Governor Pierpont as a "bogus" Governor, thus abandoning its usual test of the fitness of things, and attempting to overthrow the very foundation on which rests the sovereignty and autonomy of West Virginia, which had also abolished slavery. I presume that when the worthy Governor first read this ungrateful denunciation by the Commonwealth, he thought it very hard of that paper, but subsequent reflection must have convinced him that it was very soft of it. There seems to be something of the old feminine in this case.
But, Mr. President, the Senator from Kentucky, whether encouraged by the vaticinations of the Boston newspaper or not I cannot say, has, within a few days, returned to the charge. In his speech on the joint resolution proposing to amend the Constitution, as revised for the Globe, I find this language:
"They [the President and Congress] affect to adhere to the forms of the Constitution, while they utterly disregard not only its spirit but also its express provisions, and all the liberty and protection which it assures to this citizen. They have devised the boldest and most revolutionary measures under the guise of law and executive administration as the machinery of there operations. The first in time was the erection of West Virginia into a new State, and her admission into the Union in palpable violation of the Constitution, so admitted and avowed by many of their leaders both in and out of Congress, and attempted to be justified by them on the ground that the country was in a state of rebellion and revolution, and the Constitution of no obligation whatever. The President took the official opinion of the Attorney General, which was that the measure was without constitutional authority, and yet he approved it."
So far the Senator from Kentucky, and I may say here that it was my intention to reply to those remarks during that debate; but the anxiety of Senators to pass the joint resolution for the amendment of the Constitution induced me to defer it, and I therefore ask the indulgence of the Senate in noticing it here.
What may have been "admitted and avowed" or "attempted to be justified" by the leading or other friends of the Administration, "both in and out of Congress," of course I cannot say. That "the President took the official opinion of the Attorney General," as such, I think is not true. The President in the exercise of a constitutional prerogative called for the opinions in writing of his Cabinet, and they were given. The Attorney General is a member of the Cabinet, but his opinion in that capacity would not probably be confined to the question of the constitutionality, but would embrace considerations of expediency as well. I do not think it would be becoming to say here, from indirect information, how the Cabinet was divided on the question of the admission of West Virginia, or what were the views of individual members. I may say, however, with entire respect for the member named, that when the project of erecting West Virginia was first broached in the Wheeling convention he wrote a letter, which has been published, in reply to one from a member of that body, in which he, as certainly misconceived what was proposed as the Senator from Kentucky now misconceives what has been done. In the course of the remarks I propose to make I expect to show conclusively that the President and Congress were justified in admitting West Virginia, as well on constitutional grounds as on considerations of expediency, and that the events which made it possible at that time were not revolutionary, but emphatically anti- revolutionary.
In noting some innoccuous [sic] flings at West Virginia, I said, and now seriously repeat, that the only question to be determined in order to establish the constitutionality of the formation and erection of that State within the jurisdiction of Virginia, and her admission as one of the United States on an equal footing with the original States, is whether the Legislature which gave its consent to such formation and erection was the true Legislature of Virginia.
The Constitution of the United States (article four, section three,) reads as follows:
"New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the consent of the Legislature of the States concerned, as well as of the Congress."
That this section permits a new State to be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of another State is evident from the remark of Mr. Madison in the forty-third number of the Federalist, where, commenting on the words just quoted, he says that "the particular precaution against the erection of new States, by the partition of a State without its consent, quiets the jealousy of the larger States, as that of the smaller is quieted by a like precaution against a junction of States without their consent." This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that the States of Vermont, Kentucky, and Main, each previously within the jurisdiction of another State, have, at different periods, been admitted into the Union.
It thus appears that the only constitutional provisions in reference to the formation or erection of a new State within the jurisdiction of another State are, that the Legislature of the latter shall consent to such formation or erection, and that the proposed state shall be admitted into the Union by Congress. West Virginia was admitted into the Union, on certain conditions, by an act of Congress approved December 31, 1862, which conditions were complied with, as appears by the proclamation of the President of the United States, dated on the 19th day of April, 1863. The question remains, whether the Legislature of Virginia gave the requisite consent.
It is unquestionable that a legislative body sitting at Wheeling gave such consent, and that it had been recognized as the true Legislature of Virginia by the Executive of the United States, and is so recognized in the preamble of the act of admission above referred to. From the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Rhode Island case (Luther vs. Borden, 7 Howard, p. 42) it appears that such recognition is sufficent [sic] to determine whether a body claiming to be the Legislature of a State is a true and constitutional legislature. The Chief Justice, in delivering his opinion in that case, indicates that the question is in its nature political and not judicial; and after citing the fourth section of the fourth article of the Constitution, which provides that the United States shall guaranty to every State in the Union a republican form of government and protect each of them from invasion and against domestic violence, remarks as follows:
"Under this clause of the Constitution it rests with Congress to decide what government is the established one in a State. For, as the United States guaranty to each State a republican form of government, Congress must necessarily decide what government is established in the State before it can determine whether it is republican or not. And when the Senators and Representatives of a State are admitted into the councils of the Union, the authority of the government under which they are appointed, as well as its republican character, is recognized by the proper constitutional authority, and its decision is binding on every other department of the Government, and could not be questioned in a judicial tribunal."
My present argument is intended to prove that the Legislature constituting part of the reorganized government of Virginia was and is a true Legislature. It was recognized as such by Congress when Senators elected by it and Representatives chosen by the people under its authority were admitted to seats in the two houses of that body. It received a further recognition when the Senators and Representatives of West Virginia were also admitted. The recognition by Congress, therefore, of the reorganized government of Virginia, including, of course, its Legislature, is full, ample, and unequivocal.
And here I might with propriety rest the case; but charges and insinuations have been and are constantly made by many who, I am in charity bound to suppose, do so in ignorance of the circumstances of the case, and not from invidious motives. Congress needs no vindication at my hands of this exercise of its high prerogative; but for the sake of my own patriotic people I desire to show that the recognition was not a party measure, and was not made to secure support for the Administration. The power to recognize the reorganized government of Virginia, being reposed by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, its exercise was required not merely as an act of justice to the loyal citizens of Virginia, but by the highest considerations of national policy. But, sir, I do wish to vindicate those who were the actors in the reorganization of the government of Virginia, to show that they were ready at all times to give a reason for the faith that was in them, that every step they took was only taken after due deliberation and investigation, and that all their proceedings in the very difficult circumstances in which they found themselves placed were formal, legal, and constitutional, and were characterized by moderation and a proper sense of justice toward all who were to be affected by them.
Although this vindication is directly connected with the staple of the argument I proposed to make on certain measures now pending in both Houses, I ask the indulgence of the Senate while I narrate as briefly as possible the facts and circumstances which both produced and justified the reorganization. As that solemn act was intended to, and did in fact, include the whole State of Virginia, I leave out of consideration, for the present at least, all grievances not directly connected with the so-called secession of the State.
In December, 1860, after some of the planting States had passed their secession ordinances, the then Governor of Virginia issued his proclamation convening the Legislature in extra session early in January, 1861. On the 14th of that month the Legislature passed an act providing for the election on the 4th day of February following of delegates to a convention to assemble at Richmond on the 13th day of the same month, "to adopt such measures as they may deem expedient for the welfare of the Commonwealth." The Legislature also passed, on the 19th of January, an act authorizing the several counties and incorporated cities and towns to arm their militia; on the 25th an act to create an ordnance department; and on the 29th an act appropriating $1,000,000 for the defense of the Commonwealth. They also passed joint resolutions, on the 8th of January, against the coercion of a State; on the 19th, inviting the other States to send commissioners to meet commissioners on the part of Virginia, (the peace congress,) in the preamble of which they speak of averting do "dire a calamity" as the dissolution of the Union; and on the 21st concerning the position of Virginia in the event of a dissolution of the Union, which was to be with the slaveholding States. In all, they passed three hundred and seven acts and joint resolutions, mostly on the ordinary subjects of legislation, adjourning on the 4th of April; proof, I think, that they did not believe that the threatened secession would be consummated.
The election for delegates to the convention was duly held, and that body assembled on the appointed day. A large majority of those who had run as anti-secession candidates were elected. The act calling the convention provided that a separate poll should be opened at the election for delegates "to take the sense of the qualified voters as to whether any action of said convention dissolving our connection with the federal Union or changing the organic law of the State shall be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection." The votes "for referring to the people" were in number one hundred thousand five hundred and thirty-six, and "against referring to the people," fifty-five thousand three hundred and seventy-five, being a clear majority of forty-five thousand one hundred and sixty-one for referring. The convention sat daily, but no ordinance was passed for more than two moths. On the 17th of April, the so-called "secession ordinance" was adopted. It is entitled "an ordinance to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution." It declares and ordains that the ratifying ordinance of the convention of 1788, and also all acts of the General Assembly ratifying or adopting amendments thereto, are thereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between Virginia and the other States is thereby dissolved; that the State is "in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State," and that the constitution of the United States is no longer binding on any of her citizens. The ordinance was to take effect and be an act of the day of its passage when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of the State cast at a poll to be taken thereon, on the fourth Thursday in May then next, in pursuance of a schedule thereafter to be enacted. The schedule adopted on the 24th of the same month, accordingly provides for submitting the question to the people, and suspends and prohibits until otherwise ordained the election for Representatives in Congress usually held on that day.
On the 25th of April they passed an ordinance ratifying the con-convention entered into between Virginia and the so-called confederate States, for a temporary union with said States, under the provisional government adopted by the latter. This convention or agreement provides, that until the union of Virginia with the said States is perfected, and she shall become a member of the confederacy, "the whole military force and military operations, offensive and defensive, of said Commonwealth, in the impending conflict with the United States, shall be under the chief control and direction of the president of said confederate States; and that upon the adoption of a permanent constitution by the said States, and Virginia becoming a member of the confederacy, the former will "turn over" to the latter "all the public property, naval stores, and munitions of war, &c., she may then be in possession of, acquired from the United States." There is no provision in the ordinance ratifying this convention for submitting it to the people, nor was it ever so submitted.
On the next day another ordinance was passed, adopting and ratifying "the constitution of the provisional government of the Confederate States of America." This was not directed to be submitted to the people, but it was provided that it should cease to have any legal operation or effect, if the secession ordinance was rejected.
On the same day an ordinance to amend the State constitution was adopted, striking from that instrument the provisions which exempted slaves under twelve years of age from taxation, and made the tax on slaves above that age the same as that on $300 worth of land. This was intended to gild the nauseous pill of secession, and was directed to be submitted to the people on the same day as the secession ordinance. I am proud to say, Mr. President, that almost everywhere in Western Virginia the loyal people refused to vote for or against this palpable bribe. Cerberus did not like the sop.
I will only notice further that on the 1st of May following an ordinance was passed releasing the officers, civil and military, and the people generally of the State, "from any and all oaths which they may have taken to support the Constitution of the late Confederacy, known as the United States of America." These are the very words of the ordinance, and it should be observed that this was before the question of secession was submitted to the people. This ordinance was never so submitted.
Having briefly referred to several ordinance of the convention, which with others I have omitted to notice all tended to one result, I will proceed to consider the most important more at length, and will first refer to the circumstances under which the secession ordinance was passed and ratified, if ratified it was. It being known that a large majority of the delegates to the convention were anti-secessionists when elected, the hall where they held their sessions was almost besieged by a set of ruffians, mostly from more southern States, many of them slave-traders, a class previously despised even in Richmond, who probably felt that their craft was in danger. Every art of intimidation was practiced by these new actors on the stage of Virginia politics. The members disposed to be faithful to the Union were insulted and spit upon from the galleries, and mobbed and assaulted on leaving the hall, as the Senator from Virginia and my colleague can testify. How many yielded to these intimidations may never be known, as they naturally assigned other reasons for their change of front. The result was that the majority was altered, those holding fast their integrity for the most part representing the counties now included in West Virginia, and being about one-third of the whole number voting.
At very many of the polls, also, intimidation was the order of the day, and long before the election Virginia was as nearly out of the Union as she ever has been. In nearly every county, except those in the northwest, under the excitement created by the John Brown raid, a military force had been organized in the interest of the secessionists, and the county authorities generally were their partisans. Threats of what would be done to those who dared to adhere to the Union were loudly uttered everywhere, and even judges in their charges to grand juries talked of prosecutions for treason. Shortly before the election, a letter written by the notorious James M. Mason, was published over his signature and widely circuladed [sic], in which it was plainly said that all who voted against secession would be compelled to leave the State. Confederate troops from South Carolina and Mississippi were thrown into various parts of the Commonwealth, and, with the local forces, both before and at the election, openly menaced all who should dare to oppose their views. Many true Union men fled, some concealed themselves, others forbore to vote; but in almost every county of the west, and in some, at least, of the east, some bolder spirits case their viva voce votes against secession.
It is not surprising that the rebel Governor, more than two months afterwards, issued his proclamation claiming a considerable majority for secession. I leave it to Senators and the country to describe, the secession ordinance can be fairly said to have been ratified by the voters of Virginia. Long before the day appointed for holding the election the leaders in the secession movement had control of every department of the State government, including the military. Their creatures filled every important office in the counties, especially those appertaining to the administration of justice. They had prepared for the events they were hastening by so arranging things that in a large majority of the counties organized opposition to their machinations was impossible. Many hoped until the last that the vote would be against secession; but if it had, it would not have delayed for one moment the rapid strides with which that iniquity was advancing.
It may not be generally known how far practical secession had progressed, not only before the election, but actually before the secession ordinance was passes. Two days previous to the latter event, the troops destined to seize the national armory at Harper's Ferry, and to obstruct the entrance to the Gosport navy-yard, were on the way to those places. There was no act of the Legislature or ordinance of the convention to authorize these movements; but a supple Executive, who had mouthed his professions of Unionism as long as he dared, had practically surrendered his authority to a military committee appointed by the latter. The convention, in the mean time, was deliberating with closed doors what part they would recommend the State to take in the impending contest, for that was the extent of their authority, as their acts until ratified by the people were of no force. Whoever, therefore, had assumed to inaugurate war with the United States by setting these troops in motion, whether they had or had not been previously clothed with any legal authority, had palpably usurped the government of the State.
It is manifest that by the very terms of the secession ordinance the Constitution of the United States was acknowledged to be in force in Virginia until the ratification of that instrument by a majority of the voters, and that consequently and because the people by a very heavy majority had decided that "no action of the convention dissolving the connection of Virginia with the Federal Union, or changing the organic law of the State," should have any force or effect without their ratification, the ordinances ratifying the convention with the pseudo-confederate States, and that adopting their constitution, although the operation of the latter was to depend on the ratification of the secession ordinance, were absolutely null and void in their inception, so that not even a vote of the people could give them any force or effect. The Constitution of the United States (article one, section ten) provides that
"No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation;"
And again, that
"No State shall, without the consent of Congress," ****
"enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign Power."
I now proceed to show, and will be so presumptuous as to ask the particular attention of the Senate for a few minutes, that the so-called secession ordinance, by what it asserts and more by what it omits, does in fact, and almost formally and in terms, concede that there is no such right as that of separate State secession. It will be readily acknowledged that if those who assert a right rest its vindication on a single foundation, and that foundation utterly fails to support it, they do impliedly and in fact admit that such alleged right has no existence. This remark is only the more apposite when applied to those who, like our former brethren of eastern Virginia, claim to have been born with peculiar capacities for legislation, and to have devoted the ample leisure afforded them by their "peculiar institution" to perfecting themselves in that which to all others is a somewhat abstruse science. But cheaply as I hold these "new lights" of Virginia, I yield to none in reverence for her statesmen of the revolutionary period, or in appreciation of their labors. It is by the work of those giants that I expect to convict the pigmies of to-day.
I have already stated that the secession ordinance purports by its title to be an ordinance to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States by Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers thereby granted. That ratification, adopted on the 25th of June, 1788, which has been printed with every code of Virginia since issued, and which must be allowed to have for Virginia all the sacredness and force of a fundamental or organic law, declares and makes known "that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression." I call attention to the remarkable precision of this language. It asserts, first, that in a single contingency, which it plainly indicates, the powers granted under the Constitution may be resumed. It asserts, secondly, that in such contingency, such powers being derived from, may be resumed by, the people of the United States. If there is any other interpretation of which the words I have quoted are susceptible, I am unable to perceive it. Under a common rule of interpretation, the phrase quoted may be said to affirm that the powers granted can be resumed only by the whole people of the United States, and not by the people of any one, two, three, or more States, or any other portion of them less than the constitutional majority of States. I fearlessly assert, that not only upon the ground that the ratification was an organic law of Virginia, but also on the ground that the convention in adopting, and , if you please, the people in ratifying, the secession ordinance, by giving it the form of a repeal of the act of ratification, acknowledged themselves bound until such repeal by all that the latter contained, and consequently acknowledged the unconstitutionality and illegality, under both the organic law of the Union and that of their own State, of the act they were about to perpetuate.
But it seems that these Virginia secessionists were anxious to find, in the lowest depth of degradation into which they had not only voluntarily but exultingly plunged, a lower deep. Senators will wonder, if the conclusion from the act of ratification is as I have stated, why its repeal should have been resorted to as the mode of inaugurating secession. The convention had incubated the ordinance for nine long weeks, and it must be that when the young buzzard chipped the shell there was something about him displeasing to the eyes of his partial parents. Certainly the outsiders in Virginia, even those who had most impatiently awaited the hatching, were not permitted to see or handle him for many days afterwards; while the fact that he was hatched was triumphantly telegraphed to other seceding States. It is probable that, in the interval, the supposed deformity was removed by the excision of a part, the loss of which those who had "looked and longed and wished and grieved" for his appearance failed to perceive, but which the judicious may think aggravates his ugliness.
But, sir, bad image apart, will it be believed that the secession ordinance pretending to recite the act of ratification leaves out some most important words, the very words which most plainly and indubitably condemn its framers and supporters? The preamble to the ordinance is in the following words, and that there may be no mistake, I read from the official publication issued at Richmond in 1861, and bearing the imprint of "William F. Ritchie, public printer:"
"The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the 25th day of June in the year of our Lord 1788, having declared that the powers granted under the 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 slaveholding States: Now, therefore," &c.
As the omission may not be readily perceived by those who have not both instruments before them, I will state that the act of ratification says that "the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever," &c. The secession ordinance omits the words "by them." These words may not be absolutely essential to a correct interpretation of the act of ratification, but they render its meaning unequivocal. I am at a loss for language strong enough to characterize the baseness of this act. Had the right to secede been undeniable, all right-minded men would have approached its exercise with the most solemn feelings, among which would have been a sincere desire to justify it in the eyes of the world, and regret for the necessity which, in their opinion, demanded it. But what shall we say of those, who admitting by their own lying ordinance, that secession was unjustifiable, persevered in their iniquity to the extent of making war not only against the citizens of other States, but against those of their own? What shall we say of those to whom, in a dreadful crisis, it had been committed to indicate the course the State should pursue, who could impose so wicked and dishonorable a deception on those who had confided in them? What shall we say of those who appealed so often to State pride and State attachment to adhere to her under all circumstances, doing an act more disgraceful to the State, if they may be considered her representatives, and authorized to speak for her, than any which stains the history of nations? Sir, it has appeared throughout the already long history of secession, that the one great perjury of renouncing allegiance to the Government of their country has so poisoned the very souls of these men that they hesitate at nothing in the whole catalogue of crime if it will serve the purpose of the moment.
But there is upon the face of this secession ordinance another gross and palpable lie. The act of ratification gave as the one only cause justifying the resumption by the whole people of the United States of the powers granted under the Constitution, that these powers should be perverted to their injury or oppression. The ordinance does allege that these powers had been perverted by the Federal Government, "not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the southern slaveholding States," but there is no specification of the alleged injury and oppression, and we have, if our own knowledge of the fact is not sufficient, the testimony of Alexander H. Stevens and other influential secessionists, that there has been no such injury and oppression on the part of the Federal Government. And yet this lying ordinance is the pretense and the instrument by which so much misery has been inflicted upon Virginia, and, I may add, upon the country, for I verily believe that but for the encouragement given by these liars in her name and as her act, to more southern traitors, secession would never have raised its head, and but for her accession to the rebellion, effected by these liars, there would have been no years of a war unexampled in the history of mankind.
And now, sir, I ask the Senator from Kentucky, I ask the friends of republican government everywhere, what it became the loyal people of Virginia to do under these aggravated usurpations of their just authority? Was that honorable Senator only facetious the other day when he spoke of the three Legislatures sitting in what, by ignoring the existence of West Virginia as a separate State, he called Virginia? Did he mean to imply that the so-called Legislature which still convenes at Richmond, doing the behests of that other pseudo-government which has taken temporary lodgings in the same city, could be the true Legislature of Virginia even if the others were defunct? With his keen perception and appreciation of infractions of the Constitution and violations of popular rights, would he not have advised the loyal people to "revolt" against those who were perverting the powers with which they claimed to be invested to their injury and oppression; giving to the word "revolt" not his own mild interpretation, but the sterner meaning of the Senator from Massachusetts, [MR. WILSON?] Would not he, had he been one of them, have shouldered his musket, as he did most honorably and patriotically in behalf of the Union, at an early stage of this wicked rebellion? So great is my respect for the honorable Senator from Kentucky that I have already expressed my belief that he is incorrectly informed as to what the loyal citizens of Virginia did do, of their reasons for doing it, and of the manner in which it was done. I therefore hope to be indulged in a few remarks upon these topics.
Immediately after it became publicly known that the secession ordinance had passed in secret session on the 17th of April, 1861, a meeting was held in Harrison county at the instance of the present Senator from Virginia, who appointed delegates to a convention to be held in the city of Wheeling, on the 13th of May then next, and invited the northwestern counties, supposed to be the only portion of the State not under the immidiate [sic] military rule of the secession faction, to be represented there. The invitation was accepted; and delegates appointed by counties, towns, villages, and neighborhoods, to the number of five hundred, assembled at Wheeling on the appointed day. It preceded the day appointed for the vote on the secession ordinance, and was, in part at last, intended to concentrate the vote of the northwest against that iniquity. But events were hastening on with fearful rapidity; and before it met it was known that Confederate troops were advancing on the northwest. After it assembled, the secessionists of that quarter were active in denouncing it and its members, against several of whom, including the Senator from Virginia and my colleague, threats of personal violence were made. The convention, from the manner in which those composing it had been appointed, rendering the representation unequal, and from a sincere desire that all the loyal citizens of the State should unite with them in whatever course should be finally desermined [sic] on, called another convention, to meet, if the secession ordinance should be ratified, at the same city, on the 11th of June following, to be composed of the senators and delegates to the Legislature, to be elected ten days later under the regular operation of the Constitution and laws of the State, and of double the number of delegates to be specially elected from the counties represented there, and all others disposed to co-operate with them. It will be noticed that the invitation was addressed to all the loyal people of the State.
Before they separated, the May convention, notwithstanding their danger from the rebel troops still rapidly advancing, and from the home secessionists, passed a series of resolutions couched in decorous but pointed language. They declared that in their judgment the secession ordinance was unconstitutional, null, an void; that the prohibition to elect members of Congress was a manifest usurpation of power to which they would not submit, and recommended the people to elect their members, which was done in several cases; they denounced the agreement with the so- called Confederate States, and the ordinance approving and ratifying it, and all acts of the Executive in pursuance thereof, as palpable violations of the national Constitution, and utterly subversive of the rights and liberties of the people of Virginia; they earnestly urged and entreated the citizens of the State everywhere to vote in condemnation of the ordinance of secession; and in conclusion declared that they would maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, the laws made in pursuance thereof, and all officers lawfully acting under it.
Before the day for holding the second convention arrived, great changes had taken place. The brave and patriotic General (then Colonel) Kelly, in command of the first Virginia volunteers, raised under the auspices of a committee of the first loyal convention, and of regiments from Ohio and Indiana, literally met the enemy "at Philippi," and fought and won the first battle of the war, and, unfortunately, was the first field officer that received a serious wound. Many secessionists had fled, and among them a large portion of the State and county judicial and civil officers. But for the firmness of the loyal people, and the expectation of some efficient action by the convention about to sit, the counties free from military domination must have fallen into a state of anarchy such as inevitably follows the suspension of civil government for any length of time.
It was under such circumstances that the convention of June, 1861, assembled at Wheeling. That which claimed to be the government of the State was waging war against us. To yield it allegiance in the position it had assumed would be a denial of our allegiance to the United States. It would be more: it would be to confess an allegiance to a pseudo-confederacy, "begotten in sin and born in iniquity." This we could not do. It therefore became the duty of the convention to consider in what manner we could continue our allegiance to the Federal Government and at the same time secure to ourselves the benefit of those municipal laws and regulations which, under our system, can only emanate from the State governments, and their due and authoritative administration. This was a necessity to us, as it is a necessity to every community.
As soon as the convenion [sic] was fully organized, on the second day, a committee of thirteen was appointed "to prepare and report business for the convention." It met in the afternoon, and having determined on the course it would recommend the convention to pursue, referred to a sub- committee the consideration of a plan of proceeding. The sub-committee met in the evening, and in the morning reported to the committee, who adopted and at a later hour reported to the convention, a paper entitled "a declaration of the people of Virginia." As soon as this could be printed and considered it received the unanimous approbation of the convention, and was speedily engrossed and signed by every member.
This declaration sets forth that "the true purpose of all government is to promote the welfare and provide for the protection and security of the governed, and when any form or organization of government proves inadequate for or subversive of this purpose, it is the right, it is the duty of the latter to alter or abolish it;" and asserts that the Virginia Bill of Rights of 1776, twice reaffirmed by subsequent conventions, expressly reserves this right to the majority of the community. It then recites the grievances of which the loyal people of Virginia complained, which have been sufficiently indicated in my preceding remarks, and concludes with the following words, which constitute the operative part of the declaration:
"We, therefore, the delegates here assembled in convention do devise such measures and take such action as the safety and welfare of the loyal citizens of Virginia may demand, having maturely considered the premises, and viewing with great concern the deplorable condition to which this once happy Commonwealth must be reduced unless some regular adequate remedy is speedily adopted, and appealing to the supreme Ruler of the universe for the rectitude of our intentions, do hereby, in the name and on the behalf of the good people of Virginia, solemnly declare that the preservation of their dearest rights and liberties and their security in person and property, imperatively demand the re-organization of the government of the Commonwealth; and that all acts of the said (Richmond) convention and executive tending to separate this Commonwealth from the United States, or to levy and carry on war against them, are without authority, and void; and that the offices of all who adhere to the said convention and executive, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are vacated."
It will be perceived that this declaration, in its title and throughout, speaks for and on behalf of all the people of Virginia. The acts it denounces are acts of treason, even under the limited definition of that term in the Constitution of the United States; and, by consequence, the convention and executive and those who adhere to them are denounced as traitors. Leaving these out of the question - and who will say that they should be considered - it is undeniable that a majority of the people of Virginia, by their representatives, adopted this declaration or speedily accepted it. That it would have been adopted or accepted unanimously is evident from the fact that every county since reclaimed from the rebels has hastened to reorganize under it. It is the foundation of everything that has been done by or under the reorganized government.
It may be as well to notice here an objection made to the claim of West Virginia to be one of the States of this Union on a footing with the original States. It is said that the Legislature which give the consent to her erection within the jurisdiction of Virginia, required by the Constitution, did not represent a majority of the counties of the mother State. This objection is founded upon a fallacy. Counties are not the component integers of States as the States are of the Union. They are but geographical subdivisions adopted for the greater convenience of the people. In every State, and particularly in Virginia, they are diverse in size and population; and consequently to say that a majority of counties favored any measure is not to say that a majority of the voters, who represent the true integers of every community, approved it. If a majority of these integers, through their representatives, sanctioned the reorganization of the government of Virginia the constitutional consent was certainly given. But I apprehend that if a majority of the recognized legislature gave the consent Congress would not stop to inquire whether this majority represented a majority, not to say of the counties, but of the whole people.
But will any one contend that under circumstances such as those in which the loyal people of Virginia were placed, when some bold and determined step was required for "the preservation," in the language of their declaration, "of their dearest rights and liberties and their security in person and property," they must wait until it is certain that their number is equal to a majority of the whole people? May not a minority resist oppression and endeavor "to provide new guards for their future security." Surely it is an extraordinary doctrine that would teach men to submit to a usurping oligarchy until a majority could be found to raise the standard of revolt. But it will be said that this was revolution. Was it, indeed? Sir, the loyal people of Virginia were resisting not making a revolution, and this I apprehend is an important distinction.
As to the acts of the same convention, I will quote from their address "to the people of Virginia," issued at the close of their first session, which lasted only fifteen days. They say:
"In pursuance of this declaration we have passed such ordinances as are immediately necessary to re-organize the government and put it in operation. We have appointed a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Executive Council, leaving to the General Assembly, which we have directed to be convened at a very early day, to fill, or to provide for filling, all other offices as soon as, in their judgment, it can be properly done. The terms of the officer we have appointed are limited to six months, or until the election and qualification of their successors, for which the General Assembly is authorized to provide at the earliest possible period. In all this our fellow- citizens will clearly perceive that there has been no disposition to assume any power or authority not demanded by the exigencies of their present unhappy condition, or to retain it longer than a regard for their highest interests may require."
The General Assembly thus convened consisted of the senators and delegates elected on the day of the secession ordinance was voted on, and the portion of senators who held over. All of these were free to participate in its deliberations and votes, no matter what part of the State they were elected to represent, if they would take an oath to "support the Constitution of the United States, and the laws made in pursuance thereof, as the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution and laws of the State of Virginia or the convention which assembled at Richmond on the 13th of February, 1861, to the contrary notwithstanding;" and "to uphold and defend the government of Virginia, as vindicated and restored by the convention which assembled at Wheeling on the 11th day of June, 1861."
Further on the address says:
"Under all these circumstances, and with the firm conviction that the course adopted is the only one by which the State can be retained in the Union, and the liberties and rights of the people secured and perpetuated, we most earnestly call upon our loyal fellow-citizens in every county of the Commonwealth, who are not already represented in the General Assembly and in this convention, to elect members of the Legislature and appoint delegates to this body at the earliest possible moment." ****
"No suspension or essential change of any part of the constitution or laws of the Commonwealth, unless positively demanded by the exigencies of the times, will be made until the will of the whole people, or of their authorized representatives, can be freely expressed; and such changes as have been, or may hereafter be, so demanded, will be submitted for ratification at an early day."
I have quoted the ordinance of Virginia ratifying the national Constitution, in order to show that it does in terms denounce separate State secession by asserting that the powers granted under th Constitution can be resumed only by the whole people of the United States, and by them only in a certain contingency which it specifies, namely, when the powers granted are perverted to the injury or oppression of the grantors. The men who framed this ratification must for the most part have been adults in 1776, and consequently must have had an intimate knowledge of the principles by which that revolution was justified. Some of them, probably, had been members of the Congress which adopted the Declaration of Independence, and some of them of the Convention which framed the national Constitution. It is therefore certain that they knew whereof they affirmed when they asserted the single ground justifying a resumption of the governmental powers to be the perversion of them by those intrusted with their administration to the injury or oppression of the people.
More than two centuries previously the United Provinces of the Netherlands, having then passed through fifteen of the eighty years of their war of independence, renounced their allegiance to Philip II of Spain by a solemn act of abjuration, by which, as its title denotes, they absolved themselves from the allegiance they had sworn to that monarch, as our fathers by their declaration absolved themselves "from all allegiance to the British Crown." Both had been reluctant to take this final step. For several years the Netherlands actually carried on war against Philip in the name of Philip. In their act of abjuration they set forth the grievances to which they had been subjected, and delared [sic] "that they were sufficiently justified in forsaking a sovereign who for more than twenty years had forsaken them." In the preamble to their act they quaintly but pointedly say:
"All mankind know that a prince is appointed by God to cherish his subjects even as a shepherd his sheep. When, therefore, the price does not fulfill his duties as protector, when he oppresses his subjects, destroys their ancient liberties, and treats them as slaves, he is to be considered not a prince, but a tyrant. As such, the estates of the land may lawfully and reasonably depose him, and elect another in his room."
Do not Senators recognize in this the very principle asserted in the Virginia act of ratification? Its promulgation at that early day must have sounded strangely in the ears of monarchical Europe, but it was the key-note which governed the proceedings of the people of England a little more than a century later.
On the 12th of February, 1688-89, the lords and commons of that country sitting, not in Parliament, but in a convention of two houses, published a Declaration of Right, by which they deposed their king, James II, and called William and Mary to the throne. The declaration recapitulated the "crimes and errors" which made a revolution necessary, some of which consisted in the exercise by the king of powers vested in the Parliament, and others in the perversion of the powers with which he had been intrusted, and asserted that the perpetrator of these "crimes and errors" had abdicated the government. Macaulay, from whose history I have abridged this summary, criticises the use of the word "abdicated" in the above connection, especially as the flight of the king to France was not included in the catalogue of "crimes and errors." It is, however, plain that the convention meant what they said. Our Declaration of Independence uses this word in the same connection when it declares that George III, whose fleets were in our harbors and whose troops were upon our soil at the moment it was adopted and published, had "abdicated government here by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us."
The American Declaration, at the close of nearly another century, after asserting that Governments are instituted among men to secure the rights with which they are endowed by their Creator, declares, "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 foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." Again it declares that "when along train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, 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." It also asserts, incidentally, that legislative powers are incapable of annihilation, and that when those intrusted with them cease to exercise them, they return to the people at large for that purpose.
In humble imitation of what had been done at these great eras of the world's history, the loyal people of Virginia also issued their declaration of 1861. It too sets forth intolerable grievances which have their parallels in the precedents I have cited. They also adopted the principle set forth in the Virginia act of ratification, which is the sum of all these precedents; and if ever in the history of the world those intrusted with the powers of government had perverted them to the injury and oppression of the people, the secessionists at Richmond had committed the sin. The loyal people of Virginia resumed the administration of the government which had been insidiously wrenched from their control. Will the Senator from Kentucky, with a knowledge of the facts I have related and the precedents I have cited, venture to charge them with usurpation of the rights of others? Or, even if there were no such precedents, will he venture to assert that they should have prostrated themselves in the dust and licked the feet of their oppressors, justifying such abject humiliation by the plea that they were maintaining their allegiance to their State? Sir, the loyal men of Virginia fully justified themselves in the eyes of mankind, and best maintained their State allegiance, when, as they truly said through their convention, they adopted the only course by which their State could be retained in the Union. But according to the logic of the Senator from Kentucky, they should have made no attempt to rid themselves of the yoke of the usurpers who had betrayed them, no attempted to discharge their duty to the Union, until they had counted noses and found they were a clear majority of all the people of the State.
And now I will ask, in no vaunting spirit, what might have been the consequence if the men of the then western counties of Virginia had succumbed to the Richmond oligarchy? Those counties have sent to the said of the Union more than twenty thousand men, whose prowess has been exhibited on almost every battle-field of the war - men inhabiting a mountainous country and inured to what some call hardships from their infancy; men of active habits and great endurance; men accustomed to the use of the rifle and the management of the horse; men not enthusiastic, it is true, but reflective and of calm judgment; men, in short, whose history proves that they remained faithful to their country under threats and menaces from a stern sense of duty. If these men had espoused the other side, the confederate armies, rejoicing in their additional strength, would have occupied the valley of the Ohio, including western Pennsylvania, long before the first battle of Bull Run. The secessionists of Virginia calculated on these mountaineers to constitute the van of their armies; and the adherence of the latter to the Union doubtless disconcerted many a well-laid plan at an important crisis in the troubles of the country.
I have now, as I believe, fully proved that the loyal Legislature of Virginia was the true Legislature, and consequently that West Virginia is formally, legally, and constitutionally one of the States of the Union, on an equal footing with the original States. The details I have given fully exonerate the President and Congress from the charges brought against them by the honorable Senator from Kentucky and others, and show that those who effected the reorganization of Virginia, among whom are included those who labored for the erection of the State of West Virginia, were governed by that true love of country and by that spirit of resistance to oppression which has made the revolutionary era of our history famous in the estimation of the world. It is for the loyal of both States that I have invoked consideration and forbearance from those by whose sides they are still struggling in a common cause.
A few days since my colleague and myself voted on behalf of West Virginia for an amendment of the Constitution forever abolishing the institution of slavery in these United States. For myself I gave that vote with pleasure, and, indeed, had for some time past been anxious to give it. I gave it after mature examination and reflection, and am sure it will be sustained by the people of my State. I believe that the great majority of them, at any time since 1832, would have voted for gradual emancipation by the State government if it had been presented to them as an isolated question in a legal and constitutional way; and I believe it would long since have been so presented but for the onslaught made, not on slavery, but on slaveholders, by certain parties in the North. I have already stated that by far the larger portion of the loyal people of the border States are themselves slaveholders or connected by ties of blood with those who are, were born and reared where slavery existed, and have become accustomed to look at that institution from a different stand-point than that occupied by many on this floor and those whom they represent. Is it wonderful, then, that they feel agrieved [sic] by the assaults constantly made on the characters and conduct of themselves or of those with whom they are so nearly connected?
I am not the apologist of slavery, certainly not of its acknowledged evils. There has been no time since I attained years of reflection when I did not sincerely regret its existence in this country, no time when I did not long to see the way open for its removal. Had such an opportunity offered, I should most probably have joined the war against it in my own State. But fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, there is no enthusiasm in my composition, and the war which I joined would not have been a crusade. Enthusiasm in the pursuit of any object is not proof of sincere conviction, as he who habitually examines deliberately, amid the uncertainties by which all moral questions are surrounded, learns to distrust his own conclusions. I profess to have examined this subject of slavery as far as my ability and the lights afforded me would permit, but my conclusions have been different from those of some Senators who have spoken on the subject. On the one hand, I have not learned to regard slaveholding as a blessing or as calculated to add strength or prosperity to the State or community in which it exists, or on the other, to denounce it as the gravest in the long catalogue of crimes.
As to the religious aspect of the case, it will never be settled by the citation of isolated texts of Scripture on either side. Like all other questions of the kind, it requires that all the Bible says concerning it shall be reconciled with all the teachings of that holy volume, and that the facts and circumstances connected with the particular subject shall be considered. It is undeniable that the Mosaic law not only tolerated but regulated slaveholding among the Hebrews. The same is true of polygamy, which is more pointedly condemned in the new Testament. it is also true of the arbitrary divorce practiced by the people. Of the last the Saviour said, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hears, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so." He also said, "He which made them, at the beginning made them male and female." It may reasonably be inferred that polygamy was not an original but a mere conventional institution; and doubtedless the same is true of slavery. Yet both were tolerated, and may find their apology in the destructive wars of those days. Plainly neither was in accordance with the divine purpose. The tares were suffered to grow with the wheat until the harvest was fully ripe. This condemns slavery, it is true, but does any Christian man assert that what the divine law tolerated and regulated were crimes on a apar with those forbidden by the second table of the decalogue, or what the law writers term mala in se? To do so is to arrain [sic] the Almighty at his own bar.
If this is the slaveholders' rebellion, and slavery is at least the occasion if not the cause of it, let vituperations and denunciations be reserved for those among the former who are actually engaged in waging war against their country, and for those who would perpetuate the institution among us. If their guilt is great, if they have even placed themselves beyond the pale of forbearance, by what rule of ratiocination does it follow that those who were born where the institution already existed, and who could not, if they would, have abolished it, and who are giving their aid and encouragement to the war against the rebellion, are also to be the subjects of vituperation and denunciation? Are those of us who have simply lived where slavery existed, exchanging the courtesies of life with slaveholders, and esteeming those among them who were worthy, according to their deserts, to be placed in the same category? Is it not a more rational conclusion that those whose patriotism has overcome their prejudices and attachments are to be held in higher honor?
I have already expressed the belief that the loyal citizens of West Virginia, and of the border States generally, will cheerfully vote for the proposed amendment of the Constitution. They will vote for it because they will believe it to be a legitimate exercise of the high prerogative of the sovereign people of the United States; and even if there are some opposed to it at this time, they will, for the same reason, acquiesce in the result. But, from day to day, petitions are coming in asking Congress to abolish slavery by law in defiance of the Constitution. The repeal of the fugitive slave law, a constitutional requirement, not its amelioration, is also pressed upon this body. Movements are inaugurated having in view the reconstruction of that which their authors, in order to try their 'prentice hands at State making, propose first to demolish; for although the powers of Government may be suspended, we are told by high authority that they are incapable of annihilation, and if suspended, return to the people for their exercise. Efforts, direct and indirect, are making to elevate the negro to the level of citizenship, notwithstanding the decisions of the courts and the practice of the Government from its foundation are against it. I will only refer to the attempts to place him side by side with the white man as his social equal, notwithstanding the repugnance of the latter to such association, and then very briefly examine these several proposed measures in their order.
And first, as to the abolition of slavery by act of Congress, the power to do which seems to be denied by the Chicago platform itself. It is certain that whatever was constitutional or unconstitutional before the war remains so now; and that the loyal States are in the same condition as to their right to hold slaves as they were then, nor is this right affected, or alleged to be affected, by the proclamation of the President. The utmost effect that instrument could have, or that has been claimed for it, is to free the slaves in the States or parts of States not excepted by its terms, leaving the right to hold slaves as it was. If, however, the proclamation had the effect contended for, there are no slaves left for the proposed act of Congress to operate on besides those in the excepted States and parts of States; and these, with one or two exceptions, are already taking steps to rid themselves of slavery without doing violence to the Constitution.
As to the fugitive slave law, I would freely vote for the repeal of its obnoxious features, or the substitution of the law of 1793; but I cannot see anything in recent events which enables us to dispense with a plain requirement of the Constitution, for I hold that it is obligatory upon Congress to pass all laws which may be necessary for carrying into execution the powers vested in the Government. It is too late to contend that the power to compel the return of fugitive slaves is not a power so vested. That question was settled by the passage of the act of 1793, and by numerous decisions of the courts in compliance with its terms, which at least imply its constitutionality.
But we have recently had some new light shed upon this law by the majority of the committee who reported the pending bill. We are treated to the discovery that the words "person held t service or labor" do not describe a slave, mainly because slaves are not persons in a technical sense. The comprehensive brevity of the Constitution is one of its most admirable features as a literary production. There were three classes of natural if not legal persons intended to be described, and language is chosen which embraces all. The majority report admits that apprentices were included, and that an early Congress, some of whose members sat in the Convention which framed the Constitution, were simple enough to suppose that slaves were also. There was a third class, as I have stated, which is not often referred to, which was formerly numerous, and is not yet extinct. I allude to bound servants, or those who had contracted to serve others for a term of years. The overseers of the poor in, I presume, every State are authorized to bind out pauper men, women, and children who are more or less capable of service. These bound servants will probably increase in number in the States where slaves have been liberated. And yet the law is to be repealed, leaving no means to reclaim apprentices or bound servants, who are unable to answer in damages for the breach of the contract by which the right to their service or labor was acquired.
As to the proposed plans of reconstruction, so called, they appear to me, so far as I have seen them, to have one thing in common, namely, a violation of the true theory of the union of these States. The Constitution gives to Congress in so many words the power to declare war, without naming those against whom it may be waged. If an enemy should declare or wage war against a single State, Congress, because it is an integral part of the Union, must accept the war as against the Union. Can the United States, then, declare war against a State? To answer this affirmatively would involve the absurdity of admitting that the Union can declare and wage war against itself.
The armies of the Union may unquestionably be employed to execute the laws within the territory of any State. But is this a war, success in which would give to the Union the rights of a conqueror? I apprehend that when resistance was overcome, the status of the State and its relations to the Union would be in no respect altered. If, as threatened by South Carolina in 1832, the resistance to the laws was nominally authorized by the Legislature or convention of a State, would the result be different? What distinguishes our Union from a mere confederacy is the fact that the laws of Congress act directly upon the individuals of which each State is made up, and not upon the States, as bodies-politic. The enforcement of the laws of the Union is, therefore, so to speak, the enforcement of the individuals who resist them, and not the competent to authorize resistance to the laws, because such pretended authority is in contradiction of the Constitution, which makes the laws of the Union which are resisted by the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. Such acts of a State Legislature or convention are, therefore, nullities. That would be a most extraordinary conclusion which should claim that mere nullities had sufficient force to convict the State, as an organized body, of resistance to the laws, or, to use another term, of rebellion, so that those citizens who had given it no support by act or word would be implicated in its guilt and punished at least by the loss of their rights as citizens of the State and of the United States.
The armed forces of the Union may also in a certain contingency enter a State to protect it against domestic violence, that is, against an insurrection made by its own citizens. Who or what is to be protected in this case? Certainly not merely the geographical division of territory which is occupied by the State, and familiarly designated by that word. The clause of the Constitution can only mean the remaining citizens of the State not engaged in the insurrection. If this is so, I may ask, what right or authority in reference to the State which they did not previously possess do the United States acquire by putting down the insurrection? Clearly, none. Can it make any difference in this respect whether the insurrection is made by a majority or a minority of the citizens? I as confidently answer, it cannot.
The contingency which authorizes the forces of the Union to enter a State to protect it, to which I have just alluded, is that such protection be invoked by its Legislature, or, if that body cannot be convened, by its Executive. The spirit of the constitution evidently is, that the peaceful citizens are guarantied against domestic violence. That instrument, however, makes the Legislature, or the Executive, the judge as to when the occasion for such protection arises. If we consider not the words written on paper which we call the Constitution, but the real Constitution of the Government, which the paper merely records, is it not a safe conclusion, that if the persons constituting the Legislature and Executive have joined themselves to the insurrection, the national Government may under authority of the clause of the Constitution under consideration, and with or without the invocation of citizens of the State opposed to the insurrection, send their armies to give the needed protection?
The Constitution also provides that "the United States shall guaranty to every State in this Union a republican form of government." Upon this Mr. Madison remarks, in the Federalist, that "if the General Government should interpose by virtue of this constitutional authority it will of course be bound to pursue the authority. But the authority extends no further than to a guaranty of a republican form of government, which supposes a pre-existing government of the form which is to be guarantied." I do not think I contradict that eminent statesmen when I say that the spirit of the clause evidently is that the Union shall guaranty to each State a government of a republican form; or, in other words, that as an existing government is supposed, without which the guarantee cannot be operative, the Union guaranties that there shall be a government as well as that its form shall be republican. I remark here that when the administration countenanced the efforts to reorganize the government of Virginia, there being then no legal government existing in that State, it acted strictly within the line of its duty. I say further, that what was done in Virginia furnishes a precedent which may be properly followed, and discloses a principle which cannot, I think be successfully controverted. The latter was asserted by a leading member of the reorganizing convention of that State in these words: "If there is but a single loyal man in the State of Virginia, he is the State of Virginia." Alter the form but not the substance and say the loyal citizens of a State constitute the State, and few will have the hardihood to deny it.
I assert, then, that whether the armed forces of the United States are now waging war within certain States to put down resistance to the laws, to suppress insurrection, or to redeem the national pledge to guaranty to each a government republican in form, their success will not be a conquest of any political organization heretofore recognized as a State of the Union. They will simply have aided in the discharge of a national duty, and the blessings of thousands now suffering from the tyranny of those who have usurped the governments of their respective States, as well as the proud consciousness of having nobly discharged a patriotic duty, will be theirs. But the national Government will have another duty to perform, which it must not omit or evade. It must aid in the reorganization of the government of every redeemed State, and see that it is republican in form. For the performance of this imperative duty it cannot impose conditions. It must look only to the charter from which it derived its birth and by which it continues to exist, with the assurance that it cannot die except by suicide.
There is one class of measures left to which I proposed to advert. I allude to those which seek to enforce the political and social equality of the negro and white races. I ask, first, whether persons of the negro race are, or indeed can be, citizens of the United States without a constitutional amendment? Most certainly they were not counted among "we the people" who established the national Constitution, nor were they at that time, so far as I am informed, admitted to exercise the rights and privileges of citizenship in any State. From the foundation of the Government they could not obtain passports to foreign countries from the State Department. These are contemporaneous interpretations of the Constitution which cannot be disregarded. At various periods since and in many instances the courts of the States and of the United States have decided that they are not citizens. The constitution of Indiana, and the laws of several States, forbid them to come within their borders for permanent residence, which prohibitions would be of no effect if they are citizens. Whatever privileges individual States may accord to them they cannot make them citizens of the United States, so as to be "entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States." They are not citizens by birth, for the common law of England is not of force under the national Constitution. That they cannot be made citizens by incidentally them such in an act of Congress is palpable. Whether that body can make them citizens by an act passed for the purpose is, perhaps, doubtful. Their position is certainly anomalous, but there is no more perfect right possessed by communities and societies of every kind than that of excluding from citizenship or membership such persons as they deem proper.
Nor does the clause in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," when rightly construed, even when allowed to have the force of an organic law, which it plainly has not, make them citizens. The equality declared is certainly not personal, but political. The latter term can only apply to the members of a political community, that is, a nation. Our sires certainly did not intend to proclaim that a non-naturalized Frenchmen, while sojourning in England, should enjoy the same political rights as the native born. The world does not, in any sense, constitute one great community; but, on the other hand, the fiat of the Almighty Ruler, that men should thereafter dwell in separate and independent communities, is plainly recorded in the Bible. The equality of the Declaration of Independence, therefore, is that which should obtain between members of the same community. The "inalienable rights" there spoken of are the rights also of members of communities, for it is further said that "so secure these rights Government," or in other words, separate, independent communities, are "instituted among men." When all such communities are constituted on true principles, equality of political rights will indeed by universal, for every man, within his own community, will enjoy the same rights and privileges as every other man does within that of which he is a citizen or member.
The class of persons to whom I have alluded may be made citizens by a constitutional amendment, and, possibly, by an act of Congress; but there are grave considerations which should be deliberately weighed before any step is taken in this direction[.] There are many of them to whom the rights of citizenship might be safely committed, but these are very far from being the majority. But two, three, or four generations have passed away since the ancestors of these people were savages of the most degraded type. The remark of Mr. Calhoun, to the effect that history furnishes no record of a race which has arisen so rapidly from savagism toward civilization may be correct, but he mass are yet very far from the goal. This is emphatically true of the large majority of those whom the war has liberated from slavery. Those who were employed as domestic and farm servants, and were thus kept more closely in contact with the whites, have advanced more rapidly; but the progress made by the plantation hands has not been great, and they retain many of the traits of savages. What positions they are to occupy among us, now and hereafter, is a question demanding the gravest consideration, and cannot be determined by flippant iterations of maxims of liberty and equality, which scarcely apply to them. We owe them protection, probably against themselves as well as others, and I do not perceive how such protection can be efficiently given, unless, like the freedmen now supported by the Government, they remain to some extent in a state of pupilage, a state incompatible with the exercise of the rights of citizenship.
I now venture the assertion that not one of the measures upon which I have commented, except that which has already passed the Senate, is necessary or even desirable at this time. Emancipation by act of Congress is not required, even if it were possible. The fugitive law, so far as slaves are concerned, is to-day little more than a dead letter of the statute-book. When the proposed amendment of the Constitution is adopted, there will be no slaves on whom it can operate, and I have shown that its retention, at least in a modified form, is necessary in regard to some other classes of persons. As to the so-called reconstruction of the Union, the way to it is plain, and will be easy, when our armies have crushed the rebellion. I adhere, and shall adhere while I have breath, to the principles developed and acted on, in the re-organization of the government of Virginia. Let that example be followed, as indeed it has been and is being followed, and all difficulties vanish. Let the loyal men of each redeemed State reorganize their government, and when this is done for each and every one now under the dominion of the rebels, all that is desirable is accomplished. I do not counsel that the troops of the Union should be withdrawn, or that the exclusive control of affairs should be relinquished to the reorganized governments until it can be done with safety to the Union, for such safety is its paramount law; but I think that safety will be insured whenever the rebellion is suppressed; for, as I believe, there will be found loyal men enough in every State, whether those who through all these bitter times have held fast to their integrity, or those who have seen the error of their ways and renewed their devotion to the Union, to whom the administration of the State government may be safely intrusted.
As to the political and social status of the recent slaves it is only wise to await the development of events. How these will arrange themselves, even in the near future, no human ken can discern. If the freedmen shall voluntarily become the laborers of the States where they have lived, and prove themselves worthy of their freedom, it will be well for them and for us, and their condition will be speedily ameliorated; but if, on the contrary, as is greatly to be feared, they decline to labor and are willing, as has been the case elsewhere, to live from hand to mouth, the event will inevitably prove that they have but exchanged one subjection for another, and that their taskmasters will be the pauper and criminal laws of the States where they reside. But this may be avoided, and all that their best friends can desire may be conceded to them if they are taught a true self-respect instead of a ridiculous self-esteem.
The application of all this is obvious. If the measures I deprecate are of doubtful constitutionality; if they are not called for by anything growing out of the present condition of our national affairs; if their effect will be to irritate and perhaps estrange a portion of our fellow citizens who have abundantly proved by acts, more than by professions, their devotion to the Union and the general welfare; if these are ready to vote, possibly, as one man for that amendment of the Constitution which will at once and forever destroy that root of bitterness which is supposed to call for the measures in question, why shall they be pressed upon Congress and the country at this time? I leave the answer to the patriotism and good sense of those whose consideration and forbearance I invoked at the beginning of these remarks.
Clouds may rest upon the natural horizon, but we know that somewhere behind them is the glorious luminary which shall soon burst through, diffusing light, heat, and vitality. The arrangements of Providence in the moral world assure us that, as in the natural, clouds of sorrow and affliction do but conceal, not extinguish, the sun of mercy which is every shining. Clouds and thick darkness are resting now upon our national horizon, but let us have the faith to believe that they will speedily dissipate and let in the rays that will revivify our Union. Let us believe that ours will again be a united country, our people again dwelling in peace and harmony under our benign institutions, all sectional jealousies and animosities removed, and each as anxious for the welfare of his brother as for his own, giving him no cause of offense, bearing with his infirmities, and kind to his virtues.
For myself, Mr. President, I have never doubted that a bright future is in store for our common country; and even the late events have not shaken my faith in its glorious destiny. Storms and tornadoes in the natural world are but the precursors of a brighter day; and amid the gloom that surrounds us, I venture, but with reverence, to apply to the land of my birth and of my love, the lines of the prophet whose lips were touched with the living fire of heaven:
"Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities:
Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation,
A tabernacle that shall not be taken down;
Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed;
Neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.
But there the glorious Lord will be unto us
A place of broad rivers and streams,
Wherein shall go no galley with oars,
Neither shall gallant ship pass thereby.
For the Lord is our judge,
The Lord is our lawgiver,
The Lord is our king;
He will save us."