Richmond: Whig Book and Job Office, 1861
Mr. Cox, of Chesterfield, having submitted the following resolution:
Resolved, That the Committee on Federal Relations be instructed to report, without delay, a plan for a Convention of all the Border Slave States at the earliest practicable day; also, to report on the subject of coercion by the Federal Government of the seceded States.
Mr. Leake moved to amend by striking out all after the word “resolved,” and inserting the following:
“That the Committee on Federal Relations be instructed to bring in an ordinance setting forth the following facts and determinations of Virginia in connection with the present threatening aspect of public affairs: That as Virginia was the foremost to make sacrifices for the Union under the Constitution, so, to preserve it, she has practiced the greatest self-denials: never seeking or receiving an exclusive benefit, she has never infringed the rights of any State or section: zealous of the integrity of the Constitution, and the equality of the States, she has lived up to the obligations imposed upon her by the Federal compact. That on the other hand, the Northern section has disregarded many of its obligations, and attempted to set aside some of the compromises made between the two great sections of the Confederacy, without which no union could ever have been formed; hatred has been substituted for that fraternity upon which these compromises rested for vitality; and power is claimed for a sectional majority utterly at war with the spirit and letter of the compact, and subversive of our safety, our well-being and our rights. Equality of rights in the enjoyment of the common property is denied us, aggressions are made upon our soil, the powers of a common Government are claimed as the lawful means for our oppression, and the hedging in our rights. All this opposition to our civilization, all this hatred of our domestic institutions, and all this enmity to our peace, are banded together in the formation and upholding of a great sectional party, that has elected a president upon the principle of avowed hostility to the institutions of the South, and upon the pledge to use the powers of the government for their ultimate extinguishment, forgetful that the Union was formed for ‘establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility.’ These violations of the integrity of the compact, have given rise to other great evils now impending over us, which menace the first principles, the very foundations of free institutions, and which threaten the overthrow of the rights of sovereign States. They have given rise to the claim of right upon the part of sovereign States in one section to coerce sovereign States of another section into a union to which they will not assent, and to the assertion of the doctrine that resistance to violations of the terms of our Federal compact is treason to the claims of a sectional majority; and which have led to the armed occupation of the seat of the common Government by an armed force, with friendly purposes towards the one section, with hostile feelings towards the other; and which, too, have led the authorities at Washington to make the fortresses of Virginia to frown upon her while she was showing a determination to exhaust all the resources of conciliation and compromise. These outrages of a sectional majority have broken the constitution, driven seven States out of the Union, dissolved the Union of our fathers, and is now substituting another Union in its place. Virginia is no party to any such new Union; and she demands a re-construction to secure her and the whole South from any future outrage. In this re-construction she ought to stand with the South in the assertion of her rights, and she ought to occupy no position in connection with the North, in the state of things brought about by Northern aggressions, which would cripple her power for her own defence, and prevent her from aiding in maintaining the rights and the equality of all the States. And that the said committee especially set forth the fact, that in consequence of the secession of Southern States, and the hopeless condition of New England fanaticism, the blind hate of Black Republicanism, and the coercive policy indicated by the President of a dismembered Union, there is no hope of an amendment of the Constitution that can be satisfactory to Virginia, in the constitutional way, and that the only mode, in the circumstances which now surround us, to secure any Union in which the rights of Virginia would be safe and protected, is for Virginia to reassume all the powers she delegated to the Federal Government, and to declare her independence; and then to call into a Convention all the slaveholding States, to determine what shall be the new construction necessary for their rights and protection in a confederacy of slave States alone, or of the slave States and such free States as are willing to come into a Union under this new construction, with the slave States.”
Mr. Harvie moved to amend the amendment by striking out all after the word “instructed,” and inserting the following—“to report forthwith the following”:
Whereas, it is now plain that it is the purpose of the Chief executive of the United States to plunge the country into civil war by using the power “to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the duties on imports,” in all the States, as well those that have withdrawn from as those that have remained in the Union; and, whereas, the State of Virginia will resist such exercise of power with all her means; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Legislature of the State be requested to make all needful appropriations of means and provide the necessary forces to resist and repel any attempt on the part of the Federal authorities to “hold, occupy and possess the property and places” of the United States in any of the States that have withdrawn from the Union, or to collect the duties on imports, in the same.
Mr. JOHN S. CARLILE, of Harrison.—Mr. President, in this the hour of our country's peril, when the strength of our system of Government is being severely tested, I should be slow to believe that any but patriotic emotions could influence the members of this body. Candor and frankness, therefore, should characterize our discussions, and a love of country alone should influence our deliberations. In this spirit I enter upon this discussion.
The resolutions before the Convention are designed, and if adopted will have the effect, to place Virginia in hostility to the Federal Government, which Federal Government is Virginia's Government. In other words, to commit Virginia to a war against herself, and to connect her with the Cotton States, so as to share with them the disastrous consequences that may flow from the rebellious attitude assumed for them and in their name, by the men who for the time have the control of their respective State Governments. Mark it well, Mr. President; note it, gentlemen of the Convention; look to it, ye people of Virginia—it is the purpose of those who arc pressing with such eagerness and such earnestness upon this body these resolutions, if they can have them adopted here, never, never to allow the people to pass upon them.
And, sir, it is not anything in the inaugural address of the President of the United States that has induced the submission of these resolutions at this time. I grant, sir, that the delivery of that address and its appearance has been made the occasion, as the election of the man was made the occasion by the Cotton States, to dissever their connexion, so far as they can do it, from the rest of the United States. I will here remark, Mr. President, that every movement that has been made in the State of Virginia, looking to secession, has been in exact conformity to the programme laid down by the Richmond Enquirer. In October last, before the election, the editors of that paper advised the Cotton States immediately and separately to secede, and stated that they would inevitably drag Virginia after them. This is the sentiment of gentlemen who profess an ardent love for a mother Commonwealth— she who has been accustomed to give law to the States of this Confederacy; it is an exhibition of their fondness for her, to place her in a condition to be dragged at the heel of the Cotton States of this Confederacy.
I have said that the appearance of the inaugural address of the President has been merely seized upon as the occasion for the submission of these resolutions, and the eloquent declamation to which we have listened day after day, during the present week, has been but in compliance with the programme "to fire the Southern heart," to induce members of this body, if possible, to forget that they had a constituency behind them to whom they were responsible—not responsible to those who get up meetings in the streets of this city, and call for reports from Peace Commissioners to be made to them. On the 19th day of February, more than two weeks before the inaugural address appeared, the programme was laid down and published in the Richmond Enquirer, as follows:
"Aye, the Convention now assembled in this city, can, in one day, in one hour, take action which cannot fail to restore our Union, maintain our honor, and preserve an honorable peace in the Union.
"This can be done by a single ordinance—by an ordinance which will not require even reference to the people, under the prescribed terms of the legislative act and the late popular vote—by an ordinance which will involve neither secession nor nullification; and comprehending only such action as a State may take in the Union, in the strict conformity with the letter itself of the Constitution of the United States.
"Let the Convention command the confidence of all the Southern States by declaring the fixed intention of Virginia to resist all attempts to coerce a Southern State; let it command the full sympathy of the Southern States by declaring that if separation shall prove final and irremediable, Virginia will cast her lot with that of her Southern sisters.”
This is the programme of the editors of that paper. Without having the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with them, I have the same respect for any opinion they might give, that I would have for the opinions of any three respectable gentlemen, and no more; so far as the cracking of their whip over my back is concerned, it will affect my action just as much as the cracking of any other three gentlemen's whips over my back might effect it, and no more.
Let us look again, and see if we cannot take another peep into the programme. Mr. President, I have listened, in a body representing the sovereignty of my native Commonwealth, to appeals made to my fears, and through me to the fears of the people, to induce us to do that which gentlemen must suppose that if we were not influenced by fear, could not command the approbation of our judgments. We are urged to adopt these resolutions, "to save Virginia from civil war." Oh, but a tear will course down my cheek, when the fact is made patent to my mind that my mother Commonwealth is to be driven into a course of conduct which her judgment does not approve, by appeals to her fears!
That those who are the authors of this plan, and in the carrying out of whose programme these resolutions have been offered, care very little about civil war, we will find in that paper of the 4th March, 1861, clothed in mourning. "EXPEL THE INVADER AT ONCE;" that is the heading of the editorial. I shall not detain the Convention by reading the whole of it; I will simply call the attention of the Convention to the last sentence:
"Let the Confederate States once appeal to arms for resistance to invasion, and the submissionist programme loses its last prop on the Border States."
That IS what those gentlemen say, in that editorial. They understand their programme well. I have no doubt of it. But they will never be able to succeed in carrying it out and accomplishing their purpose.
Mr. President, how different is the Enquirer of 1860-61 from the Enquirer of 1858! Will any gentleman explain to me what has produced this change which has come over the spirit of its dreams? Everything in the Federal and State Governments is precisely where it was in 1858, with the solitary exception of Mr. Lincoln as President of the United States, and the going out of Mr. Buchanan, who has held that position for the last four years. Every personal liberty bill that is or has been upon the statute book of any of the non-slaveholding States was there in 1858. The same anti-slavery sentiment, the same sentiment of hostility to the institution of African slavery existed in 1859 as much as it exists in 1861. And yet that Enquirer speaks differently, and in a different tone.
In its issue of July 23, 1858, it says:
"The shrill-tongued faction which has dinned in our ears so unmercifully with the cry of disunion, is composed of three distinct classes. Of these, the first is by far the most respectable—it consists of Simon Pure disunionists, who are laboring honestly and openly for a dissolution of the Union. The second is made up of men whose real object is disunion, but who cloak it under flimsy pretences and disguises. The third set are no disunionists at all but a mere band of malcontents, disappointed in their political aspirations, who require a thorough disorganization and reorganization of parties to offer opportunity for their own elevation to power, and find no scheme so available as that of exciting sectional and factionary differences among the members of the only remaining national party."
Now, Mr. President, I shall not detain this Convention by attempting further proofs of the remarks I have made in relation to these resolutions. I think it will plainly appear that these resolutions were determined upon before the inaugural address was delivered; that the appearance of that inaugural has only been seized upon as the occasion, with the hope that in the excitement which gentlemen could get up in opposition to that inaugural, they might possibly succeed in passing through this body these resolutions, thus carrying out the programme by which the people who sent us here and who were induced to believe that all or any action of this body would first have to pass their supervision before it would receive the authority of law, are to be deprived of the privilege of passing upon our action here, and a clash of arms is to be brought on by the Confederate States; and Virginia, having been induced to take this position, thus recommended to her by these gentlemen of the Enquirer, she is to be committed without consulting her people, by the action of her advisatory representatives, for you are nothing more, to all the horrors of civil war; not alone to share, as I said, with the Cotton States; but to stand here and receive the shock for their benefit.
Mr. President, what are we called upon to do? Let us examine these resolutions? Let us see what gentlemen expect of this Convention? To make war upon the Constitution of our own country; to destroy our own Government, the work of our own revolutionary fathers; and, if I may be allowed to cite authority which I presume will be respected by this Convention, not alone their work. I now read, sir, from an address delivered a little more than two years ago, by a distinguished gentleman, who, at that time, occupied the Chair of State in Virginia. It was delivered at a time when the remains of one of Virginia's distinguished sons—PRESIDENT MONROE—had been brought to her own capital, by the Seventh Regiment of New York; that New York which those gentlemen would have to be a foreign Government to Virginia. On that occasion the Governor of Virginia said:
" Look to the formation of the Constitution after the articles of Federation had been signed. When your fathers attempted to form this Union, they did not calculate what sort of a Union it was to be. They agreed upon a Union for Union's sake, and, by all the gods, I too, go for the Union for the Union's sake.! (Tremendous applause.) They went to work for the best Union they could make, and they did give us the best Union and the best Government the world ever saw. (Renewed applause.) But, Jefferson did not make it nor Madison, or his co-laborers make it. GOD ALMIGHTY MADE IT. It was the work of inspiration. I believe that, as I believe in the Bible."
That is the language of a patriot and a distinguished gentleman, but two years ago, when he was your Governor.
I will invoke again the same distinguished authority, at a later period, in behalf of the Constitution and the Union of my country. Governor Wise delivered an address in this city in May, 1859, in which he said:
“And if any would array this country’s parts against each other in sectional division and strife, let them have no inheritance in the whole—the grand, great whole; but let them selfishly have a single, small place for their safe keeping, a home made for treason, felony, or mania, a prison or a mad-house.
"They cannot destroy the Union without destroying States and homes, and they cannot destroy homes and States without destroying the Union. By strengthening each part we fortify the whole, and by fortifying the whole we protect each part. Each and all is ours; each and all belongs to all equally and alike; in the part and in the whole all citizens are seized; all, North and South, East and West, white and black, native and naturalized, bond and free, happy here as never men were happy elsewhere on earth, may say, for the whole Union of these States, as this toast says for the blessed mother of States:
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land?"
"I give you the Union and the Constitution of the United States, as they are—the country, the whole country—'my own, my native land,' as it is."
Now, in less than two years we are called upon to turn our back upon this our native land, and to pledge ourselves either to States in actual rebellion against the Government, or to foreign powers, in which ever light you choose to view the position assumed by the seceding States; and I would respectfully commend to the gentleman from Bedford (Mr. Goggin) and from Halifax (Mr. Flournoy) the fact that if we follow their advice, we either place ourselves in actual rebellion against our native land, or give aid to foreign governments in a war against our own country; for, if the seceding States are out of the Union, they are a foreign and hostile power; if in the Union, they are in a state of rebellion. And Virginia is to do this to-day, what sir was not required to do one week ago, because of the appearance of Mr. Lincoln's inaugural address. Ah! Will Virginia do this thing? Why, sir, I suppose if these gentlemen expected to have been satisfied with Mr. Lincoln's inaugural address, they would not have opposed him so bitterly as they did. And here in the midst of the assembled representatives of Virginia, I declare, on my own responsibility as a man and a Virginian, that I am agreeably disappointed in the pacific tone that breathes through the whole of that inaugural address. Sir, it is fortunate for the people of Virginia that they will read that address for themselves, but I will call particular attention to what Mr. Lincoln says upon the subject which now concerns us all:
"The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves can do this also if they choose, but the Executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present Government as it came to his hands, and to transmit it unimpaired by him to his successor.
"Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? in our present difficulties is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South—that truth and that justice will surely prevail, by the judgment of this great tribunal—the American people.
"By the frame of the Government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power to do mischief, and have, with equal wisdom, provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. VVhile the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.
"My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time, but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied still have the old Constitution unimpaired; and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while, the new Administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied held the right in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulties.
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you.
"You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect and defend' it. I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle held and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth-stone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of their nature."
Now, sir, in order that the attention of the people, which may not have been specially directed to what Mr. Buchanan said in his last annual message upon the same subject, may be called to it now; I read what Mr. Buchanan said in his annual message to Congress in December last:
"The same insuperable obstacles do not lie in the way of executing the laws for the collection of the customs. The revenue still continues to be collected, as heretofore, at the Custom House in Charleston; and should the Collector unfortunately resign, a successor may be appointed to perform this duty.
"Then in regard to the property of the United States in South Carolina. This has been purchased for a fair equivalent, 'by the consent of the Legislature of the State,' 'for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals,' &c., and over these the authority 'to exercise exclusive legislation' has been expressly granted by the Constitution to Congress. It is not believed that any attempt will be made to expel the United States from this property by force; but if in this I should prove to be mistaken, the officer in command of the forts has orders to act strictly on the defensive. In such a contingency, the responsibility for consequences would rightfully rest upon the heads of the assailants.
"Apart from the execution of the laws, so far as this may be practicable, the Executive has no authority to decide what shall be the relations between the Federal Government and South Carolina. He has been invested with no such discretion. He possesses no power to change the relations heretofore existing between them, much less to acknowledge the independence of that State. This would be to invest a mere Executive officer with the power of recognizing the dissolution of the Confederacy among our thirty-three Sovereign States. It bears no resemblance to the recognition of a foreign de facto Government, involving no such responsibility. Any attempt to do this would, on his part, be a naked act of usurpation."
That is the language of President Buchanan, in December last, looking to this action on the part of South Carolina. And it is because Mr. Lincoln has not been guilty of this usurpation—which would have been a mere nullity—of recognizing the independence of these States which are now in rebellion against our own Government, that he is to be denounced, and that we are with hot haste to pledge ourselves to become a party to this effort at self murder.
What less could Mr. Lincoln have said? I am not here as his defender or his apologist. God knows, if there is a man in the land who regrets his existence and the existence of his party more than I do, I know him not. But I am a Virginian, born and raised in the State, never having lived out of it, and not expecting to die out of it. I have too much Virginia blood in my veins to do the slightest injustice to the meanest reptile that crawls. Mr. Lincoln dare not recognize these ordinances of secession, by which these States say they have severed the tie that bound them to the rest of the States of the Union. And I cannot, for the life of me, reconcile the opinions offered by the distinguished gentleman from Bedford, (Mr. Goggin,) denying the right of secession, but yet recognizing it as a duty on the part of Virginia, to give her aid, and to spill her blood, if necessary, and expend her money, and appropriate her men, in defence of those who have done that which, if they have not the right of secession, is evidently an illegal act.
I had thought that the gentleman from Bedford (Mr. Goggin) was a member of the successful party in the State of Virginia at the late Presidential election. I thought he rang the Bell where Everett went. If I mistake not, he was on a certain committee who reported the platform upon which that party stood.
Mr. GOGGIN, of Bedford—I was a member of the Convention, not of the Committee.
Mr. CARLILE—Well, then, a member of the Convention, and of course he endorsed the platform of his party, which was "the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the laws" against all resistance, either at home or abroad. Here is the resolution in their platform to which I refer:
"Resolved, That it is the part both of patriotism and duty to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the Country, the Union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws, and that, as representatives of the Constitutional Union men of the country, in National Convention assembled, we hereby pledge ourselves to maintain, protect and defend, separately and unitedly, these great principles of public liberty and national safety against all enemies, at home and abroad, believing that thereby peace may once more be restored to the country, the rights of the people and of the States reestablished, and the Government again placed in that condition of justice, fraternity and equality which, under the example and Constitution of our fathers, this solemnly bound every citizen of the United Stales to maintain a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
I would inquire if the gentleman from Halifax, (Mr. Flournoy,) stood upon that platform? I merely inquire, sir, very respectfully, and the gentleman need not answer, unless it is agreeable to him to do so?
Mr. FLOURNOY.—I nodded my head as an answer in the affirmative; I did not think it was necessary to rise and answer the gentleman in more definite manner.
Mr. CARLILE.—Well, sir, what Union was it you had to preserve? What Constitution were you to protect and defend? And what laws were you to enforce? Did you not unite with me, and with the whole South, in doing homage to Mr. Fillmore? Did we not call him the Model President? And why did he deserve that name? Because at the point of the bayonet, in the streets of Boston, with the army of the country, he enforced the laws against those who were disposed to resist them. And now, when the laws are to be enforced on this side the line, Virginia is to pledge herself to resist their execution.
But not only by those who deny the right of secession, but by those who advocate the right of secession, are we to be dragged into a committal of the people of Virginia, without their being consulted upon it, to a policy which unites our fortunes with those who contemn the laws of the country, and despise and set at naught its authority. The people I have the honor to represent upon this floor are a brave, and a gallant, and a law-abiding people, and you may travel where you will--North, South, East, or West--and a more honorable, or a more intelligent people, is not to be found on the face of God's green earth; a more loyal people to the soil of their birth is nowhere to be found; a people devoted to the institution of slavery, not because of their pecuniary interest in it, but because it is an institution of the State; and they have been educated to beleive in the sentiment uttered by the gentleman from Halifax, the other day, and which I cordially endorse, "That African slavery, as it exists in the Southern States, is essential to American liberty."
The people that I have the honor in part to represent, have not been seized with this frenzied madness which has seized our friend in other parts of the Commonwealth, to induce them--brave and gallant though they be--to adopt a cowardly--I use this language because I have no other, for I have never been inside a school-jouse to learn since I was fourteen years of age--to adopt a cowardly course, to run away and give up all their inheritance in this great country, because of our own divisions we allowed about one-third of the voters of the Union, numbering a little more than one-half of the votes in the non-slaveholding States to succeed in elevating to the presidency of the United States, one who is objectionable to us. Sir, we know we have the protection of our common Constitution; we know that that flag is ours, we know that the army is ours; we know that the navy is ours; we know that in any battle in defence of our rights, fifteen hundred thousand gallant voters in the non-slaveholding States will rush to our assistance, and under the stars and stripes will hurl from power any and all who dare to take advantage of the position they ahve obtained to our injury or oppression. We cannot reconcile secession with our notions of Virginia's chivalry and Virginia's courage. But we know, Mr. President--and no man upon this floor has denied it--that this Government we are called upon to destoy has never brought us anything but good. No injury has it ever inflicted upon us. No act has ever been put upon the statute book of our common country, interfering with the institution of slavery in any shape, manner or form, that was not put there by and with the consent of the slaveholding States of this Union. As I remarked upon a former occasion, in this Convention, when we did put an act there, when we drew the line of demarcationa cross the common territory that belonged to us, and claimed it as a Southern triumph, we were saved from its injustice by the act of the Federal Government; and yet we are now called upon, in hot haste, to destroy the Government that shielded us from the injurious consequences of our own mistaken conduct. It did so by declaring that act of ours a nullity, and guaranteed to us the right to go to any and all the Territories of this Union with our slave property, if we desired to do it. That is the Government which we are called upon to destroy—a Government which protects us even against our mistakes—a Government which has quadrupled the area of slave territory since it had an existence—a Government in which we have to-day the right to make four more slave States, if we had either the whites or negroes to occupy them; but we have neither—and it is because we have neither that we do not have to-day nineteen slave States in the Union. We have had the right to occupy them ever since 1845; and yet we want expansion in Northern latitudes, where all the legislation and stimulants on earth could not keep the negro for a week, even if we were to take him there. This question of African slavery is regulated by climate, by soil, by products, and by interest.
But, Mr. President, we have heard a great deal here about equal rights—that's the expression, I believe, I never heard it specified what the rights were. We have heard a great deal about "rights," but very little about "duties." "Rights" are in every man's mouth-— "duties" are never alluded to. "Rights" are to be enjoyed; "duties" are to be performed. But it is not because of any denial of right on the part of the Federal Government to allow us to carry our slaves into the territories of this Union, that this Union is sought to be destroyed. South Carolina scorns to place it upon any such ground. It is only used here, and reference is made to personal liberty bills here, not because of the injury inflicted by these bills, but it is because these gentlemen may obtain the motive power which is necessary to enable them to accomplish their disunion ends. If it were resistance to the fugitive slave law; if it were the passage of the personal liberty bills that they considered as just cause for the dissolution of this Union, would South Carolina, who never lost a runaway slave, have inaugurated the movement of secession? Is Virginia so dull, is she so stupid, is she so lost to all her ancient fame, that she will consent to remain in the Union, disgraced and dishonored, not knowing that she was so disgraced and dishonored until South Carolina advises her to that effect? Is that the position in which gentlemen would place us?
This movement originated in South Carolina, where they never lost a slave, precisely as most of these personal liberty bills are found in the statute books of such of the New England and Western States as never saw a runaway slave. Now, sir, South Carolina tells you boldly and frankly, as Mr. Preston, her ambassador, told you in this hall the other day, that it was not for that, but because of the irrepressible conflict that exists between free and slave labor.
Is it not strange, is it not remarkable that we get all our doctrines of secession, of irrepressible conflict from these Yankees, whom we love to abuse?
Where did this doctrine of the right of a State to secede originate? In the hot-bed of all the isms—Massachusetts. In 1807, because of the embargo, citizens of Massachusetts and other New England States resolved that they had the right to secede. Let us see how that doctrine was treated hi Virginia. In 1808 the Presidential electors of Virginia met in this city and cast their votes for Mr. Madison as President, and as successor to Jefferson. A dinner was given to the Electors upon that occasion. Spencer Roane was President and Robt. Taylor, Vice President; P. N. Nicholas, Attorney General; Peyton Randolph, John Preston, Thomas Ritchie, and many others of the most distinguished statesmen of Virginia, sat down to that dinner.
One of the regular toasts—the 14th I believe—was,
“The Union of the States; the majority must govern; it is treason to secede.”
But, sir, that doctrine was still agitated to a later period in these New England States. The Richmond Enquirer of 1811 held the following language:
"No man, no association of men, no State, or set of States, has a right to withdraw itself from this Union of its own account. The same power which knit us together can unknit. The same formality which formed the links of the Union is necessary to dissolve it. The majority of States which formed the Union must consent to the withdrawal of any one branch of it. Until that consent has been obtained, any attempt to dissolve the Union or distract the efficacy of its constitutional law, is treason—treason to all intents and purposes."
The authority of Mr. Madison has been invoked in favor of this right to secede. I will not detain the Convention now by reading the many letters which Mr. Madison wrote upon that subject. I will merely refer to them, taking care, however, that they shall accompany the publication of my remarks. First, in his letter to Mr. Trist; 2d, in his letter to Mr. Cabell; 3d, in his letter to Mr. Everett, and again, in his letter to Mr. Webster, he put his heel upon this poisonous doctrine of secession.
I have been surprised—no, I will not say surprised—I have been struck with the adroitness on the part of the secessionists in this body in evading an express declaration that they believe in the right of secession. They will not stop to discuss the right of secession. It is one of the most adroit ways in which they could get around it; for if they were to stop and discuss the right of a State to secede from this Union, and should fail to satisfy the people of Virginia that in the exercise of this power of withdrawal from the Union they were acting rightfully and legally, they would be very apt to pause long before they would exercise it; for the people of Virginia are not only a brave and gallant, but they are a moral people; and, sir, if they are not satisfied of the morality of an act, they never, never will join you in its exercise. They are a law-abiding, a Constitution loving people; and before you can get them to go with you for an ordinance of secession, or for resolutions pledging them to a course of policy which will bring about the same result that an ordinance of secession will bring about, you must first convince them of the morality and legality of the act.
Now, sir, how will you attempt, at this day and at this hour, to maintain before the people of Virginia the rightfulness of secession? Astute, learned and great as you may be, you are not astute, learned and great enough for that. Its absurdity is too palpable ever to be maintained successfully before a Virginia people. Mr. Calhoun never contended for it. Mr. Calhoun never advocated it in the discussion of what we call the Force Bill, in 1835; and when Mr. Rives, the then United States Senator from Virginia, intimated in his argument that Mr. Calhoun held to such a right, he interrupted him in the course of his argument, and expressly said that the exercise of such a right would be a breach of the compact and a violation of faith. And South Carolina henself, through her highest judicial tribunal, the Court of Appeals has expressly repudiated it in a case brought before it by mandamus, sued out at the instance of a gentlemen by the name of McCready. This case occured in 1834, after their ordinance had been adopted. Mr. McCready refused to take the oath prescribed for the militia officers of that State by the Convention that adopted the ordinance, and he applied to a judge for a mandamus to compel the proper party to issue his commission, he having taken the original oath as prescribed by South Carolina prior to the adoption of the ordinance. The matter went up to the Court of Appeals, and that court expressly denied the legality and constitutionality of the ordinance, and instructed the proper party to issue his commission. I give the decision:
A Convention was called by South Carolina in November, 1832. In March, 1833, it passed an ordinance to nullify the act of Congress called tlie Force Bill, one clause of which ordinance read as follows: "We do ordain and declare that the allegiance of citizens of this State while they continue such is due to the said State, and that obedience only and allegiance is due by them to any other power and authority to whom the control over them has been delegated by the State." The Legislature followed up this ordinance by the act of December, 1833, which enacted, "that every officer of the militia hereafter elected shall take the following oath: I, A. B., do solemnly swear that I will be faithful, and true, allegiance bear to the State of South Carolina." This oath was tendered by Col. Hunt of the Fourth Brigade, to Ed. McCready, a Lieutenant elect of the Washington Light Infantry. McCready declined it, went before a magistrate and took the oath prescribed by the fourth article of the Constitution of South Carolina to all persons chosen or appointed to any office, and applied to Mr. Justice Hay for a mandamus to direct Col. Hunt to issue his commission. The case was brought by appeal before the Court of Appeals of South Carolina in March, 1834, and argued by eight of the ablest counsel of the State. All the talent and influence of the party which formed five-sevenths of the State were brought to bear in favor of "the South Carolina doctrines," which stood or fell with this case. But in vain. South Carolinian Judges, paid and appointed by the State, with all the warm State partialities which distinguish her sons, decided against the South Carolina doctrines, with their corollaries of nullification and secession.
In delivering the judgment of the Court in favor of the mandamus, Justice O'Neall said:
"Treason is a violation of the tie of allegiance. What says the Constitution of the "United States in relation to it? It is defined 'to consist in levying against the United "States or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.' If the Government of the United States (as we familiarly call it, and I think it really is,) is no government, but is a mere agency, it is strange that treason can be committed against it Who ever heard of treason being committed against the subordinate parts of a Government? It is one of the essential attributes of sovereignty to punish fur treason.
. . .When the officer swears to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of this State and of the United States, is he not sworn to be faithful and true allegiance bear to the Government of the United States? It is impossible that it should have any other sense; for any act which was intended to be the overthrow of either constitutional government would be the violation of the constitutional oath.
. . .The power of amendment of the Constitution by three-fourths of the States has been by more than one great name in South Carolina held up as the ultimate sovereignty to which allegiance was due. I think there is no duty, no allegiance, to any such ultimate right.—But it shows, however, that a government which can be amended against our will, and which will then operate directly upon us, is something more than an agency; and that it has high sovereign powers to which obedience must be yielded. We have been told in the progress of this argument that the Government of the United States was a mere league between co-States: in other words, that the spirit of the old Confederation exists in the Federal Constitution, although the former has been superseded and abolished by the latter. We must live in an age of political wonders and miracles, if not natural ones. I confess that I heard with astonishment the old Confederation lauded as the best Government in the world, when I had regarded it as settled and given up fifty years ago, as a matter of history, that is was an impracticable Government.
It seems to me perfectly clear that the government created by the Federal Constitution is, strictly speaking, a government of the people. It is a government: for within its prescribed constitutional limits it acts upon the people, and enforces against them its laws through its own judiciary or that of each State. Within its own constitutional limits it is absolute and supreme.'
"By the second section of the sixth article of the Constitution of the United States it is declared that 'this Constitution and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, &c., shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judge in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the CONSTITUTION or laws of any State notwithstanding.' Does not this supremacy of constitutional law necessarily make the Government of the United States as much the Government of the people of this State as her own immediate Government? It is too clear to admit of argument that it does. What is the necessary consequence? Is a Government possessing such great powers without any tie of obedience or allegiance between it and its citizens? Can it BE that in time of war a citizen soldier would be allowed to refuse, to shoulder his musket and say I owe you no allegiance, I will wait until my own State has made me fight? Could he say I will assist your enemies, and you dare not punish me for treason because South Carolina has not defined it? These questions must have an affirmative answer, or we do owe allegiance to our Government, not our agency, under the Federal Constitution.' "
The presiding Justice, the Hon. David Johnson, said:
"The people have organized a government, clothed with all the powers that are necessary to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of all his rights, privileges and immunities. It is that government which does protect the citizen, and to that government the allegiance of the citizen is due. If that had been a simple government intended for the State alone, and confided to the administration of agents appointed by the State, and responsible to the State alone, no proposition could be more certain than that the citizen would owe allegiance exclusively to that government. But many of the powers of government, and those of the greatest importance, have been confided by the people to the Government of the United States, whose agents arc not appointed by nor responsible to the State, except in common with the other States, and to that Government is confided the preservation of many of the dearest rights of the citizen, and amongst these may be mentioned the guaranty of the Constitution of the United States, which secures to each State a republican form of government. The Government of the United States has also the right to require of the citizen to contribute of his wealth to its support, and to serve in its armies. That Government is, to all intents and purposes, as much the Government of the people of South Carolina as the State Government. They have both received their sanction, and they have consented to be bound by them, and if the conclusions of logic can be confided in, for the same reasons that they owe allegiance to the State Government, they owe it to the Government of the United States. Sophistry may confuse the subject, but this must be the conclusion whenever the unerring test of truth shall be applied."
Furthermore, South Carolina, through her Legislature, expressly repudiated any such right. You will find it in a report, adopted by South Carolina in December, 1828, said to have been written by Mr. Calhoun himself:
"Our system, then, consists of two distinct and independent sovereignties. The general powers conferred on the General Government are subject to its sole and exclusive control, and the States cannot, without violating the Constitution, interpose their authority to check or in any manner counteract its movements, so long us they are confined to its proper sphere; so, also, the peculiar and local powers reserved to the States are subject to their exclusive control; nor can the General Government interfere with them, without, on its part, also violating the Constitution. In order to have a full and clear conception of our institutions, it will be proper to remark that there is in our system a striking distinction between the Government and the sovereign power.— Whatever may be the true doctrine in regard to the sovereignty of the States individually, it is unquestionably clear that, while the Government of the Union is vested in its legislative, executive and judicial departments, the actual sovereign power resides in the several States, who created it, in their separate and distinct political character. But by an express provision of the Constitution, it may be amended or changed by three-fourths of the States; and each State, by assenting to the Constitution with this provision, has surrendered its original rights as a sovereign, which made its individual consent necessary to any change in its political condition, and has placed this important power in the hands of three-fourths of the States, in which the sovereignty of the Union, under the Constitution, does now actually reside."
Sir, if that be true, if Mr. Calhoun be authority with these gentlemen, I ask you, how it is they can defend the right of a State to secede when, by virtue of his own doctrines, if three-fourths of the States of this Union against the unanimously expressed opinion of the other one-fourth should adopt a constitutional provision, it is the duty of that one-fourth to abide by it and to recognize it? The very provision for the amendment of the Constitution, provided in the instrument itself, at a glance shows the absurdity of the doctrine of secession.
But, we are told, although these States have no right to secede, although they do themselves that which is not lawful constitutional or legal, yet Virginia, law-loving, law-abiding as she has been, is to pledge herself to aid these men who disregard the law, and who act in violation of law in making war upon Virginia's own government, and Virginia must interpose her potent voice and say to that government: "You must not enforce your laws in this or that State, but you must enforce them in the other States." In other words, New York must pay her revenues; collection of them must be enforced in New York and Norfolk, but they must not be enforced in the State of South Carolina, because she has done that which she has not the right to do. That is the logical argument of the gentlemen who deny the right of secession.
Now, I commend to those who have spent a lifetime in admiring the gallant statesman of Kentucky, now no more—to those whose lives have been expended in efforts to show their appreciation, not alone of the man, but of the sentiments of his life, the following:
"ASHLAND, May 17, 1851.
"My Dear Sir,—I received your favor of the 15th. There is no significance whatever to the article which you refer to in the Reporter. It was put there without my authority or knowledge, and I regretted it, when I saw it.
You ask what is to be done if South Carolina secedes? I answer unhesitatingly, that the Constitution and laws of the United States must continue to be enforced there, with all the power of the United States, if necessary. Secession is treason; and if it were not—if it were a legitimate and rightful exercise of power, it would be a virtual dissolution of the Union. For if one State can secede, every State may secede, and how long in such a state of things could we be kept together? Suppose Kentucky were to secede. Could the rest of the Union tolerate a foreign power within their very bosom? There are those who think the Union must be preserved and kept together by an exclusive reliance upon love and reason. This is not my opinion. I have some confidence in this instrumentality; but, depend upon it, that no human government can exist without the power of applying force, mid the actual application of it in extreme cases. My belief is, that if it should be applied to South Carolina, in the event of her secession, she would be speedily reduced to obedience, and that the Union, instead of being weakened, would acquire additional strength.
"Writing, as you perceive, by an amanuensis, I must be brief, and conclude with assurances of my constant regard."
Upon this point, Mr. Clay was very explicit in his speech in the Senate, on the day after the defeat of the Omnibus Compromise bill, July, 1850.
Mr. Clay said:
"Now, Mr. President, I stand here in my place, meaning to be unawed by any threats, whether they come from individuals or from States. I should deplore, as much as any man, living or dead, that armies should be raised against the authority of the Union either by individuals or States. But, after all that has occurred, if any one State, or a portion of the people of any State, choose to place themselves in military array against the Government of the Union, I am for trying the strength of the Government. [Applause in the galleries.] I am for ascertaining whether we have a Government or not, practical, efficient, capable of maintaining its authority and upholding the powers and interests which belong to the Government. Nor, sir, am I to be allayed or dissuaded from any such course by intimations of the spilling of blood. If blood must be spilt, by whose fault will it be? Upon the supposition, I maintain, it will be the fault of those who raise the standard of Disunion, and endeavor to prostrate this Government; and, sir, when this is done, so long as it pleases God to give me a voice to express my sentiment, and an arm—weak and enfeebled as it may be by age—that voice and that arm will be on the side of my country, for the support of the general authority, and for the maintainance of the powers of this Union." [Applause in the galleries.]
There is where Henry Clay stood. But, Mr. President, I have been driven from the point that I was about to make, into a notice of this Yankee notion of secession, and I now return to it. I gave you the true reason why South Carolina desired a separation from the Federal Government and the Federal Union. She tells you that she believes in this doctrine of the irrepressible conflict. Now that Seward has abandoned it and the Black Republican party is afraid to maintain it, the South takes it, and we heard the Commissioner from the State of South Carolina proclaim it here in our midst the other day.
Mr. Spratt, sent from South Carolina as Commissioner to the State Convention of Florida, while the question of secession was pending before that body, and again in a letter which he addressed to a delegate from Louisiana to the Montgomery Congress, uses the following language:
"The South is now in the formation of a slave republic. This, perhaps, is not admitted generally. There are many contented to believe that the South, as a geographical section, is in mere assertion of its independence; 'that, it is instinct with no especial truth—pregnant of no distinct social nature; that for some unaccountable reason the two sections have become opposed to each other; that for reasons equally insufficient, there is a disagreement between the peoples that direct them; and that from no overruling necessity, no impossibility of coexistence, but as mere matter of policy, it has been considered best for the South to strike out for herself and establish an independence of her own. This, I fear, is an inadequate conception of the controversy.
"The contest is not between the North and South as geographical sections, for between such sections merely there can be no contest; nor between the people of the North and the people of the South, for our relations have been pleasant; and on neutral grounds there is still nothing to estrange us. We eat together, trade together, and practice, yet, in intercourse, with great respect, the courtesies of common life. But the real contest is between the two forms of society which have become established, the one at the North and the other at the South. Society is essentially different from Government—as different as is the nut from the bur; or the nervous body of the shell-fish from the bony structure which surrounds it; and within this Government two societies had become developed as variant in structure mid distinct in form as any two beings in animated nature. The one is a society composed of one race, the other of two races. The one is bound together but by the two great social relations of husband and wife, and parent and child; the other by the three relations of husband and wife, and parent and child, and master and slave. The one embodies in its political structure, the principle that equality is the right of man; the other that it is the right of equals only. The one embodying the principle that equality is the right of man, expands upon the horizontal plane of pure Democracy; the other, embodying the principle that it is not the right of man, but of equals only, has taken to itself the rounded form of a social aristocracy. In the one there is hireling labor, in the other slave labor; in the one, therefore, in theory at least, labor is voluntary; in the other involuntary; in the labor of the one there is the elective franchise, in the other there is not; and, as labor is always in excess of direction, in the one power of Government is only with the lower classes; in the other the upper. In the one, therefore, the reins of Government come from the heels, in the other from the head of the society; in the one it is guided by the worst, in the other by the best intelligence; in the one it is from those who have the least, in the other from those who have the greatest stake in the continuance of existing order. In the one the pauper laborer has the power to raise and appropriate by law the goods protected by the State—when pressure comes, as come it must, there will be the motive to exert it—and thus the ship of State turns bottom upwards. In the other there is no pauper labor with power of rising; the ship of State has the ballast of a disfranchised class; there is no possibility of political upheaval, therefore, and it is reasonably certain that so steadied, it will sail erect and onward to an indefinitely distant period."
Mr. Commissioner PRESTON, in his speech before this body, winds up a rhapsody of the same character, as follows: "None but a subject race will labor at the South."
There it is in a nutshell. That is it—that is the feast to which the people of Virginia are invited; that is the Government to be provided for the people I have the honor to represent here; for my children, for your children and the children of the people of this good old State. South Carolina initiated this movement; South Carolina will control this movement; South Carolina will give direction to this new cotton Government, if ever a permanent one is formed, which, I trust in God, never will be, and humbly believe, never can be. But, if it ever should, it must of necessity—if these Commissioners from Georgia and South Carolina who addressed us, understood what they were talking to us about—partake strongly of a military character, and strongly of the character of the present government of South Carolina, where no man within her limits is eligible to a seat in the Lower House of her Legislature, unless he is the owner of ten negroes and 500 acres of land.
I have been a slaveholder from the time I have been able to buy a slave. I have been a slaveholder, not by inheritance, but by purchase; and I believe that slavery is a social, political and religious blessing, and I so believed when, so far as I know, no other man South of Mason and Dixon's line believed, to which fact there is a living witness at this day. When a boy, but seventeen years of age in the city of Philadelphia, I took the ground that slavery was right in itself. At that day no man South took that ground in defence of the institution. The agitation of this question has, in the words of Mr. Hunter in the speech which he delivered before the Breckinridge Convention at Charlottesville last fall, been productive of good. It has brought every man South of Mason and Dixon's line upon one common platform, and no man to-day denies the assertion I have made, that African slavery is right in itself. Believing that the institution of slavery is essential to the preservation of our liberties, I desire above all things to continue it.
How long, if you were to dissolve this Union—if you were to separate the slaveholding from the non-slaveholding States—would African slavery have a foothold in this portion of the land? I venture the assertion that it would not exist in Virginia five years after the separation, and nowhere in the Southern States, twenty years after. How could it maintain itself, with the whole civilized world, backed by what they call their international law, arrayed for its ultimate extinction?—with this North, that is now bound to stand by us, and to protect slavery, opposed to us, and united with England, France and Spain, so to control the destiny of the slaveholding Republic as to work out the ultimate extinction of the institution? Think you that ever another square mile of territory can be acquired by a purely slaveholding Republic? You would have not only the North to prevent you, but England, France and Spain. I have looked forward to the day when Cuba, that gem of the ocean, would fall into our lap. I have never advocated any harsh or violent measure to procure it, but if we remain together, that Island is destined to be ours. The commercial interests of the non-slaveholding States make them as anxious—more anxious—to procure it than we are; and nothing can prevent its addition to our Union but our own separation and dissolution.
Look at Virginia, to-day, standing in the centre of this Confederacy, by far the most powerful nation upon the globe, with the most prosperous and the most happy Government on earth. A Government that has gone on in a career of greatness, of glory, of power, and of prosperity in a manner that is almost too much for the human mind to realize. This Government that has conferred upon us blessings innumerable, and nothing but blessings, is to be destroyed, dissolved, not because of any act of its own, not that it is resisted; not because of any intolerable oppression, for it has never oppressed us; but because a portion of its citizens, residing in a particular section of the Union, have so far forgotten their duty to their brethren of the same family, as to entertain hostile opinions of an institution belonging to the other section.
Mr. President, is there not reason why we should wait to see if that hostile sentiment has not already culminated, and is not to-day upon the wane?
Mr. Hunter, in the same speech to which I referred as delivered before the Breckinridge Convention at Charlottesville, stated that when he first entered Congress, which was in I837, there was no statesman of any respectability that did not admit the power of Congress to enact the Wilmot Proviso—in other words, to exclude slavery from the Territories of the Union. He referred to that as a significant fact in the history of the slavery agitation, to show the progress which this institution had made in public estimation. At this day, the power is denied by all the South and much of the North, and we find that in the midst of non-slaveholding communities men are found to get up and justify the institution of slavery, as by right an institution consistent with the Providence of God. They would not have been allowed to have made a similar speech in the State of Virginia twenty-five years ago. Has not, then, the current of public opinion been running rapidly in our favor UPON the subject of this institution? And, if we had maintained our plighted faith, made eight years ago, we would have had no disturbance, no agitation this day upon the subject.
It is common, I know, for gentlemen who are giving aid and comfort to the promoters of Disunion to speak in rounded terms of the growing hostility to slavery, which is manifesting itself in the non-slaveholding portion of this Union. Gentlemen are mistaken when they say that it has steadily, without check, increased.
In 1848, Martin Van Buren, as the candidate of the Freesoil party, received 300,000 votes. In 1852, John P. Hale, the candidate of the the [sic] same party received but 147,000 votes, a falling off of more than one-half. Now, what occurred between 1848 and 1852 to bring about such a result? What occasioned this change? It was that the compromise of I850 had been adopted, and both the great political parties of the country pledged themselves to regard these measures as a final settlement of this question of slavery, and an end of the agitation. Furthermore, they pledged themselves to resist all attempts at its renewal, whether in Congress or out of it.
But, we find in four years after, this vote of 147,000 was swelled to 1,300,000. Gentlemen are as familiar with the causes that produced that result as I am. There has not been, then, a steady increase of hostile sentiment to slavery at the North, but there was a decrease of it between the years 1848 and 1852, and the impetus that was given to it after 1852, increased it to its present proportions.
I have sometimes thought, Mr. President, that He who rules and governs and punishes nations for their national sins, was now afflicting us for a violation of our plighted faith to the savage Indians solemnly made by treaty. I believe this trial, that we are now going through, is a punishment for that violation of our plighted faith—a violation of a solemn treaty made by a Christian nation with a savage race. But, I believe as firmly that we shall be carried through it safely.
Mr. President, we have heard a great deal said about coercion, and the resolutions under consideration refer to that subject.
Will gentlemen define what kind of coercion it is they desire the people of Virginia to pledge themselves to resist? It is a most remarkable fact, that during the progress of this disunion movement, generalities and generalities alone are indulged in, accompanied with sensation telegrams. In the language of the lawyers, I call upon you to file your bill of particulars.
I might detain you here for an hour, by reading telegraphic dispatches from this city to Tennessee, in order to induce the people of that State to call a Convention—"only twenty submissionists elected in Virginia"—"Virginia will be out before the 4th of March.”
That is the character of these dispatches, which were intended to effect the election in Tennessee—as the address of our ten congressmen was intended to influence the election in this State. Two senators and eight representatives, circulated, broad cast, a few days before the election, an address informing the people of what I believe every man, woman and child in the State knew before, that they wore utterly incompetent to effect any adjustment of the pending difficulties. And in like character we were told here, yesterday, that the Black Republicans in Congress had rejected the measure of adjustment recommended by the Peace Conference? Is that so, sir? I do not read the reports of the proceedings in Congress in that way, nor do I read the report of the vote in Congress upon the Crittenden resolutions, which senators and representatives told us before the election were lost, because of Black Republican opposition. On the contrary, I read that that gallant old statesman, John J. Crittenden, sent a dispatch to Raleigh, North Carolina—a nobler specimen of a man, and a purer patriot than John J. Crittenden, never trod God's free earth—saying that in consequence of the failure of six Southern senators, who sat in their seats and did not vote—two of the six, I have been informed, were Messrs. Mason and Hunter—they were defeated. I have read that the Peace Conference propositions were not allowed to be put to the country, because of the fact that Mr. Hunter and Mr. Mason would not favor them. They did not wait for the Hales, Sumners, and Wilsons to oppose them. The distinguished Senator from Kentucky presented them instead of his own, but Mr. Hunter rose from his seat and gave them their death blow. Is it the lead of these gentlemen that we are to follow in Virginia, if we desire to preserve the Union? They have a most singular way of preserving the Union. Is not every step that has been taken in this disunion movement marked by a contempt, an utter contempt, on the part of the leaders, for the people of this country? Euripides informs us that Creon, King of Thebes, sent a herald to Athens, who inquired for the King of Athens. Theseus replied, "You seek him in vain; this is a free city, and the sovereign power is in all the people."
And, sir, in this country the sovereign power is in the people. It has for the time been usurped, but just as sure as the sun shines in a clear and cloudless sky, that people will rebuke those who have endeavored to bring on this distracted condition of things, and to destroy the fairest Constitution and the freest Government ever erected by man, upon the footstool of God.
What say these gentlemen? This is an association of States, State sovereignties. I don't read history that way, and I commend to these gentlemen the persual [sic] of the 39th number of The Federalist, written by Mr. Madison, a very large portion of which I shall have appended to my remarks. Madison tells us that this is not a federal nor a national government. It is of a mixed character—it partakes of the nature of both. That he is right in this it is only necessary to refer to the action of the Convention that framed the Constitution of the United States, upon a proposition submitted by Luther Martin, of Maryland; and I would invite the attention of the Convention to the extract I shall read from his letter to the Maryland Legislature:
"By the principles of the American revolution, arbitrary power may, and ought to be resisted, even by arms, if necessary. The time may come when it shall be the duty of a State, in order to preserve itself from the oppression of the General Government, to have recourse to the sword; in which case, the proposed form of Government declares that the State, and every one of its citizens who act under its authority, are guilty of a direct act of treason; reducing, by this provision, the different States to this alternative—that they must tamely and passively yield to despotism, or their citizens must oppose it at the hazard of the halter it unsuccessful; and reducing the citizens of the Slate which shall take arms, to a situation in which they must be exposed to punishment, let them act as they will—since, if' they obey the authority of their State Government, they will be guilty of treason against the United States; if they join the General Government, they will be guilty of treason against their own State.
"To save the citizens of the respective States from this disagreeable dilemma, and to secure them from being punishable as traitors to the United States, when acting expressly in obedience to the authority of their own State, I wished to have obtained, as an amendment to the third section of this article, the following clause:—Provided, that no act or acts, done by one or more of the States against the United States, under the authority of one or more of the said States, shall be deemed treason or punished as such; but in case of war being levied by one or more of the States against the United States, the conduct of each party towards the other, and their adherents respectively, shall be regulated by the laws of war and of nations. But this provision was not adopted."
Sir, it is amazing that, with so many sources from which we can derive correct information as to the nature and character of our Federal Government and the relation that the States bear to it and to each other—I say it is amazing that, at this day, gentlemen will get up and contend that our General Government is a mere Confederation of States, in the face of the fact that Henry and Mason, in, the Convention of our State, opposed the ratification of the Federal Constitution, because it created a Government that rested not for its preservation upon State authority, but came, as did the State Governments, from the people of each State, who delegated to it a portion of their sovereign power to be exercised in common with the other States for the mutual benefit and common good of all.
I know that gentlemen, when they speak of coercion, cannot mean that there is a power to coerce a sovereign State, as such. There is no such power. No man in the land contends for such a power; and if no one contends for it, why level your anathemas against it? Why build up cob-houses that you may have the pleasure of knocking them down? Coercing a State, if it means anything, means making war upon it; war against a State affects the innocent as well as the guilty. The Federal Government is created by the same power that created the State Governments. It preserves itself by the same means that the State Governments preserve themselves—that is, by punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. Why are governments necessary? If every body would act as Christians should do, each rendering to the other what is his due, there would be no need for Government. The very fact that we have a Government, and that it is necessary for the protection of society and individuals, arises from the fact that all will not do right, and that power must reside somewhere to punish the disobedient and enforce the laws.
The Government, therefore, acts upon individuals, punishes the guilty, protects the innocent: and without this power you can have no Government. And it must be sustained, too, in the exercise of that power, whenever it becomes necessary to be exercised, for the preservation and perpetuation of the Government.
But, sir, is there anything in this inaugural address to justify for a moment the assertions that have been made upon this floor, that it breathes a spirit of war? Read it again, gentlemen. More pacific, more peaceful language could not have been employed by Mr. Lincoln, unless he had been willing to stand up before that assembled multitude in Washington and proclaim to them that, "although in a few moments I shall swear to discharge the duties of the office of President of the United States, and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, I don't mean to do it—I mean to perjure myself." Sir, unless he had done this, he could not have done less than he has done. He has told you, in effect, and told you in pleading, begging terms, that no war will be made upon you, that no force will be used against you—none whatever. But you were dissatisfied, and he appeals to you and says: "Dissatisfied though you be, wait, wait and pursue the remedy pointed out under the Constitution, to provide for you every guarantee, every protection that you may desire; I shall do nothing to injure you; it is made my duty to say, as Mr. Buchanan, as General Jackson, and every President before me has said, and as every future President must say, that I will preserve my oath." But after that he tells you, that if States are so hostile to him that no one residing in them will accept the offices which are to be filled by the Federal Government, he will not attempt to fill them by persons from other States who may be obnoxious to them.
But, these gentlemen say: "He says he intends to preserve and protect the forts and other public property of the United States." Well, sir, is he not right in doing so? Is it not his duty to do so? Would you have him to do less? Did you not sustain Mr. Buchanan in doing so to the extent that he did do so? Is it right that those gentlemen in Louisiana shall rob the mint of your money and of my money? that they shall rob you of your arms and munitions of war, and of your forts and arsenals and dock yards? Is it your duty as good citizens to stand by and thus connive at this act of bad faith, and to speak well of it, and to give it aid and support, and to say to the Federal Government: "If you do not give up these forts and arsenals and dock yards peaceably, willingly, why we will take them forcibly, we will make war upon you?" Sir, I, and the people I represent, do not read our duties in that way. Mr. Lincoln in his inaugural address virtually tells you that he is not going to make any effort to retake forts which were taken before he came into power; it would be impolitic for him to do so. On the contrary he negatives such an inference as much as he can do so, by saying that he will endeavor to preserve, retain and hold the public property so that he may hand it over to his successor as it was handed to him by Mr. Buchanan; and that is all he does say.
Now, sir, looking alone to my own ideas of what would be expedient in the present condition of the country, I would say, not only let them go with what they have taken, but let them have what is still left to take, if they desire it; for I am satisfied, as much as I can be of any fact that has to occur in the future, that one year will not roll round until the people of each and all of those States which have, in the estimation of some, withdrawn themselves from the Union, will rise in their majesty, assert their power, hurl those men from the places which they have obtained through their confidence, and raise again, high above the rattlesnake and the palmetto, the stars and stripes of our beloved land. Believing this, I would let them alone. I would let them, to use the language of politicians, "stand out in the cold awhile," and, I warrant you, they will come shivering back, glad to get to a Union fire.
Mr. President, if I had strength, and if it would not be an abuse of the patience of this Convention, who so kindly indulged me yesterday with an opportunity to speak to-day, and to whom I am greatly indebted for the attention with which they have heard me, I would like to call their attention, and the attention of the country, to the condition in which we would be placed, particularly here in Virginia, in the event of a dissolution of the Union.
Look at Virginia, her central position in the Confederacy, possessing within her broad limits the mineral wealth found, anywhere and everywhere in the United States; the products of the Union are her's with the exception of sugar and rice; wielding a power and an influence in this Government by virtue of her very position, her central position, that she could never wield if the Confederacy were dissolved. Look, when she recommended a Peace Conference; her recommendation is responded to by 21 States, as quick as the lightning can bear to them the resolutions requesting it. What other State could have accomplished so much in so short a time? Why is it that Virginia possesses this influence? Because of her position; because of her sacrifices made for the Union? because of her well known devotion to the Union; because she was the principal architect in its construction; because she has ever been governed by the impulse of a patriotic heart; because her material interests are such as make her interests equal between the sections.
But dissolve the Union, and hitch her on to the tail of a Southern Confederacy, to stand guard and play patrol for King Cotton, and where would she be? What son of Virginia can contemplate this picture without horror?
"O, but," our friends say, "if you don't unite in a Cotton Government, they will not buy our negroes." I say they cannot get them anywhere else. I have no fear of their ever reopening the African slave trade. NO, sir, no slaveholding republic will ever be permitted to do it. England will not allow it, France will not allow it, Spain will not allow it, nor would a Northern Confederacy allow it. Even now, great and powerful as we are, with a large portion of our territory dedicated—as the Black Republicans call it—to freedom; even now, great as we are, dictating upon almost every other subject, our treaties with other nations upon our own terms, we are compelled to keep up a force, at an expenditure of millions of dollars, to prevent this African slave trade. They are bound to buy our negroes. They could never coerce me into any act which my judgment disapproved of, by threatning that they would not buy my negroes.
Sir, is not language like this, employed by these secessionists with the design of influencing the minds of the people of Virginia, an insult to the honor, and the intelligence, and the patriotism of our people? "But, oh, our honor is at stake, our rights are denied,"' we are told by some. Pray, gentlemen, wherein has your honor suffered, or is likely to suffer? Tell me, if you please, wherein any thing infringing upon Virginia's honor has been attempted, much less executed? What right has ever been denied? Haven't you equal rights in the Territories? Has not this very Government, that you are going to overthrow, declared that you have? Haven't you equal rights, as States, in the Federal Government? Has not the little State of Florida, with its forty-seven thousand white inhabitants, and its twenty-three millions of property, an equal voice in this Government with the great State of New York, with its three millions of white inhabitants, and its thousand millions of property? Has not the State of South Carolina, with a white population not half as large as the single city of Philadelphia, an equal voice in the control of this Government with the whole great State of Pennsylvania, with her two million five hundred thousand inhabitants? Then what has been denied you? Put your finger UPON the right that has been taken away from you. What right has been denied in this Government? Wherein does this inequality consist? May it not be, gentlemen—and I ask it with all kindness—may it not be that you have mistaken party platforms for the Constitution of the United States, and the action of individual parties for the action of the Federal Government?
Mr. President, with our extended frontier, with our defenceless sea coast, tell me the amount of money that would be required so to fortify the State, in case of a rebellion, as to afford the slightest protection not only to our slave property, but against those John Brown forays upon a larger scale? And, by the way, let me here call your attention to a single fact, namely, that it was fourteen of the marines of this very Federal Government, which you want to destroy, that took John Brown and his men out of the engine house. It was not all this army that you raised in Richmond and that we sent down from the border. It was fourteen marines belonging to the Federal Government which took that insurrectionary party out of the engine house, delivered them over to your civil authorities, who justly tried and hung them; and it was the Governor of our sister State of Pennsylvania—for, denounce me as submissionist if you please, apply whatever epithets you will, Pennsylvania is our sister State—and it was the Governor of Pennsylvania who delivered up to us Hazlett and Cook, and, in doing so, he behaved as the Chief Executive of a sister State should behave.
Sir, can any man believe that in case of a dissolution of the Union, we would enjoy anything like the freedom, the liberty and equality which we now enjoy under this General Government of ours? Could we maintain ourselves without a strong military force kept up at an enormous and exhausting expanse? We are now under the Union, and in the Union, the freest, the most independent, and the happiest people on earth[.] Dissolve the Union, and a military despotism, the licentiousness of the camp and ragged poverty will be substituted in its place.
And now, Mr. President, in the name of our own illustrious dead, in the name of all the living, in the name of millions yet unborn, I protest against this wicked effort to destroy the fairest and the freest Government on the earth. And I denounce all attempts to involve Virginia to commit her to self-murder as an insult to all reasonable living humanity, and a crime against God. With the dissolution of this Union, I hesitate not to say, the sun of our liberties will have set forever.
The following is an extract from the 39th number of the Federalist, referred to in the course of the speech:
"But it was not sufficient, say the adversaries of the proposed Constitution, for the Convention to adhere to the republican form. They ought, with equal care, to have preserved the federal form, which regards the Union as a confederacy of sovereign States; instead of which they have framed a national Government which regards the Union as a consolidation of the States. And it is asked, by what authority this bold and radical innovation was undertaken? The handle which has been made of this objection, requires that it should be examined with some precision.
"Without inquiring into the accuracy of the distinction on which the objection is founded, it will be necessary to a just estimate of its force, first, to ascertain the real character of the Government in question; secondly, to inquire how far the Convention were authorized to propose such a Government; and thirdly, how far the duty they owed to their country could supply any defect of regular authority.
"First. In order to ascertain the real character of the Government, it may be considered in relation to the foundation on which it is to be established; to the sources from which its ordinary powers are to be drawn; to the operation of those powers; to the extent of them; and to the authority by which future changes in the Government are to be introduced.
"On examining the first relation, it appears, on one hand, that the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State—the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act.
"That it will be a federal, and not a national act, as these terms are understood by the objectors, the act of the people, as forming so many independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation, is obvious from this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the decision of a majority of the people of the Union, nor that of a majority of the State. It must result from the unanimous assent of the several States that are parties to it, differing no otherwise from their ordinary assent than in its being expressed, not by the legislative authority, but by that of the people themselves. Were the people regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the minority; in the same manner as the majority in each State must bind the minority; and the will of the majority must be determined either by a comparison of the individual votes, or by considering the will of the majority of the States, as evidence of the will of a majority of the people of the United States. Neither of these rules has been adopted. Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a federal, and not a national Constitution.
"The next relation is, to the sources from which the ordinary powers of government are to be derived.
"The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America, and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the Legislature of a particular State. So far, the government is national not federal. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and ceoqual [sic] societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is federal not national. The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President, is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies; partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the Legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act, they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government, it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many federal as national features.
"The difference between a federal and national government, as it relates to the operation of the government, is, by the adversaries of the plan of the Convention, supposed to consist in this, that in the former, the powers operate on the political bodies composing the Confederacy, in their political capacities; in the latter, on the individual citizens composing the nation in their individual capacities. On trying the Constitution by this criterion, it falls under the national, not the federal, character; though perhaps not so completely as has been understood. In several cases, and particularly in the trial of controversies to which States may be parties, they must be viewed and proceeded against in their collective and political capacities only. But the operation of the government of the people in their individual capacities, in its ordinary and most essential proceedings, will, on the whole, in the sense of its opponents, designate it, in this relation, a national government.
"But, if the government be national, with regard to the operation of its powers, it changes its aspect again, when we contemplate it in relation to the extent of its powers. The idea of a national government involves in it, not only an authority over the individual citizens, but an indefinite supremacy over all persons and things, so far as they are objects of lawful government.
"Among a people consolidated into one nation, this supremacy is completely vested in the national legislature. Among communities united for particular purposes, it is vested partly in the general and partly in the municipal legislatures. In the former case, all local authorities are subordinate to the supreme, and maybe controlled, directed, or abolished by it at pleasure. In the later, the local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of supremacy, no more subject within their respective spheres, to the general authority, than the general authority is subject to them within its own sphere. In this relation, then, the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one, since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects. It is true, that in controversies relating to the boundary between the two jurisdictions, the tribunal which is ultimately to decide is to be established under the General Government. But this does not change the principle of the case. The decision is to be impartially made, according to the rules of the Constitution, and all the usual and most effectual precautions are taken to secure this impartiality. Some such tribunal is clearly essential to prevent an appeal to the sword and a dissolution of the compact, and that it ought to be established under the general rather than under the local governments; or, to speak more properly, that it could be more safely established under the first alone, is a position not likely to be combatted.
"If we try the Constitution by its last relation to the authority by which amendments are to be made, we find it neither wholly national, nor wholly federal. Were it wholly national, the supreme and ultimate authority would reside in the majority of the people of the Union; and this authority would be competent, at all times, like that of a majority of every national society, to alter or abolish its established government. Were it wholly federal, on the other hand, the concurrence of each State in the Union would be essential to every alteration that would be binding on all. The mode provided by the plan of the Convention is not founded on either of these principles. In requiring more than a majority, and particularly in computing the proportion by States, not by citizens, it departs from the national and advances towards the federal character. In rendering the concurrence of less than the whole number of States sufficient, it loses again the federal and partakes of the national character.
"The proposed Constitution, therefore, even when tested by the rules laid down by its antagonists, is in strictness, neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. In its foundation it is federal, not national; in the sources from which the ordinary powers of the Government are drawn, it is partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national."
Mr. Madison, in his letter to Mr. Trist, in 1832, says:
"I partake of wonder that the man you name should view secession in the light mentioned. The essential difference between a free government, and a government not free, is that the former is founded on compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them, therefore, have a greater right to break off from the bargain than the other or others have to hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of 1798 adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion lies in confounding a single party with the parties to a constitutional compact of the United States. The latter, having made the compact, may do what they will with it. The former, as only one of the parties, owes fidelity to it till released by consent or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by public opinion."
In his letter to Mr. Cabell, in 1831, he said:
"I know not whence the idea could proceed that I concurred in the doctrine that, although a State could not nullify a law of the Union, it has a right to secede from the Union. Both spring from the same poisonous root."
In his letter to Mr Everett, in 1830, Mr. Madison said:
"It (the Constitution) was formed not by the Governments of the component States, as the Federal Government for which it was substituted was formed; nor was it formed by a majority of the people of the United States, as a single community, in the manner of a consolidated Government. It was formed by the States—that is, by the people in each of the States, acting in their highest sovereign capacity, and formed consequently by the same authority which formed the State Constitutions.
"Being thus derived from the same source as the Constitutions of the States, it has within each State the same authority as the Constitution of the State, and is as much a Constitution, in the strict sense of the term, within its prescribed sphere, as the Constitutions of the States are within their respective spheres, but with this obvious and essential difference, that being a compact among States in their highest sovereign capacity, and constituting the people thereof one people for certain purposes, it cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the States individually, as the Constitution of a State may be at its individual will."
Mr. Madison, on the 15th day of March, 1833, wrote to Daniel Webster, upon the receipt of Mr. Webster's great speech, on the Carolina doctrine of nullification and secession, as follows:
"I return my thanks for the copy of your late very powerful speech in the Senate of the United States. It crushes 'nullification,' and must hasten the abandonment of 'secession.' But this dodges the blow of confounding the claim to secede at all, with the right to secede from intolerable oppression. The former answers itself, being a violation without cause of a faith solemnly pledged. The latter is another name for revolution; about which there is no theoretic controversy," &c. &c.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: March 1861