Letter from Hon. Geo. W. Summers.
January 23, 1861
Letter from Hon. Geo. W. Summers.
Hon. Geo. W. Summers, one of the Commissioners appointed last week by the Virginia Legislature to a National Conference, has written a letter to a member of the House of Delegates, giving his views on the present crisis. The cause he sums up as follows:
The sources of our present troubles, and the causes of the present wide-spread dissatisfaction in the South, may be traced, in the first place, to certain unconstitutional and most reprehensible expedients, adopted in some of the non-slaveholding States, to abstract and virtually nullify the fugitive slave inn. Secondly, to what seems to be the present purpose of a party now in the ascendancy in those States, to refuse the further extension of slavery into the Territories of the United States; thus denying to the people of the North an equality of right in the common property of the nation. And, lastly, but perhaps more than all, may be attributed to that tired and fanatical spirit of hostility towards the institution of slavery, which now pervades more or less generally, all the non-slaveholding States, frequently manifesting itself in language and conduct wholly in conceal with the courtesy due between neighboring Commonwealths, to say nothing of the men delicate relations and obvious duties of other States.
Resolution is not justified, in his opinion, by the election of Lincoln, and such a step should be the last remedy sought by a border State.--It is a step which should be taken by none, but by it last of all. All its interests are against it, and none of its wrongs would be remedied by it. He recommends that the border States, slave and free, appoint Commissioners, to meet at Frankfort or Lexington, Ky., who shall devise some proposition of compromise, which shall be submitted by Congress to the people. In conclusion, he says:
I take it for granted that the Convention, if called, will be elected and organized upon the basis of the qualified voters of the white population of the State, being the basis of the present House of Delegates, as arranged by the existing Constitution of the State. I am free to say that I could never consent to any more restricted basis. It will not be a question of contribution, but a question of Union or Disunion, that will occupy the attention of the proposed Convention. In this issue every men in the Commonwealth has an equal interest, and an equal right to be represented and heard.
I do not propose to inquire whether the right of State secession is a right resulting from the nature of the Federal Government, and from the terms and manner in which the States became parties thereto, to be exercised by the seceding States, without a co-relative right on the part of the General Government to prevent the withdrawal; or, whether it be a revolutionary right, subjecting the seceding State to the restraining power of the General Government, and the hazard of conquest. I am of opinion that the Union of these States cannot be advantageously preserved by force. If it is to be maintained by standing armies and blockading squadrons, it will not be worth maintaining. When one or more States decide for themselves, either that the Government of the United States has become an oppression to which they can no longer submit, or that a further connection with other States has become injurious, or dishonorable, and withdraw from the Union, it is better to leave them to the teachings of the experiment and to the hope of reconciliation, than by the employment of force, involve the country in civil war. The inability of the Federal Government to compel an unwilling State to elect and send members to the two Houses of Congress, or to perform the duties of a State within the Union: the want of power to force citizens to accept and discharge the duties of Federal offices and appointments within the State, and the inexpediency and unconstitutionality of making war upon the States, as such, or holding subjugated States as appendages to the Government, present insuperable objections to the employment of coercive means of retention.
In another column we give some extracts from a letter of Hon. George W. Summers to a member of the House of Delegates. We cannot agree with Mr. Summers in his opposition to the right of secession, and in some other views, (he is, however, opposed to coercion;) but it gives us pleasure to accord our humble testimony to the consummate ability and disinterested patriotism of this eminent Virginian, whose shining talents and moral elevation would have graced the best days of the Commonwealth. When Mr. Summers was in Congress, as great a master of the art of rhetoric as John Quincy Adams expressed himself with an enthusiasm not common to his cold and critical nature, of the Ciceronian eloquence of this distinguished Virginia Representative.--In fine, we admire this man so much that, whether we agree with his views or not, we always like to hear or read what he has to say.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: Undated: January 1861