Conversational Opinions of the Leaders of Secession: A Monograph
THE causes of the present Rebellion, the personal history of its leaders, and the incidents immediately preceding the breaking out of the conspiracy, will ever remain objects of chief interest to the historian of the present period of the Republic. Influenced by a desire to obtain unimpeachable information upon these topics from unprejudiced sources, the writer of the following article, then a student at Yale College, availed himself of the vacation in December, 1860, and January, 1861, to visit the National capital, and while there to improve the reason ably ready access with which most public men are approached, whenever the object is either to give or to receive information, for the purpose of studying a period then promising to exceed in importance anything in the past history of the nation. It has been suggested to the writer, that certain interviews, such as younger men, when collegians, were then allowed with the frank Southern leaders, and which he has occasionally sketched in conversation, have had the seal of privacy removed by the tide of events, and should now be described for the public, as aiding to unmask, from unquestionable authority, the real causes and origin of the Rebellion, and contributing something, perhaps, to sustain public sentiment in the defence of the nation against a conspiracy which the statements of these Southern apologists themselves prove to have been conceived in the most reckless disregard of honor and law, and which, if successful, will give birth to a neighboring nation actuated by the same spirit.
The more important interviews alluded to were with the Honorable Robert Toombs, the Honorable R. M. T. Hunter, and the Honorable Jefferson Davis, at that time prominent members, as is well known, of the United States Senate, Rom the States respectively of Georgia, Virginia, and Mississippi. The communications of the Senators are proved to have been sincere by their subsequent speeches and by public events. The writer is by no means insensible to the breach of privilege, of which, under ordinary circumstances, notwithstanding the unfolding of events, he would be guilty, in detailing in print private conversations; but he believes that the public will sustain the propriety of the present revelations, now that the persons chiefly concerned have become enemies of the nation and of mankind.
Not, as he may possibly be accused, with the purpose of adding a syllable of unnecessary length to the narrative, but for the sake of vividness in presenting the idea of the personnel of the Southern leaders, soon to be known only as historical characters, and of scrupulous accuracy in representing their sentiments, to which, in this case, a notice of time, place, and manner seems as necessary as that of matter, the writer has taken not a little pains, through all the usual means, to remember, and will endeavor to state, the conversations, always with logical, and nearly always, he believes, with verbal accuracy, in order that the conclusions to be drawn from them by the reader may have the better support.
It is well known that public men in Washington, out of business hours, are visited without formal introduction or letters, especially upon their reception-days, and that the privilege of a single interview implies no distinction to the visitor. The urbanity and frankness with which proper approaches are met, especially by the Southern leaders, are also well known. Young men, with unprejudiced minds, upon whom public characters are always anxious to impress the stamp of their own principles, are perhaps received with quite as much frankness as others.
The first interview sought was with Mr. Toombs, the most daring and ingenuous, and perhaps the most gifted in eloquence of the Southern leaders, whose house, at that time, was a lofty building upon F Street, only two doors from the residence of Mr. Seward. A negro servant, who, with all the blackness of a native African, yet with thin lips and almost the regular features of a Caucasian, appeared to the writer to be possibly the descendant of one of the superior, princely African tribes, showed the way to an unoccupied parlor. The room was luxuriously furnished with evidences of wealth and taste : a magnificent pianoforte, several wellchosen paintings, and a marble bust of some public character standing upon a high pedestal of the same material in the corner, attracting particular attention, and a pleasant fire in the open grate making the December evening social. A step presently heard in the hall, elastic, buoyant, and vigorous, was altogether too characteristic of Mr. Toombs’s portly, muscular, confident, and somewhat dashing figure, to be mistaken for any other than his own. Mr. Toombs appeared to be now about forty-five years of age, but carried in his whole mien the elastic vigor, and irresistible self-reliance, frankness, decision, and sociality of character, which mark his oratory and his public career. His good-evening, and inquiry concerning the college named on the card of the writer, were in a tone that at once placed his visitor at ease.
Your first visit to Washington, Mr. —?”
“ Yes, Sir. Like others, I have been attracted by the political crisis, and the purpose of studying it from unprejudiced sources.”
“ Crisis ? Oh, that ’s past.”
The writer will not soon forget the tone of perfect confidence and nonchalance with which this was uttered. The time was the last week of December, 1860.
“You are confident, then, Sir, that fifteen States will secede ? ”
“ Secede ? Certainly, — they must secede. You Northerners, — you are from a Northern college, I believe,” — referring to the writer's card, —“ you Northerners wish to make a new Constitution, or rather to give such an interpretation to the old one as to make it virtually a new document. How can society be kept together, if men will not keep their compacts ? Our fathers provided, in adopting their Constitution, for the protection of their property. But here are four billions of the property of the South which you propose to outlaw from the common Territories. You say to us, by your elected President, by your House of Representatives, by your Senate, by your Supreme Court, in short, by every means through which one party can speak to another, that these four billions of property, representing the toil of the head and hand of the South for the last two hundred years, shall not be respected in the Territories as your property is respected there. And this property, too, is property which you tax and which you allow to be represented ; but yet you will not protect it. How can we remain ? We should be happy to remain, if you would treat us as equals; but you tax us, and will not protect us. We will resist. D—n it,”—this and other striking expressions are precisely Mr. Toombs’s language, — “ we will meet you on the border with the bayonet. Society cannot be kept together, unless men will keep their compacts.”
This was said without the intonation of fierceness or malignity, but with great decision and the vigor of high spirit.
It was taking, of course, with considerable emphasis, a side in a famous Constitutional question, familiar to all readers of American Congressional Debates, once supported by Mr. Calhoun, and rather strangely, too, with that philosophical leader, confusing the absurdly asserted State right of seceding at will with the undoubted right, when there exists no peaceful remedy, of seceding from intolerable oppression: an entire position which Mr. Webster especially, and subsequent statesmen, in arguments elucidating the nature and powers of the General Government, to say nothing of the respect due to a moral sentiment concerning slavery, which, permeating more than a majority of the people, has the force, when properly expressed, wherever the Constitution has jurisdiction, of supreme law, are thought by most men, once and forever, to have satisfactorily answered. It was a complaint, certainly, which the South had had ever since the Constitution was formed, and which could with no plausibility be brought forward as a justification of war, while there existed a Constitutional tribunal for adjusting difficulties of Constitutional interpretation. Yet, as it was almost universally asserted, of course, by the Northern partisan presses, and by Northern Congressmen, that the Rebellion was utterly causeless, and as the writer was therefore exceedingly anxious to obtain, concerning their grievances, the latest opinions of the Southern leaders, as stated by themselves, he ventured to propose, in a pause of Mr. Toombs’s somewhat rapid rhetoric, a question which, at that moment, seemed of central importance to the candid philosophical inquirer into the moving forces of the times : —
“ Are we, then, Sir, to consider Mr. Calhoun's old complaint— the non-recognition of slave-property under the Federal Constitution — as constituting now the chief grievance of the South ? ”
“ Undoubtedly,” was Mr. Toombs’s instant reply, “ it all turns on that. What you tax yon must protect.”
This is the very strongest argument of the Southern side. But the alleged slaveproperty is protected, though only under municipal law, by the Constitution. To protect it elsewhere is against its whole Spirit, and, in the present state of public sentiment, against its very letter. Originally, as is well known, it was not proposed to protect at all, under the General Government, property so monstrous, except as it became necessary as a compromise, in order to secure a union. But the provision of the Constitution that the slave-trade should be abolished, the absolute power given to Congress to make all laws for the Territories, the spirit of the preamble, the principles of the Declaration, indeed, the whole history of the origin and adoption of the fundamental law, prove that its principle and its expectation were, if not absolutely to place slavery in the States in process of extinction, at least never to recognize it except indirectly and remotely under municipal law, not even by admitting the word slave, to its phraseology.
“ Even in the Northern States themselves, to say nothing of the Territories, I am not safe with my property. I can travel through France or England and be safe ; but if I happen to lose my servant, up in Vainnount,”— Mr, Toombs pronounced the word with a somewhat marked accent of derision,—“ and undertake to recover him, I get jugged. Besides, your Northern statesmen are far from being honest. Here is Billy Seward, for instance,”—with a gesture toward his neighbor’s house,— “ who says slavery is ‘Contrary to the Higher Law, and that he is bound as a Christian to obey the Higher Law ; but yet he takes an oath to up hold the Constitution, which protects slavery. This inconsistency runs through most of the Northern platforms. How can we live with such men ? They will not be true even to a compact which they themselves acknowledge.”
“You would think, then, Wendell Phillips, for instance, more consistent in his political opinions than Mr. Seward ?”
“Certainly. I can understand his position. ‘Slavery,’ he says, ‘ is wrong. The Constitution protects slavery ; therefore I will have nothing to do with the Constitution, and cannot become a citizen.’ This is logical and consistent. I can respect such a position as that.”
Here Mr. Toombs — ejecting, as perhaps the writer ought not to relate, a competent mass of tobacco-saliva into the blazing coal —paused somewhat reflectively, perhaps unpleasantly revolving certain possible indirect influences of the position he had characterized.
“ Upon which side, Sir, do you think there is usually the most misunderstanding,— on the part of the North concerning the South ? or on the part of the South concerning the North ? ”
“ Oh, by all odds,” he replied, instantly, “ we understand you best. We send fifty thousand travellers, more or less, North every summer to your wateringplaces. Hot down in Mobile,”—his style taking somewhat unpleasantly the intonation as well as the negligence of the bar-room, — “ can’t live in Mobile in the summer. Then your papers circulate more among us than ours among you. Our daughters are educated at Northern boarding-schools, our sons at Northern colleges : both my colleague and myself were educated at Northern colleges. For these reasons, by all odds, we have a better opportunity for understanding you than you have for understanding us.”
“ In ease of general secession and war,” the writer ventured next to inquire, “ would there probably, in your opinion, be danger of a slave insurrection ? ”
“ None at all. Certainly far less than of ‘ Bread or Blood ' riots at the North.”
The writer was surprised to find, notwithstanding Mr. Toombs’s eulogy of Southern opportunities, his understanding of the North so imperfect, and still more surprised at the, political and social principles involved in the spirit of what followed.
“Your poor population can hold wardmeetings, and can vote. But we know better how to take care of ours. They are in the fields, and under the eye of their overseers. There can be little danger of an insurrection under our system.”
The subject and the manner of the man, in spite of his better qualities, were becoming painful, and the writer ventured only one more remark.
“ An ugly time, certainly, if war comes between North and South.”
“ Ugly time ? Oh, no ! ”
The writer will never forget the tone of utter carelessness and nonchalance with which the last round-toned exclamation was uttered.
“ Oh, no ! War is nothing. Never more than a tenth part of the adult population of a country in the field. We have four million voters. Say a tenth of them, or four hundred thousand men, are in the field on both sides. A tenth of them would be killed or die of camp diseases. But they would die, any way. War is nothing.”
The tone perfectly proved this belief, not badinage.
“ Some property would be destroyed, towns injured, fences overturned, and the Devil raised generally ; but then all that would have a good effect. Only yallercovered-literature men and editors make a noise about war. Wars are to history what storms are to the atmosphere,—purifiers. We shall meet, as we ought, whoever invades our rights, with the bayonet. We are the gentlemen of this land, and gentlemen always make revolutions in history.”
This was said in the tone of an injured, but haughty man, with perfect intellectual poise and earnestness, yet with a fervor of feeling that brought the speaker erect in his chair.
The significance of the last remarks, which the writer can make oath he has preserved verbatim, being somewhat calculated to draw on a debate, of course wholly unfitted to the time and place, the writer, apologizing for having taken so much time at a formal interview, and receiving, of course, a most courteous invitation to renew the call, found himself, after but twenty minutes’ conversation, on the street, in the lonely Decemher evening, with a mind full of reflections.
The utter recklessness concerning life and property with which the splendid intellect, under the lead of the ungovernable passions of this man, was plunging the nation into a civil war of which no one could foresee the end, was the thought uppermost. Certainly, the abstract manliness of asserting rights supposed to be infringed it was in itself impossible not to respect. But the man seemed to love war for its own sake, as pugnacious schoolboys love sham-fights, with a sort of glee in the smell of the smoke of battle. The judicial calmness of statesmanship had entirely disappeared in the violence of sectional passion. Perhaps he might be capable of ruining his country from pure love of turbulence and power, could he but find a pretext of force sufficient to blind first himself and then others. Yet Robert Toombs, in the Senate Chamber, takes little children in his arms, and is one of the kindest of the noblemen of Nature in the sphere of his unpolitical sympathies. The reader who is familiar with Mr. Toombs’s speeches will need no assurance that he spoke frankly.1
Sick at heart, as the future of the nation stood to his dim vision through the present, the writer found his way to his hotel. At this time the North was silent, apparently apathetic, unbelieving, almost criminally allowed to be undeceived by its presses and by public men who had means of information, while this volcano continued to prepare itself thus defiantly beneath the very feet of a President sworn to support the laws !
The formal interview with the Honorable R. M. T. Hunter was sought in company with two other students of NewEngland colleges. We had hoped to meet Mr. Mason at the same apartments, but were disappointed. The great contrast of personal character between Mr. Hunter and Mr. Toombs made the concurrence of the former in the chief views presented by the latter the more significant. The careful habits of thought, the unostentatiousness, and the practical common sense for which the Virginian farmer is esteemed, and which had made his name a prominent one for President of a Central Confederacy, in case of the separate secession of the Border States, were curiously manifested both in his apartments and his manner. The chamber was apparently at a boarding-house, but very plainly furnished with red cotton serge curtains and common hair-cloth chairs and sofa. The Senator’s manner of speech was slow, considerate,—indeed, sometimes approaching awkwardness in its plain, farmer-like simplicity. One of the first questions was the central one, concerning the chief grievance of the South, which had been presented to Mr. Toombs.
“ Yes,” was Mr. Hunter’s reply, somewhat less promptly given, “it may be said to come chiefly from that, — the nonrecognition of our property under the Constitution. We wish our property recognized, as we think the Constitution provides. We should like to remain with the North.”
He spoke without a particle of expressed passion or ardor, though by no means incapable, when aroused, as those who have seen his plethoric countenance and figure can testify, of both.
“ We are mutually helpful to each other. I Ye want to use your navy and your factories. You want our cotton. The North to manufacture, and the South to produce, would make the strongest nation. But, if we separate, we shall try to do more in Virgitiia than we do now. We shall make mills on our streams.”
His language was chiefly Saxon monosyllables.
“ The climate is not as severe, the nights are not as long with us as with you. I think we can do well at manufacturing in Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay and our rivers should aid commerce. As for the slaves, I think there is little danger of any trouble. There may be some,” he said, with a frankness that surprised us slightly, but in the same moderate, honest way, his hands clasped upon his breast, and the extended feet rubbing together slowly, “ in the Cotton States, where they are very thick together ; but I think that there is very little danger in Virginia. The way they take to rise in never shows much skill. The last time they rose in our State, I think the attempt was brought on by some sign in an eclipse of the moon.”
Nearly all that passed of political interest is contained in the foregoing sentences, except one honest reply to a question concerning his opinion of the probability of the North’s attempting coercion.
“ If only three States go out, they mav coerce,” said Hr. Hunter; “ but if fifteen go, I guess they won’t try.”
At the present period of the Rebellion, this indication of the anticipations of its leaders in engaging in it must be of interest.
It must be understood that the writer and his companions presented themselves simply as students, with no fixed exclusive predilections for either of the public parties in polities,—which, in the writer’s case at least, was certainly a statement wholly true, — and that this evident freedom from political bias secured perhaps an unusual share of the confidence of the Southern Senators. It will be remembered, also, that in every conversation, however startling the revelation of criminal purpose or absurd motive, the manner of these Senators was always totally devoid of any approach to that vulgar intellectual levity which too often, in treating of public affairs, painfully characterizes the fifth-rate men whom the North sometimes chooses to make its representatives. The manner of the Southern leaders was to us a sufficient proof of their sincerity.
At the house of the Honorable Jefferson Davis, now in the world’s gaze President of the then nascent Confederacy, the writer, in the intelligent and genial company of the graduate of Harvard and the student of Amherst before mentioned, called formally, on the evening of the New Year’s reception-day. A representative from one of the Southwestern States was present, but we were soon admitted to the front of the open blazing grate of the reception-parlor. We had before seen Mr. Davis busy in the Senate.
The urbanity, the intellectual energy, and the intensely shrewd watchfulness and ambition, combined with a covertly expressed, but powerful native instinct for strategy and command, which have made Mr. Davis a public leader, were evident at the first glance. The Senator seemed compact of ambition, will, intellect, activity, and shrewdness. A high and broad, but square forehead; the aquiline nose; the square, fighting chin; the thin, compressed, but flexible lips; the almost haggardly sunken cheek; the piercing, not wholly uncovered eye; the dark, somewhat thinning hair; the clear, slightly browned, nervous complexion, all well given in the best current photographs, were united to a figure slightly bent in the shoulders, of more respiratory than digestive breadth, in outlines almost equally balancing ruggedness and grace, of compactness wrought by the pressure of perhaps few more than fifty summers, not above medium height, but composed throughout of silk and steel. A certain similarity between the decorations of the parlor and the character of the owner, perhaps more fanciful than real, at once attracted attention. Everything was simple,graceful, and rich, without being tropically luxuriant; the paintings appeared to be often of airy, winged, or white-robed figures, that suggested a reflective and not unimaginative mind in the one who had chosen them. This was the leader whom Mr. Calhoun's fervent political metaphysics and his own ambition for place and power had misled. His conversation was remarkable in manner for perfect unostentatiousness, clearness, and self-control, and in matter for breadth and minuteness of political information. In the whole conversation, he never uttered a broken or awkwardly constructed sentence, nor wavered, while stating facts, by a single intonation. This considerable intellectual energy, combined with courtesy, was his chief fascination. Yet, underneath all lay an atmosphere of covert haughtiness, and, at times, even of audacious remorselessness, which, under stimulative circumstances, were to be feared. Undoubtedly, passion and ambition were natively stronger in the countenance than reason, conscience, and general sympathy,— an observation best felt to be true when the face was compared in imagination with the faces of some of the world’s chief benefactors; but culture, native urbanity, and a powerful reflective tendency had evidently so wrought, that, though conscience might be imperilled frequently by great adroitness in the casuistry of selfexcuse, justice could not be consciously opposed for any length of time without powerful silent reaction. The quantity of being, however, though superior, was not of so high a measure as the quality, and the principal deficiencies, though perhaps almost the sole ones, were plainly moral. In his presence, no man could deny to him something of that dignity, of a kind superior to that of intellect and will, which must be possessed by every leader as a basis of confidence. But mournful severe truth would testify that there was yet, at times, palpably something of the treacherous serpent in the eye, and it could not readily be told where it would strike.
In reply to a reference to a somewhat celebrated speech by Senator Benjamin of Louisiana, which we had heard the day previous, he said that we might consider it, as a whole, a very fair statement both of the arguments and the purposes of the South. Perhaps a speech of more horrible doctrine, upheld by equal argumentative and rhetorical power, has never been heard in the American Senate. In reply, also, to the one central question concerning the chief grievance of the South, he gave in substance the same answer, uttered perhaps with more logical calmness, that had been given by Mr. Hunter and Mr. Toombs, that it was substantially covered by Mr. Calhoun’s old complaint, the non-recognition of slaveproperty under the Federal Constitution. Of course we were as yet too well established in the belief that slavery in the United States is upheld by the Constitution only very remotely and indirectly, under local or municipal law, to desire, even by questions, to draw on any debate.
In reply to a question by the gentleman from Harvard, he spoke of a Central Confederacy as altogether improbable, and thought, if Georgia seceded, as the telegrams for the last fortnight had indicated she would, Maryland would be sure to go. “ I think the commercial and political interests of Maryland,” he remarked, in his calm and simple, but distinct and watchful manner, manifesting, too, at the same time, a natural command of dignified, antithetical sentences, “ would be promoted, perhaps can be only preserved, by secession. Her territory extends on both sides of a great inland water communication, and is at the natural Atlantic outlet, by railway, of the Valley of the West. Baltimore in the Union is sure to be inferior to Philadelphia and New York: Baltimore out of the Union is sure to become a great commercial city. In every way, whether we regard her own people or their usefulness to other States, I think the interests of Maryland would be promoted by secession.”
“ But. would not Maryland lose many more slaves, as the border member of a foreign confederacy, than she does now in the Union ? ”
The reply to this question we looked for with the greatest interest, since no foreign nation, suck as the North would be, in case of the success of the attempted Confederacy, ever thinks of giving up fugitives, and since the policy of the South upon this point, in case she should succeed, would determine the possibility or impossibility of peace between the two portions of the Continent.
Mr. Davis’s reply was in the following words, uttered in a tone of equal shrewdness, calmness, and decision : —
“ I think, for all Maryland would lose in that way she would be more than repaid by reprisals. While we are one nation and you steal our property, we have little redress ; but when we become two nations., we shall say, Two can play at this game.”
We breathed more freely after so frank an utterance. The great importance of this reply, coming from the even then proposed political chief of the Confederacy, as indicating the impossibility of peace, even in case of the recognition of the South, so long as it should continue, as it has begun, to make Slavery the chief corner-stone of the State, will be at once perceived.
“ But,” the writer ventured to inquire, “ what will become of the Federal District, since its inhabitants have no ‘ State right of secession ’? ”
“ Have you ever studied law ? ” he asked.
The gentleman from Amherst confessed our ignorance of any point covering the case.
“ There is a rule in law,” continued Mr. Davis, “ that, when property is granted by one party to another for use for any specified purpose, and ceases to be used for that purpose, it reverts by law to the donor. Now the territory constituting at present the District of Columbia was granted, as you well know, by Maryland to the United States for use as the seat of the Federal capital. When it ceases to be used for that purpose, it, with all its public fixtures, will revert by law to Maryland. But,” and his eye brightened to the hue of cold steel in a way the writer will never forget, as he uttered, in a tone perfectly self-poised, undaunted, and slightly defiant, the words, “ that is a point which may be settled by force rather than by reason.”
This was January 1, 1861, only eleven days after South Carolina had passed her Act of Secession, and shows that even then, notwithstanding the professed desire of the South to depart in peace, the attack not only upon the national principles ot union, but upon the national property as well, was projected. Mr. Davis, loaded with the benefits of his country, yet occupied a seat in the Senate Chamber, under the most solemn oath to uphold its Constitution, which, even if his grievances had been well founded, afforded Constitutional and peaceful remedies that he had never attempted to use. Presenting regards, very formal indeed, sick at heart, indignant, and anxious, we left the house of the traitor.
The historical conclusions to be drawn from the above slight sketches are important in several respects. Mr. Davis, Mr. Toombs, and Mr. Hunter are among the strongest leaders of the Rebellion. Representing the Northern, Southeastern, and Southwestern populations of the disaffected regions, their testimony had a wide application, and was perhaps as characteristic and pointed in these brief conversations, occurring just upon the eve of the bursting of the storm, as we should have heard in a hundred interviews. That they spoke frankly was not only evidenced to us by their entire manner, but, as it is not unimportant to repeat, has been proved by subsequent events. The conversations, therefore, indicate, —
1. That the grand, fundamental, legal ground for the Rebellion was a view of Constitutional rights by which property in human beings claimed equal protection under the General Government with the products of Free Labor, and to be admitted, therefore, at will, to all places under the jurisdiction of the Federal power, and not simply to be protected under local or municipal law, — rights which the South proposed to vindicate, constitutionally, by Secession, or, in other words, by the domination of State over National sovereignty : an entire view of the true intent of the Federal compacts and powers, which, in the great debates between Mr. Webster and Mr. Calhoun, to say nothing of elucidations by previous and subsequent jurists and statesmen, has been again and again abundantly demonstrated to be absurd.
2. That the immediate, comprehensive pretext for the Rebellion was the success of a legal majority having in its platform of principles the doctrine of the non-extension of involuntary human bondage in the territories over which the Constitution had given to the whole people absolute control, a doctrine which the mass of the Southern populations were educated to believe not only deadly to their local privileges, but distinctly unconstitutional.
3. That the leaders of the Rebellion frankly admitted, that, excepting this one point of Constitutional grievance, the interests of the populations which they represented would be better subserved in the Union than Out of it.
4. That the leaders of the Rebellion appear not to have anticipated coercion; but yet, from the earliest days of Secession, contemplated the spoliation of the Southern National property, and particularly the seizure of the Federal capital.
5. That, even should the independence of the South be acknowledged, peace could not result so long as Slavery should continue: their avowed system of reprisals for the certain escape of slaves precluding all force in any but piratical international law.
6. That the spirit of the Rebellion is the haughty, grasping, and, except within its own circle, the remorseless spirit universally characteristic of oligarchies, before the success of whose principles upon this continent the liberties of the whites could be no safer than those of the blacks.
“ We are the gentlemen of this land,” said the Georgian senator, “ and gentlemen always make revolutions in history.” And just previously he had said, with haughty significance, “ Your poor population can hold ward-meetings, and can vote. But we know better how to take care of ours. They are in the fields, and under the eye of their overseers.”
In these two brief remarks, taken singly, or, especially, in juxtaposition, from so representative a source, and so characteristic of oligarchical opinions everywhere, appears condensed the suggestive political warning of these times, indeed of all times, and which a people regardful of civil and religious liberty can never be slow to heed.
Let the pride of race and the aristocratic tendencies which underlie the resistance of the South prevail, and we shall see a new America. The land of the fathers and of the present will become strange to us. In place of a thriving population, each member socially independent, self-respecting, contented, and industrious, contributing, therefore, to the general welfare, and preserving to posterity and to mankind a national future of inconceivable power and grandeur, we shall see a class of unemployed rich and unemployed poor, the former a handful, the latter a host, in perpetual feud. The asylum of nations, ungratefully rejecting the principles of equality, to which it has owed a career of prosperity unexampled in history, will find in arrested commerce, depressed credit, checked manufactures, an effeminate and selfish, however brilliant, governing class, and an impoverished and imbruted industrial population, the consequences of tu4rning back upon its path of advance. The condition of the most unfortunate aristocracies of the Old World will become ours.
But the venerated principles partially promulgated in our golden age forbid such unhappy auspices. Undoubtedly gentlemen make revolutions in history; but since all may be Christians, may not all men be gentlemen? At least, have not all men, everywhere, the sacred and comprehensive right of equal freedom of endeavor to occupy their highest capacities ? Does not the Creator, who makes nothing in vain, wherever He implants a power, imply a command to exercise that power according to the highest aspiration, and is not responsibility eternally exacted, wherever power and command coexist ? By that fearful sanction, may not all men, everywhere, become the best they can become ? What that may be, is not tree, equal, and perpetual experiment, judged by conscience in the individual and by philanthropy in his brother, and not by arrogance or cupidity in his oppressor, to decide ? To secure the wisdom and perpetuity of this experiment, are not governments instituted ? Is not a monopoly of opportunity by any eingle class, by all historical and theoretical proof, not only unjust to the excluded, but crippling and suicidal to the State ? Nay, is not the slightest infringement of regulated social and political justice, liberty, and humanity, in the person of black or of white, that makes the greatest potential development of the highest in human nature impossible or difficult, to be resisted, as a violation of the peace of the soul, endless treachery to mankind, an affront to Heaven ? Would not the very soil of America, in which Liberty is said to inhere, cry out and rise against any but an affirmative answer to such questions ?
A near future will decide.
- Ten days later, in the Senate, with a face full of the combined erubescence of revolutionary enthusiasm and unstatesmanlike anger, Mr. Toombs closed a speech to the Northern Senators in the following amazing words, (Congressional Globe, 1860-61, p. 271,) which justify, it will be seen, every syllable of the report of the conversation upon the same points: —↩
- “ You will not regard Confederate obligations; you will not regard constitutional obligations; you will not regard your oaths. What am I to do ? Am I a freeman ? Is my State, a free State, to lie down and submit because political fossils raise the cry of 'The Glorious Union’ ? Too long already have we listened to this delusive song. We are freemen. We have rights: I have stated them. We have wrongs: I have recounted them. I have demonstrated that the party now coming into power has declared us outlaws, and is determined to exclude four thousand millions of our property from the common territories,— that it has declared us under the ban of the empire and out of the protection of the laws of the United States, everywhere. They have refused to protect us from invasion and insurrection by the Federal power, and the Constitution denies to us in the Union the right either to raise fleets or armies for our own defence; All these charges l have proven by the record, and I put them before the civilized world, and demand the judgment of today, of to-morrow, of distant ages, and of Heaven itself, upon these causes. I am content, whatever it be, to peril all in so noble, so holy a cause. We have appealed time and time again for these constitutional rights. You have refused them. We appeal again. Restore us these rights as we had them, as your court adjudges them to be, just as all our people have said they are, redress these flagrant wrongs, seen of all men, and it will restore fraternity and peace and unity to all of us. Refuse them, and what then? We shall then ask you to ‘ let us depart in peace.’ Refuse that, and you present us war. We accept it; and inscribing upon our banners the: glorious words, ‘Liberty and Equality,’ we will trust to the blood of the brave and the God of battles for security and tranquillity.”↩
- Sincere, but undoubtedly mistaken, Mr. Toombs! To this philippic, let the words of another Southern, but not sectional Senator, reply, and that from a golden age: —↩
- But if, unhappily, we should be involved in war, in civil war, between the two parts of this Confederacy, in which the effort upon the one side should be to restrain the introduction of slavery into the new territories, and upon the other side to force its introduction there, what a spectacle should we present to the astonishment of mankind, in an effort, not to propagate right, but — I must say it, though I trust it will be understood to be said with no design to excite feeling—a war to propagate wrong in the territories thus acquired from Mexico. It would be a war in which we should have no sympathies, no good wishes, in which all mankind would be against us; for, from the commencement of the Revolution down to the present time, we have constantly reproached our British ancestors for the introduction of slavery into this country.” —HENRY CLAY Congressional Globe, Part II., Vol. 22, p. 117.↩