North Carolinian John A. Gilmer of Guilford County struggled mightily with the Republicans to find compromise but failed. The same was done by Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis who said in July 1864: “I tried in all my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, and for 12 years, I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize the musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self-government”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Rejecting the Time-Honored Spirit of Compromise
“Gilmer turned to Republicans in the [US House] chamber.
“I would say to my Northern friends . . . that you have it in your power . . . to crush this [talk of disunion] out in one hour.” Simply allow both sections equal rights in the territories and there would be “a speedy end to the ambitious schemes of disunion politicians.” The endless debate was no more than “an excuse for agitation” that accomplished nothing.
“I incline to the opinion that in the future, as heretofore, soil, climate, and productions would settle the question of slavery in the Territories, if peace and quiet were restored. After all that has been said and done, Congress has never made a free State out of any Territory that nature intended for a slave State, and has never made a slave State out of territory where free labor could be profitably employed.”
Gilmer pleaded with his Republican colleagues to consider any compromise, any concession that might deprive secessionists of their arguments. Southern fears were real and would continue to be exploited if Republicans kept silent or ignored the problem.
“You say you have elected your President constitutionally,” said the North Carolinian. “I admit it. You express wonder and surprise that the South should be alarmed at this. Now, let me reason with you . . . Suppose the positions of the two sections of the union were reversed; suppose the [Southern] States were eighteen, and the [Northern] States fifteen; suppose the [Southern] States had a majority in this House . . . [and the Senate and electoral college, and nominate a Southern president and vice-president, and all adopt] a resolution intimating that it is in the power of Congress, as well as the duty of Congress, to provide that no more free States shall be admitted into the Union . . .
[S]uppose all these things were to happen, and then speeches, assurances, and telegrams, should be freely circulated throughout your country, that the South intended to make all the States slaveholding States: I submit to you, my Northern friends, would you not be very much warmed up against that Southern movement, and begin to feel that you were but small folks in this Government? Would you not feel like looking out for yourselves, at least to the extent of asking for some guarantees?”
Settlement of every sectional dispute was within reach if only the time-honored spirit of compromise could be revived. “Is it possible that the sons of American fathers cannot agree on this trifling matter?” What would the Founding Fathers do under these circumstances? Would they let matters go on until blood was shed? Should compromise fail and conflict come, Gilmer knew it would be his duty to stand by North Carolina.
“I want men gentlemen North and South to mark my words: when . . . this country should be laid waste; when shipping in our ports shall be destroyed, when our institutions of learning and religion shall wither away or be torn down; when your cities shall be given up for plunder and for slaughter; when your sons and my sons, your neighbors and my neighbors, shall be carried from this bloody field of strife; and our mothers, our sisters, our wives, and our daughters, shall assemble around us, and, with weeping eyes and aching hearts, say: “Could you not have done something, could you not have said something, that would have averted this dreadful calamity?
I want to feel in my conscience and in my soul that I have done my duty.”
(Taking a Stand, Portraits From the Southern Secession Movement, Walter Brian Cisco, 1998, White Mane Books, pp. 97-98)