Browsing "Recurring Southern Conservatism"

“Whose Hand Shall Write It, Whose Tongue Shall Utter It?”

Senator Benjamin H. Hill of Georgia, one of the last to accept the secession of his State in 1861, proved himself to be the last to give up the hope of establishing that secession. After Lincoln’s election in November 1860, Hill pleaded that the Union not be abandoned to its enemies by withdrawing. He asked: “Is this Union good? If so, why should we surrender its blessings because Massachusetts violates the laws of that Union? Drive Massachusetts to the duties of the Constitution or from its benefits . . . Let us defend the Union from its enemies – not abandon it to them.”

On March 11, 1865, he delivered what has been designated “the last speech made by any Southern man in behalf of the Confederacy.”

“Whose Hand Shall Write it, Whose Tongue Shall Utter it?”

“[As Hill considered Lincoln’s terms at the Hampton Roads Conference,] he summarized his conclusions on this score: I have shown you that [Lincoln] requires us:

To accept a new Constitution and new laws made by our enemies, and we must accept this new Constitution and these new laws without reservation or qualification as to the consequences that may follow.  I need scarcely add that in order to carry out this policy it will become necessary to obliterate all State lines, and have all the States of the Confederacy reduced to one vast territory. For this vast territory there will be but one law-making power, the Federal Congress . . .

As an inducement and the only inducement offered, to accept these terms Mr. Lincoln offers us a liberal exercise of the pardoning power. And doubtless those at the North who support him, will consider this indeed a liberal offer, since they claim the right to exterminate us for the sins already committed.” Such terms, Hill declares, are manifestly impossible. Defiance to such an insolent enemy is the only answer that a proud people can make.”

Moreover, Hill maintains, a peace on such a basis as Lincoln offers, would avail the Southern people nothing. The old Constitution, which many of them loved and would gladly embrace again, is gone beyond recovery; and by the very terms proposed, Southern property is confiscated. Why accept such a peace while hope and resistance remains?

But “darkest thought of all,” in such a peace, that blackest of all libels must be written over the graves of dead comrades: “Traitors lie here.” Whose hand shall write it and not grow paralyzed? Whose tongue shall utter it and not grow speechless? . . . Enough, enough! cries Hill. “Away with the thought of peace on such terms. “Tis the wildest dream that restless ambition, or selfish avarice or slinking cowardice could conjure . . .”

(Benjamin H. Hill: Secession and Reconstruction, Haywood J. Pearce, Jr., Negro University Press, 1928, excerpt pp. 108-110)

A Political Party Dangerous to Peace

Stephen R. Mallory succeeded David Yulee as Florida Senator in 1851, after a highly-contested campaign. Yulee vigorously opposed the Compromise of 1850, holding “that the North had violated the Missouri Compromise by proposing the Wilmot Proviso.” Mallory’s Catholic faith disturbed Yulee supporter and future Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who later “ruled that Lincoln’s assassination had been a Catholic plot.” It is also understood that the hanging of Mrs. Surratt “has been charged to her Roman faith.” Below, Senator Mallory addresses the United States Senate regarding the John Brown insurrection in Virginia.

A Political Party Dangerous to Peace

 “On December 7, 1859, in discussing the Harper’s Ferry invasion resolution, he said:

“In this case the cause of Virginia is the cause of the South. We feel proud of her attitude, proud of her high tone, proud of the legal and constitutional manner in which her executive and people have met this outbreak; and we expect to stand by her in any issue that she may make.

Now, Sir, are not the Southern people justified in looking to the North to quiet public opinion? Are they not justified in the excitement which is felt there, though it is not manifested in words or acts – deeply as it underlies the current of society?

I might appeal to Northern gentlemen for the justification. I might tell them, Sir, that the popular pulpit throughout the North, that the light literature of the North, that the separation of the churches between the North and the South, that the laws upon her statute books, the speeches in her Legislatures, the messages of her Governors, all have tended to produce the fruits which now stare us in the face.

Gentlemen get up here frankly and disavow, in terms more or less explicit, all knowledge or concurrence with, or approval of, the acts of this simple murderer, midnight assassin, and traitor. They could do no less . . .

The speaker went on to call attention to the threat of the Republican party to [the peace of the country, and] to the “meetings of sympathy condolence and compassion . . . for a man who deserves the severest condemnation throughout the whole world. Bells are tolled; in Albany [New York] one hundred guns are fired . . . [in his honor]”

(Stephen Russell Mallory, Occie Clubbs, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XXVI, Number 1, July 1947)

Lacking Faith in the Government

A powerful and skillful debater, James A. Seddon of Virginia was the self-appointed manager of the Washington Peace Conference, chaired by former President John Tyler.  It is said he matched John Randolph’s contempt of all forms of Northern life, “from the statesmen of New England to the sheep that fed on her hillsides.” The irony of the North’s “hatred of slavery” is that the black man usually arrived in the America’s in the filthy holds of New England slavers, being sold by their own brethren for New England rum and Yankee notions. After the war began, Seddon became Secretary of War of the Confederate States.  

Representative Preston King of New York, below, seemed unaware that his State’s ratification of the 1789 Constitution reserved to itself secession should it so desire; in assuming his office, he swore to uphold the Constitution rather than the federal government.

It is true that States to not have a “right” to secede: being sovereign entities since the 1783 Treaty of Paris with England, and only granting the federal agent specific enumerated authority in the Articles of Confederation and later Constitution, each State holds the ability to withdraw and form a more perfect union at its pleasure.

Kentucky’s James Guthrie, below, argued in the Peace Convention that New England had threatened secession several times in the past as it lost faith in the federal government to protect its interests, and that the South in 1861 was following the same path. It is said that John C. Calhoun absorbed the secessionist teachings of New Englanders.       

Lacking Faith in the Government

“[Seddon] declared that the object of the dominant party of the North . . . desired that the national and practical institutions of the South should be surrounded by a cordon of twenty free States and in the end extinguished.  

Seddon [emphasized] that the slaves had benefited by being brought to America and civilized. The South had done nothing wrong to the race; yet the South was assailed, attacked by the North, from the cradle to the grave, and the children of the free States had been educated to regard the people of the South as monsters of lust by the abolitionist societies and their doctrines and by their support for John Brown, and asked whether this was not a sufficient reason for suspicion and grave apprehension on the part of the South.

He contended that the moral aspect was by itself dangerous enough, and when combined with politics it was made much worse.

Seddon commented on the acquisitive spirit of the North, its ambitions for office, power, and control over government, which would permit it soon to control the South.  He re-emphasized that Virginia and the Border States would not remain in the Union without added guarantees. His personal opinion was that “the purpose of Virginia to resist coercion is unchanged and unchangeable.”

James C. Smith of New York . . . pointed out that the federal government held all territory in trust for the people. John G. Goodrich of Massachusetts essentially agreed. Seddon rose to reassert the Southern point of view. He declared that in the debate two new principles had been introduced: that [Southern people had restricted access to new territories], and that governmental action would be [Northern-influenced].

This was exactly what the Southern States feared, Seddon declared, and it was the principal cause of secession. This was his interpretation of the 1860 election. These policies were, in his view, not in accordance with the Constitution.

Preston King of New York declared that all owed allegiance to the Constitution above and beyond all other political duties and obligations. In contrast to Seddon, he considered the Union to be a confederation of States under the Constitution with all citizens owing primary allegiance to the Federal Government.

[Reverdy] Johnson of Maryland, who took the Southern point of view on most questions, doubted that a State had a right to secede, although he agreed with Madison’s point in the Federalist Number 42 that the right of self-preservation and revolution was above the Constitution as an integral part of the law of nature.

Even Seddon was restrained on this point, merely observing that Virginia was debating whether or not to remain in the Union because she feared for her safety under present conditions.

Seddon contended that what the South really wanted was security from the North and its dominant political party. [James] Guthrie [of Kentucky] observed that the North once contemplated destruction of the Union because of a feeling that the federal government was antagonistic to Northern interests. The South, he said, had the same feeling now and lacked faith in the government.”  

(Sectionalism in the Peace Convention of 1861, Jesse L. Keene, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XL, Number 1, July 1961, excerpt pp. 60-61; 69-70; 74-75)

A Militaristic and Aggressive Nation

James William Fulbright, 1905-1995, was born in Missouri and reared in Arkansas, which he eventually represented both in the House and Senate. He signed the Southern Manifesto which declared the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling as “a clear abuse of judicial power” as only Congress can legislate; in 1964 and 1965 he opposed both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts as unconstitutional invasions of clear State authority.

Fulbright additionally questioned the reasons why the Army, Navy and Air Force each spent “millions of tax dollars annually on persuasion of the public that its particular brand of weaponry is the best.” At the conclusion of the 1861-1865 war, Lee wrote to Lord Acton that “The consolidation of the States into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor to ruin which has overwhelmed all that has preceded it.” 

A Militaristic and Aggressive Nation

“Violence is our most important product. We have been spending nearly $80 billion a year on the military, which is more than the profits of all American business, or, to make another comparison, is almost as much as the total spending of the federal, State, and local governments for health, education, old age and retirement benefits, housing, and agriculture. Until the past session of the Congress, these billions have been provided to the military with virtually no questions asked.

Many people looked on [the Sentinel ABM program] as they now look on Safeguard, not as a weapon but as a means of prosperity. For the industrialist it meant profits; for the worker new jobs and the prospect of higher wages; for the politician a new installation or defense order with which to ingratiate himself with his constituents.

Military expenditures today provide the livelihood of some ten percent of our work force. There are 22,000 major corporate defense contractors and another 100,000 subcontractors. Defense plants or installations are located in 363 of the country’s 435 congressional districts. Even before it turns its attention to the public at large, the military has a large and sympathetic audience for its message.

These millions of Americans who have a vested interest in the expensive weapons systems spawned by our global military involvements are as much a part of the military industrial complex as the generals and the corporation heads.  In turn they have become a powerful force for the perpetuation of these involvements, and have had an indirect influence on the weapons development policy that has driven the United States into a spiraling arms race with the Soviet Union and made us the world’s major salesman of armaments.

A Marine war hero and former Commandant of the Corps, General David M. Shoup, has said: “America has become a militaristic and aggressive nation.”

(The Pentagon Propaganda Machine, J.W. Fulbright, Liveright Publishing, 1970, excerpt pp. 12-13)

Punished for Seeking Independence

North Carolina rejected the proposed Fourteenth Amendment by a forty-five to one vote in the Senate, and by ninety-three to ten in the House. Although the amendment failed the requisite number of State ratifications, it was hurriedly and unconstitutionally enacted by Radical Republicans to maintain national political hegemony.  

Punished for Seeking Independence

“The question has been asked, and will be asked again, by our children, why the Southern people did not accept the reconstruction measures and ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution? It is impossible, at this day, to comprehend the import of this [amendment’s] language, or its effect upon the people of the South.

It is interesting to read the words of Governor [Jonathan] Worth, in his message to the Legislature of North Carolina, in submitting to them the proposed amendment. After reviewing its provisions he says he was unable to believe that the deliberate judgement of the people of any State would approve the innovation to be wrought by the amendment, and as anxious as he was to see the Union restored, there was nothing in the amendment calculated to perpetuate that Union, but that its tendency was rather to perpetuate sectional alienation and estrangement.

The committee of the Legislature, to which the amendment was referred, recommending its rejection, said:

“What the people of North Carolina have done, they have done in obedience to her own behests. Must she now punish them for obeying her own commands? If penalties have been incurred, and punishments must be inflicted, is it magnanimous, is it reasonable, nay, is it honorable, to require us to become our own executioners? Must we, as a State, be regarded as unfit for fraternal association with our fellow citizens of other States until after we shall have sacrificed our manhood, and banished our honor?

Like a stricken mother, the State now stands leaning in silent grief over the bloody graves of her slain children. The momentoes of her former glory lie in ruins around her. The majesty of sorrow sits enthroned upon her brow. Proud of her sons who have died for her, she cherishes, in her heart of hearts, the loving children who were ready to die for her and she loves them with a warm affection.”

(George Davis Memorial Address, H.G. Conner, Unveiling of the George Davis Statue at Wilmington, NC, April 20, 1911, by the Cape Fear Chapter, UDC)

The Essence of Piety

Richard Weaver wrote of the modern position of egotism, which seems to permeate all we see, read and hear today.  This develops, he reasoned, “when man has reached a point at which he will no longer admit the right of existence of things not of his own contriving.”  He presents the paradox of man’s continual warring upon nature as “not a sign of superiority to her; it is proof of preoccupation with nature, of a sort of imprisonment by her.”

The Essence of Piety

“[Man’s] immersion in the task of reconstructing nature is an adolescent infatuation. The youth is an intellectual merely, a believer in ideas, who thinks that ideas can overcome the world. The mature man passes beyond intellectuality to wisdom; he believes in ideas too, but life has taught him to be content to see them embodied, which is to see them under a sort of limitation. In other words, he has found that substance is part of life, a part which is ineluctable.

The humbler view of man’s powers is the essence of piety; and it is, in the long run, more rewarding, for nature seems best dealt with when we respect her without allowing ourselves to want too fiercely to possess her.

The second form of piety accepts the substance of other beings. It is a matter of everyday observation that people of cultivation and intellectual perceptiveness are quickest to admit a law of rightness in ways of living differently from their own; they have mastered the principle that being has a right qua being.

Knowledge disciplines egotism so that one credits the reality of other selves. The virtue of the splendid tradition of chivalry was that it took formal recognition of the right to existence not only of inferiors but also of enemies.

The modern formula of unconditional surrender – used first against nature and then against peoples – impiously puts man in the place of God by usurping unlimited rights to dispose of the rights of others. Chivalry was a most practical expression of the basic brotherhood of man. But to have enough imagination to see into other lives and enough piety to realize that their existence is a part of beneficent creation is the very foundation of human community.

There appear to be two types to whom this kind of charity are unthinkable: the barbarian, who would destroy what is different because it is different, and the neurotic, who always reaches out for control of others, probably because his own integration has been lost.”

(Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver, University of Chicago Press, 1948, excerpts pg. 173-175)  

The Fatal Precedent

The origins of the Mexican War are far more complex than usually presented in modern textbooks, with England figuring prominently into the reasons behind a hurried annexation. A need to preserve Texas as a reliable supplier of cotton, while limiting American expansionism, propelled Britain into mediating Mexican-Texan difficulties. While New Englanders opposed annexation on supposedly moral grounds, they coveted California which would give them a port more convenient for whaling and their opium traffic with India – the latter creating severe addiction problems in China.

John C. Calhoun opposed James Polk’s war with Mexico with a plea “that America never take one foot of territory by an aggressive war.” He added, “If fight we must, let us fight a defensive war.” He dismissed Polk’s assertion of “war exists with Mexico” as a “palpable falsehood.”

The Fatal Precedent

“The way Polk got the [Mexican] war started ensured that it would be vehemently protested in certain quarters. Shortly after Texas was annexed (December 29, 1845), Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor, commander of the army in Louisiana, to move to Texas to protect its southern flank on the Rio Grande.

In reality, the southern flank was the Neuces, 150 miles to the north; Mexico claimed the area between the two rivers, and the pretensions of Texas and the United States was without foundation. An American reconnoitering party of sixty-three men encountered a Mexican force near the Rio Grande and was attacked. Eleven were killed, five wounded and the rest captured.

When Polk received the news, he asked Congress to appropriate funds to support Taylor, declared that the Mexicans had invaded the United States and “shed American blood on the American soil,” and requested not a declaration of war but a recognition that “war exists” by virtue of Mexico’s action.

The Democratic majority in the House limited debate to two hours, read but a few of the documents Polk had submitted, and passed a bill calling for volunteers and appropriating $10 million. Just sixteen congressmen voted against the bill.

Among the few in Congress who spoke against the action was John C. Calhoun. Unlike northern opponents of the war, he had strongly favored the annexation of Texas, but he thought the war was avoidable, set a dangerous precedent . . . The passage of the appropriations bill with its “war exists” preamble in effect transferred to the presidency Congress’s power to declare war, for the president as commander in chief could order troops anywhere, provoke a fight, and present Congress with was a fait accompli.  

The precedent could prove fatal, Calhoun insisted, for it “will enable all future presidents to bring about a state of things, in which Congress shall be forced, without deliberation or reflection, to declare war, however opposed to its convictions of justice or expediency. The precedent would, indeed, be applied to Calhoun’s own State fifteen years later.”

(States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, Forrest MacDonald, University of Kansas Pres, 2000, excerpts pp. 150-151)

Southern Abolition Societies

Southern colonists were greatly alarmed at the great influx of African slaves being transported into their midst by British and New England ships by the mid-1700s. Both Virginia and North Carolina taxed the importation of slaves to discourage the practice, only to be overruled by the King who sought productive colonial plantations.

By 1750, Rhode Island was the center of the transatlantic slave trade, which continued to at least 1859. When discussing the antebellum period it is more accurate to speak of all the States as free, and the Northern States properly referred to as former slaveholding States, along with some being former slave trading States.

Southern Abolition Societies

“Slavery continued to be recognized within the South as a grave social problem. Perhaps Southerners were less concerned about it than they had been in the Revolutionary period, but during the course of the Missouri debate, responsible Southern spokesmen openly admitted that slavery was evil; and ten years later there occurred the greatest and most searching discussion of the nature and problem of slavery that was ever held in the South, the debate in the Virginia legislature in 1832.

Several antislavery journals appeared in the slave States: The Emancipator, founded in East Tennessee in 1820; The Genius of Universal Emancipation, which was moved to Tennessee from Ohio in 1821 and was later moved to Baltimore; and the Abolition Intelligencer, founded in Kentucky in 1822.

Benjamin Lundy, editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, estimated in 1827 that there were 106 antislavery societies with 5,150 members in the slave States whereas there were only 24 such societies with 1,475 members in the free States, not counting 10 or 12 in Illinois about which he could get no information.

But these facts by no means indicate that Southerners generally were conscience-stricken over slavery . . . [and] the hostility of some Southerners to slavery was founded on something very different from sympathy for the oppressed. When Governor David Holmes of Mississippi warned that “The evils arising from this odious practice [the slave trade] are constantly . . . increasing,” and there would be serious results “unless the traffic is wholly prohibited,” his concern was for the welfare of the Mississippi white man.

Governor [Thomas Mann] Randolph of Virginia put the matter very bluntly. He deplored the “error of our ancestors in copying a civil institution from savage Africa,” because as he reasoned, “The want of moral motives and a defect of intelligence, the too common absence of settled character, that marks the race [degraded] by slavery, if not by nature,” was injurious to the State of Virginia.

There was much support throughout the South in the 1820s for plans to deport Negroes . . . Haiti, Africa and unsettled parts of the western territories of the United States were suggested as possible places to which Negroes could be sent, but the only serious effort that came out of the discussion was the organization in Washington in 1817, of the American Colonization Society.”

(The Development of Southern Sectionalism, 1819-1848, Volume V, A History of the South, Charles S. Sydnor, LSU Press, 1948, excerpts pp. 95-96)

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

Alexander H. Stephen’s criticism of President James Polk sending American troops to the Rio Grande in July 1845 and threatening Mexico, inspired his arraignment of Lincoln in 1861 for leading the country into an avoidable war.

In Lincoln’s case, his party’s governors provided the troops for his unconstitutional actions and invasion of Southern States, and subjugated a free people with an “oath of allegiance administered at the point of a bayonet.” Stephens foresaw the treatment the South would receive.

Only Congress May Draw the Sword

“From [his] first speech in Congress to his last before the war, his straight line of endeavor was to preserve the Union under the Constitution. His opposition to Texan annexation was not pleasing to the South . . . and the first to bring him into national prominence, contained the oft-quoted sentences which revived against him at the South the charges of abolitionism while at the North he was accused of laboring for slavery extension:

“My reason for wishing it [the slavery limit] settled in the beginning, I do not hesitate to make known. I fear the excitement growing out of the agitation hereafter may endanger the harmony and even existence of our present Union . . . I am no defender of slavery in the abstract. I would rejoice to see all the sons of Adam’s family in the enjoyment of those rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence as natural and inalienable . . .”

The right of the Union to “acquire territory” and the wisdom of doing so were questioned. He declared for expansion but against imperialism: “This [annexation] is an important step settling the principle of our future extension. We are reminded of the growth of the Roman Empire which fell of its own weight; and of England, who is hardly able to keep together her extensive parts. Rome extended her dominions by conquest, she compelled provinces to bear the yoke; England extends hers upon the principle of colonization; her distant dependencies are subject to her laws but are deprived of the rights of representation.

With us, a new system has commenced, characteristic of the age. It is a system of a Republic formed by the union of separate independent States, yielding so much of their sovereign powers as are necessary for national and foreign purposes, and retaining all others for local and domestic objects. Who shall undertake to say how far this system may not go?”

He said, speaking of Mexican territory:

“No principle is more dangerous than that of compelling other people to adopt our form of government. It is not only wrong in itself, but contrary to the whole spirit and genius of liberty we enjoy.”

Asking if the Mexican war was waged for conquest:

“If so, I protest . . . I am no enemy to the extension of our domain . . . but it is not to be accomplished by the sword. We can only properly enlarge by voluntary accessions.”

In his denunciation of [President James] Polk’s abuse of power . . . :

“Only Congress can constitutionally draw the sword. The President cannot. The war was brought upon us while Congress was in session and without our knowledge. The new and strange doctrine is put forth that Congress has nothing to do with the conduct of the war; that the President is entitled to uncontrolled management; that we can do nothing but vote men and money to whatever extent his folly and caprice may dictate.

Neighboring States may be subjugated, extensive territories annexed, provincial governments erected, the rights of conscience violated, and the oath of allegiance administered at the point of the bayonet . . .”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, Myrta L. Avary, editor, LSU Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 31-32)

Exercising All the War Powers of Congress

The Founders were wary of a standing army and gave only to Congress the power to raise troops and declare war. Should a sitting president venture to call for troops at his whim, as did Lincoln, the republic of those Founders was at an end.

Lincoln and the governors of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York who supplied him with troops for the purpose of waging war against other States and adhering to their enemies, were all were guilty of treason according to Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.

There was a peaceful alternative which was not pursued by Lincoln and his party, and Southern Unionists pleas for peaceful diplomacy and compromise were ignored in favor of intentional duplicity at Charleston.

Exercising All the War Powers of Congress

“The day after Fort Sumter surrendered President Lincoln called on the several States for seventy-five thousand militia for ninety days service. The troops were to suppress “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law, a curiously legalistic phraseology probably adopted in an attempt to bring the proclamation under the Acts of 1795 and 1807 governing the calling out of the posse comitatus.

Amid immense enthusiasm, the established militia regiments in the eastern cities moved at once. Pennsylvania troops, a few companies, reached Washington the next day; Massachusetts troops came within four days, in spite of the violent resistance to the transfer of the regiment across Baltimore between the railroad stations; New York’s first regiment was but a day behind Massachusetts.

The Governors of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri sharply declined to honor the President’s requisition for troops to be used against the seven States of the Confederacy. The Governor of Delaware reported that he had no authority for raising troops.

Neither, for that matter, had President Lincoln, under strict construction of the laws. In his first proclamation he called Congress into special session, but not to meet until the Fourth of July, more than two and a half months later.

In the meanwhile, free from interference, he drove ahead to organize his war, making laws or breaking them as he had need to, creating armies, enlarging the Navy, declaring blockades, exercising all the war powers of Congress.

Before the guns spoke at Sumter and the President answered with his call for troops, there was everywhere, in the North, in the Border States unhappily torn between loyalties, and even in those States which had seceded, a strong party for peace. The fire of Sumter swept away all that in the North; the call of Lincoln for troops, in the South.

The New Orleans True Delta, which had opposed secession and sought peace, “spurned the compact with them who would enforce its free conditions with blood” — an attitude that was general among those who were not original secessionists.”

(The Story of the Confederacy, Robert Selph Henry, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1931, excerpts pp. 34-35)

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