Browsing "Southern Unionists"

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)

“Who Shall Restrain the Will of the People?”

The American Founders foresaw the problem of abuse of power and the rise of a president who would cut the shackles of the Constitution, though they more feared sectionalism and an evil combination of the branches of government.

The abuse of power arose with a president who fomented war upon a State, which is treason under the Constitution, raised an army without the consent of Congress, and threatened to arrest and imprison all who defied him. With the formerly federal government afterward under absolute executive and congressional control, the schools educating young citizens on their fealty to national power.

James Louis Petrigu (1789-1863) was a South Carolina Unionist and served as that State’s attorney-general. His stated faith in education as the bulwark of a republic was unfortunately upset by government control of the schools.

“Who Shall Restrain the Will of the People?”

“As Petigru understood it, the United States Constitution confirmed what the Revolution had aimed to achieve. Reversing the Confederation’s dispersal of power was but a minor part of its accomplishment, for it had by its division of legitimate governmental power between the individual States and the federal union ensured the Revolution’s goals of restricting centralized public authority in the interests of individual liberty.

But individual freedom, as Petigru said in his 1844 Fourth of July oration, required positive government as well as restraints on legitimate power. This too the Constitution had accomplished with its system of checks and balances. Without both the powers allotted and the restraints imposed, “there would be no barrier between a dominant majority and the object they mean to effect.”

Thus, by creating a constitutional union that divided sovereignty between State and nation and checked the evil of concentrated power in any one branch of government, the American people had fulfilled the promise of their revolution.

But the problem of abuse of power was not obviated by the broadly democratic underpinning of the American experiment. Nowhere did Petigru more clearly address that dilemma than in the question he asked that Independence Day audience: “For who shall control where all are equal, or how shall the people restrain the will of the people?”

The best means to control the popular passions implied in his question was education. If a republic was to survive, he thought, its government must provide the schools necessary to cultivate in all its citizens the intellectual independence that was “the bright side of Democracy.”

Without access to knowledge, citizens would lack the ability to challenge their government, and individuals the means to protect their freedom . . . [and] withstand the force of majority opinion. And given Petigru’s opinion that “the Majority are wicked is a truth that passed long ago into a proverb,” republican government could not long survive unless it sponsored that learning, for “what hope is there for the human race when there is no minority?”

(James Louis Petigru: Southern Conservative, Southern Dissenter, William & Jane Pease, University of Georgia Press, 1995, excerpts pp. 149-150)

The Emergence of the Radical

John C. Calhoun witnessed the rise of Northern radicalism and his keen political insight saw a problematic future for the American South. He did not live to see the secession crisis fully develop, but his countrymen later anticipated “that Lincoln’s election was only the first step” toward the eventual destruction of their political liberty and the Union of their fathers.

Calhoun accurately predicted that the North would monopolize the new federal territories and acquire a three-fourths majority in Congress to force a restructuring of the Union. Once the South’s freedmen were admitted to the franchise by the North’s radical Congress, Republican political hegemony was virtually uninterrupted until 1913.

The Emergence of the Radical

“In the 1830’s . . . the North had become a prolific seedbed of radical thought. The rural South, on the other hand, showed little tolerance for radicals. The hostility to the proponents of revolutionary ideas seems at first inconsistent with the individualism which Southerners generally displayed. The Southern brand of individualism, however, was of manners and character rather than of the mind.

The Southerner vigorously resisted the pressure of outside government, he was cavalier in the observance of the laws; the planter on his semi-feudal estate was a law unto himself. The yeomen, too, living largely on land that they owned and regarding themselves as “the sovereign people,” were among the freest and most independent of Americans.

[In the 1840s and 1850s], editors, preachers, and politicians launched a vigorous propaganda campaign against Southern youth attending Northern schools and colleges. In the minds of conservative Southerners public education now became associated with the “isms” of the North – abolitionism, feminism, pacifism, Fourierism, Grahamism. Thus Southerners tended to regard the great majority of Northern people as sympathetic to the wilds visions and schemes of reform advocated by the northern extremists.

For many years Yankee professors and teachers had staffed Southern colleges and schools to a large extent, but in the last two decades of the antebellum period a pronounced hostility arose against the employment of educators from the North.

When [University of North Carolina] President David L. Swain defended the appointment [of a Northern teacher, he cited] earlier examples [of] employing foreign professors, the highly influential [Fayetteville News & Observer] editor, E.J. Hale replied: “In [two Southern] institutions, filled with foreigners and Northern men, there have been most deplorable outbreaks & riots and rows. Both have been noted for the prevalence and propagation of infidel notions to religion.”

(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 110; 305-306)

Results of Confederate Independence

War against the South commenced in April 1861 was not the only option open to Lincoln. He could have followed his predecessor’s view that he had no constitutional authority to wage war against a State – which is treason. The proper option would have been for a president to facilitate peace and call a convention of States to iron out differences, and find compromises all considered best. This is how the federation of States was created by the Founders.

Neither was war the only solution to African slavery in the United States – recall that Lincoln offered Southern States no interference with slavery if they would return to the Union. The South was seeking independence, and wanted to solve the riddle of slavery within State boundaries as the Northern States had done – in their own time, and at their own pace.

Results of Confederate Independence

“It is legitimate to inquire, in view of all the facts discussed, what would have been the effect on our condition, our institutions, and our future relations if the Confederate States had established their independence. I can, of course, only give my opinion, founded on certain physical features of the country, on certain racial characteristics of the people North and South, and on the sentiments of other nations, as well as on the fundamental principles for which we contended.

Emancipation. – There would have been certainly the gradual emancipation of the slaves on the following grounds:

The sentiment of the civilized world was opposed to slavery; and though our system was misunderstood and misjudged, yet no nation can hold out against a universal moral sentiment.

There was a feeling throughout the South from the beginning of the republic favorable to emancipation as soon as it could be done without danger to all concerned. If the abolition propaganda had not aroused opposition by its unjust misrepresentations and denunciations of slaveholders, the Border States would have brought it about several years before the war. A

s it was, throughout the South there was a growing effort to correct to confessed evils of the system. The example of the Border States would have necessitated some form of emancipation, some modification of the system in the States farther south that would have preserved the white man’s control, while giving the Negro freedom. The conduct of the slaves during the war while left in charge of the master’s family was without parallel in history; and this not only deserved freedom, but it called forth the sentiment of the Southern people favoring it.

Gen. R.E. Lee freed his slaves in 1863.

I believe that emancipation would have come in such a way as to avoid the dangers of race conflict, of social equality, and of giving the Negro a political franchise to which he was not fitted. The South would have given him his liberty and every right necessary to the development of his manhood, and it would have secured him the hearty interest and help of the white man. No doubt political rights would have been granted gradually as the Negroes became prepared for their exercise.

A Restored Union – There would have been ultimately a restoration of the Union on terms that would leave no ground of misunderstanding as to the several spheres of Federal and State sovereignty. The rights of the States would have been thoroughly and clearly guarded. The rights of the central government would have been definitely marked and limited. This would have been the old Union as originally intended by the fathers. The Constitution could not have been set aside by the interpretation of a majority of a Supreme Court appointed by a partisan executive.

The Taxing Power Guarded. – The Constitution of the new Union would have so guarded the taxing powers of the central government that it would not have been possible for it by tariffs to build up one section of the country at the expense of the others, nor to build up great trusts to levy tribute on the whole country for the benefit of the few.

The Confederate Constitution was simply a revision of the old, or rather the clear statement of the real meaning of the old.”

(Results of Confederate Independence: The Failure of the Confederacy – Was it a Blessing? James H. M’Neilly, D.D., Confederate Veteran, April 1916, excerpts pp. 164-165)

Targeting Key West Civilians

The State of Florida withdrew from the Union on January 10, 1861 – three days afterward a US Army captain moved his troops into the nearly-complete Fort Zachary Taylor at Key West, a fortress built specifically to protect the city and State from invasion.

Though then-President James Buchanan admitted no authority to wage war against a State — which was the very definition of treason in Article III, Section 3 – his actions with regard to reinforcing US forts were viewed as hostile and intended to precipitate a conflict.

The economic reality of an industrial North seeking protectionist tariffs and an agricultural South seeking the opposite would eventually lead to separation. A local newspaper had editorialized its concern over Northern sectionalism in 1832 during the heat of the discussion over the National Tariff Act of that year. It read:

“We have always thought that the value of the union consisted in affording equal rights and equal protection to every citizen; when, therefore, its objects are so perverted as to become a means of impoverishment to one section, whilst it aggrandizes another, when it becomes necessary to sacrifice one portion of the States for the good of the rest, the Union has lost its value to us; and we are bound, by a recurrence to first principles, to maintain our rights and defend our lives and property.”

Targeting Key West Civilians

“Construction of Fort [Zachary] Taylor [at Key West] was nearly complete when Florida seceded from the Union. On the night of January 13, 1861, Capt. [John] Brannan marched his [44] men from the barracks to Fort Taylor – taking possession of the fort while the city slept.

While the majority of the citizenry was for the Confederacy, there were some Union supporters on the island. Throughout the war, pro-Union supporters, white and black, tattled on the doings of their pro-Confederate neighbors, but island life in general remained calm.

One incident in February 1863, however, united all the residents against the Union army. The commander of the fort was ordered to round up “all persons who have husbands, brothers or sons in Rebel employment, and all other persons who have at any time declined to take the oath of allegiance, or who have uttered a single disloyal word, in order that they may all be placed within the Rebel lines.”

Six hundred citizens, including some staunch Union supporters whose sons had joined the Confederate army, fell into these categories. They were ordered to pack up and board ships that would take them to Hilton Head, S.C. According to one citizen:

“. . . The town has been in the utmost state of excitement. Men sacrificing their property, selling off their all, getting ready to be shipped off; women and children crying at the thought of being sent off among the Rebels. It was impossible for any good citizen to remain quiet and unconcerned at such a time.”

At the last moment, orders arrived superseding the operation. The protests of the “good citizens” had been heard.”

(Key West, Images of the Past, Joan & Wright Langley, Belland & Swift Publishers, 1982, excerpts pp. 20-21)

General Scott’s Fearful Foreboding

General Winfield Scott’s (1786-1866) view of peacefully allowing the American South pursue independence aligns with that of Thomas Jefferson’s regarding State sovereignty and newer States formed out of Louisiana.

In a letter to John C. Breckinridge in August 1803, Jefferson wrote: “[We] see their happiness in the union, and we wish it. Events may prove otherwise . . . God bless [both old and new States], and keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.”

Scott’s war cost estimates below were very low. The direct financial cost of the war’s operation was about $8 billion, which, eventually increased to $30 billion factoring in the destruction of property, derangement of the labor power, the Northern pension system and other economic losses. In human cost: one soldier, North and South, died for every six slaves freed and for every ten white Southerners saved for Lincoln’s union.

In addition, “The money spent to field the two armies would have purchased the liberty of the four million slaves five times over. (Tombee, Portrait of a Cotton Planter, Theodore Rosengarten, Morrow & Company, 1986, page 212.)

General Scott’s Fearful Forebodings

“[Scott’s] opinion on the 3rd of March [1861 was sent by letter] to Secretary [William] Seward. In this he exclaims: “Conquer the seceded [cotton] States by invading armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young and able general – a Wolfe, a Dessaix, a Hoche, with three hundred thousand disciplined men, estimating a third for garrisons, the loss of yet a greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles and Southern fevers.

The destruction of life and property on the other side would be frightful, however perfect the moral disciple of the invaders. The conquest completed, at that enormous waste of human life to the North and the Northwest, with at least $250,000,000 added thereto, and cui bono [who benefits]?

Fifteen devastated provinces! [Not] to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations by heavy garrisons, at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes it would be possible to extort from them, followed by a protector or emperor.” In view of these fearful forebodings, we are not surprised that he should have despaired of the Union, and been willing to say to the cotton States, “Wayward sisters, depart in peace.”

Nor that he should have fallen back on his opinion in the “Views” (29 October 1860), that “a smaller evil [than such a civil war] would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into new Confederacies.” [Scott] advises Mr. Lincoln’s administration “to throw off the old [sectional Republican party] and assume a new designation – the Union party; adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace Convention, and my life upon it, we shall have no new cases of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many if not all of the States which have already broken off from the Union.”

(Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, James Buchanan, D. Appleton and Company, 1866, excerpts pp. 172-173)

Lincoln’s Momentous Decision

The Republican party platform of 1860 was skillfully drawn to win support from East and West conservatives and radicals. It advanced a protective tariff for Northern industries, internal improvement subsidies, and the right of each State to control its own domestic institutions.

The Republicans were not anti-slavery, but opposed to its extension into the territories which they wanted preserved for their immigrant supporters.

What are referred to as “free States” of that period were actually “formerly free States,” as all the original States all inherited the British colonial slave-labor system. It follows that the Southern States of 1860 were all free States with a different labor system than the North.

It is important to point out that Lincoln carried no Southern States, and won election by plurality with only 39% of the vote. His party’s purely sectional character was what George Washington warned of in his farewell address.

Lincoln’s Momentous Decision

“Following the news of Lincoln’s election, South Carolina seceded from the Union in December of 1860. Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, the poor white who would succeed Lincoln as President, denounced this act. “Whoever fires on our flag and attacks our forts I pronounce a traitor and he should meet a traitor’s doom.”

Davis retaliated by calling Johnson a “degenerate son of the South unworthy to sit in the Senate.” The die was cast: Davis argued before the Senate the Constitution right of secession.

Lincoln took the news of South Carolina’s secession calmly, but sent word to [Secretary of State William] Seward not to agree to the Crittenden Compromise, which would have preserved the Union without resort to war.

Commenting on Lincoln’s attitude, William E. Dodd wrote in his “Jefferson Davis”: “The popularity of the greatest war President has made students of the subject overlook his responsibility for this momentous decision.”

(The Iron Will of Jefferson Davis, Cass Canfield, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1978, excerpts pp. 42-43)

The Education of a Remarkable Statesman

“From 1811 to 1850,” writes Dr. Clyde Wilson, South Carolinian John C. Calhoun served “as representative from that State, secretary of war, vice-president, twice presidential contender, secretary of state, and senator for fifteen years – Calhoun was a central figure in the American experience.

This simply-educated American “had a major if not always decisive influence on every issue of the period – in regard to not only State-federal conflict and slavery . . . but also to free trade and tariff, banking and currency, taxation and expenditures, war and peace, foreign relations, Indian policy, and public lands, internal improvements, the two-party system, and the struggle between congressional and presidential power” – all of which were causations of the fratricidal war he could see on the horizon, but did not live to see.

The Education of a Remarkable Statesman

“Calhoun’s education was wholly remarkable. “There was not an academy within fifty miles,” says one account. “At the age of thirteen he was placed under the charge of his brother-in-law, Moses Waddel, a Presbyterian clergyman in Columbus County, Georgia.”

In fourteen weeks, it is said, he had read Rollins Ancient History, Robertson’s Charles V, and South America, and Voltaire’s Charles XII. Cook’s Voyages (small vol.) Essays by Brown and Locke’s Essay as far as the chapter on Infinity.

“Sawney” [a young African boy], we learn, was his constant companion and playmate in these days. No more is heard of books until five years later, when there seems to have developed a unanimous consensus that this young man should have the benefit of higher education. Thus young Calhoun entered upon the higher education when many are about to leave it. “In [nature’s] school, remarks Calhoun’s most discrimination eulogist, “he learned to think, which is a vast achievement.”

The academy, which had now been established by this same Dr. Waddel, near Calhoun’s home, was selected for the first stage. “The boys boarded at farmhouses in the woods near the academy, furnishing their own supplies. At sunrise, Dr. Waddel was wont to wind his horn . . . At an early hour, the pupils made their appearance at the log cabin schoolhouse.

After prayers, the pupils, each with a chair bearing their name sculpted in the back of it, retired to the woods for study, the classes being divided into squads according to individual preference.

At the same time Calhoun launched for the first time into “amo” and “penna,” a batch of timorous freshmen were tapping at the doors of Yale. In two years’ time, Calhoun joined those freshmen at the junior class, and two years later graduated with them, in 1804. None of the accounts fail to mention that the subject of his graduation essay was “The qualifications necessary to constitute a perfect statesman.” It was an appropriate text for the life that followed.

Eighteen months now at a law school in Connecticut, and eighteen more in lawyers’ offices in Charleston and Abbeville, and seed time is past, the harvest begins. Two years later he was sent to the State Legislature, whence, in turn . . . he was transferred to the House of Representatives in Washington.

Looking back, Calhoun at thirteen starts at books, but is choked off; five years’ hunting, fishing and farming, at eighteen to Waddel’s Academy; at twenty to Yale; twenty-two graduates; twenty-five lawyer; twenty-seven State Legislature; twenty-nine, Congress.”

(Life of John C. Calhoun, Gustavus M. Pinckney, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Co., 1903, excerpts pp. 14-18)

An Essential Amendment

“General Leonidas Polk and his staff met with Union officers under a flag of truce in November 1861.

After disposing of matters of business, the men adjourned for a simple luncheon. A Union colonel raised his glass and proposed a toast, “To George Washington, the Father of His Country.”

To that toast General Polk quickly added: “And the First Rebel.” All officers drank to the amended toast.”

(An Essential Amendment, Southern Partisan, Volume XXIV, Number 2, pg. 11)

To Lift the Minds of Those Who Come After Us

The many monuments to Americans across the South represent a lasting tribute to the patriots who fought in 1861 for the very same reasons patriots of 1776 fought: independence, political liberty, and in self-defense. They were symbols of bereavement for those lost in battle, as well as symbols to guide future generations toward emulating their patriotic example.

To Lift the Minds of Those Who Come After Us

“In April 1878, former President Jefferson Davis prepared a letter to be read at the laying of the cornerstone of the Confederate monument at Macon, Georgia: “Should it be asked why, then, build this monument? The answer is, they [the veterans] do not need it, but posterity may. It is not their reward, but our debt . . . Let the monument, rising from earth toward heaven, lift the minds of those who come after us to a higher standard than the common test of success.

Let it teach than man is born for duty, not for expediency; that when an attack in made on the community to which he belongs, by which he is protected, and to which his allegiance is due, his first obligation is to defend that community; and that under such conditions it is better to have “fought and lost than never to have fought at all”. . . Let this monument teach that heroism derives its lustre from the justice of the cause in which it was displayed, and let it mark the difference between a war waged for the robber-like purpose of conquest and one to repel invasions – to defend a people’s hearth’s and altars, and to maintain their laws and liberties . . .”

The next year, an editorial in the Southern Historical Society Papers perpetuated the concept of memorializing the Southern soldier by stating: “But let us see to it that we build them a monument more enduring than marble, “more lasting than bronze,” as we put on record the true story of their heroic deeds, and enshrine them forever in the hearts of generations yet unborn.”

(A Guide to Confederate Monuments in South Carolina: “Passing the Silent Cup,” Robert S. Seigler, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1997, excerpts pg. 14)