Browsing "Southern Unionists"

Nothing Less Than a War of Conquest

Lincoln, controlled by a disjointed Republican party, was unable to recognize that he was waging war upon free Americans who followed the very words of Jefferson’s Declaration. Former Governor William A. Graham, in his Hillsboro, North Carolina speech of April 27, 1861 and nearly a month before his State seceded, explains the logical and peaceful course Lincoln could have taken to defuse the crisis and thereby saved the lives of a million Americans, the Constitution and as well as the Union he claimed to be saving.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nothing Less Than a War of Conquest

“We are in the midst of great events. For months past our political skies have been dark and lowering. The country has stood in anxious suspense on the perilous edge of civil war. It is well known that I among others, have insisted, that the election of Mr. Lincoln . . . obnoxious as were his own avowals of sentiment in relation to slavery in the South, and still more obnoxious as was the spirit of hostility to us, which animated the mass of his party followers, was not a sufficient cause for a dismemberment of this Government, and the destruction of the Union . . .

The seven States, however, stretching from our Southern frontier to the confines of Mexico, one by one in rapid succession have declared themselves separated from the Government of the United States, and formed a new confederation.

They found in the election which had taken place sufficient cause of occasion, in their estimation, for this hitherto untried course of proceeding, and levied armies to defend it by force. The authorities of the United States denied the right of secession claimed by these States, and the danger became great of a collision of arms.

The issue was made, but evaded under the administration of [President James] Buchanan. Its solution by Mr. Lincoln has been a matter of anxious contemplation to the people of the country since his accession to power. Whatever may be the true construction of the Constitution, or the President’s idea of his duty to enforce the laws, a wise statesmanship cannot close its eyes to the facts.

It is impossible to treat so extensive a revolution like a petty rebellion; for if suppressed by force, it would be at the expense of desolation and ruin to the country. He should have dealt with it . . . [and] yielded to the necessities by which he was surrounded, and adjusted by arrangement what he found impossible to control by force, or if possible, only at a sacrifice to the nation itself never to be repaired.

Had Mr. Lincoln risen to the height of the great occasion, promptly withdrawn his troops from fortifications which he could not defend; convened Congress in extra session; recommended and procured the passage of a law, or amendment to the Constitution, acknowledging the independence of the seceded States . . . he might yet have maintained a Union of twenty-seven contented States . . . And after an experiment of a few years, there might, and in my opinion probably would have been, a re-annexation of the seceded States themselves.

But instead of this bold and magnanimous policy, his action has been vacillating. His inaugural address in equivocal, interpreted by some, on its first appearance as portending force, assurances are thrown out that his intentions are only peaceful. And when the public mind in all the eight [Southern States] that had not seceded, was settling down in the conviction that the forts were to be evacuated and repose was to be allowed, so favorable to conciliation and harmony, a Proclamation suddenly bursts upon the country announcing a determination on coercion, and calling for a militia force so great as to endanger the safety of more than the seceded States.

Careless of any terms of conciliation, or adjustments of differences with the border States, he resolves, but not till after his own adherents have been demoralized by his hesitation and professions of peace, on the application of force to maintain the authority of the Government in the States which have withdrawn, and requires us to cooperate as instruments in their subjugation.

The sober sense of the people of North Carolina had met this question, and for themselves have settled it. Ardent in their attachment to the Constitution and the Union, they had condemned separate State secession as rash and precipitate . . . as long as there was hope of an adjustment of sectional differences, they were unwilling to part with the Government . . . But the President gives to the question new alternatives.

These are, on the one hand, to join with him in a war of conquest, for it is nothing less, against our brethren of the seceding States, or, on the other, resistance to and throwing off the obligations of the Federal Constitution. Of the two, we do not hesitate to accept the latter.

And withal, we cannot exclude from our contemplation the idea, that when [the seceded States] shall be subdued upon the issues involved in the contest, our turn will come next; our only exemption above theirs being, like the victims of Cyclops, we shall be last to be devoured.”

(The Papers of William A. Graham, Volume V, 1857-1863, J.G. Hamilton, Max Williams, editors, NCAH, 1973, excerpts, pp. 244-247)

To hold that African slavery was central to the South’s move to independence is far too simplistic and superficial; one could better conclude that the political partnership of two vastly different people and regions begun during the Revolution had fully unraveled after 80-some years. The constant agitation of violent slave insurrection in the South by fanatic abolitionists led to Southern secession, and the secession of the South caused the North to initiate war, invade and conquer the South, and then treat it as a subject economic colony.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Unionism and Secession in the South

One further caveat in thinking about Southern Unionism. Virtually all historians, including this one, are agreed today on the centrality of slavery in explaining the road to secession. Yet if we would understand the nature of Southern Unionism we cannot stop there in accounting for the abandonment of Unionist by sufficient Southerners to create the Confederacy. Human motivation and loyalties are more complex than that. A concern about the future of slavery was more often in the background than in the forefront of Southerners’ thinking about the Union.

Certainly it is difficult to show a clear causal line between direct involvement with slavery and attitudes toward secession. For one thing, too many unconditional Unionists . . . were slaveholders. For such persons the ownership of slaves was not sufficient reason for supporting secession. For another, most of the Southerners who made up the Confederacy were not directly connected with slavery at all. The majority of white Southerners, after all, did not own a single slave. Their concern for the institution of slavery could at best have been only an indirect motive for supporting secession and later the Confederacy.

It makes much more sense to see slavery as a shaper of Southern civilization and values than as an interest. The anxiety about the future of slavery was there because the future of the South was intimately tied up with the institution. But the role of slavery in moving individual Southerners from Unionism to secession was neither simple nor obvious. Precisely at what point an individual Southerner decided that he or she could no longer support the Union when it came into conflict with region depended upon many things, not only upon his or her immediate relationship to slavery.”

(The Other South, Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century, Carl N. Degler, Harper & Row, 1974, page 122)

 

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