“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)