"It has been a conviction of pressing necessity—it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us—which has brought Mississippi to her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races. That Declaration of Independence is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it was made. The communities were declaring their independence; the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born—to use the language of Mr. Jefferson—booted and spurred, to ride over the rest of mankind; that men were created equal—meaning the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that no man inherited the right to govern; that there were no classes by which power and place descended to families; but that all stations were equally within the grasp of each member of the body politic. These were the great principles they announced; these were the purposes for which they made their declaration; these were the ends to which their enunciation was directed. They have no reference to the slave; else, how happened it that among the items of arraignment against George III was that he endeavored to do just what the North has been endeavoring of late to do, to stir up insurrection among our slaves? Had the Declaration announced that the negroes were free and equal, how was the prince to be arraigned for raising up insurrection among them? And how was this to be enumerated among the high crimes which caused the colonies to sever their connection with the mother-country? When our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable; for there we find provision made for that very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men—not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste, only to be represented in the numerical proportion of three fifths. So stands the compact which binds us together.
"Then, Senators, we recur to the principles upon which our Government was founded; and when you deny them, and when you deny to us the right to withdraw from a Government which, thus perverted, threatens to be destructive of our rights, we but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence and take the hazard. This is done, not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit, but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our duty to transmit unshorn to our children.
"I find in myself perhaps a type of the general feeling of my constituents toward yours. I am sure I feel no hostility toward you, Senators from the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I can not now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well; and such, I am sure, is the feeling of the people whom I represent toward those whom you represent. I, therefore, feel that I but express their desire when I say I hope, and they hope, for peaceable relations with you, though we must part. They may be mutually beneficial to us in the future, as they have been in the past, if you so will it. The reverse may bring disaster on every portion of the country, and, if you will have it thus, we will invoke the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and thus, putting our trust in God and in our firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may.
"In the course of my service here, associated at different times with a great variety of Senators, I see now around me some with whom I have served long; there have been points of collision, but, whatever of offense there has been to me, I leave here. I carry with me no hostile remembrance. Whatever offense I have given which has not been redressed, or for which satisfaction has not been demanded, I have, Senators, in this hour of our parting, to offer you my apology for any pain which, in the heat of discussion, I have inflicted. I go hence unencumbered by the remembrance of any injury received, and having discharged the duty of making the only reparation in my power for any injury offered.
"Mr. President and Senators, having made the announcement which the occasion seemed to me to require, it only remains for me to bid you a final adieu."
There are some who contend that we should have retained our seats and "fought for our rights in the Union." Could anything be less rational or less consistent than that a Senator, an ambassador from his State, should insist upon representing it in a confederacy from which the State has withdrawn? What was meant by "fighting in the Union" I have never quite understood. If it be to retain a seat in Congress for the purpose of crippling the Government and rendering it unable to perform its functions, I can certainly not appreciate the idea of honor that sanctions the suggestion. Among the advantages claimed for this proposition by its supporters was that of thwarting the President in the appointment of his Cabinet and other officers necessary for the administration of public affairs. Would this have been to maintain the Union formed by the States? Would such have been the Government which Washington recommended as a remedy for the defects of the original Confederation, the greatest of which was the paralysis of the action of the general agent by the opposition or indifference of the States? Sad as have been the consequences of the war which followed secession—disastrous in its moral, material, and political relations—still we have good cause to feel proud that the course of the Southern States has left no blot nor stain upon the honor and chivalry of their people.
"And if our children must obey, They must, but—thinking on our day— 'Twill less debase them to submit."
Threats of Arrest.—Departure from Washington.—Indications of Public Anxiety.—"Will there be war?"—Organization of the "Army of Mississippi."—Lack of Preparations for Defense in the South.—Evidences of the Good Faith and Peaceable Purposes of the Southern People.
During the interval between the announcement by telegraph of the secession of Mississippi and the receipt of the official notification which enabled me to withdraw from the Senate, rumors were in circulation of a purpose, on the part of the United States Government, to arrest members of Congress preparing to leave Washington on account of the secession of the States which they represented. This threat received little attention from those most concerned. Indeed, it was thought that it might not be an undesirable mode of testing the question of the right of a State to withdraw from the Union.
No attempt, however, was made to arrest any of the retiring members; and, after a delay of a few days in necessary preparations, I left Washington for Mississippi, passing through southwestern Virginia, East Tennessee, a small part of Georgia, and north Alabama. A deep interest in the events which had recently occurred was exhibited by the people of these States, and much anxiety was indicated as to the future. Many years of agitation had made them familiar with the idea of separation. Nearly two generations had risen to manhood since it had begun to be discussed as a possible alternative. Few, very few, of the Southern people had ever regarded it as a desirable event, or otherwise than as a last resort for escape from evils more intolerable. It was a calamity, which, however threatened, they had still hoped might be averted, or indefinitely postponed, and they had regarded with contempt, rather than anger, the ravings of a party in the North, which denounced the Constitution and the Union, and persistently defamed their brethren of the South.
Now, however, as well in Virginia and Tennessee, neither of which had yet seceded, as in the more Southern States, which had already taken that step, the danger so often prophesied was perceived to be at the door, and eager inquiries were made as to what would happen next—especially as to the probability of war between the States.
The course which events were likely to take was shrouded in the greatest uncertainty. In the minds of many there was the not unreasonable hope (which had been expressed by the Commissioner sent from Mississippi to Maryland) that the secession of six Southern States—certainly soon to be followed by that of others—would so arouse the sober thought and better feeling of the Northern people as to compel their representatives to agree to a Convention of the States, and that such guarantees would be given as would secure to the South the domestic tranquillity and equality in the Union which were rights assured under the Federal compact. There were others, and they the most numerous class, who considered that the separation would be final, but peaceful. For my own part, while believing that secession was a right, and properly a peaceable remedy, I had never believed that it would be permitted to be peaceably exercised. Very few in the South at that time agreed with me, and my answers to queries on the subject were, therefore, as unexpected as they were unwelcome.
On my arrival at Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, I found that the Convention of the State had made provision for a State army, and had appointed me to the command, with the rank of major-general. Four brigadier-generals, appointed in like manner by the Convention, were awaiting my arrival for assignment to duty. After the preparation of the necessary rules and regulations, the division of the State into districts, the apportionment among them of the troops to be raised, and the appointment of officers of the general staff, as authorized by the ordinance of the Convention, such measures as were practicable were taken to obtain the necessary arms. The State had few serviceable weapons, and no establishment for their manufacture or repair. This fact (which is true of other Southern States as of Mississippi) is a clear proof of the absence of any desire or expectation of war. If the purpose of the Northern States to make war upon us because of secession had been foreseen, preparation to meet the consequences would have been contemporaneous with the adoption of a resort to that remedy—a remedy the possibility of which had for many years been contemplated. Had the Southern States possessed arsenals, and collected in them the requisite supplies of arms and munitions, such preparation would not only have placed them more nearly on an equality with the North in the beginning of the war, but might, perhaps, have been the best conservator of peace.
Let us, the survivors, however, not fail to do credit to the generous credulity which could not understand how, in violation of the compact of Union, a war could be waged against the States, or why they should be invaded because their people had deemed it necessary to withdraw from an association which had failed to fulfill the ends for which they had entered into it, and which, having been broken to their injury by the other parties, had ceased to be binding upon them. It is a satisfaction to know that the calamities which have befallen the Southern States were the result of their credulous reliance on the power of the Constitution, that, if it failed to protect their rights, it would at least suffice to prevent an attempt at coercion, if, in the last resort, they peacefully withdrew from the Union.
When, in after times, the passions of the day shall have subsided, and all the evidence shall have been collected and compared, the philosophical inquirer, who asks why the majority of the stronger section invaded the peaceful homes of their late associates, will be answered by History: "The lust of empire impelled them to wage against their weaker neighbors a war of subjugation."
Meeting of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States.—Adoption of a Provisional Constitution.—Election of President and Vice-President.—Notification to the Author of his Election.—His Views with Regard to it.—Journey to Montgomery.—Interview with Judge Sharkey.—False Reports of Speeches on the Way.—Inaugural Address.—Editor's Note.
The congress of delegates from the seceding States convened at Montgomery, Alabama, according to appointment, on the 4th of February, 1861. Their first work was to prepare a provisional Constitution for the new Confederacy, to be formed of the States which had withdrawn from the Union, for which the style "Confederate States of America" was adopted. The powers conferred upon them were adequate for the performance of this duty, the immediate necessity for which was obvious and urgent. This Constitution was adopted on the 8th of February, to continue in force for one year, unless superseded at an earlier date by a permanent organization. It is printed in an appendix, and for convenience of reference the permanent Constitution, adopted several weeks afterward, is exhibited in connection with it, and side by side with the Constitution of the United States, after which it was modeled. The attention of the reader is invited to these documents and to a comparison of them, although a more particular notice of the permanent Constitution will be more appropriate hereafter.
On the next day (9th of February) an election was held for the chief executive offices, resulting, as I afterward learned, in my election to the Presidency, with the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, as Vice-President. Mr. Stephens was a delegate from Georgia to the congress.
While these events were occurring, having completed the most urgent of my duties at the capital of Mississippi, I had gone to my home, Brierfield, in Warren County, and had begun, in the homely but expressive language of Mr. Clay, "to repair my fences." While thus engaged, notice was received of my election to the Presidency of the Confederate States, with an urgent request to proceed immediately to Montgomery for inauguration.
As this had been suggested as a probable event, and what appeared to me adequate precautions had been taken to prevent it, I was surprised, and, still more, disappointed. For reasons which it is not now necessary to state, I had not believed my self as well suited to the office as some others. I thought myself better adapted to command in the field; and Mississippi had given me the position which I preferred to any other—the highest rank in her army. It was, therefore, that I afterward said, in an address delivered in the Capitol, before the Legislature of the State, with reference to my election to the Presidency of the Confederacy, that the duty to which I was thus called was temporary, and that I expected soon to be with the Army of Mississippi again.
While on my way to Montgomery, and waiting in Jackson, Mississippi, for the railroad train, I met the Hon. William L. Sharkey, who had filled with great distinction the office of Chief-Justice of the State. He said he was looking for me to make an inquiry. He desired to know if it was true, as he had just learned, that I believed there would be war. My opinion was freely given, that there would be war, long and bloody, and that it behooved every one to put his house in order. He expressed much surprise, and said that he had not believed the report attributing this opinion to me. He asked how I supposed war could result from the peaceable withdrawal of a sovereign State. The answer was, that it was not my opinion that war should be occasioned by the exercise of that right, but that it would be.
Judge Sharkey and I had not belonged to the same political party, he being a Whig, but we fully agreed with regard to the question of the sovereignty of the States. He had been an advocate of nullification—a doctrine to which I had never assented, and which had at one time been the main issue in Mississippi politics. He had presided over the well-remembered Nashville Convention in 1849, and had possessed much influence in the State, not only as an eminent jurist, but as a citizen who had grown up with it, and held many offices of honor and trust.
On my way to Montgomery, brief addresses were made at various places, at which there were temporary stoppages of the trains, in response to calls from the crowds assembled at such points. Some of these addresses were grossly misrepresented in sensational reports made by irresponsible persons, which were published in Northern newspapers, and were not considered worthy of correction under the pressure of the momentous duties then devolving upon me. These false reports, which represented me as invoking war and threatening devastation of the North, have since been adopted by partisan writers as authentic history. It is a sufficient answer to these accusations to refer to my farewell address to the Senate, already given, as reported for the press at the time, and, in connection therewith, to my inaugural address at Montgomery, on assuming the office of President of the Confederate States, on the 18th of February. These two addresses, delivered at an interval of a month, during which no material change of circumstances had occurred, being one before and the other after the date of the sensational reports referred to, are sufficient to stamp them as utterly untrue. The inaugural was deliberately prepared, and uttered as written, and, in connection with the farewell speech to the Senate, presents a clear and authentic statement of the principles and purposes which actuated me on assuming the duties of the high office to which I had been called.
"Gentlemen of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, Friends, and Fellow-Citizens:
"Called to the difficult and responsible station of Chief Magistrate of the Provisional Government which you have instituted, I approach the discharge of the duties assigned to me with humble distrust of my abilities, but with a sustaining confidence in the wisdom of those who are to guide and aid me in the administration of public affairs, and an abiding faith in the virtue and patriotism of the people. Looking forward to the speedy establishment of a permanent government to take the place of this, which by its greater moral and physical power will be better able to combat with many difficulties that arise from the conflicting interests of separate nations, I enter upon the duties of the office to which I have been chosen with the hope that the beginning of our career, as a Confederacy, may not be obstructed by hostile opposition to our enjoyment of the separate existence and independence we have asserted, and which, with the blessing of Providence, we intend to maintain.
"Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established. The declared purpose of the compact of the Union from which we have withdrawn was to 'establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity'; and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States composing this Confederacy, it has been perverted from the purposes for which it was ordained, and ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot-box declared that, so far as they are concerned, the Government created by that compact should cease to exist. In this they merely asserted the right which the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, defined to be 'inalienable.' Of the time and occasion of its exercise they as sovereigns were the final judges, each for itself. The impartial and enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct; and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we have labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit.
"The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the United States, and which has been solemnly affirmed and reaffirmed in the Bills of Rights of the States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained; so that the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent through which they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations. Sustained by the consciousness that the transition from the former Union to the present Confederacy has not proceeded from a disregard on our part of just obligations, or any failure to perform every constitutional duty, moved by no interest or passion to invade the rights of others, anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with all nations, if we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of having needlessly engaged in it. Doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others, there can be no cause to doubt that the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measure of defense which their honor and security may require.
"An agricultural people, whose chief interest is the export of commodities required in every manufacturing country, our true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our necessities will permit. It is alike our interest and that of all those to whom we would sell, and from whom we would buy, that there should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon the interchange of these commodities. There can, however, be but little rivalry between ours and any manufacturing or navigating community, such as the Northeastern States of the American Union. It must follow, therefore, that mutual interest will invite to good-will and kind offices on both parts. If, however, passion or lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or inflame the ambition of those States, we must prepare to meet the emergency and maintain, by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position which we have assumed among the nations of the earth.
"We have entered upon the career of independence, and it must be inflexibly pursued. Through many years of controversy with our late associates of the Northern States, we have vainly endeavored to secure tranquillity and obtain respect for the rights to which we were entitled. As a necessity, not a choice, we have resorted to the remedy of separation, and henceforth our energies must be directed to the conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled. But if this be denied to us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us with firm resolve to appeal to arms and invoke the blessing of Providence on a just cause.
"As a consequence of our new condition and relations, and with a view to meet anticipated wants, it will be necessary to provide for the speedy and efficient organization of branches of the Executive department having special charge of foreign intercourse, finance, military affairs, and the postal service. For purposes of defense, the Confederate States may, under ordinary circumstances, rely mainly upon the militia; but it is deemed advisable, in the present condition of affairs, that there should be a well-instructed and disciplined army, more numerous than would usually be required on a peace establishment. I also suggest that, for the protection of our harbors and commerce on the high seas, a navy adapted to those objects will be required. But this, as well as other subjects appropriate to our necessities, have doubtless engaged the attention of Congress.
"With a Constitution differing only from that of our fathers in so far as it is explanatory of their well-known intent, freed from sectional conflicts, which have interfered with the pursuit of the general welfare, it is not unreasonable to expect that States from which we have recently parted may seek to unite their fortunes to ours under the Government which we have instituted. For this your Constitution makes adequate provision; but beyond this, if I mistake not the judgment and will of the people, a reunion with the States from which we have separated is neither practicable nor desirable. To increase the power, develop the resources, and promote the happiness of the Confederacy, it is requisite that there should be so much of homogeneity that the welfare of every portion shall be the aim of the whole. When this does not exist, antagonisms are engendered which must and should result in separation.
"Actuated solely by the desire to preserve our own rights, and promote our own welfare, the separation by the Confederate States has been marked by no aggression upon others, and followed by no domestic convulsion. Our industrial pursuits have received no check, the cultivation of our fields has progressed as heretofore, and, even should we be involved in war, there would be no considerable diminution in the production of the staples which have constituted our exports, and in which the commercial world has an interest scarcely less than our own. This common interest of the producer and consumer can only be interrupted by exterior force which would obstruct the transmission of our staples to foreign markets—a course of conduct which would be as unjust, as it would be detrimental, to manufacturing and commercial interests abroad.
"Should reason guide the action of the Government from which we have separated, a policy so detrimental to the civilized world, the Northern States included, could not be dictated by even the strongest desire to inflict injury upon us; but, if the contrary should prove true, a terrible responsibility will rest upon it, and the suffering of millions will bear testimony to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors. In the mean time there will remain to us, besides the ordinary means before suggested, the well known resources for retaliation upon the commerce of an enemy.
"Experience in public stations, of subordinate grade to this which your kindness has conferred, has taught me that toil and care and disappointment are the price of official elevation. You will see many errors to forgive, many deficiencies to tolerate; but you shall not find in me either want of zeal or fidelity to the cause that is to me the highest in hope, and of most enduring affection. Your generosity has bestowed upon me an undeserved distinction, one which I neither sought nor desired. Upon the continuance of that sentiment, and upon your wisdom and patriotism, I rely to direct and support me in the performance of the duties required at my hands.
"We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of government. The Constitution framed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States. In their exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its true meaning.
"Thus instructed as to the true meaning and just interpretation of that instrument, and ever remembering that all offices are but trusts held for the people, and that powers delegated are to be strictly construed, I will hope by due diligence in the performance of my duties, though I may disappoint your expectations, yet to retain, when retiring, something of the good-will and confidence which welcome my entrance into office.
"It is joyous in the midst of perilous times to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole; where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed in the balance against honor and right and liberty and equality. Obstacles may retard, but they can not long prevent, the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our Fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by his blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity. With the continuance of his favor ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity."
Note, relative to the Election of President of the Confederate States under the Provisional Constitution, and some Other Subjects referred to in the Foregoing Chapters.
Statements having been made, seeming to imply that I was a candidate "for the Presidency of the Confederate States; that my election was the result of a misunderstanding, or of accidental complications"; and also that I held "extreme views," and entertained at that period an inadequate conception of the magnitude of the war probably to be waged, information on the subject has been contributed by several distinguished members of the Provisional Congress, who still survive. From a number of their letters which have been published, the annexed extracts are given, parts being omitted which refer to matters not of historical interest.
From a communication of the Hon. Alexander M. Clayton, of Mississippi, to the Memphis "Appeal" of June 21, 1870:
"... I was at the time a member of the Provisional Congress from Mississippi. Believing that Mr. Davis was the choice of the South for the position of President, before repairing to Montgomery I addressed him a letter to ascertain if he would accept it. He replied that it was not the place he desired; that, if he could have his choice, he would greatly prefer to be in active service as commander-in-chief of the army, but that he would give himself to the cause in any capacity whatever. That was the only letter of which I have any knowledge that he wrote on the subject, and that was shown to only a very few persons, and only when I was asked if Mr. Davis would accept the presidency....
"There was no electioneering, no management, on the part of any one. Each voter was left to determine for himself in whose hands the destinies of the infant Confederacy should be placed. By a law as fixed as gravitation itself, and as little disturbed by outside influences, the minds of members centered upon Mr. Davis.
"After a few days of anxious, intense labor, the Provisional Constitution was framed, and it became necessary to give it vitality by putting some one at the head of the new Government....
"Without any effort on the part of the friends of either [Messrs. Davis or Stephens], the election was made without the slightest dissent. Of the accidental complications referred to, I have not the least knowledge, and always thought that the election of Mr. Davis arose from the spontaneous conviction of his peculiar fitness. I have consulted no one on the subject, and have appended my name only to avoid resting an important fact upon anonymous authority. Very respectfully yours,"
(Signed) "Alexander M. Clayton."
From the Hon. J. A. P. Campbell, of Mississippi, now a Justice of the Supreme Court of that State:
"... If there was a delegate from Mississippi, or any other State, who was opposed to the election of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States, I never heard of the fact. I had the idea that Mr. Davis did not desire to be President, and preferred to be in the military service, but no other man was spoken of for President within my hearing....
"It is within my personal knowledge that the statement of the interview, that Mr. Davis did not have a just appreciation of the serious character of the contest between the seceding States and the Union, is wholly untrue. Mr. Davis, more than any man I ever heard talk on the subject, had a correct apprehension of the consequences of secession and of the magnitude of the war to be waged to coerce the seceding States. While at Montgomery, he expressed the belief that heavy fighting must occur, and that Virginia was to be the chief battle-ground. Years prior to secession, in his address before the Legislature and people of Mississippi, Mr. Davis had earnestly advised extensive preparation for the possible contingency of secession.
"After the formation of the Confederate States, he was far in advance of the Constitutional Convention and the Provisional Congress, and, as I believe, of any man in it, in his views of the gravity of the situation and the probable extent and duration of the war, and of the provision which should be made for the defense of the seceding States. Before secession, Mr. Davis thought war would result from it; and, after secession, he expressed the view that the war commenced would be an extensive one. What he may have thought at a later day than the early part of 1862, I do not know; but it is inconceivable that the 'interview' can be correct as to that.
"The idea that Mr. Davis was so 'extreme' in his views is a new one. He was extremely conservative on the subject of secession.
"The suggestion that Mississippi would have preferred General Toombs or Mr. Cobb for President has no foundation in fact. My opinion is, that no man could have obtained a single vote in the Mississippi delegation against Mr. Davis, who was then, as he is now, the most eminent and popular of all the citizens of Mississippi.... Very respectfully,"
(Signed) "J. A. P. Campbell."
From the Hon. Duncan F. Kenner, of Louisiana:
"....My recollections of what transpired at the time are very vivid and positive....
"Who should be President, was the absorbing question of the day. It engaged the attention of all present, and elicited many letters from our respective constituencies. The general inclination was strongly in favor of Mr. Davis. In fact, no other name was so prominently or so generally mentioned. The name of Mr. Rhett, of South Carolina, was probably more frequently mentioned than that of any other person, next to Mr. Davis.
"The rule adopted at our election was that each State should have one vote, to be delivered in open session, viva voce, by one of the delegates as spokesman for his colleagues. The delegates of the different States met in secret session to select their candidate and spokesman.
"Of what occurred in these various meetings I can not speak authoritatively as to other States, as their proceedings were considered secret. I can speak positively, however, of what took place at a meeting of the delegates from Louisiana. We, the Louisiana delegates, without hesitation, and unanimously, after a very short session, decided in favor of Mr. Davis. No other name was mentioned; the claims of no one else were considered, or even alluded to. There was not the slightest opposition to Mr. Davis on the part of any of our delegation; certainly none was expressed; all appeared enthusiastic in his favor, and, I have no reason to doubt, felt so. Nor was the feeling induced by any solicitation on the part of Mr. Davis or his friends. Mr. Davis was not in or near Montgomery at the time. He was never heard from on this subject, so far as I knew. He was never announced as a candidate. We were seeking the best man to fill the position, and the conviction at the time, in the minds of a large majority of the delegates, that Mr. Davis was the best qualified, from both his civil and military knowledge and experience, induced many to look upon Mr. Davis as the best selection that could be made.
"This conviction, coupled with his well-recognized conservative views—for in no sense did we consider Mr. Davis extreme, either in his views or purposes—was the deciding consideration which controlled the votes of the Louisiana delegation. Of this I have not the least doubt. I remain, respectfully, very truly yours, etc."
(Signed) "Duncan F. Kenner."
From the Hon. James Chesnut, of South Carolina:
".... Before leaving home I had made up my mind as to who was the fittest man to be President, and who to be Vice-President; Mr. Davis for the first, and Mr. Stephens for the second. And this was known to all my friends as well as to my colleagues.
"Mr. Davis, then conspicuous for ability, had long experience in civil service, was reputed a most successful organizer and administrator of the military department of the United States when he was Secretary of War, and came out of the Mexican war with much eclat as a soldier. Possessing a combination of these high and needful qualities, he was regarded by nearly the whole South as the fittest man for the position. I certainly so regarded him, and did not change my mind on the way to Montgomery....
"Georgia was a great State—great in numbers, comparatively great in wealth, and great in the intellectual gifts and experiences of many of her sons. Conspicuous among them were Stephens, Toombs, and Cobb. In view of these facts, it was thought by all of us expedient—nay, more, positively right and just—that Georgia should have a corresponding weight in the counsels and conduct of the new Government.
"Mr. Stephens was also a man of conceded ability, of high character, conservative, devoted to the rights of the States, and known to be a power in his own State; hence all eyes turned to him to fill the second place.
"Howell Cobb became President of the Convention, and General Toombs Secretary of State. These two gifted Georgians were called to these respective positions because of their experience, ability, and ardent patriotism....
"Mr. Rhett was a very bold and frank man. So was Colonel Keitt; and they, as always, avowed their opinions and acted upon them with energy. Nevertheless, the vote of the delegation was cast for Mr. Davis...."
(Signed) "James Chesnut."
From the Hon. W. Porcher Miles, of Virginia, formerly of South Carolina, and a member of the Provisional Congress of 1861:
"Oak Ridge, January 27, 1880.
"....To the best of my recollection there was entire unanimity in the South Carolina delegation at Montgomery on the subject of the choice of a President. I think it very likely that Keitt, from his warm personal friendship for Mr. Toombs, may at first have preferred him. I have no recollections of Chesnut's predilections. I think there was no question that Mr. Davis was the choice of our delegation and of the whole people of South Carolina.... I do not think Mr. Rhett ever attempted to influence the course of his colleagues, either in this or in matters generally before the Congress. Nor do I think his personal influence in the delegation was as great as that of some other members of it. If I were to select any one as having a special influence with us, I would consider Mr. Robert Barnwell as the one. His singularly pure and elevated character, entire freedom from all personal ambition or desire for place or position (he declined Mr. Davis's offer of a seat in the Cabinet), as well as his long experience in public life and admirably calm and well-balanced mind, all combined to make his influence with his colleagues very great. But neither could he be said 'to lead' the delegation. He had no desire, and never made any attempt to do so. I think there was no delegation in the Congress, the individual members of which were more independent in coming to their own conclusions of what was right and expedient to be done. There was always the frankest and freest interchange of opinions among them, but every one determined his own course for himself."
[Footnote 123: See Appendix K.]
The Confederate Cabinet.
After being inaugurated, I proceeded to the formation of my Cabinet, that is, the heads of the executive departments authorized by the laws of the Provisional Congress. The unanimity existing among our people made this a much easier and more agreeable task than where the rivalries in the party of an executive have to be consulted and accommodated, often at the expense of the highest capacity and fitness. Unencumbered by any other consideration than the public welfare, having no friends to reward or enemies to punish, it resulted that not one of those who formed my first Cabinet had borne to me the relation of close personal friendship, or had political claims upon me; indeed, with two of them I had no previous acquaintance.
It was my wish that the Hon. Robert W. Barnwell, of South Carolina, should be Secretary of State. I had known him intimately during a trying period of our joint service in the United States Senate, and he had won alike my esteem and regard. Before making known to him my wish in this connection, the delegation of South Carolina, of which he was a member, had resolved to recommend one of their number to be Secretary of the Treasury, and Mr. Barnwell, with characteristic delicacy, declined to accept my offer to him.
I had intended to offer the Treasury Department to Mr. Toombs, of Georgia, whose knowledge on subjects of finance had particularly attracted my notice when we served together in the United States Senate. Mr. Barnwell having declined the State Department, and a colleague of his, said to be peculiarly qualified for the Treasury Department, having been recommended for it, Mr. Toombs was offered the State Department, for which others believed him to be well qualified.
Mr. Mallory, of Florida, had been chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs in the United States Senate, was extensively acquainted with the officers of the navy, and for a landsman had much knowledge of nautical affairs; therefore he was selected for Secretary of the Navy.
Mr. Benjamin, of Louisiana, had a very high reputation as a lawyer, and my acquaintance with him in the Senate had impressed me with the lucidity of his intellect, his systematic habits and capacity for labor. He was therefore invited to the post of Attorney-General.
Mr. Reagan, of Texas, I had known for a sturdy, honest Representative in the United States Congress, and his acquaintance with the territory included in the Confederate States was both extensive and accurate. These, together with his industry and ability to labor, indicated him as peculiarly fit for the office of Postmaster-General.
Mr. Memminger, of South Carolina, had a high reputation for knowledge of finance. He bore an unimpeachable character for integrity and close attention to duties, and, on the recommendation of the delegation from South Carolina, he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury, and proved himself entirely worthy of the trust.
Mr. Walker, of Alabama, was a distinguished member of the bar of north Alabama, and was eminent among the politicians of that section. He was earnestly recommended by gentlemen intimately and favorably known to me, and was therefore selected for the War Department. His was the only name presented from Alabama.
The executive departments having been organized, my attention was first directed to preparation for military defense, for, though I, in common with others, desired to have a peaceful separation, and sent commissioners to the United States Government to effect, if possible, negotiations to that end, I did not hold the common opinion that we would be allowed to depart in peace, and therefore regarded it as an imperative duty to make all possible preparation for the contingency of war.
Early Acts of the Confederate Congress.—Laws of the United States continued in Force.—Officers of Customs and Revenue continued in Office.—Commission to the United States.—Navigation of the Mississippi.—Restrictions on the Coasting-Trade removed.—Appointment of Commissioners to Washington.
The legislation of the Confederate Congress furnishes the best evidence of the temper and spirit which prevailed in the organization of the Confederate Government. The very first enactment, made on the 9th of February, 1861—the day after the adoption of the Provisional Constitution—was this:
"That all the laws of the United States of America in force and in use in the Confederate States of America on the first day of November last, and not inconsistent with the Constitution of the Confederate States, be and the same are hereby continued in force until altered or repealed by the Congress."
The next act, adopted on the 14th of February, was one continuing in office until the 1st of April next ensuing all officers connected with the collection of customs and the assistant treasurers intrusted with the keeping of the moneys arising therefrom, who were engaged in the performance of such duties within any of the Confederate States, with the same powers and functions which they had been exercising under the Government of the United States.
The Provisional Constitution itself, in the second section of its sixth article, had ordained as follows:
"The Government hereby instituted shall take immediate steps for the settlement of all matters between the States forming it and their other late confederates of the United States, in relation to the public property and public debt at the time of their withdrawal from them; these States hereby declaring it to be their wish and earnest desire to adjust everything pertaining to the common property, common liabilities, and common obligations of that Union, upon the principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith."
In accordance with this requirement of the Constitution, the Congress, on the 15th of February—before my arrival at Montgomery—passed a resolution declaring "that it is the sense of this Congress that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect, as early as may be convenient after his inauguration, and sent to the Government of the United States of America, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that Government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two Governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith."
Persistent and to a great extent successful efforts were made to inflame the minds of the people of the Northwestern States by representing to them that, in consequence of the separation of the States, they would lose the free navigation of the Mississippi River. At that early period in the life of the Confederacy, the intercourse between the North and South had been so little interrupted, that the agitators, whose vocation it was to deceive the masses of the people, could not, or should not, have been ignorant that, as early as the 25th of February, 1861, an act was passed by the Confederate Congress, and approved by the President, "to declare and establish the free navigation of the Mississippi River." That act began with the announcement that "the peaceful navigation of the Mississippi River is hereby declared free to the citizens of any of the States upon its borders, or upon the borders of its navigable tributaries," and its provisions secure that freedom for "all ships, boats, or vessels," with their cargoes, "without any duty or hindrance, except light-money, pilotage, and other like charges."
By an act approved on the 26th of February, all laws which forbade the employment in the coasting-trade of vessels not enrolled or licensed, and all laws imposing discriminating duties on foreign vessels or goods imported in them, were repealed. These acts and all other indications manifest the well-known wish of the people of the Confederacy to preserve the peace and encourage the most unrestricted commerce with all nations, surely not least with their late associates, the Northern States. Thus far, the hope that peace might be maintained was predominant; perhaps, the wish was father to the thought that there would be no war between the States lately united. Indeed, all the laws enacted during the first session of the Provisional Congress show how consistent were the purposes and actions of its members with their original avowal of a desire peacefully to separate from those with whom they could not live in tranquillity, albeit the Government had been established to promote the common welfare. Under this state of feeling the Government of the Confederacy was instituted.
My own views and inclinations, as has already been fully shown, were in entire accord with the disposition manifested by the requirement of the Provisional Constitution and the resolution of the Congress above recited, for the appointment of a commission to negotiate friendly relations with the United States and an equitable and peaceable settlement of all questions which would necessarily arise under the new relations of the States toward one another. Next to the organization of a Cabinet, that of such a commission was accordingly one of the very first objects of attention. Three discreet, well-informed, and distinguished citizens were selected as said Commissioners, and accredited to the President of the Northern States, Mr. Lincoln, to the end that by negotiation all questions between the two Governments might be so adjusted as to avoid war, and perpetuate the kind relations which had been cemented by the common trials, sacrifices, and glories of the people of all the States. If sectional hostility had been engendered by dissimilarity of institutions, and by a mistaken idea of moral responsibilities, and by irreconcilable creeds—if the family could no longer live and grow harmoniously together—by patriarchal teaching older than Christianity, it might have been learned that it was better to part, to part peaceably, and to continue, from one to another, the good offices of neighbors who by sacred memories were forbidden ever to be foes. The nomination of the members of the commission was made on the 25th of February—within a week after my inauguration—and confirmed by Congress on the same day. The Commissioners appointed were Messrs. A. B. Roman, of Louisiana; Martin J. Crawford, of Georgia; and John Forsyth, of Alabama. Mr. Roman was an honored citizen, and had been Governor of his native State. Mr. Crawford had served with distinction in Congress for several years. Mr. Forsyth was an influential journalist, and had been Minister to Mexico under appointment of Mr. Pierce near the close of his term, and continued so under that of Mr. Buchanan. These gentlemen, moreover, represented the three great parties which had ineffectually opposed the sectionalism of the so-called "Republicans." Ex-Governor Roman had been a Whig in former years, and one of the "Constitutional Union," or Bell-and-Everett, party in the canvass of 1860. Mr. Crawford, as a State-rights Democrat, had supported Mr. Breckinridge; and Mr. Forsyth had been a zealous advocate of the claims of Mr. Douglas. The composition of the commission was therefore such as should have conciliated the sympathy and cooeperation of every element of conservatism with which they might have occasion to deal. Their commissions authorized and empowered them, "in the name of the Confederate States, to meet and confer with any person or persons duly authorized by the Government of the United States, being furnished with like power and authority, and with him or them to agree, treat, consult, and negotiate" concerning all matters in which the parties were both interested. No secret instructions were given them, for there was nothing to conceal. The objects of their mission were open and avowed, and its inception and conduct throughout were characterized by frankness and good faith. How this effort was received, how the Commissioners were kept waiting, and, while fair promises were held to the ear, how military preparations were pushed forward for the unconstitutional, criminal purpose of coercing States, let the shameful record of that transaction attest.
[Footnote 124: Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, p. 27.]
[Footnote 125: Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, pp. 27, 28.]
[Footnote 126: See Provisional Constitution, Appendix K, in loco.]
[Footnote 127: Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, p. 92.]
[Footnote 128: Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, pp. 36-38.]
[Footnote 129: Ibid., p. 38.]
The Peace Conference.—Demand for "a Little Bloodletting."—Plan proposed by the Conference.—Its Contemptuous Reception and Treatment in the United States Congress.—Failure of Last Efforts at Reconciliation and Reunion.—Note.—Speech of General Lane, of Oregon.
While the events which have just been occupying our attention were occurring, the last conspicuous effort was made within the Union to stay the tide of usurpation which was driving the Southern States into secession. This effort was set on foot by Virginia, the General Assembly of which State, on the 19th of January, 1861, adopted a preamble and resolutions, deprecating disunion, and inviting all such States as were willing to unite in an earnest endeavor to avert it by an adjustment of the then existing controversies to appoint commissioners to meet in Washington, on the 4th of February, "to consider, and, if practicable, agree upon some suitable adjustment." Ex-President John Tyler, and Messrs. William C. Rives, John W. Brockenbrugh, George W. Summers, and James A. Seddon—five of the most distinguished citizens of the State—were appointed to represent Virginia in the proposed conference. If they could agree with the Commissioners of other States upon any plan of settlement requiring amendments to the Federal Constitution, they were instructed to communicate them to Congress, with a view to their submission to the several States for ratification.
The "border States" in general promptly acceded to this proposition of Virginia, and others followed, so that in the "Peace Congress," or conference, which assembled, according to appointment, on the 4th, and adjourned on the 27th of February, twenty-one States were eventually represented, of which fourteen were Northern, or "non-slaveholding," and seven slaveholding States. The six States which had already seceded were of course not of the number represented; nor were Texas and Arkansas, the secession of which, although not consummated, was obviously inevitable. Three of the Northwestern States—Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—and the two Pacific States—Oregon and California—also held aloof from the conference. In the case of these last two, distance and lack of time perhaps hindered action. With regard to the other three, their reasons for declining to participate in the movement were not officially assigned, and are therefore only subjects for conjecture. Some remarkable revelations were afterward made, however, with regard to the action of one of them. It appears, from correspondence read in the Senate on the 27th of February, that the two Senators from Michigan had at first opposed the participation of that State in the conference, on the ground that it was, as one of them expressed it, "a step toward obtaining that concession which the imperious slave power so insolently demands."—that is to say, in plain terms, they objected to it because it might lead to a compromise and pacification. Finding, however, that most of the other Northern States were represented—some of them by men of moderate and conciliatory temper—that writer had subsequently changed his mind, and at a late period of the session of the conference recommended the sending of delegations of "true, unflinching men," who would be "in favor of the Constitution as it is"—that is, who would oppose any amendment proposed in the interests of harmony and pacification.
The other Senator exhibits a similar alarm at the prospect of compromise and a concurrent change of opinion. He urges the sending of "stiff-backed" men, to thwart the threatened success of the friends of peace, and concludes with an expression of the humane and patriotic sentiment that "without a little bloodletting" the Union would not be "worth a rush." With such unworthy levity did these leaders of sectional strife express their exultation in the prospect of the conflict, which was to drench the land with blood and enshroud thousands of homes in mourning!
It is needless to follow the course of the deliberations of the Peace Conference. It included among its members many men of distinction and eminent ability, and some of unquestionable patriotism, from every part of the Union. The venerable John Tyler presided, and took an active and ardent interest in the efforts made to effect a settlement and avert the impending disasters. A plan was finally agreed upon by a majority of the States represented, for certain amendments to the Federal Constitution, which it was hoped might be acceptable to all parties and put an end to further contention. In its leading features this plan resembled that of Mr. Crittenden, heretofore spoken of, which was still pending in the Senate, though with some variations, which were regarded as less favorable to the South. It was reported immediately to both Houses of the United States Congress. In the Senate, Mr. Crittenden promptly expressed his willingness to accept it as a substitute for his own proposition, and eloquently urged its adoption. But the arrogance of a sectional majority inflated by recent triumph was too powerful to be allayed by the appeals of patriotism or the counsels of wisdom. The plan of the Peace Conference was treated by the majority with the contemptuous indifference shown to every other movement for conciliation. Its mere consideration was objected to by the extreme radicals, and, although they failed in this, it was defeated on a vote, as were the Crittenden propositions.
With the failure of these efforts, which occurred on the eve of the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, and the accession to power of a party founded on a basis of sectional aggression, and now thoroughly committed to its prosecution and perpetuation, expired the last hopes of reconciliation and union.
Note.—In the course of the debate in the Senate on these grave propositions, a manly and eloquent speech was made on the 2d of March, 1861, by the Hon. Joseph Lane, a Senator from Oregon, who had been the candidate of the Democratic State-rights party for the Vice-Presidency of the United States, in the canvass of 1860. Some passages of this speech seem peculiarly appropriate for insertion here. General Lane was replying to a speech of Mr. Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, afterward President of the United States:
"Mr. President, the Senator from Tennessee complains of my remarks on his speech. He complains of the tone and temper of what I said. He complains that I replied at all, as I was a Northern Senator. Mr. President, I am a citizen of this Union and a Senator of the United States. My residence is in the North, but I have never seen the day, and I never shall, when I will refuse justice as readily to the South as to the North. I know nothing but my country, the whole country, the Constitution, and the equality of the States—the equal right of every man in the common territory of the whole country; and by that I shall stand.
"The Senator complains that I replied at all, as I was a Northern Senator, and a Democrat whom he had supported at the last election for a high office. Now, I was, as I stated at the time, surprised at the Senator's speech, because I understood it to be for coercion, as I think it was understood by almost everybody else, except, as we are now told, by the Senator himself; and I still think it amounted to a coercion speech, notwithstanding the soft and plausible phrases by which he describes it—a speech for the execution of the laws and the protection of the Federal property. Sir, if there is, as I contend, the right of secession, then, whenever a State exercises that right, this Government has no laws in that State to execute, nor has it any property in any such State that can be protected by the power of this Government. In attempting, however, to substitute the smooth phrases 'executing the laws' and 'protecting public property' for coercion, for civil war, we have an important concession: that is, that this Government dare not go before the people with a plain avowal of its real purposes and of their consequences. No, sir; the policy is to inveigle the people of the North into civil war, by masking the design in smooth and ambiguous terms."—("Congressional Globe," second session, Thirty-sixth Congress, p. 1347.)
[Footnote 130: See letter of Hon. S. K. Bingham to Governor Blair, of Michigan, in "Congressional Globe," second session, Thirty-sixth Congress, Part II, p. 1247.]
[Footnote 131: See "Congressional Globe," ut supra. As this letter, last referred to, is brief and characteristic of the temper of the typical so-called Republicans of the period, it may be inserted entire:
"Washington, February 11, 1861.
"My dear Governor: Governor Bingham and myself telegraphed you on Saturday, at the request of Massachusetts and New York, to send delegates to the Peace or Compromise Congress. They admit that we were right, and that they were wrong; that no Republican State should have sent delegates; but they are here, and can not get away; Ohio, Indiana, and Rhode Island are caving in, and there is danger of Illinois; and now they beg us, for God's sake, to come to their rescue, and save the Republican party from rupture. I hope you will send stiff-backed men, or none. The whole thing was gotten up against my judgment and advice, and will end in thin smoke. Still, I hope, as a matter of courtesy to some of our erring brethren, that you will send the delegates.
"Truly your friend,
"(Signed) Z. Chandler.
"His Excellency Austin Blair."
"P.S.—Some of the manufacturing States think that a fight would be awful. Without a little bloodletting, this Union will not, in my estimation, be worth a rush."
The reader should not fall into the mistake of imagining that the "erring brethren," toward whom a concession of courtesy is recommended by the writer of this letter, were the people of the seceding, or even of the border, States. It is evident from the context that he means the people of those so-called "Republican" States which had fallen into the error of taking part in a plan for peace, which might have averted the bloodletting recommended.]
Northern Protests against Coercion.—The "New York Tribune," Albany "Argus," and "New York Herald."—Great Public Meeting in New York.—Speeches of Mr. Thayer, ex-Governor Seymour, ex-Chancellor Walworth, and Others.—The Press in February, 1861.—Mr. Lincoln's Inaugural.—The Marvelous Change or Suppression of Conservative Sentiment.—Historic Precedents.
It is a great mistake, or misstatement of fact, to assume that, at the period under consideration, the Southern States stood alone in the assertion of the principles which have been laid down in this work, with regard to the right of secession and the wrong of coercion. Down to the formation of the Confederate Government, the one was distinctly admitted, the other still more distinctly disavowed and repudiated, by many of the leaders of public opinion in the North of both parties—indeed, any purpose of direct coercion was disclaimed by nearly all. If presented at all, it was in the delusive and ambiguous guise of "the execution of the laws" and "protection of the public property."
The "New York Tribune"—the leading organ of the party which triumphed in the election of 1860—had said, soon after the result of that election was ascertained, with reference to secession: "We hold, with Jefferson, to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious; and, if the cotton States shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary right, but it exists nevertheless; and we do not see how one party can have a right to do what another party has a right to prevent. We must ever resist the asserted right of any State to remain in the Union and nullify or defy the laws thereof: to withdraw from the Union is quite another matter. And, whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep her in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets."
The only liberty taken with this extract has been that of presenting certain parts of it in italics. Nothing that has ever been said by the author of this work, in the foregoing chapters, on the floor of the Senate, or elsewhere, more distinctly asserted the right of secession. Nothing that has been quoted from Hamilton, or Madison, or Marshall, or John Quincy Adams, more emphatically repudiates the claim of right to restrain or coerce a State in the exercise of its free choice. Nothing that has been said since the war which followed could furnish a more striking condemnation of its origin, prosecution, purposes, and results. A comparison of the sentiments above quoted, with the subsequent career of the party, of which that journal was and long had been the recognized organ, would exhibit a striking incongruity and inconsistency.
The "Tribune" was far from being singular among its Northern contemporaries in the entertainment of such views, as Mr. Greeley, its chief editor, has shown by many citations in his book, "The American Conflict." The Albany "Argus," about the same time, said, in language which Mr. Greeley characterizes as "clear and temperate": "We sympathize with and justify the South as far as this: their rights have been invaded to the extreme limit possible within the forms of the Constitution; and, beyond this limit, their feelings have been insulted and their interests and honor assailed by almost every possible form of denunciation and invective; and, if we deemed it certain that the real animus of the Republican party could be carried into the administration of the Federal Government, and become the permanent policy of the nation, we should think that all the instincts of self-preservation and of manhood rightfully impelled them to a resort to revolution and a separation from the Union, and we would applaud them and wish them godspeed in the adoption of such a remedy."
Again, the same paper said, a day or two afterward: "If South Carolina or any other State, through a convention of her people, shall formally separate herself from the Union, probably both the present and the next Executive will simply let her alone and quietly allow all the functions of the Federal Government within her limits to be suspended. Any other course would be madness; as it would at once enlist all the Southern States in the controversy and plunge the whole country into a civil war.... As a matter of policy and wisdom, therefore, independent of the question of right, we should deem resort to force most disastrous."
The "New York Herald"—a journal which claimed to be independent of all party influences—about the same period said: "Each State is organized as a complete government, holding the purse and wielding the sword, possessing the right to break the tie of the confederation as a nation might break a treaty, and to repel coercion as a nation might repel invasion.... Coercion, if it were possible, is out of the question."
On the 31st of January, 1861—after six States had already seceded—a great meeting was held in the city of New York, to consider the perilous condition of the country. At this meeting Mr. James S. Thayer, "an old-line Whig," made a speech, which was received with great applause. The following extracts from the published report of Mr. Thayer's speech will show the character of the views which then commanded the cordial approval of that metropolitan audience:
"We can at least, in an authoritative way and a practical manner, arrive at the basis of a peaceable separation. [Cheers.] We can at least by discussion enlighten, settle, and concentrate the public sentiment in the State of New York upon this question, and save it from that fearful current, which circuitously but certainly sweeps madly on, through the narrow gorge of 'the enforcement of the laws,' to the shoreless ocean of civil war! [Cheers.] Against this, under all circumstances, in every place and form, we must now and at all times oppose a resolute and unfaltering resistance. The public mind will bear the avowal, and let us make it—that, if a revolution of force is to begin, it shall be inaugurated at home. And if the incoming Administration shall attempt to carry out the line of policy that has been foreshadowed, we announce that, when the hand of Black Republicanism turns to blood-red, and seeks from the fragment of the Constitution to construct a scaffolding for coercion—another name for execution—we will reverse the order of the French Revolution, and save the blood of the people by making those who would inaugurate a reign of terror the first victims of a national guillotine!" [Enthusiastic applause.]
"It is announced that the Republican Administration will enforce the laws against and in all the seceding States. A nice discrimination must be exercised in the performance of this duty. You remember the story of William Tell.... Let an arrow winged by the Federal bow strike the heart of an American citizen, and who can number the avenging darts that will cloud the heavens in the conflict that will ensue? [Prolonged applause.] What, then, is the duty of the State of New York? What shall we say to our people when we come to meet this state of facts? That the Union must be preserved? But, if that can not be, what then? Peaceable separation. [Applause.] Painful and humiliating as it is, let us temper it with all we can of love and kindness, so that we may yet be left in a comparatively prosperous condition, in friendly relations with another Confederacy." [Cheers.]
At the same meeting ex-Governor Horatio Seymour asked the question—on which subsequent events have cast their own commentary—whether "successful coercion by the North is less revolutionary than successful secession by the South? Shall we prevent revolution [he added] by being foremost in over-throwing the principles of our Government, and all that makes it valuable to our people and distinguishes it among the nations of the earth?"
The venerable ex-Chancellor Walworth thus expressed himself:
"It would be as brutal, in my opinion, to send men to butcher our own brothers of the Southern States as it would be to massacre them in the Northern States. We are told, however, that it is our duty to, and we must, enforce the laws. But why—and what laws are to be enforced? There were laws that were to be enforced in the time of the American Revolution.... Did Lord Chatham go for enforcing those laws? No, he gloried in defense of the liberties of America. He made that memorable declaration in the British Parliament, 'If I were an American citizen, instead of being, as I am, an Englishman, I never would submit to such laws—never, never, never!'" [Prolonged applause.]
Other distinguished speakers expressed themselves in similar terms—varying somewhat in their estimate of the propriety of the secession of the Southern States, but all agreeing in emphatic and unqualified reprobation of the idea of coercion. A series of conciliatory resolutions was adopted, one of which declares that "civil war will not restore the Union, but will defeat for ever its reconstruction."
At a still later period—some time in the month of February—the "Free Press," a leading paper in Detroit, had the following:
"If there shall not be a change in the present seeming purpose to yield to no accommodation of the national difficulties, and if troops shall be raised in the North to march against the people of the South, a fire in the rear will be opened upon such troops, which will either stop their march altogether or wonderfully accelerate it."
The "Union," of Bangor, Maine, spoke no less decidedly to the same effect:
"The difficulties between the North and the South must be compromised, or the separation of the States shall be peaceable. If the Republican party refuse to go the full length of the Crittenden amendment—which is the very least the South can or ought to take—then, here in Maine, not a Democrat will be found who will raise his arm against his brethren of the South. From one end of the State to the other let the cry of the Democracy be, Compromise or Peaceable Separation!"
That these were not expressions of isolated or exceptional sentiment is evident from the fact that they were copied with approval by other Northern journals.
Mr. Lincoln, when delivering his inaugural address, on the 4th of March, 1861, had not so far lost all respect for the consecrated traditions of the founders of the Constitution and for the majesty of the principle of State sovereignty as openly to enunciate the claim of coercion. While arguing against the right to secede, and asserting his intention "to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government, and collect the duties and imposts," he says that, "beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere," and appends to this declaration the following pledge:
"Where hostility to the United States shall be so great as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist of the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating, and so nearly impracticable withal, that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices."
These extracts will serve to show that the people of the South were not without grounds for cherishing the hope, to which they so fondly clung, that the separation would, indeed, be as peaceable in fact as it was, on their part, in purpose; that the conservative and patriotic feeling still existing in the North would control the elements of sectional hatred and bloodthirsty fanaticism; and that there would be really "no war."
And here the ingenuous reader may very naturally ask, What became of all this feeling? How was it that, in the course of a few weeks, it had disappeared like a morning mist? Where was the host of men who had declared that an army marching to invade the Southern States should first pass over their dead bodies? No new question had arisen—no change in the attitude occupied by the seceding States—no cause for controversy not already existing when these utterances were made. And yet the sentiments which they expressed were so entirely swept away by the tide of reckless fury which soon afterward impelled an armed invasion of the South, that (with a few praiseworthy but powerless exceptions) scarcely a vestige of them was left. Not only were they obliterated, but seemingly forgotten.
I leave to others to offer, if they can, an explanation of this strange phenomenon. To the student of human nature, however, it may not seem altogether without precedent, when he remembers certain other instances on record of mutations in public sentiment equally sudden and extraordinary. Ten thousand swords that would have leaped from their scabbards—as the English statesman thought—to avenge even a look of insult to a lovely queen, hung idly in their places when she was led to the scaffold in the midst of the vilest taunts and execrations. The case that we have been considering was, perhaps, only an illustration of the general truth that, in times of revolutionary excitement, the higher and better elements are crushed and silenced by the lower and baser—not so much on account of their greater extent, as of their greater violence.
[Footnote 132: "New York Tribune" of November 9, 1860, quoted in "The American Conflict," vol. i, chap. xxiii, p. 359.]
Temper of the Southern People indicated by the Action of the Confederate Congress.—The Permanent Constitution.—Modeled after the Federal Constitution.—Variations and Special Provisions.—Provisions with Regard to Slavery and the Slave-Trade.—A False Assertion refuted.—Excellence of the Constitution.—Admissions of Hostile or Impartial Criticism.
The conservative temper of the people of the Confederate States was conspicuously exhibited in the most important product of the early labors of their representatives in Congress assembled. The Provisional Constitution, although prepared only for temporary use, and necessarily in some haste, was so well adapted for the purposes which it was intended to serve, that many thought it would have been wise to continue it in force indefinitely, or at least until the independency of the Confederacy should be assured. The Congress, however, deeming it best that the system of Government should emanate from the people, accordingly, on the 11th of March, prepared the permanent Constitution, which was submitted to and ratified by the people of the respective States.
Of this Constitution—which may be found in an appendix, side by side with the Constitution of the United States—the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, who was one of its authors, very properly says:
"The whole document utterly negatives the idea, which so many have been active in endeavoring to put in the enduring form of history, that the Convention at Montgomery was nothing but a set of 'conspirators,' whose object was the overthrow of the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and the erection of a great 'slavery oligarchy,' instead of the free institutions thereby secured and guaranteed. This work of the Montgomery Convention, with that of the Constitution for a Provisional Government, will ever remain, not only as a monument of the wisdom, forecast, and statesmanship of the men who constituted it, but an everlasting refutation of the charges which have been brought against them. These works together show clearly that their only leading object was to sustain, uphold, and perpetuate the fundamental principles of the Constitution of the United States."
The Constitution of the United States was the model followed throughout, with only such changes as experience suggested for better practical working or for greater perspicuity. The preamble to both instruments is the same in substance, and very nearly identical in language. The words "We, the people of the United States," in one, are replaced by "We, the people of the Confederate States," in the other; and the gross perversion which has been made of the former expression is precluded in the latter merely by the addition of the explanatory clause, "each State acting in its sovereign and independent character"—an explanation which, at the time of the formation of the Constitution of the United States, would have been deemed entirely superfluous.
The official term of the President was fixed at six instead of four years, and it was provided that he should not be eligible for reelection. This was in accordance with the original draft of the Constitution of 1787.
The President was empowered to remove officers of his Cabinet, or those engaged in the diplomatic service, at his discretion, but in all other cases removal from office could be made only for cause, and the cause was to be reported to the Senate.
Congress was authorized to provide by law for the admission of "the principal officer in each of the executive departments" (or Cabinet officers) to a seat upon the floor of either House, with the privilege of taking part in the discussion of subjects pertaining to his department. This wise and judicious provision, which would have tended to obviate much delay and misunderstanding, was, however, never put into execution by the necessary legislation.
Protective duties for the benefit of special branches of industry, which had been so fruitful a source of trouble under the Government of the United States, were altogether prohibited. So, also, were bounties from the Treasury, and extra compensation for services rendered by officers, contractors, or employees, of any description.
A vote of two thirds of each House was requisite for the appropriation of money from the Treasury, unless asked for by the chief of a department and submitted to Congress by the President, or for payment of the expenses of Congress, or of claims against the Confederacy judicially established and declared. The President was also authorized to approve any one appropriation and disapprove any other in the same bill.
With regard to the impeachment of Federal officers, it was intrusted, as formerly, to the discretion of the House of Representatives, with the additional provision, however, that, in the case of any judicial or other officer exercising his functions solely within the limits of a particular State, impeachment might be made by the Legislature of such State—the trial in all cases to be by the Senate of the Confederate States.
Any two or more States were authorized to enter into compacts with each other for the improvement of the navigation of rivers flowing between or through them. A vote of two thirds of each House—the Senate voting by States—was required for the admission of a new State.
With regard to amendments of the Constitution, it was made obligatory upon Congress, on the demand of any three States, concurring in the proposed amendment or amendments, to summon a convention of all the States to consider and act upon them, voting by States, but restricted in its action to the particular propositions thus submitted. If approved by such convention, the amendments were to be subject to final ratification by two thirds of the States.
Other changes or modifications, worthy of special notice, related to internal improvements, bankruptcy laws, duties on exports, suits in the Federal courts, and the government of the Territories.
With regard to slavery and the slave-trade, the provisions of this Constitution furnish an effectual answer to the assertion, so often made, that the Confederacy was founded on slavery, that slavery was its "corner-stone," etc. Property in slaves, already existing, was recognized and guaranteed, just as it was by the Constitution of the United States; and the rights of such property in the common Territories were protected against any such hostile discrimination as had been attempted in the Union. But the "extension of slavery," in the only practical sense of that phrase, was more distinctly and effectually precluded by the Confederate than by the Federal Constitution. This will be manifest on a comparison of the provisions of the two relative to the slave-trade. These are found at the beginning of the ninth section of the first article of each instrument. The Constitution of the United States has the following:
"The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importations, not exceeding ten dollars for each person."
The Confederate Constitution, on the other hand, ordained as follows:
"1. The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country, other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.
"2. Congress shall also have the power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any state not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy."
In the case of the United States, the only prohibition is against any interference by Congress with the slave-trade for a term of years, and it was further legitimized by the authority given to impose a duty upon it. The term of years, it is true, had long since expired, but there was still no prohibition of the trade by the Constitution; it was after 1808 entirely within the discretion of Congress either to encourage, tolerate, or prohibit it.
Under the Confederate Constitution, on the contrary, the African slave-trade was "hereby forbidden," positively and unconditionally, from the beginning. Neither the Confederate Government nor that of any of the States could permit it, and the Congress was expressly "required" to enforce the prohibition. The only discretion in the matter intrusted to the Congress was, whether or not to permit the introduction of slaves from any of the United States or their Territories.
Mr. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, had said: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Now, if there was no purpose on the part of the Government of the United States to interfere with the institution of slavery within its already existing limits—a proposition which permitted its propagation within those limits by natural increase—and inasmuch as the Confederate Constitution precluded any other than the same natural increase, we may plainly perceive the disingenuousness and absurdity of the pretension by which a factitious sympathy has been obtained in certain quarters for the war upon the South, on the ground that it was a war in behalf of freedom against slavery. I had no direct part in the preparation of the Confederate Constitution. No consideration of delicacy forbids me, therefore, to say, in closing this brief review of that instrument, that it was a model of wise, temperate, and liberal statesmanship. Intelligent criticism, from hostile as well as friendly sources, has been compelled to admit its excellences, and has sustained the judgment of a popular Northern journal which said, a few days after it was adopted and published: