Report of Alabama's Commissioner to Louisiana
|John A. Winston was born in 1812 in Madison County, Alabama, and attended LaGrange College in Florence and Cumberland College in Nashville. In 1834 he embarked on a career as a cotton planter, and in 1840 entered politics upon his election to the state legislature. He was elected governor in 1853 and re-elected in 1855. Upon Alabama's secession he served as commissioner to Louisiana and then entered the army as colonel of the 8th Alabama Infantry. The text of his report on his mission to Louisiana is found in OR Series IV, vol. 1, pp. 1-2; the picture was taken from North & South magazine, vol. 4, no. 4 (2001).||
JANUARY 2, 1861.
SIR: In obedience to your instructions I repaired to the seat of government of the State of Louisiana to confer with the Governor of that State and with the legislative department on the grave and important state of our political relations with the Federal Government, and the duty of the slave-holding States in the matter of their rights and honor, so menacingly involved in matters connected with the institution of African slavery. Owing to the fact that the Legislature was in session only three days, and other unavoidable causes, I did not arrive at Baton Rouge until after the Legislature had adjourned. But I met many members of the legislative corps, and communicated with them and with His Excellency Governor T. O. Moore on the purposes of my embassy, and have the pleasure to report that the legislative mind appeared fully alive to the importance and the absolute necessity of the action of the Southern States in resistance of that settled purpose of aggression on our constitutional and inherent natural rights by the majority of the people of the non-slave-holding States of the Federal Union, which purpose and intention has culminated in the election of a man to the Presidency of the United States whose opinions and constructions of constitutional duty are wholly incompatible with our safety in a longer union with them. In evidence of such a conclusion the Legislature of Louisiana have provided for a convention of the people to consider and take action on the matter, the election of delegates to which takes place on the 7th instant, and the convention assembles on the 23d instant. I was rejoiced to find the Governor fully up to the conclusion that the time had come when the enjoyment of peace and our rights as coequals in this confederacy were no longer to be expected or hoped for, and that the solemn duty now devolved upon us of separating from all political connection with the States so disregarding their constitutional obligations, and of forming such a government as a high sense of our rights, honor, and future peace and safety shall indicate. And that, although the sense of the necessity of such a course may not yet be so nearly general and unanimous in Louisiana as in some other States, he was of the opinion that the conclusion was hourly gaining ground that there was no hope of justice or safety to us except in a separation, and that the State of Louisiana would not hesitate to co-operate with those Southern States who might prove equal to the emergency of decided action.
The State of Louisiana, from the fact that the Mississippi River flows through its extent and debouches through her borders, and that the great commercial depot of that river and its tributaries is the city of New Orleans, occupies a position somewhat more complicated than any other of the Southern States, and may present some cause of delay in the consummation and execution of the purpose of a separation from the Northwestern States and the adoption of a new political status. In consideration of these facts, more time may be required for reflection than might otherwise appear necessary, and as the convention does not assemble for some weeks, that may prevent action on the question until some time in February. As a point of policy it might be advisable for the State of Alabama to announce her intention as a foregone conclusion, a fixed fact, that on a day appointed our relations as a member of the political association known as the United States had ceased, and that Alabama, acting as a sovereign for herself in the act of separation, was prepared to form such political relations with States having a community of interest and sympathies as to them may seem just and proper. I feel assured that by such a course of respectful delay on our part other States would more promptly respond to whatever action Alabama may take, and that there is little or no doubt but that Louisiana will co-operate with the States taking action, and so add dignity and importance to the movement which is so essential to secure the respect and recognition of foreign nations and the support of hesitating States. Should it be considered advisable by Your Excellency to communicate further with the authorities of the State of Louisiana after her convention shall have assembled, I will be in Mobile, and can receive readily by mail or telegraph any instructions you may deem it advisable to make, and I will without delay endeavor to discharge them.
Trusting that the time has come when not only Alabama but the entire South will prove prepared to vindicate her honor by a fearless assertion of her rights and her determination to enjoy them,
Most respectfully, your obedient servant, &c.,
JOHN A. WINSTON.