Letter from J.L.M. Curry of Alabama to Gov. Hicks of Maryland

Jabez L. M. Curry was born in Georgia but moved to Alabama and took up a law practice. After service in the state legislature he was elected to Congress in 1856. He was appointed commissioner to Maryland by Gov. A.B. Moore and then served in the Confederate Congress until defeated for re-election in 1863. He then served as lieutenant colonel of the 5th Alabama Cavalry. The text of his letter to Gov. Hicks of Maryland can be found in OR Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 38-42. The picture is taken from North & South magazine, vol. 4, no. 4 (2001).

J.L.M. Curry

ANNAPOLIS, MD., December 28, 1860.

Hon. THOMAS H. HICKS,
Annapolis, Md.:

SIR: The Governor of the sovereign State of Alabama has appointed me a commissioner to the sovereign State of Maryland "to consult and advise" with the Governor and Legislature thereof "as to what is best to be done to protect the rights, interests, and honor of the slave-holding States," menaced and endangered by recent political events. Having watched with painful anxiety the growth, power, and encroachments of anti-slaveryism, and anticipating for the party held together by this sentiment of hostility to the rights and institutions of the Southern people a probable success, too fatally realized, in the recent Presidential election, the General Assembly of Alabama, on the 24th of February, 1860, adopted joint resolutions providing, on the happening of such a contingency, for a convention of the State "to consider, determine, and do whatever the rights, interests, and honor of Alabama require to be done for their protection." In accordance with this authority the Governor has called a convention to meet on the 7th day of January, 1861, and on the 24th instant delegates were elected to that body. Not content with this simple but significant act of convoking the sovereignty of the people, the State affirmed her reserved and undelegated right of secession from the confederacy, and intimated that continued and unceasingly violent assaults upon her rights and equality might "constrain her to a reluctant but early exercise of that invaluable right." Recognizing the common interests and destiny of all the States holding property in the labor of Africans, and "anxiously desiring their co-operation in a struggle which perils all they hold most dear," Alabama pledged herself to a "cordial participation in any and every effort which, in her judgment, will protect the common safety, advance the common interest, and serve the common cause."

To secure concert and effective co-operation between Maryland and Alabama is in a great degree the object of my mission. Under our federative system each State, being necessarily the sole judge of the extent of powers delegated to the general agent and controlling the allegiance of her citizens, must decide for herself in case of wrong upon the mode and measure of redress. Within the Union the States have absolutely prohibited themselves from entering into treaties, alliances, and confederations, and have made the assent of Congress a condition precedent to their entering into agreements or compacts with other States. This constitutional inhibition has been construed to include "every agreement, written or verbal, formal or informal, positive or implied, by the mutual understanding of the parties." Without indorsing this sweeping judicial dictum, it will be conceded that if the grievance or apprehension of danger be so great as to render necessary or advisable a withdrawal from the confederacy there can be between the States similarly imperiled, prior to separation, only an informal understanding for prospective concert and federation. To enter into a binding "agreement or compact" would violate the Constitution, and the South should be careful not to part with her distinguishing glory of having never, under the most aggravating provocations, departed from the strictest requirements of the Federal covenant nor suggested any proposition infringing upon the essential equality of the co-States. It is, nevertheless, the highest dictate of wisdom and patriotism to secure, so far as can be constitutionally done, "a mutual league, united thoughts and counsels," between those whose hopes and hazards are alike joined in the enterprise of accomplishing deliverance from Abolition domination. To Your Excellency or so intelligent a body as the Legislature of Maryland it would be superfluous to enter into an elaborate statement of the policy and purposes of the party which, by the recent election, will soon have the control of the General Government. The bare fact that the party is sectional and hostile to the South is a full justification for the precautionary steps taken by Alabama to provide for the escape of her citizens from the peril and dishonor of submission to its rule. Superadded to the sectional hostility the fanaticism of a sentiment which has become a controlling political force, giving ascendancy in every Northern State, and the avowed purpose, as disclosed in party creeds, declarations of editors, and utterances of representative men, of securing the diminution of slavery in the States and placing it in the course of ultimate extinction, and the South would merit the punishment of the simple if she passed on and provided no security against the imminent danger.

When Mr. Lincoln is inaugurated it will not be simply a change of administration--the installation of a new President--but a reversal of the former practice and policy of the Government, so thorough as to amount to a revolution. Cover over its offensiveness with the most artful disguises, and the fact stands out in its terrible reality that the Government, within the amplitude of its jurisdiction, real or assumed, becomes foreign to the South, and is not to recognize the right of the Southern citizen to property in the labor of African slaves. Heretofore Congress, the Executive, and the judiciary have considered themselves, in their proper spheres, as under a constitutional obligation to recognize and protect as property whatever the States ascertained and determined to be such. Now, the opinion of nearly every Republican is, that the slave of a citizen of Maryland, in possession of and in company with his master, on a vessel sailing from Baltimore to Mobile, is as free as his master, entitled to the same rights, privileges, and immunities, as soon as a vessel has reached a marine league beyond the shores of a State and is outside the jurisdiction of State laws. The same is held if a slave be carried on the territory or other property belonging to the United States, and it is denied by all Republicans that Congress or a Territorial Legislature or any individuals can give legal existence to slavery in any Territory of the United States. Thus, under the new Government, property which existed in every one of the States save one when the Government was formed, and is recognized and protected in the Constitution, is to be proscribed and outlawed. It requires no argument to show that States whose property is thus condemned are reduced to inferiority and inequality.

Such being the principles and purposes of the new Government and its supporters, every Southern State is deeply interested in the protection of the honor and equality of her citizens. Recent events occurring at the Federal capital and in the North must demonstrate to the most incredulous and hopeful that there is no intention on the part of the Republicans to make concessions to our just and reasonable demands or furnish any securities against their wrongdoing. If their purposes were right and harmless, how easy to give satisfactory assurances and guaranties. If no intention to harm exists, it can be neither unmanly nor unwise to put it out of their power to commit harm. The minority section must have some other protection than the discretion or sense of justice of the majority, for the Constitution as interpreted, with a denial of the right of secession or State interposition, affords no security or means of redress against a hostile and fanatical majority. The action of the two committees in the Senate and House of Congress shows an unalterable purpose on the part of the Republicans to reap the fruits of their recent victory, and to abate not a jot or tittle of their Abolition principles. They refuse to recognize our rights of property in slaves, to make a division of the territory, to deprive themselves of their assumed constitutional power to abolish slavery in the Territories or District of Columbia, to increase the efficiency of the fugitive slave law, or make provision for the compensation of the owners of runaway or stolen slaves, or place in the hands of the South any protection against the rapacity of an unscrupulous majority.

If our present undoubted constitutional rights were reaffirmed in, if possible, more explicit language, it is questionable whether they would meet with more successful execution. Anti-slavery fanaticism would probably soon render them nugatory. The sentiment of the sinfulness of slavery seems to be embedded in the Northern conscience. An infidel theory has corrupted the Northern heart. A French orator said the people of England once changed their religion by act of Parliament. Whether true or not, it is not probable that the settled convictions at the North, intensely adverse to slavery, can be changed by Congressional resolutions or constitutional amendments. Under Republican rule the revolution will not be confined to slavery and its adjuncts. The features of our political system which constitute its chief excellence and distinguish it from absolute governments are to be altered. The radical idea of this confederacy is the equality of the sovereign States and their voluntary assent to the constitutional compact. This, from recent indications, is to be changed, so that to a great extent power is to be centralized at Washington, Congress is to be the final judge of its powers, States are to be deprived of a reciprocity and equality of rights, and a common government, kept in being by force, will discriminate offensively and injuriously against the property of a particular geographical section.

With Alabama, after patient endurance for years and earnest expostulation with the Northern States, the reluctant conviction has become fixed that there is no safety for her in a hostile Union governed by an interested sectional majority. As a sovereign State, vitally interested in the preservation and security of African slavery, she will exercise the right of withdrawing from the compact of union. Most earnestly does she desire the co-operation of sister Southern States in a new confederacy, based on the same principles as the present. Having no ulterior or unavowed purposes to accomplish, seeking peace and friendship with all people, determined that her slave population, not to be increased by importations from Africa, shall not be localized and become redundant by excess of growth beyond liberty of expansion, she most cordially invites the concurrent action of all States with common sympathies and common interests. Under an abolition Government the slave-holding States will be placed under a common ban of proscription, and an institution, interwoven in the very frame-work of their social and political being, must perish gradually or speedily with the Government in active hostility to it. Instead of the culture and development of the boundless capacities and productive resources of their social system, it is to be assaulted, humbled, dwarfed, degraded, and finally crushed out.

To some of the States delaying action for new securities the question of submission to a dominant abolition majority is presented in a different form from what it was a few weeks ago. One State has seceded; others will soon follow. Without discussing the propriety of such action, the remaining States must act on the facts as they exist, whether of their own creation or approval or not. To unite with the seceding States is to be their peers as confederates and have an identity of interests, protection of property, and superior advantages in the contest for the markets, a monopoly of which has been enjoyed by the North. To refuse union with the seceding States is to accept inferiority, to be deprived of an outlet for surplus slaves, and to remain in a hostile Government in a hopeless minority and remediless dependence. It gives me pleasure to be the medium of communicating with you, and through you to the Legislature of Maryland when it shall be convened. I trust that between Maryland and Alabama, and other States having a homogeneous population, kindred interests, and an inviting future of agricultural, mining, mechanical, manufacturing, commercial, and political success, a union, strong as the tie of affection and lasting as the love of liberty, will soon be formed, which shall stand as a model of a free, representative, constitutional, voluntary republic.

I have the honor to be, with much respect, your obedient servant,

J. L. M. CURRY.