Letter from Isham Garrott and Robert H. Smith of Alabama to the Governor and legislature of North Carolina

 

Isham W. Garrott was born in North Carolina in 1816, studied law at the University of North Carolina, and moved to Marion County, Alabama, in 1840. He was elected to the state legislature in 1845, and re-elected in 1847. In the election of 1860, he served as an elector for Breckinridge. Gov. A.B. Moore appointed Garrott to be commissioner to his native North Carolina, in which capacity Garrott sent the following letter to the governor and legislature in Raleigh. This text is from: "The History and Debates of the Convention of the People of Alabama", William R. Smith (Montgomery, Ala: White, Pfister, & Co, 1861; reprint Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Company Publishers, 1975), pp. 432-436. My thanks to Justin Sanders for sending me this. The image of Garrott was taken from North & South magazine, vol. 4, no. 4 (2001).

Garrott helped raise the 20th Alabama, served as its colonel, and was killed during the siege of Vicksburg.

Robert Hardy Smith was also born in North Carolina, also in 1816. He was appointed to West Point but did not graduate. He taught school in Virginia and Alabama, briefly studied medicine, and then took up the law. He began private practice in 1835, in Livingston, Alabama. In 1849 he was elected to the state legislature and embarked upon a political career as a Whig. Although generally in opposition to the states rights extremists, Smith loyally accepted Alabama's secession, and served in the Confederate Congress early in the war. In 1862 he organized the 26th Alabama and became its colonel, but ill health compelled him to resign the position. Smith died in 1878.

Isham W. Garrott

To His Excellency the Governor, and to the Honorable the members of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina:

The General Assembly of the State of Alabama, on the 11th day of January, A. D. 1860, by joint resolutions, made it the duty of His Excellency the Governor of Alabama, upon the election of a President of the United States advocating the principles and action of the party in the Northern States calling itself the Republican party, to issue his writs of election for delegates to a Convention of the State, "to consider, determine and do whatever, in the opinion of said Convention, the rights, interests and honor of the State of Alabama require to be done for their protection."

In consequence of the results of the late Presidential election, the Governor of Alabama his issued the writs of election required. The election is to be held on the twenty-fourth day of this month, and the Convention is to assemble on the seventh day of January next.

North Carolina and Alabama have been true and loyal to the Constitution and to the Union. There is no plighted faith which each has not kept. They have stood together in fidelity to the Government, and to each of the States composing the Confederacy. They are bound together by a common duty, a common interest, a common danger and a common honor. North-Carolina has largely contributed to the population of our State, and her sons have brought along with them those principles of integrity, honor, obedience to law, and love of well-regulated liberty, for which she is known and admired, and which have imparted so much of worth and prosperity to the States in which her children have settled. It is therefore fit, that now, in this their hour of trial, North-Carolina and Alabama should consult and advise together; and his Excellency the Governor of Alabama, has charged us with a commission to this our native State, "to consult and advise with his Excellency the Governor, and with the members of this Legislature, as to what is best to be done to protect the rights, interests and honor of the slave-holding States, and to report the result of such consultation." We feel complimented in accepting the invitation of this General Assembly, to appear before them in discharge of the duties imposed upon us.

We believe that the exhibitions of public opinion in Alabama are so marked and distinct, as to justify us in declaring that her approaching Convention will withdraw her from the Federal Union. A result so sad, and so pregnant with consequences to herself and to her sister States, requires that she should have grave and conclusive reasons for the step. Light and transient causes will not justify it; much less should restlessness, passion or ambition influence her action. Her obligations to the other States, to the cause of Free Government, and to the civilized world forbid it. Her hopes of reconstructing, with the other States of the South, a well-regulated Government, which shall "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," alike forbid it.

Our people consider that the Constitution of the United States is the charter of our national rights and duties, by which our fathers bound us to the Union, and under which, in its integrity, our people would be content to live, and would envy none the prosperity it brings; but they think that the past and present conduct, and apparently settled rule of action of the non-slave-holding States, are violative of its plain letter and spirit—and the people of Alabama, we believe, will no longer be bound by its obligations while deprived of its benefits.

They think the history of the country shows, that some of the non-slave-holding States have, throughout our political existence, proven themselves sectional, and hostile to the rights and interest of the common country. Some of them have opposed every war in which we have been involved, from that of 1812, with Great Britain, to the war with Mexico; have opposed the acquisition of the rich territories we have obtained—even that which gave us the Mississippi river and the vast plains watered by it; and yet these States, with the other non-slave-holding States, have adopted and are acting on the settled policy that we of the South shall be excluded from the Territories, obtained by the common exertions and treasures of the nation ; and that to maintain this sectional policy, the Constitution of the United States, as expounded by the grave, well and earnestly considered decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, is to be set at naught, and the Court itself, which made the decision, is to be reformed, not only for general partizan purposes, but for the particular purpose of obtaining a reversal of that decision. A party which announces, as a cardinal article of its creed, the degradation of the highest Court in the world, does, in the opinion of the people of Alabama, offer no rule of Government consistent with well-regulated, Constitutional freedom. Beyond this, is the fact that the plain letter of the Constitution, providing for the rendition of fugitive slaves, has not only been annulled by the non-slave-holding States, but several of them have, by their so-called "personal-liberty bills," made it a highly penal offense for a master to attempt the enforcement of the Fugitive-Slave Law of Congress. So it has come to this, that degrading punishment is the consequence of a citizen of the South going into these States, with the Constitution of the United States in his hand, asking simply for the performance of the guarantees therein provided. Nor are those non-slave-holding States that have not passed such bills, behind their cooperators in practically annulling the clause of the Constitution referred to—for it is well known that in most, if not all of the non-slave-holding States, the rights of the master of the slave are defied and set at naught, and that public opinion, aided by mobs, has as effectively overthrown the Constitution and the Law, as though neither had any existence. Were this state of things the result of some sudden gleam of passion, the people of Alabama might hope, that a returning sense of justice would bring obedience to duty; but, unhappily, the past and present prove that such a hope is illusory. The violations of their obligations to us, have been so long continued, and so oft repeated, that the principle has incorporated itself into their education and religion, until the doctrine of the law of conscience has been set up over the supreme law of the land, and hatred to the South and her institutions has usurped the teachings of the Bible. The spirit of sectional animosity has so "grown with their growth and strengthened with their strength," that their matured, cultivated, and trusted statesmen have proclaimed, that the conflict between the sections is "irrepressible," and their people have, in the late Presidential election, responded affirmatively to that announcement.

The election of a President of the United States, of any opinion, however heretical, and however much calculated to disturb the public mind, would, of itself, we think, be considered by our people is of secondary importance; but the recent Presidential election is the inauguration of a system of Government as opposed to the Constitution as it is to our rights and safety. It ushers in, as a settled policy, not only the exclusion of the people of the South from the common Territories of the country, but proposes to impair the value of slave property in the States by unfriendly legislation; to prevent the further spread of slavery by surrounding us with free States; to refuse admission into the Union of another slave State, and by these means to render the institution itself dangerous to us, and to compel us, as slaves increase, to abandon it, or be doomed to a servile war. The establishment alone of the policy of the Republican party, that no more slave States are to be admitted into the Union, and that slavery is to be forever prohibited in the Territories (the common property of the United States), must, of itself, at no distant day, result in the utter ruin and degradation of most, if not all of the Gulf States. Alabama has at least eight slaves to every square mile of her tillable soil. This population outstrips any race on the globe in the rapidity of its increase; and if the slaves now in Alabama are to be restricted within her present limits, doubling as they do once in less than thirty years, the children are now born who will be compelled to flee from the land of their birth, and from the slaves their parents have toiled to acquire as an inheritance for them, or to submit to the degradation of being reduced to an equality with them, and all its attendant horrors. Our people and institutions Must be secured the right of expansion, and they can never submit to a denial of that which is essential to their very existence.

The non-slave-holding States, while declaring that we shall not expand, and that thereby we shall be crushed by our slave population, are charging upon us a design to reopen the African slave trade, and seize upon two or three ineffectual attempts, by Northern vessels to import Africans into Southern ports, as an evidence of the fact. The charge is a slander upon our people, and a reflection upon their intelligence. There may be, here and there, found an advocate for the measure, as there may in every community be found individual advocates of any heresy; but our people, with almost entire unanimity, would reject the proposition as offensive to their sense of propriety and averse to their interests. They feel no desire to depreciate the value of their own property, nor to demoralize their slaves by throwing among them savages and cannibals. They will look, as heretofore, to the redundant slave population of the more Northern of their associated sister States of the South for such additions to their negroes as their wants may require.

The state of opinion and of conduct in the non-slave-holding States, finds no justification or apology, in any general or special direction of Federal Legislation to their injury. On the contrary, such legislation has been greatly to their advantage and prosperity. The benefits that have been conferred upon them in the shape of tariff laws, navigation laws, fishing bounties, land laws, and internal improvement laws, have been important aids to their material prosperity—a prosperity which is, in fact, to a great extent, the result of burdens upon the agricultural interests of the South.

The apologists of the present state of public mind at the North, sometimes maintain that it finds palliation, at least, in the repeal of the Act of 1820, known as the Missouri Compromise—which, in other words, is a complaint that the North can no longer keep in force a law which the Supreme Court of the United States have declared to be unconstitutional. But the well-remembered history of recent events teaches us, that it was the South which, a few years since, endeavored, in a spirit of concessions to extend the line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes to the Pacific Ocean, and the North who refused the offer.

The sectional strife has now been conducted with increasing rancor for more than twenty years, until every question of Government furnishes a theme for its discussion. The Halls of Congress have ceased to be places for statesmen, and have degenerated into arenas for strife. Our people have grown tired of the controversy and can see no good in prolonging the quarrel, and no way to end it in the Union. Submission would but invite new and greater aggressions, until Alabama would become a despised and degraded province. Our people see little hope for the adjustment, within the Union, of questions upon which the public mind of the sections has been driven so wide apart, and discern in the present temper and conduct of the non-slave-holding States, no spirit of atonement for their wrongs, which could offer peace to the country. Indeed, when the plain letter of the law has been so long and persistently violated, they would not rely upon any adjustment short of farther Constitutional guaranties.

Alabama hopes that, among other evils which public affairs have brought, and are bringing upon her, there may not be added that of a divided South. She sets up no rule of action for her sister States, but hopes to obtain their consultation, advice and assistance; and she repeats, through us, her Commissioners, the expression of her fervid desire that North-Carolina may be with her in counsel and in action, and with her in attempting to uphold the principles of liberty which are engrafted into the Constitution of the United States, and in the hearts of her people, and that the States of the South may be enabled to snatch that Constitution, and those principles, from the desecrating touch of fanatical "higher law."

I.W. GARROTT.

ROB’T H. SMITH.