Speech of John Preston to the Virginia Convention
|John S. Preston was born near Abingdon
Virginia, in 1809, and educated at Hampden-Sydney
College, the University of Virginia, and Harvard College.
He began a career as a lawyer in Abingdon, but in 1840
moved to Columbia, South Carolina, then to Louisiana,
where he made a small fortune as a sugar planter. In 1848
Preston returned to South Carolina and entered politics,
serving in the state legislature for eight years and
acquring a reputation as an orator.
Preston was appointed commissioner to Virginia by the South Carolina secession convention. This speech of his to the Virginia convention was delivered on Feb. 19, 1861. The text is taken from the Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, vol. 1, pp. 76-93. The photo is taken from North & South magazine, vol. 4, no. 4 (2001).
During the war Preston served on General Beauregard's staff and eventually was promoted Brigadier General and put in charge of the bureau of conscripton. He died in 1881, thoroughly unreconstructed.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of Virginia:
I have had the honor to present you, sir, and this Convention my credentials, as Commissioner from the Government of South Carolina, and, upon your reception of these credentials, I am instructed by my Government to lay before you the causes which induced the State of South Carolina to withdraw from the Union, and the people of South Carolina to resume the powers which they had delegated to the Government of the United States of America.
In performing this duty, gentlemen, I am not instructed by my Government, nor is it my intention to endeavor to make before you an argument in proof of the right of secession. My State, in its sovereign capacity, assumed that right, and my ministry here is only to lay before you those reasons which she deemed sufficient to enforce upon her the necessity of exercising that right. The very learned and comprehensive argument of my countrymen from Georgia and Mississippi, confine me into a very narrow scope of statement. In laying these causes before you, it will be quite sufficient, as preliminary to this statement, that I should submit for your consideration a few historical facts bearing upon the relations of these States to each other, and to the late Federal Government of the United States.
It will be recollected by all that the British Colonies of North America, save by contiguity of territory, held no nearer political Union with each other than they did with the Colonies under the same Government at remote parts of the empire. They had a common Union, and a common sovereignty in the Crown of Great Britain. But when that Union was dissolved, each colony was remitted to its own ministry as perfectly as if it was separated from the other by the oceans of the empire. But being of joint territory, and having common interests, and having identical grievances against the mother country, the people of these colonies met together, consulted with each other at various times for a long series of years, and in various forms, but, as you may remember, most generally, in the form of a Congress of independent powers. They began their conflict with the mother Government each for itself, and the battles of Lexington, of Bunker Hill, of Fort Moultrie in the colony of South Carolina, and the battle of the Great Bridge in the colony of Virginia-all occurred before their common Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, '76. The Colonies, then in Congress, made a joint declaration of their freedom from Great Britain, of their independence and of their sovereignty.
As. you may remember, gentlemen-for I am now reciting what is present to your memory, with a view to bring it to your consideration, trusting as I may recite it you may discover, what has been certainly running through the minds of my people for years past-finding, that, individually, they could not carry on this contest for independence and sovereignty, they united in certain articles which are known as the Articles of Confederation. In these articles there is the reiteration of the original declaration of the sovereignty and independence of the parts of it. All rights, all powers, all jurisdiction therein delegated produce no limitation upon the ultimate and discretionary sovereignty of the parts of it.
Under these considerations, and with these reservations, they prosecuted the war with the mother country successfully; and when that country recognized their success and their independence, she did so not by the positive recognition of the agency of this Confederation, but in absolute acknowledgment of the independence and the sovereignty of the parts of that agency.
Four years later than this, it became apparent that their alliance was not sufficient for conducting the faculties of peace as it had been for conducting the faculties of war; and the remedies for this insufficiency resulted in that instrument known as the Constitution of the United States of America, and the amendments thereto proposed by the States individually.
Now, gentlemen of Virginia, we all know that in this instrument there is no one clause, no one phrase, no one word which places the slightest limitation, or indicates the slightest transmission of the sovereignty of the parties to that compact. On the contrary, the whole spirit and genius of that instrument goes to recognize itself as a mere agency for the performance of delegated functions, and to recognize the parts of it as the original holders of the sovereignty. In proof of this, the States at various times, under various forms, with a treaty reservation, consented to this compact. Now since that period, of course there has been no legitimated change of the relations of the parts under this compact. On the contrary, all the contemporaneous and juxta-contemporaneous constructions of the instrument, especially that made by the voice of Virginia through Mr. Madison, whom your distinguished President,,[Mr. JANNEY], has characterized as the chief architect of the Constitution, declare the relations of the parts in these words:
"The Constitution of the United States was formed by the sanctions of the States, given by each in its sovereign capacity."
And again, "the States then being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal above this with authority to decide in the last resort whether the compact made by them be violated, and consequently as parties to it, they must decide in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition."
Then, are these questions of sufficient magnitude to require the interposition of sovereignty? Unquestionably, the interpreter means those questions which involve the prerogative of that sovereignty itself, and those were of sufficient magnitude to require its interposition, and such as are of themselves dangerous to the great purposes for which the Constitution was established; and among these great purposes we know there are expressed those of justice, right, equality, general welfare and the blessings of liberty to us and our posterity.
Gentlemen, in these relations of the States to each other and to the Federal Government, the people of South Carolina have assumed that their sovereignty has never been divided; that it has never been alienated; that it is imprescriptibly in its entire; that it has not been impaired by their voluntarily refraining from the exercise of certain functions of sovereignty which they had delegated to another power, and upon this assumption, they contend that in the exercise of this unrestricted sovereignty, and upon the great principle of the right of a sovereign people to govern themselves, even if it involves the destruction of the compact which by its vitiation has become in imminent peril, that they have a right to abrogate their consent to that compact.
I have thus, gentlemen, as rapidly as possible, grouped before you a few facts and principles involved in the action of the State which I represent, and I shall now proceed, with as much rapidity as possible, to exhibit to you the reasons why, upon these facts and these principles, the people of South Carolina have deemed proper to abrogate their consent to the compact of the Constitution of the United States.
As preliminary to this statement, I would say, that as early as the year 1820, the manifest tendency of the legislation of the general government was to restrict the territorial expansion of the slaveholding States. That is very evident in all the contests of that period; and had they been successful to the extent that some hoped, even then, the line that cut off the purchase from France might have been projected eastward to the bottom of the Chesapeake and sent Virginia and half of Tennessee and all of Kentucky, Virginia proper, after she had given to non-slavery her northwestern empire, to the non-slavery section. That might be the line. The policy, however, has been pushed so far as to deprive this Southern section of that line of at least seven-tenths of the valuable acquisitions of the government. Besides this, I would state. as preliminary, that a large portion of the revenue of the government of the United States has always been drawn from duties on imports. Now, the products that have been necessary to purchase these imports, were at one time almost exclusively, and have always mainly been the result of slave labor, and therefore the burden of the revenue duties upon imports purchased by these exports must fall upon the producer who happens also to be the consumer of the imports.
In addition to this, it may be stated, that at a very early period of the existence of this Government, the Northern people, from a variety of causes, entered upon the industries of manufacture and of commerce, but of agriculture scarcely to the extent of self support. This may have arisen from a variety of causes; among them, perhaps, an uncongenial climate, a barren soil, but an alluring sea coast adapted to commerce, besides an inherent tendency upon the part of the people of these latitudes to the arts of manucraft and traffic; and while, therefore, it was important that all the sources of the revenue should be kept up to meet the increasing expenses of the Government, it also manifestly became of great importance that these articles of manufacture in which they have been engaged should be subject to the purchase of their confederates. They, therefore, invented a system of duties partial and discriminating, by which the whole burden of the revenue from this extraordinary system fell upon those who produced the articles of exports which purchased the articles of imports, and which articles of import were consumed mainly, or to a great extent, by those who produced the exports.
Now, the State of South Carolina being at the time one of the largest exporters and consumers of imports, was so oppressed by the operations of this system upon her, that she was driven to the necessity of interposing her sovereign reservation to arrest it, so far as she was concerned. This interposition, together with the rapid spread of the principle of free trade all over the world, did arrest the iniquity in the shape in which it was then presented. It could no longer be the avowed policy of the Government to tax one section for the purpose of building up another. But so successful had been the system; to such an extent had it already, in a few years, been pushed; so vast had been its accumulations of capital; so vastly had it been diffused throughout its ramifications as seemingly to inter-weave the very life of industry itself, in the two sections into each other in the form of mechanics, of manufactures, ships, merchants, and bankers. The people of the Northern States have so crawled and crept into every crevice of our industry which they could approach, and they have themselves so conformed to it, that we ourselves began to believe that they were absolutely necessary to its vitality; and they have so fed and fattened, and grown so great and large as they feed and fatten upon this sweating giant of the South, that with the insolence natural to sudden and bloated wealth and power, they begin to believe that the giant was created only as their tributary.
Now, strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that while they were thus building up their wealth and their power from these sources, step by step, we will see latterly that, with this aggregation of wealth was growing up a determined purpose to destroy the very sources from which it was drawn. I pretend not ta explain this; I refer to it merely as history.
This, gentlemen, brings me directly to the causes which I desire to lay before you. For fully thirty years or more, the people of the Northern States have assailed the institution of African slavery. They have assailed African slavery in every form in which, by our contiguity of territory and our political alliance with them, they have been permitted to approach it.
During that period of thirty years, large masses of their people have associated themselves together for the purpose of abolishing the institution of African slavery, and means, the most fearful were suggested to the subject race-rising and murdering their masters being the charities of those means. In pursuance of this idea, their representatives in the federal government have endeavored by all the means that they could bring to bear, so to shape the legislation as almost to limit, to restrict, to restrain the slaveholding States from any political interest in the accretion of the government. So that as my distinguished colleague [judge Benning], stated to you on yesterday, the decree goes forth that there are to be no more slave States admitted into the Union.
Secondly, then, in pursuance of the same purpose that I have indicated, a large majority of the States of the Confederation have refused to carry out those provisions of the Constitution which are absolutely necessary to the existence of the slave States, and many of them have stringent laws to prevent the execution of those provisions; and eight of these States have made it criminal, even in their citizens to execute these provisions of the Constitution of the United States, which, by the progress of the government, have become now necessary to the protection of an industry which furnishes to the commerce of the Republic $250,000,000 per annum, and on which the very existence of twelve millions of people depends. In not one of these seventeen States can a citizen of one of the fifteen States claim his main property, and in many of them the persons of the citizens of these States have been violated, and in numerous cases the violence has resulted in murder.
Third. The citizens of not less than five of our confederates of the North have invaded the territory of their confederates of the slaveholding States, and proclaimed the intention of abolishing slavery by the annihilation of the slaveholders; and two of these States have refused to surrender the convicted felons to the demand of the invaded States; and one of these-one of the most influential-one, perhaps, recognized as the representative of what is called American sentiment and civilization, has, in its highest solemn form, approved of that invasion; and numbers of people, scattered throughout the whole extent of these seventeen States, have made votive offerings to the memory of the invaders.
Fourth. The most populous, and by far, the most potent of our late confederates, has for years proclaimed, through the federal legislature and by her own sovereign act, that the conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict for life and death. Now, there is the calm, oft-reiterated decree of a State containing three millions of people, conducting four-fifths of the commerce of the Republic, with additional millions diffused through the whole of these 17 States. And many of these States themselves have decreed that the institution of slavery is an offence to God, and, therefore, they are bound by the most sacred attributes which belong to human nature, to exterminate it. They have declared, in their most solemn form, that the institution of slavery, as it exists in the States of their political confederates, is an offence to their social institutions, and, therefore, that it should be exterminated. Finally, acting upon the impulse of their duties of self-protection and self-preservation, majorities, large majorities throughout the whole of these 17 States have placed the executive power of the Federal Government in the hands of those who are bound by the most sacred obligations, by their obligations to God, by their obligations to the social institutions of man, by their obligations of self-protection and self-preservation, to place the system of slavery as it exists in the Southern States upon a course of certain and final extinction. Twenty millions of people, having in their hands one of the strongest Governments on earth, and impelled by a perfect recognition of the most powerful obligations which fall upon man, have declared that the vital interests of eight millions of people shall be exterminated. In other words, the decree, the result of this cumulation which I have endeavored to show you, was inaugurated on the 6th of November last, so far as the institution of slavery is concerned, in the confederates of the Northern non-slaveholding States. That decree is annihilation, and you can make nothing shorter of it.
Now, gentlemen, the people of South Carolina, being a portion of these eight millions of people, have only to ask themselves, is existence worth the struggle? Their answer to this question, I have submitted to you in the form of their Ordinance of Secession.
Gentlemen, I see before me men who have observed all the records of human life, and many, perhaps, who have been chief actors in many of its gravest scenes, and I ask such men if in all their lore of human society they can offer an example like this? South Carolina has 300,000 whites, and 400,000 slaves. These 300,000 whites depend for their whole system of civilization on these 400,000 slaves. Twenty millions of people, with one of the strongest Governments on the face of the earth, decree the extermination of these 400,000 slaves, and then ask, is honor, is interest, is liberty, is right, is justice, is life, worth the struggle?
Gentlemen, I have thus very rapidly endeavored to group before you the causes which have produced the action of the people of South Carolina. Had I endeavored to go into detail of it, it would occupy half the history of this Republic. For half the period of its existence, from the days of the younger Adams to this hour, the untiring and unflinching purpose of the Northern representation in our federal legislation, and of the people of the Northern States, has been first to restrict and restrain the people of the Southern States within the limitations which they have prescribed, then to subsidise, then to destroy. They were baffled, they were checked in one course of this, But with that untiring energy of nature which belongs to them, they soon turned to another. Defeated in this, by the lingering and sturdy fragments of a dying patriotism among themselves, or the pointed resistance of their victims-they have still held on with the fierce grip of avarice, with the mad rage of fanaticism, until it has pleased God to curse them with a triumph which may plunge this continent into civil war, and destroy, perhaps forever, the fairest forms of liberty that ever human philosophy grafted upon the institutions of men.
Now, gentlemen, for one moment look at the other side of the picture. For thirty years, by labor, by protest, by prayer, by warning, by every attribute, by every energy which she could bring to bear, my State has endeavored to avert this catastrophe. For this long series of years in the federal legislature what has been her course? What has been the labor which she has performed? What has been the purpose which she has avowed? Has she not given to this all her intelligence, all her patriotism, all her virtue-and that she had intelligence; that she had patriotism; that she had virtue is in proof, because that marble sits in the hall where the sovereignty of Virginia is consulting upon the rights and honor of Virginia. [Applause.] All this she did in the Federal Government. Failing in this more than a year ago, seeing the storm impending, seeing the waves rising, she sends to this great, this strong, this wise, this illustrious Republic of Virginia, a grave commission, the purport of which, with your permission, gentlemen, I will venture to relate.
"Whereas the State of South Carolina, by her ordinance of A. D. 1852, affirmed her right to secede from the Confederacy whenever the occasion should arise, justifying her, in her own judgment, in taking that step; and in the resolution adopted by her Convention, declared that she forbore the immediate exercise of that right, from considerations of expediency only:
And, whereas, more than seven years have elapsed since that Convention adjourned, and in the intervening time, the assaults upon the institution of slavery, and upon the rights and equality of the Southern States, have unceasingly continued with increasing violence, and in new and more alarming forms be it therefore,
1. Resolved unanimously, That the State of South Carolina, still deferring to her Southern sisters, nevertheless respectfully announces to them, that it is the deliberate judgment of this General Assembly that the slaveholding States should immediately meet together to concert measures for united action.
2. Resolved unanimously, That the foregoing preamble and resolution be communicated by the Governor to all the slaveholding States, with the earnest request of this State that they will appoint deputies, and adopt such measures as in their judgment will promote the said meeting.
3. Resolved unanimously, That a special commissioner be appointed by his Excellency the Governor to communicate the foregoing preamble and resolutions to the State of Virginia, and to express to the authorities of that State the cordial sympathy of the people of South Carolina with the people of Virginia, and their earnest desire to unite with them in measures of common defence."
This, gentlemen, was one year ago and no more. Failing in that effort, the people of South Carolina, for the first time in over 20 years, joined with the political organizations of the day, in the hopes-of deferring the catastrophe. Failing in effecting that through them, she then calmly, as the last hope, for she earnestly, honestly, and with the most anxious solicitude, desired the success of that party which she supposed would defer this catastrophe-cast her vote with that party in the Presidential contest; but failing in this, from the causes I have enumerated, and from the parties I have enumerated as arrayed against her-she then quietly and unostentatiously, without clamor, having asked her sister States, especially having asked Virginia, to unite with her in consultation, passes this act in these few simple words which I shall take the liberty of reading to the Convention:
We, the People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained,
That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention, on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also, all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of "The United States of America," is hereby dissolved.
After this simple act of excision still she has not been satisfied, and now still she is seeking aid, she is seeking counsel, she is seeking sympathy, and, therefore, gentlemen, I am before you here today. Now, gentlemen of Virginia, notwithstanding these facts which I have so feebly grouped before you, notwithstanding this patience which I have endeavored to show you she has practised, my State, throughout this whole land, throughout all Christendom, my State has been charged with rash precipitancy. Is it rash precipitancy to step out of the pathway when you hear the thunder crash of the falling clouds? Is it rash precipitancy to seek for shelter when you hear the gushing of the coming tempest, and see the storm cloud coming down upon you? Is it rash precipitancy to raise your hands to protect your head? [Loud applause.]
Gentlemen of Virginia, never since liberty came into the institutions of man have a people borne with more patience, or forborne with more fortitude than have the people of these Southern States in their relation with their confederates of the North. As long as it was a merely silly fanaticism or a prurient philanthropy that proposed our destruction, we scarcely complained. Even when a long series of unjust, partial and oppressive taxation was grinding us into the very dust of poverty, with one convulsive struggle we bore that happily. Even when a number of our confederate States refused to carry out the provisions of the Constitution, vital to our interests, by municipal and State regulations -even when hordes of their people, under the sanction of these regulations, robbed us of our property and murdered our citizens, and bands of wild fanatics, under the same sanction, invaded slave territory and proclaimed the destruction of slavery by the annihilation of the slaveholder-even when some of our confederates proclaimed in the federal legislature and by their sovereign decrees that we ought to be driven from the civilization in which we lived-even when one of our confederates sought to defame and vilify us before the 'civilized world, we bore all these accumulating calamities, and continued to give them our blood and our treasure to build up the grandeur and maintain the power of that Republic. And, in addition to this, when all that malignant fanaticism, that baffled avarice, that moral turpitude could invent to defame and vilify us, was proposed by the people and by the States of our confederates, still we gave them our blood and sweat and offered them our hands and called them brethren. I draw no fancy picture. I make no declamatory assertion here. There is not one man here who cannot cite twenty cases to fill every item of this category. But when at last this mad fanaticism, this eager haste for rapine, mingling their foul purposes, engendered this fell spirit which has seized the Constitution itself in its most sacred forms and distorted it into an instrument of our instant ruin; why, then, to hesitate one moment longer seems to us not only base cowardice, but absolute fatuity. [Applause.] We felt, in the South, that if we submitted one hour to such a domination as that, we would have merited that destruction which we had earned by our folly and baseness. Tn South Carolina at least, we felt, if there was one son of a South Carolina sire who could give counsel to such submission as this, that there was not a hill side or a plain from Eutaw to the Cowpens, from which the spirit of his venerated sire would not have started forth to shame him from the land which discarded him. [Applause.]
I pray you, gentlemen of Virginia, to pardon me for referring with some particularity to the position of my State in connection with these matters, because she has been much spoken of and not much praised. I am here, gentlemen, as the Commissioner of these people, certainly not their eulogist. I am sent here as I thought mainly because among them I have always, with some pride, proclaimed that I sprang from this soil, and because they believe that I would tell an honest, earnest story of their wrongs and their trials; and if you will permit me, I will still farther allude to it. Never, gentlemen of Virginia, since liberty begun her struggles in the world, has a mightier drama been enacted on the trembling stage of man's affairs or been opened with a spectacle of purer moral sublimity, than that which has been manifested in this revolution in which we are now engaged. Scarcely had this decree of our subjection, to which I call your attention, been borne to our cars on the Northern breeze, than, as if from the very caverns of the earth, there rose up one voice, one voice only, from the people of South Carolina, who shouted back resistance to the death. Their Legislature then in session, caught that spirit, and with one voice, and one voice only, proclaimed resistance to the death. The people of the State again in their sovereign capacity, as you are, with one voice, and one voice only, ordained resistance to the death. And now, gentlemen, there is not, in the borders of that little State, one man from sixteen to sixty who can walk or stand, who is not armed, standing ready to resist to the death. [Applause.] We are very small-very weak-but if war, that fire-storm with which we are threatened, should fall upon us and consume us, hereafter the pilgrim of liberty, perhaps from this State, who may be searching beneath the ruins of Charleston, will find the skeleton of our sentinel standing at every sea gate. [Applause.]
Gentlemen of Virginia, do not believe-do not be persuaded that in taking the steps which we have, we have been forgetful of those things which are cherished among you. We have not been forgetful of the great and hallowed past, nor have we been reckless of our duties to our children. It is our memory of the great and hallowed past, of our sons, of our sacred obligations to our children which has nerved our arms to this act, and no sense of ourselves. For years and years, gentlemen, we have paused, we have hesitated, as I have shown you. We paused, and paused, as we raised the curtain with our own hands ' and gazed back at that great and hallowed past, that fairest temple, as we all thought, in which liberty had ever found a shrine-that which Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Henry, Madison, the Lees, Masons, the Rutledges and the Pinckneys-that conclave of demi-gods -had builded up as a tabernacle for us and our children to dwell in forever, and which they had consecrated by the blood of our own fathers-that which the Father of his Country deemed the palladium of human right-that precious monument and refuge of human hope all over the world. We paused with reverence and pity as we gazed back on all these scenes; and yet, gentlemen, with these hands we have dragged them down to the earth-with these feet we have trampled them out of life-with this breath we have scattered them on the winds of Heaven: and yet we do not tremble. We are not appalled as we gaze on our hands, because those hands are unstained, pure, clear and unterrified as we raise them in confident appeal to the God of justice and of Truth. [Applause.] Armed, then, in this panoply, with calm hearts, with unfaltering step we are ready to drop the curtain and move onward through the coming scenes of this solemn drama.
Gentlemen of Virginia, I believe that these Southern States are no noisy faction clamoring for place and power. They are no hungry rabble ready to answer back in blood to every appeal to their brutal passions. We are no shouting mob ready to take for our government some glittering epigram or some fustian and infidel theory. We are no festering fanatics. With us liberty is not a painted strumpet, drazzling through the streets, nor does our truth need to build itself in pools of blood. We are a calm, grave, deliberate and religious people, the holders of the most majestic civilization and the inheritors, by right, of the fairest estate of liberty. Fighting for that liberty, fighting for our fathers' graves, standing athwart our hearth-stones and before our chamber doors, for days and weeks the people of our little State stood alone-that little State around whose outermost border the guns fired at her capital might almost be heard; whose little scope of skv was so small that scarce one star had space to glitter in it. So small, so few, we begun this fight alone against millions; and had you piled millions upon millions, under God, in this fight we should have triumphed. [Applause.] But that God, gentlemen, cares for his people-cares for liberty, and right, and justice-and we are no longer alone. Very soon our own children from Florida and Alabama answer back to the maternal call, and our great sister, Georgia, marshaled forth her giant offspring; and from the grave of the gallant Quitman, on the banks of the Mississippi, there came forth his well-known clarion tones, [applause]; and Louisiana proved her paternity in the appeal of liberty; and now young Texas has raised her giant form and marches to the right of this majestic column of confederated sovereignties. [Applause.] Ah, gentlemen of Virginia, wherever outside of the borders of Virginia, the voice of a son of Virginia has spoken in this fight, it too has been known, because he spoke in the ancient tongue of his mother. [Applause.] 1, one of the humblest of her sons, told my countrymen, that before the spring grass grows long enough to weave one chaplet of victory, they will hear the sound as of the tramp of a mighty host of men, and they will see floating before that host the banner whose whole history is one blaze of glory, and not one blot of shame. [Applause.] Aye, they will hear coming up from that host one voice like their own, but it will be the resounding echo of that voice which has thundered into the hearts of your God-like sires-"give me liberty, or give me death!" [Applause.] And on that banner will be written the unsullied name of Virginia. [Applause.]
Gentlemen of Virginia, have I promised too much for our mother? To suggest a doubt, would be more than blasphemy. I believe she will come. I believe she will take her place which she has held for one hundred years-the foremost of all the world in the ranks of liberty and of justice. [Applause.] The world knows her history, and knows no history above it in the niche of fame-and, knowing that history, none dare doubt where Virginia will be when her own offspring, and liberty and justice, call her to the fight. [Applause.]
Mr. President, I fear that I am deluded by the scene and place to go beyond my intention; but yet, with your permission, and that of the Convention, I shall ask to steal a few more minutes of your time. I have endeavored thus far, although perhaps somewhat erratically, to confine myself specifically to the question in hand of my own mission. And in connection with that, gentlemen, if you will permit me, I will take a few moments of your time, and will assume your permission, while I endeavor to exhibit to the Convention some of the reasons which the people of my State deemed as fundamental causes why there can never again be a re-construction of the late Federal Union. The truth seems evident, gentlemen, to every mind which dares to speculate advisedly upon the principles of this revolution through which we are now passing, that these principles do involve irreconcilable differences between the systems on which slave and non-slaveholding communities may be calculated upon as enduring.
Now, we believe that these diversities pertain to every attribute pervading the whole of these two systems, and we therefore believe that this revolution, with this separation, with this disintegration, is not a mere accident; that it is not the mere casual result of a temporary cause; that it is not a mere evanescent bubble of popular error or irritation; that it is not a mere dream of philosophy, and that it is not the achievement of personal or individual ambition. We believe, gentlemen, that it has a far profounder cause than all this. We believe that it is not only a revolution of material necessity, but that it is a revolution resulting from the profoundest convictions, ideas, sentiments, and moral and intellectual necessities of earnest and intelligent men. We believe that it is not only the never-dying struggle between the freedom of labor and the despotism of power, but that it is that still sterner conflict which shivered Greece, and disintegrated the huge and solid armies of Rome; that conflict which gathers into its contending armies not only all the necessities, but all the customs, all the laws, all the intelligence, all the sentiments, all the passions, which constitute the civilization of man. We therefore believe, that although you may centralize a coercing power at the city of Washington, stronger than the Proetorian band when the eagles of Rome soared from Leuconia to the Caucasus, you can no more coalesce the people of Virginia and the people of Vermont, the people of the St. Lawrence and the people of the Gulf of Mexico, the people of the Rio Grande and the people of the Hudson, than could Rome make one coalition of the Gaul, the Briton and the Tonian. No community of laws, no community of language, of religion, can amalgamate, according to -our faith, people whose severance is proclaimed by the most rigid requisitions of universal necessity. African slavery cannot exist at the North. The South cannot exist without African slavery. [Applause.] None but an equal race can labor at the North; none but a subject race will labor at the South.
Now, for these reasons and for others, perhaps, we believe that the political socialisms of these two systems, of these two sections, have assumed shapes so diverse, that their continuity of action is an absolute impossibility. Only to cite one or two instances, gentlemen, for I am only making these suggestions for your consideration: At the North, in the free States, the pure, the simple, the isolated, the exclusive, the absolute principle upon which all political and social organism is constructed, is that of a pure Democracy, saving a scarcely reconcilable modification in the shape of a vague and indefinite system of representation. There can be no other principle introduced into the Northern socialisms, save this, in its utmost and extremest intensity. It is the vitalizing principle; it is the breath of life to the Northern institution. The almighty power of numbers, of simple physical numbers, from one to countless millions, is the sole basis of political and social agreement in the Northern States. Now, a fearful manifestation exists at this moment. Here is the Government of the United States, as we all I-,now, established for the protection of all parties equally, and yet, by the accession of this number, that Government has limited a section of the parties territorially. That Government has unduly taxed a section of the parties. That Government has threatened with immenent peril, if not with instant destruction, parts and sections of the parties to it, and the people and the States North are at this moment consulting together whether, by the mere power of numbers, they shall not subjugate parties to this Government. Now, the modification of this principle at the South is so essential, that it cannot co-exist with the same principle in its unrestricted form as I have exhibited at the North. At the South it is modified, it is controlled, it is made absolutely subject. The recognition of a specific property is essential to the vitalization of the political organism. Now, this indicates that the instant you engraft one of these rules into the forms of the other section, that instant the section which you have invaded perishes. If you institute property as an element of Northern political or social organism, you destroy the whole system which exists at the North. If you exclude it from the South, you subvert the whole system on which the Southern civilization exists.
Now, gentlemen, there is another which we regard as of more weight, more potential, by far, than either territorial or geographical segregation-that of political and social diversity; and that comes of the profound sentiment, the moral and religious sentiment, exhibiting itself in its religious form-that profound sentiment which pervades the people of both these sections, having arrayed itself on the sides of these sections. We know-we cannot conceal it from ourselves at this moment if we dare contemplate it-that this cause of diversity is at this moment arraying itself in forms as bloody as it has ever exhibited since Christ came upon the earth, and its representative, the Church, has already, and is daily keeping her arm bare for this conflict. Already her drawn sword is flashing in the twilight of fanaticism, and the world knows that where that sword cuts asunder, no human surgery can re-unite the wound. But, gentlemen, we cannot conceal it from ourselves one moment longer-there is not a Christian man, a slaveholder, in this assembly who does not feel in his inmost heart as a Christian, that the point of this sword of the church is at this moment dripping with the last blood of sympathy which bound him to his Christian brethren of the North. They set the lamb of God between our seed and their seed.
Now, gentlemen, from this and other repellant diversities, we believe, and have so acted, that the political union is an unnatural and monstrous one, and, therefore, that its offspring must be abortive or fruitless, save of that brood of evils which always come from such unnatural unions. We believe, gentlemen, that it is a perfectly natural and reasonable deduction, that from these diversities there have arisen these differencies of construction of principles and parties of our political confederation,- which has so early in the period of its existence, as we are in the habit of terming it, converted a government of popular consent into a government of force-which has driven from it seven sovereign States and five millions of people; which has enabled that government in the face of the people of Virginia to keep loaded bomb-shells for sixty days ready to be fired upon the women and children of Charleston, and which in less than sixty days will have the refuse of New York and Boston, re-enacting at Portsmouth and Hampton the scenes of 1813. No, gentlemen, where these conventional and natural diversities are, the conflict is for life, subjugation-and that conflict is upon you. Now, you are very strong, gentlemen of Virginia, and you own an empire. You are advanced in the arts of civilization; you are strong, powerful and skillful, and you may conjoin remote oceans. You may, by your force and art drag down your mountain tops, fill up your valleys; you may encircle the earth with your canals and your iron bands; you may pull down civil dynasties and religions, and re-build upon their ruins forms of liberty and faith; but I tell you, there is no human force, there is no essay of human art, there is no sanctity of human touch that can re-unite the people of the North and the people of the South. [Applause.] No, gentlemen, never, never, until you unfix by your power, your art and your virtue the unchangeable economy of the Eternal God. When you have done that, you may make one people of the people of the North and the people of the South. A profound instinct of these diversities is at this moment enforcing upon the people of the Southern States the necessity of this recognition-and they are building up their institutions at this time. The same profound instinct is operating upon the people of the Northern States, and they are at this moment manifesting this by preparation with the aid of expiring, crumbling powers and the agents of anti-slavery, known as the army and navy of the United States. With these aids and weapons in their hands, they are recognizing the absolute existence of these diversities.
I believe, gentlemen of Virginia, that the question which you now have to decide is whether you, the representatives of the sovereignty, the power, the glory, the hope of Virginia, will be content like a modern Egyptian to skulk for protection beneath the crumbling fragments of an ancient greatness, and under the scourge of a haughty but mean task-master, or whether you will step forth and hush this storm of war and keep the ancient glory of your name. [Applause.] Gentlemen, the people and State of South Carolina, in the language of its various compacts with its confederates, have declared that they have never parted with their sovereignty or their independence; that they had a right to exercise that sovereignty and according to their will; that they did, in connection with their confederates, establish an agency for the formation of a government; that that government has failed of its purpose, and, therefore, that they are justified in abolishing it, and establishing another. She has therefore, gentlemen, ordained, as I have read to you, and has maintained that ordinance for a reasonable time, by arms, that political connection with the Government of the United States is dissolved. The admitted rule on which she has made this declaration, I have copied, for the purpose of reading to you:
"That a violation of a perfect right, either committed or committing, or with which a people is threatened in the future, justifies the undertaking of war-amicable means having been tried in vain. When it is evident that it would be useless to try such means, justice requires a resort to arms."
Therefore, the people of South Carolina contend that justice has required of them a resort to arms, in the protection of a principle of right. She has maintained this position, as I have indicated to you, a reasonable time. She has maintained it against falsehood and prejudice; she has maintained it until six sovereign States have come to her aid, and have formed a Government which the six have announced to the world by the eminent and patriotic citizen who has been put in charge of the Executive department of that Government. She has maintained this position '[the State of South Carolina], until this government has been formed, in which there can be no cause for doubt, that the courage and patriotism of the people of the confederate States will be found equal to any measures of defence which our honor and security may require. Farther obstacles may retard the progress of that government, but they cannot 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 posterity; and with that continuance of his favor ever gratefully acknowledged, we will hopefully look forward to success, peace and prosperity
Now, gentlemen of Virginia, believing the interests involved and the rights violated to be identical with the interests and the rights of Virginia, and remembering their ancient motto and their common glory, the people of South Carolina have ordered me to ask and urge that the people of Virginia will unite with her and her confederates in the protection of those rights and those interests.
I have now performed this, my mission, and have only, in the name of my government, to return to this Convention my earnest acknowledgement of the honorable courtesy with which it has accepted my mission. On my own behalf, gentlemen, accept my sincere and honest thanks, I should say my deprecating thanks, for the kindness, courtesy and patience with which you have listened to the delivery of this mission. [Long and continued applause.]