A Letter from Congressman John Reagan of Texas

The following is a portion of a letter of U.S. Representative John H. Reagan of Texas (later to be the Postmaster General of the CSA). Reagan was a southern Democrat, but he was a rather moderate one. His moderation almost caused him to lose the re-nomination to his Congressional seat in 1859. As can be seen from his statements below, he was (at this time) a Co-operationist rather than an Immediate Secessionist, since he preferred a convention of all the southern states prior to secession. This text was provided to me by Justin Sanders, and is taken from the Marshall, TX, Texas Republican, Nov. 3rd, 1860. The image of Reagan was supplied by Dave Smith.

The letter was written on Oct. 19th, 1860, in response to a query asking (among other things): "Do you think that the election of Lincoln would be, of itself, sufficient cause to dissolve the Union, or to resist his inauguration? And would you [join] in such attempt at secession or resistance?"

To your... interrogatory I answer: that Lincoln stands before the country the representative of the anti-slavery ideas and agitators of the times-- that his election or defeat must rest alone upon the people of the free States to carry out those ideas and to execute the purposes of the agitators, or to repudiate those ideas and arrest that agitation. The one idea of opposition to negro slavery brought the republican party into existence, and holds it together. His election by a purely sectional vote of the people of the free States would pledge his administration and party and section to carry out the doctrines upon which he was run and would be elected. The doctrines of his party, are that negro slavery, as it exists with us, is religiously, morally, socially, and politically wrong. It is proclaimed by the great leaders of that party, by its political conventions, by its ministers of the Gospel, and by every other means they have of giving currency and importance to the declaration, that it is its mission to abolish slavery in the Union. Their legislation in most of the free States, and their efforts at legislation in Congress, prove that the Federal Constitution presents no barrier to the accomplishment of their purpose, where they have the power to override and disregard its provisions. They are pledged to exclude slavery from the common Territories, to abolish it in the District of Columbia, in the Forts, Dock Yards, &c., and to prevent the inter-State slave trade. They have no power over this question in the States where it exists. The Federal Constitution recognizes our right of property in slaves in the common Territories, in the District of Columbia, and in the Forts, Dock Yards, &c. The Constitution confers no power on Congress or any other political body to interfere with or destroy that right of property. The successful application of the republican doctrines would violate the plain specific provisions of the Federal Constitution in several particulars. They would strike down the sovereignty and equality of the States by denying them the right to regulate and control their own domestic institutions in their own way. They would take away and destroy our right of property in negro slaves in the Territories, in the District of Columbia, &c., in violation of that provision of the Constitution which declares that no citizen shall be deprived of his property except by due process of law, and another which declares that private property shall not be taken for public uses without just compensation. They deny the equality of the people of the slaveholding with those of the non- slaveholding States, in respect to their rights to go into and occupy the common Territories so long as they remain in a Territorial condition, with their negro property, recognized as such by the Constitution and declared to be such by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Constitution of the United States was made by white men, the citizens and representatives of twelve slaveholding and one non-slaveholding State; and it was made for white men. It denied the right of citizenship to the negro race whether bond or free, and recognized them as property when they are held in bondage. The people of the Southern States now own near five millions of these negroes, and they are worth to them near three millions of dollars. They constitute an important element in society as well as the wealth of the Republic, and are the chief producers of more than two-thirds of the foreign exports of the Union. They are and ever have been, under all circumstances, and probably ever will be, incapable of free self-government. They are now more intelligent, better fed, better clothed, and more contented and happy than any other equal number of that race in any other part of the world, whether bond or free. The success of the republican doctrines would liberate among us this large number of negroes, would strike down our agriculture and commerce, involve us inevitably in a war of races, which would result in the murder of many of the white race of all ages and of both sexes, and in the burning and destruction of a large amount of property, and in the ultimate extermination of the negro race among us. The success of those doctrines would also subvert the Federal Constitution, change the character of the Federal Government, and destroy our rights in respect to slavery. And all this would be done to gratify the passions, and prejudices, and malice of the party of which Mr. Lincoln is the head and representative in this contest, and not because of any pretence even that they have any material or political rights involved in the question.

Some of the recent evidence of the ultimate purposes of the republican party may be found in the fact that Senators and Representatives in Congress, sixty odd in number, and republican Governors and Legislators of States-- leading republican Editors and republican preachers-- endorsed within the last year and sent forth the Helper Book, with its recommendations of treason, blood, and carnage as a proper campaign document for that party, and that John Brown and his followers attempted to put its bloody doctrines into full operation in the State of Virginia.

Looking at these facts, and others which I will not now present; I am bound to conclude that the doctrines of the republican party are unconstitutional, unjust, cruel to both races, revolutionary and destructive of the best interests of the South as well as of the Union, and that the election of Lincoln would be the success of a revolution which must destroy our present constitutional Government, and with it our rights, equality, and security as a people. So regarding his election, I am for resisting it, in case it should occur, by the best and most effective means which can be adopted by the States to be injured; and of adopting such a course as will secure our rights, in the Union if we can, but out of it if we must. Every instinct of self preservation demands of us to demand and insist on this security, and to obtain it peaceably if we can, and if reason and peaceful means should fail, then it is equally our duty to maintain our rights by all the means which God and nature have placed at our command.

The plan of action which I would recommend to meet such an emergency is this: that if Lincoln should be elected as soon as that fact shall be ascertained, for the Governors of all the slaveholding States to convene the Legislatures at once for the purpose of enabling them by law, to provide for State conventions. And that those State conventions should provide for a general convention of delegates from all the States aggrieved. And that this general convention should submit to the free States, propositions requiring a renewal of the original guarantees of the constitution in favor of our rights in such specific form as to settle forever the question as to the extent and character of the rights of the slave States and of the owners of slave property. One of the conditions should be that we would not continue our political connection with any State which would not repeal all of its laws intended to hinder the recapture of fugitive slaves; another should be to demand an equal participation in the settlement and occupation of the common territory, and a safe guarantee for the admission of future slave States into the Union; another should be the suspension of the agitation of the question about abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia; in the Forts, Dock yards, &c.; and another that the inter- State slave trade should not be interfered with by Congress. If they would agree to these, we should remain in the Union and support and cherish it as heretofore. If they should refuse these guarantees, then my judgement is, that we should form a separate confederacy of such States as would unite in the movement.

If the Southern States would adopt this course promptly, I believe the free States would renew these guarantees of the constitution to us; and upon such an issue crush out and annihilate abolitionism, and that the Union of the States would be preserved. But if I am mistaken in this, then their refusal to do so would assure us of our fate if we should remain in their power, and warn us of the necessity of self preservation.

I indicate this as the plan which meets my approval, but will, if the emergency shall arise, agree to such other plan, if this be not the best, as may be adopted by the people of the South, to resist the establishment of the doctrines of the republican party. I have thought this would be the best, because it would rest on the will of the people, and be supported by the authority of State sovereignty, acting in support of their own reserved rights and powers, and maintaining the rights of their people against palpable and dangerous violations of the Constitution.

If we fail to adopt some such course, on the happening of such a contingency, and adopt the timid and foolish policy of compromising away our rights for the sake of peace, no one can doubt the early and complete abolition of slavery, and the visitation upon us of all the calamities which must follow such a result.

I fear the evil day is upon us, and believe duty and patriotism alike require us to face the danger and prepare to avert it.

I may be excused for adding, for myself, that I am one of those who have clung to every reasonable hope for the Union. That I have resisted as I am still ready to do, every measure which I supposed would endanger it, whether proposed in the North or the South, without enquiring for the consequences to myself. I clung steadfastly to the hope that the democratic party would maintain its nationality and preserve the Constitution and the Union. But unbridled ambition, preferring self to country, and appealing to the freesoil sentiment of the Northern wing of the party, has destroyed its unity if not its nationality, and with it, there is but too much reason to fear, prepared the way for the separation of the States.