Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy
By Henry Alexander White

CHAPTER IV.

SECESSION AND SLAVERY.
1860.

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER IV.

ARLINGTON IN 1860

THE hour was now at hand which compelled Robert E. Lee to resign his commission in the army of the United States. The public and private reasons that controlled him in this withdrawal from a service of thirty-two years can be clearly stated only in a review of the political theory of secession and the social problems connected with the institution of slavery. The beginning of this long story, which shall here be made brief, calls us back again to the era of the first war with England.

In the prosecution of active warfare during the Revolution, the legislatures of the thirteen individual colonies furnished the men and the revenue necessary to organise the American armies. Delegates from each colonial legislature were sent to Philadelphia as members of the central advisory committee, known as the Continental Congress; this Congress had no general authority to make laws, but, as a diplomatic body, it made recommendations to the legislative bodies in the separate colonies. The war itself was inaugurated for the maintenance of the sovereign authority of the thirteen separate colonial legislatures against the assumed authority of the British Parliament.* A legal bond was at length formulated, organising the thirteen States into a confederacy styled “The United States of America.” It was expressly stipulated in Article II. that “Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” Article III. specified that “the said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other,” while Article IV. spoke of perpetuating “mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States.” In the determination of questions in the Congress of the League, it was provided that “each State shall have one vote.” These Articles of Confederation were not adopted by all the States until the year of Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, 1781. Two years later, 1783, peace was established with England through a Treaty which began as follows: “His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, to be free, sovereign, and independent States.” The fifth article of this Treaty of Peace contained the agreement, “that the Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective States to provide for the restitution” of all property confiscated from the Tories. This recommendation was made by the Congress, and flatly rejected by the legislatures of the States. The Tories did not receive the stipulated compensation, because of the sovereign authority asserted and exercised by the people of the individual Commonwealths.

[Note] * The Declaration of Independence did not assert independence for the colonies as a unit. Under special authority from their legislatures, the delegates from twelve colonies concurred in pledging mutual support in maintaining separate independence.

The binding force of the Articles of Confederation grew weaker by degrees. When the common enemy had been overthrown, the separate States became more jealous than ever of their individual sovereignty. Adjoining States collected custom-house duties from one another, and began fierce quarrels about boundary lines. In 1786, loud threats of secession from the League were made in New England and in the South. In the same year Rhode Island did actually secede from the Confederacy, and withdrew her delegates from the Congress. Delegates from the other twelve States met at Philadelphia in 1787 and drew up a new series of Articles which were submitted to the separate States upon the basis specified in Article VII.: “The ratification of the Conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.“ Legislative powers were granted in this Constitution to a Congress consisting of a House of Representatives chosen proportionately by “the people of the several States,“ and a Senate composed of “two Senators from each State.” The executive power was vested in a President to be chosen by electors appointed, proportionately, by “each State”; each separate body of electors was directed to meet and cast ballot “in their respective States.”

The year 1788 saw these Articles ratified by eleven States, and in the following year the Federal Government began to operate throughout these States upon the basis of a secession from the Articles of Confederation of 1781. Virginia distinctly reserved the right to withdraw from the new league, if the compact should be perverted to her injury; this same reservation was implied in the method of ratification followed by the other Commonwealths. The first Federal Congress decided that the duties levied on imports from foreign countries must be imposed on goods from North Carolina and Rhode Island. In the seventh month after the inauguration of the Federal Union, North Carolina voluntarily entered the compact as the twelfth State, November 21, 1789. Just at the close of Washington’s first year as President, Rhode Island sought admission to the Federal household, May 29, 1790. This little Commonwealth had held herself entirely aloof from the other States since her secession in 1786. The political sentiment of this entire period of the establishment of the Federal Constitution, held each State to be the self-governing member of a league of Commonwealths organised for the purposes of mutual defence and mutual intercourse.

The first serious attempt to fasten a different construction upon the Constitution was made by the Federalist party about ten years after the inauguration of the Federal Government. In 1798, the Administration of John Adams followed the example offered by England, and passed the Alien and Sedition laws. The Sedition Law declared it a punishable crime to publish any malicious charge against the Federal Government or any part thereof. The Alien Law gave authority to the President to arrest or exile any alien whom he should consider dangerous to the country. These laws lodged great power in the hands of Congress and the President, and they were executed after the manner of political persecution. Legitimate pamphlets of the political sort were adjudged by Federal officials to be criminal libels. In the same year, 1798, were issued the resolutions of the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures, prepared respectively by Madison and Jefferson, denouncing these laws as contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Both resolutions affirmed that the Constitution was a “compact” between the States; that these sovereign Commonwealths had reserved the right to restrain the creature of the compact, the Federal Government, from assuming any powers not expressly granted to it. In the election of the year 1800, a great wave of popular approval swept Jefferson’s party into power; the effort at centralisation had thus far met naught but disaster.

When Jefferson made the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon in 1803, in the form of a treaty ratified by the Senate, a clearly developed spirit of sectionalism at once manifested itself. The people of the Southern States believed that the development of the western territory both north and south depended upon the free navigation of the Mississippi. Immediate action was necessary; there was not time to follow Jefferson’s suggestion of an amendment to the Constitution; they therefore supported the treaty that secured the western bank of the great river. On the other hand, the Federalists of New England opposed the treaty, not merely on Constitutional grounds, but on the further ground expressed by Tracy of Connecticut, that the admission of prospective States from the Louisiana territory would result in “absorbing the Northern States and rendering them insignificant in the Union.” This Eastern opposition to the treaty grew into a strong spirit of separatism, and in 1804 the air was full of serious threats from the New England Federalists that they would secede from the Federal Union and organise a Northern Confederacy. When Jefferson’s Administration passed the Embargo Act in 1807, it proved a failure because of the refusal of the people east of the Hudson River to obey its provisions. This resistance went to such length that the Massachusetts Legislature, February 1, 1809, issued an official call of the commercial States to send delegates to a convention to consider the union of the Eastern Commonwealths against the Federal Government. The movement was checked by the repeal of the Embargo.

The opposition party became more determined under Madison’s regime. A few months before the declaration of war against England, Josiah Quincy on the floor of Congress, thus made resistance to the bill granting statehood to Louisiana: “If this bill passes, it is my deliberate opinion that it is virtually a dissolution of this Union; that it will free the States from their moral obligation; and, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, definitely to prepare for a separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must.” Not from any quarter was denial made of the right of secession thus boldly announced. The war-measure of 1812 added fuel to the flame, and New England proceeded to carry threats into active resistance to the Federal Government.

The call of the Secretary of War for the militia of the States met blunt refusal from the Governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The Assembly of the latter State sustained its Executive in a formal address which denounced the war and declared Connecticut to be a free, sovereign, and independent State, and that the United States was not a national but a confederated republic. President Madison was held up as an invader of the State’s authority over her militia. The highest court of Massachusetts gave sanction to this view, and the three States furnished none of the sinews of war. The burden of public defence fell upon the South and West. The campaigns in Canada failed, but New England did not come to Madison’s help. While the mounted riflemen of Kentucky were assembling for the onset which gained the victory of the Thames in the North-west; while the fierce soldiery of Tennessee were burnishing their mountain rifles to teach Packenham’s veterans their first lesson of defeat at New Orleans, the people of New England were permitting a British force to hold without resistance the territory of Maine. In the very midst of the deadly struggle, while the Southern States were voting men and money for the war, Vermont’s Executive was recalling troops sent by his predecessor, and the Massachusetts lawmakers were holding aloof with the declaration that New England had been totally excluded from a share in the Federal Government. From the mountains of New Hampshire there came also to President Madison, a memorial which ran, in part, as follows: “If a separation of the States ever should take place, it will be on some occasion when some portion of the country undertakes to control, to regulate, and to sacrifice the interest of another.”

Secession became the sentiment of the hour in the East as the war dragged itself onward. “The flag of five stripes” was the cry that arose in New England when the stars and stripes were going down before the colours of Britain. The Federalists of New York made response to this call by offering as a toast, the Northern Confederacy, with its boundary “the Delaware, the Susquehanna, or the Potomac.”

As the year 1814 drew near its end, with the Federal Government on the verge of bankruptcy and the flames enkindled by the British consuming the Capitol at Washington, delegates from the New England States were assembling in the Hartford Convention. Nullification had not brought satisfaction to the Federalists. Secession must be formally considered. The scheme that had now grown ripe presented two alternative courses; either the long-cherished Northern Confederacy must be established, or, as the Massachusetts legislature suggested, there must be made “a radical reform in the national compact” by a convention representing all the States in the Union. At Hartford, December 15, 1814, the ablest and most influential men of New England met together to express their hostility to Madison’s Administration. The resolutions passed by the Hartford Convention asserted the State’s right of “interposition” against the Federal Government, and “were so framed,” says Roosevelt, “as to justify seceding, or not seceding, as events turned out.” Harrison Gray Otis at once proceeded toward Washington to take note of times and seasons, whether the hour had yet come for leading New England out of the Union. News of the treaty of peace with England turned Otis back, and the attempt was made to draw a veil over the proceedings at Hartford.

The decade following the peace of 1814 saw the widening of the gulf between the agricultural and commercial sections of the Federal Union. The next issue which thrust itself between them was the question of a tax on imported merchandise.

The South from the first paid the largest share of the expenses of the Federal Government, because she sent out the great bulk of American exports. After 1824, the protective tariff-law aided in binding a yet heavier public burden upon her. In that year the wool-growers of the West joined hands with the wool-workers of the Middle and Northern States to fasten Henry Clay’s protective system upon foreign traffic. At once New England, whose representatives had opposed the earlier tariffs, left her ships on the sand, to begin the work of multiplying looms and spindles, and to advocate a heavier tax on foreign goods in the interest of home manufactures. In 1828, the West cast her vote with the North to pass a tariff-law still more burdensome to the South, but in the same year the West supported the South in giving more than two thirds of the electoral vote to the hero of New Orleans. In 1830 the West drew further apart from the North in regard to the sale of public lands, and in a moment the halls of Congress were ablaze with the debate over the tariff, the building of new States, and nullification.

The sectional wrestle began in the Senate over Foot’s [Connecticut] resolutions, December, 1829, to abridge the sale of public lands in the West. Benton of Missouri leaped to his feet to charge New England with long-continued hostility toward the West, and declared this measure a blow aimed against the growth of that section. Hayne of South Carolina came to Benton’s aid by holding up the second resolution of the Hartford Convention, which demanded some provision “for restraining Congress in the exercise of an unlimited power to make new States.” Hayne charged New England with the design of consolidating the Government in order to administer public affairs in the sole interest of the North. He claimed that the South was contending for the true intent of the Federal Constitution, in her opposition to the unjust tariff of 1828, and that she might desire to practice the theory of nullification so often exhibited in the conduct of New England. Webster, in reply, laboured long to show that nullification had never found foothold in New England! “No public man of reputation ever advanced it in Massachusetts,” cried Webster, in utter forgetfulness of the formal action of the Massachusetts legislature. In opposition to nullification as a governmental theory, he brought forward the claim of original consolidation. He affirmed that the Federal Constitution of 1787 was not a compact between the States, but an instrument adopted by the American people as one great body-politic. Webster’s address was a master-piece of fervid eloquence. The spirit of the man himself wasaglow with patriotic earnestness, but his biographer, Henry Cabot Lodge, makes the following admissions concerning the two lines of argument:

Unfortunately the facts were against him [Webster] in both instances. When the Constitution was adopted by the votes of the states at Philadelphia and accepted by the votes of States in popular Conventions, it is safe to say that there was not a man in the country from Washington and Hamilton on the one side, to George Clinton and George Mason on the other, who regarded the new system as anything but an experiment entered upon by the States and from which each and every State had the right peaceably to withdraw; a right which was very likely to be exercised.

Against the recent tariff-statutes the people of South Carolina entered solemn protest in the form of an ordinance of nullification, November, 1832. Before the ordinance became operative, the tariff was reduced by Clay’s compromise measure. The fierce commercial wrestle, however, indicated the complete separation of the old Federal Union into two hostile sections. Into the arena of debate between the two divided peoples was thrust the question of slavery in this same year, 1832.

The institution of slavery in the South was a vast labour-system. Under that system, the negro was registered as a member of a patriarchal household; day by day the habits of African savagery were purged from his life by the power of law, represented in the will of his master. The State laws were severe on crimes committed by negroes; but any abuse of servants was prohibited by statute. Self-interest restrained harsh masters from cruelty, and a wholesome public sentiment enforced the practice of kindness toward the quiet wards of the plantation. Cruelty was the exception. Not often was the lash used; not often were negro families separated by sale, except as penalty for misdemeanor, or in the distribution of estates to heirs or to creditors. The system produced no paupers and no orphans; food and clothing the negro did not lack; careful attention he received in sickness, and, without a burden the aged servants spent their closing days. The plantation was an industrial school where the negro gradually acquired skill in the use of tools. A bond of affection was woven between Southern masters and servants which proved strong enough in 186i–’65 to keep the negroes at voluntary labour to furnish food for the armies that contended against military emancipation. In the planter’s home the African learned to set a higher value upon the domestic virtues which he saw illustrated in the lives of Christian men and women; for, be it remembered, the great body of the slaveholders of the South were devotees of the religious faith handed down through pious ancestors from Knox, Cranmer, Wesley, and Bunyan. With truth, perhaps, it may be said than none other economic system before or since that time has engendered a bond of personal affection between capital and labour so strong as that established by the institution of slavery.

Slowly upward toward a fitness for citizenship this mild servitude was lifting the negro, but only at the expense of Southern prosperity. Slavery was a blight upon the economic development of the South; it repressed inventive talent, it paralysed Anglo-Saxon energy, and it left hidden in the earth the South ‘s material resources. As a system of labour, slavery secured slight service; harvests wer^ not abundant in proportion to the vast acreage, mines were not opened, forests were not felled, railroads were not constructed, and factories were not established. From an early date a large proportion of the Southern slave-holders desired to cast off the burden, but the problem ever arose: “What shall be done with the emancipated serf?”

It must not be forgotten that the commercial greed of England fastened the black race upon the American colonies against the vigorous protests of the colonial assemblies. Many of the English sovereigns made investments in slave-ships. John Wesley advocated the purchase of slaves for the colony of Georgia, in order that they might there hear the Gospel. In 1776, slavery existed in all the thirteen commonwealths, and at the close of the Revolution more than half a million Africans were dwelling side by side with three million Americans. The Virginia statesmen saw danger in this juxtaposition of two diverse races, and they led a crusade against the foreign slave-traffic. Into the Federal Convention this war was carried, but there New England voted with South Carolina and Georgia to leave the African trade as a stain upon the country for twenty years longer. The Constitution further recognised the institution by adding three fifths of the numberof slaves to the white population as the basis of each State’s representation in Congress, and by the provision for the return of fugitive slaves.

Unto the ships of New England the slave-carrying trade was transferred after the Revolution. Even before that war, her skippers had taken cargoes of rum from Cape Cod and Narragansett to exchange for flesh and blood on the coast of Africa. Fresh impetus was now given to this kind of barter. Wealth was rapidly heaped up in Rhode Island through the traffic of her fleet of slave vessels. Gradually the negroes of Northern masters were sent to the Southern markets, and thus were the Southern States filled up with the alien race.

From the beginning, the Virginians had scented danger. In the opening years of the new century, they began to look with alarm upon the increasing multitude of unenlightened negroes. To them it was a colossal race-problem; not the mere question of the patriarchal relation of master and servant, but the presence of a barbarous race in the heart of Anglo-Saxon commonwealths. Mere emancipation from serfdom did not seem to these statesmen an adequate remedy; emancipation on a small scale was attempted by individuals, but the last state of the free negroes in the South, as well as in the North, was worse than the first state. The complete removal of the negroes appeared to them the only course of treatment that could touch the sources of the malady; they feared even greater evils from the tribes of emancipated Africans within the States. It was Patrick Henry who said, “Much as I deplore slavery, I see that prudence forbids its abolition.” Marshall declared that abolition would not remove the evils caused by the negro’s presence. Jefferson deplored the danger to the stability of the Republic, and advocated the foreign colonisation of the African. The views of all these Southern leaders were set forth by Henry Clay in 1829 as follows: “If we were to invoke the greatest blessing on earth which Heaven, in its mercy, could now bestow on this nation, it would be the separation of the two most numerous races of its population, and their comfortable establishment in distinct and distant countries.” Again, he said, “The evils of slavery are absolutely nothing in comparison with the far greater evils which would inevitably follow from a sudden, general, and indiscriminate emancipation.” The Virginia legislature in 1832 made long debate over a proposition to emancipate the slaves of the Commonwealth; but the bill was defeated because of the dread of more difficult race-problems after emancipation.

In spite of these Southern views, in spite of the fact that the English Government, in 1833, made liberal payment for all the slaves set free on her West Indian plantations, the Abolitionists began the work of crying death to the Federal Constitution for sheltering the alleged crime of slavery. They flooded the mails with publications intended to incite the negroes to rise in insurrection against their masters; they denounced slave-holders as outlaws, and besieged Congress with petitions that it should step beyond the pale of Federal authority and begin the destruction of the institution.

In 1790, the Congress of the United States had declared that it possessed “no power to interfere with slavery or the treatment of the slaves within the States.” For thirty years this remained the policy of Congress. But in 1820 the country was swept by the hot fever-blast of contention over the admission of Missouri as a State. The ancient hostility of the East against the extension of the Union toward the south-west, in that year forced the concession from the South that henceforth slavery should not be recognised as legal in the territories north of the parallel 36° 30′. This early assault upon the system of slavery was clearly due to political and not to humanitarian motives. But it was aggressive warfare upon slavery itself that John Quincy Adams waged in the House of Representatives under the guise of upholding the right of petition. Bundles of denunciatory petitions he continued to present, even after the House, in 1836, reaffirmed the declaration of 1790, asserting lack of jurisdiction over slavery, and after the House had also passed a rule against receiving these documents.

From his seat in the Senate, February, 1839, Henry Clay thus laid bare the real aim of the agitators:

Civil war, a dissolution of the Union. . . . are nothing [with the Abolitionists]. . . . In all their leading prints and publications, the alleged horrors of slavery are depicted in the most glowing and exaggerated colours, to excite the imaginations and stimulate the rage of the people in the free States against the people in the slave States. The ‘slave-holder is held up and represented as the most atrocious of human beings. Advertisements of fugitive slaves are carefully collected and blazoned forth to infuse a spirit of detestation and hatred against one entire and the largest section of the Union. . . . To the agency of their powers of persuasion they now propose to substitute the powers of the ballot box; and he must be blind to what is passing before us who does not perceive that the inevitable tendency of their proceedings is, if these should be found insufficient, to invoke, finally, the more potent powers of the bayonet.

When the old question of territorial expansion toward the south-west lifted up its head in the proposition to admit Texas into the league of American States, the Abolitionists made resistance. Although the settlement of Texas was only an incident in the great westward migration of home-seekers from the Alleghanies and the Mississippi Valley, yet the Abolitionists made the charge that the presence of African servants in these new frontier households indicated a gigantic scheme to construct a slave-empire. In 1842–1843, therefore, Adams and Giddings presented petitions from citizens of Massachusetts and Ohio, asking Congress at once to take steps toward “the peaceable dissolution of the Union.” Adams, Giddings, and other Congressmen issued a public address, in March, 1843, declaring that the annexation of Texas would be “so injurious to the interests of the Northern States as not only inevitably to result in a dissolution of the Union, but fully to justify it.” The month of August, 1843, saw a National Convention of the Liberty Party binding itself by formal resolution “to regard and treat the third clause of the Constitution whenever applied to the case of a fugitive slave, as utterly null and void.” Formal announcement was made in May, 1844, by the American Anti-Slavery Society that they rejected the entire Federal Constitution as “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” They further declared that “secession from the Government” was the duty of every Abolitionist. Two weeks later the Society issued an address to the country with the formal summons: “Up with the banner of revolution!” More than sixty thousand voters abandoned the Whig Party to render support to this dis-union banner; this defection caused the defeat of the Whig, Henry Clay, by Polk, the Democratic candidate for the Presidency.

In the year 1845, in protest against denunciations of slavery by Northern pulpits, the Southern Baptists withdrew themselves into a separate organisation. The year 1846 saw the formation of the Southern Methodist Church upon the same basis, and the new Constitution of Kentucky, in 1849, was more rigid than the old in maintaining the relation of master and servant. But these protests only served to redouble the vigour of the Abolitionists. Against slavery in the territories secured from Mexico they now concentrated their assaults. In the Congressional struggle of 1850 over the organisation of these lands, Webster united with Clay and Calhoun in condemning the aggressions of abolitionism. In February, Clay said, “Upon this subject I do thfnk that we have just and serious cause of complaint against the free States.” In May he further declared, “The body-politic cannot be preserved unless this agitation, this distraction, this exasperation, which is going on between the two sections of the country, shall cease.” March 4th found Calhoun in the Senate, pale from the weakness of approaching death, while Mason read his last appeal for the cessation of Abolitionist attacks upon the old Federal Constitution. Calhoun declared that the existing relation between master and servant “Cannot be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity and the section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness.”

Concerning the Abolition movement Webster declared, March 7th, “The South, in my judgment, is right, and the North is wrong.” Again, in July, 1850, Webster asserted that Northern prejudice against the Southern labour-system “all originates in misinformation, false representations, and misapprehensions arising from the laborious efforts that have been made for the last twenty years to pervert the public judgment and irritate the public feeling.”

Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy By Henry Alexander White CHAPTER IV. SECESSION AND SLAVERY. 1860.

WASHINGTON MONUMENT AND CAPITOL, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.

But other voices were heard in this senatorial battle. W. H. Seward, of New York, disciple of the school of J. Q. Adams, made announcement of a “Higher Law,” above the Constitution, and, for himself, foreshadowed, a readiness for the programme of immediate emancipation by violence, if necessary. Chase of Ohio made zealous proclamation of the same creed. The “Higher Law” thus brought forward was merely the conscience of the Abolitionists. Side by side with Seward’s announcement must we place the matured judgment of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, sustained by the entire people of the Southern States, that the conscience of the Abolitionists was wrong—that the Higher Law was without foundation.

The fugitive-slave enactment of 1850 was the issue made prominent now by the anti-slavery revolutionists, and this issue gave them great advantage before the new generation of immigrants and citizens in the North. The law itself was a strategical mistake on the part of the Southern people; they had sought to emphasise a constitutional right for the sake of the few servants who were persuaded to flee across the border. The crusade against slavery rapidly gained strength. The Free-Soil Convention of 1852 openly denied the “binding force” of the fugitive-slave law, and Sumner, in the Senate, declared it a “dead letter” in the public conscience of the Free States. The legislatures of some of these States passed “personal liberty” laws practically nullifying the Congressional statute. Into a whirlwind of passion against slavery did the erroneous portraiture in Uncle Tom’s Cabin begin to sweep the people of the North. The incidents of this story were altogether exceptional, but the dearth of accurate information in the North gave this volume wide acceptance as a realistic sketch of the alleged barbaric civilisation of the South! The anti-slavery war increased in fierceness, although the supposed basis for such hostility was scarcely greater in 1854 than it had been in 1850, when Webster expressed himself as follows:

No seizure of an alleged fugitive slave has ever been made in
Maine . . . New Hampshire . . . Vermont. No seizure
of an alleged fugitive slave has been made in Rhode Island within
the last thirty years.—No seizure of an alleged fugitive slave is known to have been made in Connecticut, except one, about twenty-five years ago; and in that case the negro was immediately discharged for want of proof of identity. Some instances of the seizure of alleged fugitives slaves are known to have occurred, in this generation, in Massachusetts; but except one, their number and their history are uncertain. . . . What is there to justify the passionate appeals, the vehement and empty declamations, the wild and fanatical conduct of both men and women which have so long disturbed and so much disgraced, the Commonwealth and the country?

The year 1854 marked the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and the formal repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It was asserted by Senator Douglass that the Compromise of 1850 had already repealed the earlier compromise by the prohibition of slavery in California, south of 36° 30′; at the same time, Douglass further declared, the legislation of 1850 had inaugurated a new method of organising the territories. Therefore, in 1854, the two territories, Kansas and Nebraska, lying north of 36° 30′, were established without any prohibition of slavery, inviting immigration upon the pledge that the people of the territories themselves were left “perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

A. H. Stephens of Georgia affirmed that the Southern people gave their support to this measure, not for the purpose of forcing slavery upon the territories, “but to let free emigrants to our vast public domain, in every part and parcel of it, settle this question for themselves, with all the experience, intelligence, virtue, and patriotism they may carry with them.”

A race for the possession of the soil of Kansas began at once between bands of armed men from the North and from the South. Fierce and open warfare ere long was raging upon these Western plains over the question of recognising or prohibiting slavery in the new State Constitution.

The Democratic platform of 1856 endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and reaffirmed the “compact” theory of the Constitution as “laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions,” and further declared that the agitations of the slavery question by the Abolitionists “endanger the stability and permanency of the Union.”

June 17, 1856, marked the consolidation of the clans opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill into a new party. These opponents of slavery hitherto classed under various names as Abolitionists, Free-Soilers, and Whigs, came together and, in Convention assembled, rebaptised themselves as The Republican Party. Representatives were present from all the Northern States, and from Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky. No voice from the other States was heard in this Philadelphia Council, which closed its third resolution with the claim that “It is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism—polygamy and slavery.”

Before the close of the month of June, ex-President Fillmore at Albany denounced the new party as distinctly sectional, organised for the avowed purpose of electing its candidates “by suffrages of one part of the Union only, to rule over the whole United States. . . . Can they have the madness or folly to believe that our Southern brethren would submit to be governed by such a chief magistrate?” Rufus Choate described it as “The new geographical party calling itself Republican . . . which knows one half of America only to hate and dread it.” He added further:

The triumph of such a party puts the Union in danger. . . . If the Republican party accomplishes its objects and gives the government to the North, I turn my eyes from the consequences. To the fifteen States of the South that government will appear an alien government. It will appear a hostile government. It will represent to their eye a vast region of States organised upon Anti-slavery.

In this Presidential campaign of 1856, the warning note emphasised in the Democratic canvass in the Southern States was the necessity of secession from the Federal Union, if the RepubHcan party should carry the election. The Border States and the Cotton States alike were ready to withdraw themselves in a body for the organisation of a Southern Confederacy in the event of Fremont’s accession to the Presidency. But in the poHtical battle the victory was adjudged to Buchanan. The Democratic platform interpreting the Constitution to be a “compact” between sovereign States, received overwhelming popular sanction at the polls.

For this reason alone the Southern States remained as yet within the Federal League. But the critical four-year period now opening did not seem luminous with approaching peace in view of the following deliverance on the part of the Disunion Convention at Worcester, Massachusetts, January 15, 1857: “Resolved, that the sooner the separation takes place, the more peaceful it will be; but that peace or war is a secondary consideration in view of our present perils. Slavery must be conquered, ‘peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.’”

Two days after Buchanan’s inauguration, the Dred Scott decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. This decision affirmed that the mere fact of Dred Scott’s temporary residence in a territory organised from the Louisiana purchase north of 36° 30′ did not bring freedom to an African slave. First of all did the Court declare that a slave was not a citizen under the Constitution; in assigning the reason for this interpretation, the Court affirmed that the Louisiana domain “was acquired by the general government as the representative and trustee of the people of the United States, and it must, therefore, be held in that character for their common and equal benefit.” Beyond this the Court advanced to say that Congress, the trustee acting for the States, had no authority to pass the Missouri Compromise in 1820, invalidating the rights established by the Constitution. Thus was the Constitution by the highest legal tribunal interpreted as sanctioning the full claims of the Southern people concerning slavery. Justice Curtis’s dissenting opinion was merely the republication of the theory of the original consolidation of the thirteen States.

The case was now made up on both sides, and the lines of battle were clearly drawn. The people of the South were of one mind still in denying the alleged barbarity of their labour-system. Moreover, they began to draw attention to the tribe of emancipated negroes in the United States as more debased than their brethren in bonds. At the same time they could point to the dismal failure of emancipation in the English West Indies.

In 1860, Dr. Charles Hodge, the Princeton theologian, wrote as follows:

When Southern Christians are told that they are guilty of a heinous crime, worse than piracy, robbery or murder, because they hold slaves, when they know that Christ and His Apostles never denounced slave-holding as a crime, never called upon men to renounce it as a condition of admission to the Church, they are shocked and offended without being convinced. . . . The argument from the conduct of Christ and his immediate followers, seems to us decisive on the point, that slave-holding in itself considered is not a crime.

Like an echo of Southern opinion in 1860 sounds the following, written twenty years after Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation:

Emancipation without any training for freedom could not be a blessing. . . . The Christianity and the philanthropy of this age have before them a task that is far more serious, more weighty and more difficult than it would have been, if the emancipation had been a regulated process, even if its final consummation had been postponed for generations.—G. T. Curtis’s Life of Buchanan.

The echo is redoubled in force when we read the following, of a date still more recent:

It was perfectly possible and reasonable for enlightened and virtuous men, who fully recognised it [slavery] as an evil, yet to prefer its continuance to having it interfered with in a way that would produce even worse results. Black slavery in Hayti was characterised by worse abuse than ever was the case in the United States; yet looking at the condition of that republic now, it may well be questioned whether it would not have been greatly to her benefit in the end to have had slavery continue a century or so longer.—Theodore Roosevelt’s Life of Benton.

 

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