Chapters 5 and 6 of the first 6 of
Memoirs of Service Afloat
During the War Between the States
by Admiral Raphael Semmes
5. Another Brief Historical Retrospect.
6. The Question of Slavery, as It Affected Secession.
Publisher's Note from Gene Kizer, Jr.: The six chapters of Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States, by Admiral Raphael Semmes, published in this and the two previous blog posts, are the most outstanding, accurate and complete argument on the causes of the War Between the States that I have ever read in a short analysis.
Semmes covers everything and leaves nothing out. He is right about both North and South believing in States Rights until about 1830, which is only 31 years before the war.
What changed was the massive immigration into the North that made them aware of their sectional strength. By 1860, Northerners realized if they could just rally their votes, they could take over the government and have higher tariffs than ever, such as the astronomical Morrill Tariff, as well as more bounties, subsidies, monopolies and any other way they could conceive of to increase their wealth and power.
Even more than the economic issues, the hatred of Southerners used by the Republican Party to rally its votes is what caused the first seven Southern states to secede. Southerners believed in the Declaration of Independence and its statement that the just powers of the government come from the consent of the governed.
There was no consent of the governed in the South in 1860 to be ruled over by crazed, rabid people so full of hate. Sounds like the Democrat Party of today, and there are many parallels that will be written about in coming weeks.
Southerners knew they had the right to secede because New York, Rhode Island and Virginia had all reserved the right of secession, specifically, in writing, before acceding to the Constitution. The acceptance of all the other states of that reserved right of secession of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia, gave it to them as well because all the states entered the Union as equals.
Even after all that Northern hate, 61% of the country still voted against Abraham Lincoln, but that was enough for him to win the electoral college.
Southerners called conventions, which was the precedent set by the Founding Fathers with the Constitution, and they voted to secede from the Union.
They expected peace but got war when Lincoln's economy without Southern cotton and all those tariffs, bounties, subsidies and monopolies was threatened with annihilation. Lincoln knew he had four times the white population of the South and 100 times the manufacturing so he started his war and 750,000 died and over a million were wounded, but it wasn't over until the South was destroyed and had nothing else to give.
There is no stain on Southern honor. They were fighting for the republic of sovereign states that the Founding Fathers had envisioned. It was States' Rights verses a massive, centralized Federal Government (the Yankees were the Federals in the war) that was fighting for Northern control of the country, and certainly not because of a moral desire to end slavery by the same people who had brought all the slaves here and made huge fortunes in the process.
Semmes's argument is EXACTLY the same argument I make in my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument. It is always good to see one's historical analysis mirrored and validated by such a towering and brilliant person as Admiral Raphael Semmes.
Our Confederate ancestors are the true heroes of American history. They fought America's bloodiest war for independence and the vision of the Founding Fathers, and in the process, they wrote the book on American valor and patriotism.
For more information on Admiral Raphael Semmes, please visit the website of the Admiral Raphael Semmes Camp #11, SCV, in Mobile Alabama: https://www.scvsemmes.org/index.html. Several of the pictures from my three Semmes posts come from their outstanding website.
Another Brief Historical Retrospect.
In the previous chapters, I have given a brief outline of the history and formation of the Federal Constitution, proving, by abundant reference to the Fathers, and to the instrument itself, that it was the intention of the former to draft, and that they did draft, a federal compact of government, which compact was "ordained, and established," by the States, in their sovereign capacity, and not by the people of the United States, in the aggregate, as one nation.
It resulted from this statement of the question, that the States had the legal, and constitutional right to withdraw from the compact, at pleasure, without reference to any cause of quarrel.
Accordingly, nothing has yet been said about the causes which impelled the Southern States to a separation, except indeed incidentally, when the tariff system was alluded to, as the motive which had induced Massachusetts and the other Northern States, to change their State-Rights doctrine.
It was stated in the opening chapter, that the judgment which posterity will form, upon the great conflict between the sections, will depend, mainly, upon the answers which we may be able to give to two questions: First, Had the South the right to dissolve the compact of government, under which it had lived with the North? and secondly, Was there sufficient ground for this dissolution?
Having answered the first question---imperfectly, I fear, but yet as fully, as was consistent, with the design of these pages---I propose now to consider, very briefly, the second. I would gladly have left all this preliminary work to other, and abler pens, but I do not consider that the memoirs of any actor in the late war, who, like myself, was an officer in the old service, and who withdrew from that service, because of the breaking out of the war---or rather because of the secession of his State---would be complete without, at least, a brief reference to the reasons, which controlled his judgment.
The American Constitution died of a disease, that was inherent in it.
It was framed on false principles, inasmuch as the attempt was made, through its means, of blinding together, in a republican form of government, two dissimilar peoples, with widely dissimilar interests.
Monarchial governments may accomplish this, since they are founded on force, but republican governments never. Austria, and Russia, pin together, in our day, with their bayonets, many dissimilar peoples, but if a republic should make the attempt, that moment it must, of necessity, cease to be a republic, since the very foundation of such a government is the consent of the governed.
The secession of the Southern States was a mere corollary of the American proposition of government; and the Northern States stultified themselves, the moment they attempted to resist it. The consent of the Southern States being wanted, there should have been an end of the question.
If the Northern States were not satisfied to let them go, but entertained, on the contrary, a desire to restrain them by force, this was a proof, that those States had become tired of the republican form, and desired to change it.
But they should have been honest about it; they should have avowed their intentions from the beginning, and not have waged the war, as so many republics, endeavoring to coerce other republics, into a forced union with them.
To have been logical, they should have obliterated the State boundaries, and have declared all the States---as well the Northern States, as the Southern---so many counties of a consolidated government. But even then, they could not have made war upon any considerable number of those counties, without violating the fundamental American idea of a government---the consent of the governed.
The right of self-government was vindicated in the Declaration of Independence, in favor of three millions of the subjects of Great Britain. In the States of the Southern Confederacy, there were eight millions.
The American Republic, as has been said, was a failure, because of the antagonism of the two peoples, attempted to be bound together, in the same government. If there is to be but a single government in these States, in the future, it cannot be a republic. De Tocqueville saw this, thirty years ago. In his "Democracy in America" he described these States, as "more like hostile nations, than rival parties, under one government."
This distinguished Frenchman saw, as with the eye of intuition, the canker which lay at the heart of the federal compact. He saw looming up, in the dim distance, the ominous, and hideous form of that unbridled, and antagonistic Majority, which has since rent the country in twain---a majority based on the views, and interests of one section, arrayed against the views, and interests of the other section.
"The majority," said he, "in that country, exercises a prodigious, actual authority, and a moral influence which is scarcely less preponderant; no obstacles exist, which can impede, or so much as retard its progress, or which can induce it to heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. * * * This state of things is fatal, in itself, and dangerous for the future. * * * If the free institutions of America are ever destroyed, that event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority. * * * Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism."
Precisely so; liberty is always destroyed by the multitude, in the name of liberty.
Majorities within the limits of constitutional restraints are harmless, but the moment they lose sight of these restraints, the many-headed monster becomes more tyrannical, than the tyrant with a single head; numbers harden its conscience, and embolden it, in the perpetration of crime.
And when this majority, in a free government, becomes a faction, or, in other words, represents certain classes and interests to the detriment of other classes, and interests, farewell to public liberty; the people must either become enslaved, or there must be a disruption of the government.
This result would follow, even if the people lived under a consolidated government, and were homogenous: much more, then, must it follow, when the government is federal in form, and the States are, in the words of De Tocqueville, "more like hostile nations, than rival parties, under one government." These States are, and indeed always have been rival nations.
The dissimilarity between the people of the Northern, and the people of the Southern States has always been remarked upon, by observant foreigners, and it has not escaped the attention of our own historians.
Indeed it could not be otherwise, for the origin of the two sections has been diverse. Virginia and Massachusetts were the two original germs, from which the great majority of the American populations has sprung; and no two peoples, speaking the same language, and coming from the same country, could have been more dissimilar, in education, taste, and habits, and even in natural instincts, than were the adventurers who settled these two colonies.
Those who sought a new field of adventure for themselves, and affluence for their posterity, in the more congenial climate of the Chesapeake, were the gay, and dashing cavaliers, who, as a class, afterward adhered to the fortunes of the Charleses, whilst the first settlers of Massachusetts were composed of the same materials, that formed the "Praise-God-Barebones" parliament of Cromwell.
These two peoples, seem to have had an instinctive repugnance, the one to the other. To use a botanical phrase, the Puritan was a seedling of the English race, which had been unknown to it before.
It had few, or none of the characteristics of the original stock. Gloomy, saturnine, and fanatical, in disposition, it seemed to repel all the more kindly, and generous impulses of our nature, and to take a pleasure in pulling down everything, that other men had built up; not so much as its subsequent history would seem to show, because the work was faulty, as because it had been done by other hands than their own.
They hated tyranny, for instance, but it was only because they were not, themselves, the tyrants; they hated religious intolerance, but it was only when not practiced by themselves.
Natural affinities attracted like unto like. The Cavalier sought refuge with the Cavalier, and the Puritan with the Puritan, for a century, and more.
When the fortunes of the Charleses waned, the Cavaliers fled to Virginia; when the fortunes of Cromwell waned, the Puritans fled to Massachusetts.
Trade occasionally drew the two peoples together, but they were repelled at all other points. Thus these germs grew, step by step, into two distinct nations. A different civilization was naturally developed in each.
The two countries were different in climate, and physical features---the climate of the one being cold and inhospitable, and its soil rugged, and sterile, whilst the climate of the other was soft, and genial, and its soil generous, and fruitful.
As a result of these differences of climate, and soil, the pursuits of the two peoples became different, the one being driven to the ocean, and to the mechanic arts, for subsistence, and the other betaking itself to agriculture.
Another important element soon presented itself, to widen the social, and economical breach, which had taken place between the two peoples--African slavery.
All the Colonies, at first, became slaveholding, but it was soon found, that slave labor was unprofitable in the North, where the soil was so niggard in its productions, and where, besides, the white man could labor.
One, by one, the Northern States got rid of their slaves, as soon as they made this discovery.
[NOTE: The Northern states did not free their slaves. They sold them back into slavery in the South, often just before the slave was to be free, such as before his 21st birthday. There is irrefutable proof of this. It was also written about by Alexis de Tocqueville who said Northerners did not free their slaves but simply changed the slave's master from a Northern to a Southern one. See also Edgar J. McManus, Black Bondage in the North (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1973).]
In the South, the case was different. The superior fertility of the soil, and the greater geniality of the climate enabled the planter to employ the African to advantage; and thus slave labor was engrafted on our system of civilization, as one of its permanent features.
The effect was, as before remarked, a still greater divergence between the two peoples.
The wealth of the South soon began to outstrip that of the North. Education and refinement followed wealth.
Whilst the civilization of the North was coarse, and practical, that of the South was more intellectual, and refined. This is said in no spirit of disparagement of our Northern brethren; it was the natural, and inevitable result of the different situations of the two peoples.
In the North, almost every young man was under the necessity, during our colonial existence, of laboring with his own hands, for the means of subsistence. There was neither the requisite leisure, nor the requisite wealth to bring about a very refined system of civilization. The life of a Southern planter on the other hand with his large estates, and hundreds of vassals, with his profuse hospitality, and luxurious style of living, resembled more that of the feudatories of the middle ages, than that of any modern gentleman out of the Southern States.
It is not my object to express a preference for either of these modes of civilization---each, no doubt, had its advantages, and disadvantages---but to glance at them, merely, for the purpose of showing the dissimilarity of the two peoples; their uncongeniality, and want of adaptation, socially, the one to the other with social institutions as wide asunder as the poles, and with their every material interest antagonistic, the separation of the two peoples, sooner or later, was a logical sequence.
As had been anticipated by Patrick Henry, and others, the moment the new government went into operation, parties began to be formed, on sectional interests and sectional prejudices.
The North wanted protection for her shipping, in the way of discriminating tonnage dues, and the South was opposed to such protection.
The North wanted a bank, to facilitate their commercial operations; the South was opposed to it.
The North wanted protection for their manufactures, the South was opposed to it.
There was no warrant, of course, for any of these schemes of protection in the Federal Constitution; they were, on the contrary, subversive of the original design of that instrument.
The South has been called aggressive. She was thrown on the defensive, in the first Congress, and has remained so, from that day to this. She never had the means to be aggressive, having been always in a minority, in both branches of the Legislature.
It is not consistent with the scope of these memoirs, to enter, at large, into the political disputes which culminated in secession. They are many, and various, and would fill volumes. It will be sufficient to sketch the history of one or two of the more important of them.
The "American System," of which Mr. Clay, of Kentucky, became the champion, and to which allusion has already been made, became the chief instrument of oppression of the Southern States, through a long series of years.
I prefer to let a late distinguished Senator, from the State of Missouri, Mr. Benton, tell this tale of spoliation.
On the slavery question, Mr. Benton was with the North, he cannot, therefore, be accused of being a witness unduly favorable to the South. In a speech in the Senate, in 1828, he declared himself, as follows:
I feel for the sad changes, which have taken place in the South, during the last fifty years. Before the Revolution, it was the seat of wealth, as well as hospitality. Money, and all it commanded, abounded there. But how is it now? All this is reversed. Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac; and this in the face of the fact, that the South, in four staples alone, has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing. Such an export would indicate unparalleled wealth, but what is the fact? In the place of wealth, a universal pressure for money was felt---not enough for current expenses---the price of all property down---the country drooping, and languishing---towns and cities decaying---and the frugal habits of the people pushed to the verge of universal self-denial, for the preservation of their family estates. Such a result is a strange, and wonderful phenomenon. It calls upon statesmen to inquire into the cause. Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue. * * * Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourth, of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing, or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of Government expenditures. That expenditure flows in an opposite direction---it flows northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. Federal legislation does all this. It does it by the simple process of eternally taking from the South, and returning nothing to it. If it returned to the South the whole, or even a good part, of what it exacted, the four States south of the Potomac might stand the action of the system, but the South must be exhausted of its money, and its property, by a course of legislation, which is forever taking away, and never returning anything. Every new tariff increases the force of this action. No tariff has ever yet included Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, except to increase the burdens imposed upon them."
This picture is not overdrawn; it is the literal truth. Before the war the Northern States, and especially the New England States, exported next to nothing, and yet they "blossomed as the rose."
The picturesque hills of New England were dotted with costly mansions, erected with money, of which the Southern planters had been despoiled, by means of the tariffs of which Mr. Benton spoke. Her harbors frowned with fortifications, constructed by the same means,. Every cove and inlet had its lighthouse, for the benefit of New England shipping, three fourths of the expense of erecting which had been paid by the South, and even the cod, and mackerel fisheries of New England were bountied, on the bald pretext, that they were nurseries for manning the navy.
The South resisted this wholesale robbery, to the best of her ability. Some few of the more generous of the Northern representatives in Congress came to her aid, but still she was overborne; and the curious reader, who will take the pains to consult the "Statutes at Large," of the American Congress, will find on an average, a tariff for every five years recorded on their pages; the cormorants increasing in rapacity, the more they devoured.
No wonder that Mr. Lincoln when asked, "why not let the South go?" replied,
Let the South go! where then shall we get our revenue?
This system of spoliation was commenced in 1816.
The doctrine of protection was not, at first, boldly avowed. A heavy debt had been contracted during the war of 1812, with Great Britain, just then terminated. It became necessary to raise revenue to pay this debt, as well as to defray the current expenses of the government, and for these laudable purposes, the tariff of 1816 was enacted.
The North had not yet become the overshadowing power, which it has become in our day. It was comparatively modest, and only asked, that, in adjusting the duties under the tariff, such incidental protection, as might not be inconsistent with the main object of the bill, to wit, the raising of revenue, should be given to Northern manufactures.
It was claimed that these manufactures had sprung up, sua sponte, during the war, and had materially aided the country in prosecuting the war, and that they would languish, and die, unless protected, in this incidental manner. This seemed but just and reasonable, and some of the ablest of our Southern men gave their assent to the proposition; among others, Mr. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Mr. Clay of Kentucky.
The latter, in particular, then a young member of the House of Representatives, espoused the Northern side of the controversy, and subsequently became known, as we have seen, as the father of the system. Much undeserved obloquy has been thrown upon Mr. Clay, for this supposed abandonment of his section. The most that he claimed, was that a temporary protection, of a few years' duration only, should be given to these infant manufactures, until they should become self-sustaining.
In later life, when he saw the extent to which the measure was pushed, he did, indeed recoil from it, as Mr. Calhoun, with keener intellect, had done, years before. The wedge, being thus entered, was driven home by the insatiable North.
In less than twenty years, or during the early part of General Jackson's administration, the public debt was paid off, and it became necessary to reduce the tariffs, to prevent a plethora in the public treasury; but the North, by this time, had "waxed fat," and like the ox in the scriptures, began to kick.
From incidental protection, it advanced, boldly, to the doctrine of "protection, for the sake of protection"---thus avowing the unjust doctrine, that it was right to rob one section, for the benefit of the other; the pretense being the general good---the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution as well as the expression "We, the people," in the Preamble, being invoked to cover the enormity.
Under the wholesale system of spoliation, which was now practiced, the South was becoming poorer, and poorer.
Whilst her abundant cotton crops supplied all the exchanges of the country, and put in motion, throughout the North, every species of manufacturing industry, from the cut-nail, which the planter put in the weather-boarding of his house, to the coach in which his wife, and daughters took an airing, it was found, that, from year to year, mortgages were increasing on her plantations, and that the planter was fast becoming little better, than the overseer of the Northern manufacturer, and the Northern merchant.
A statesman of England once declared, that "not so much as a hob-nail should be manufactured, in America." The colonial dependence, and vassalage meant to be proclaimed by this expression, was now strictly true, as between the North, and the South. The South was compelled to purchase her hob-nails, in the North, being excluded by the Northern tariffs, from all other markets.
South Carolina, taking the alarm at this state of things, resorted as we have seen to nullification, in 1832. The quarrel was compromised in 1833, by the passage of a more moderate tariff, but the North still growing, in strength, and wealth, disregarded the compromise, in 1842, and enacted a more oppressive tariff than ever.
From this time onward, no attempt was made to conciliate the South, by the practice of forbearance, and justice, and the latter sank, hopelessly, into the condition of a tributary province to her more powerful rival.
All this was done under a federal compact, formed by sovereign States, for their common benefit! Thus was the prophecy of Patrick Henry verified, when he said:
But I am sure, that the dangers of this system [the Federal Constitution] are real, when those who have no similar interest with the people of this country [the South] are to legislate for us---when our dearest rights are to be left, in the hands of those, whose advantage it will be to infringe them.
And thus also, was verified the declaration of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina: "If they [the Southern States] are to form so considerable a minority, and the regulation of trade is to be given to the general Government, they will be nothing more than overseers of the Northern States."
The Question of Slavery, as It Affected Secession.
Great pains have been taken, by the North, to make it appear to the world, that the war was a sort of moral, and religious crusade against slavery.
Such was not the fact. The people of the North were, indeed, opposed to slavery, but merely because they thought it stood in the way of their struggle for empire. I think it safe to affirm, that if the question had stood upon moral, and religious grounds alone, the institution would never have been interfered with.
The Republican Party, which finally brought on the war, took its rise, as is well known, on the question of extending slavery to the Territories---those inchoate States, which were finally to decide the vexed question of the balance of power, between the two sections.
It did not propose to disturb the institution in the States; in fact, the institution could do no harm there, for the States, in which it existed, were already in a hopeless minority.
The fat, Southern goose could not resist being plucked, as things stood, but it was feared that if slavery was permitted to go into the Territories, the goose might become strong enough to resist being plucked.
If proof were wanted of this, we have it, in the resolution passed by the Federal Congress, after the first battle of Manassas, in the first year of the war, as follows:
Resolved, That the war is not waged on our part, in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest, or for interfering with the rights, or established institutions of these States, but to defend, and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity and rights of the several States unimpaired.
[NOTE: This comes from the War Aims Resolution, also known by the names of its sponsors, Representative John. J. Crittenden of Kentucky and Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee: the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, or just the Crittenden Resolution. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives July 22, 1861, and the Senate July 25, 1861. There were only two dissenting votes in the House and five in the Senate. This was just over three months into the war. There is much other substantial proof such as the Corwin Amendment that Lincoln supported and passed the Northern Congress and was ratified by three states until the war made it moot, that prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the North did not go to war to end slavery. They went to war because they faced economic annihilation without the South, with its 100% control of King Cotton, and its massive captive manufacturing market.]
In 1820, in the admission of Missouri into the Union, the North and the South had entered into a compromise, which provided, that slavery should not be carried into any of the Territories, north of a given geographical line.
This compromise was clearly violative of the rights of the South, for the Territories were common property, which had been acquired, by the blood, and treasure, of the North and the South alike, and no discrimination could justly be made between the sections, as to emigration to those Territories; but discrimination would be made, if the Northern man could emigrate to all of them, and the Southern man to those of them only that lay South of the given line.
By the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, introduced into the House of Representatives, in 1854, by Mr. Stephen A. Douglas, this unjust compromise was repealed; the repealing clause declaring, that the Missouri Compromise
being inconsistent with the principles of non-intervention, by Congress, with slavery in the States, and Territories, as recognized by the legislation of 1850, commonly called the Compromise Measures, is hereby declared inoperative, and void; it being the true intent, and meaning of this act, not to legislate slavery into any Territory, or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form, and regulate their domestic institutions, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.
Nothing would seem more just, than the passage of this act, which removed the restriction which had been put upon a portion of the States, threw open the Territories to immigration form all the States, alike, and left the question of local government, the question of slavery included, to be decided by the inhabitants of the Territories themselves.
But this act of justice, which Mr. Douglas had had the address and ability to cause to be passed, was highly distasteful to the Northern people.
It was not consistent with their views of empire that there should be any more Southern Slave States admitted into the Union.
The Republican party, which, up to that time, had made but little headway, now suddenly sprang into importance and at the next elections in the North, swept every thing before it. The Northern Democratic members of Congress who had voted for the hated measure, were beaten by overwhelming majorities, and Republicans sent in their places; and the Republican Convention which assembled at Chicago in 1860, to nominate a candidate for the Presidency, adopted as one of the "planks of its platform"---to use a slang political phrase of the day---the principle that slavery should thereafter be excluded from the Territories; not only from the Territories North of the geographical line, of the Missouri Compromise, but from all the Territories! The gauntlet of defiance was thus boldly thrown at the feet of the Southern States,
From 1816 to 1860, these States had been plundered by tariffs, which had enriched the North, and now they were told without any circumlocution, that they should no longer have any share in the Territories.
I have said that this controversy, on the subject of slavery, did not rest, in the North, on any question of morals or religion.
The end aimed at, in restricting slavery to the States, was purely political; but this end was to be accomplished by means, and the Northern leaders had the sagacity to see, that it was all-important to mix up the controversy, as a means, with moral, and religious questions.
Hence they enlisted the clergy in their crusade against the South; the pulpit becoming a rostrum, from which to inflame the Northern mind against the un-Godly slave-holder; religious papers were established, which fulminated their weekly diatribes against the institution; magazine literature, fiction, lectures, by paid itinerants, were all employed, with powerful effect, in a community where every man sets himself up as a teacher, and considers himself responsible for the morals of his neighbor.
The contumely and insult thus heaped upon the South were, of themselves, almost past endurance, to say nothing of the wrongs, under which she suffered. The sectional animosity which was engendered by these means, in the North, soon became intense, and hurried on the catastrophe with railroad speed.
Whilst the dispute about slavery in the Territories was drawing to a focus, another, and if possible, a still more exciting question, had been occupying the public mind---the rendition of fugitive slaves to their owners.
Our ancestors, in the Convention of 1787, foreseeing the difficulty that was likely to arise on this subject, insisted that the following positive provision, for their protection, should be inserted in the Constitution: "No person held to service, or labor, in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law, or regulation therein, be discharged from such service, or labor; but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service, or labor may be due."
In 1793, a law, called the fugitive slave law, had been passed, for the purpose of carrying out this provision of the Constitution. This law was re-enacted, with some alterations, the better to secure the object in question, in 1850.
Neither of those laws was ever properly executed in the North. It soon became unsafe, indeed, for a Southern man to venture into the North, in pursuit of his fugitive slave.
Mr. Webster sought, in vain, in the latter part of his life, when he seemed to be actuated by a sense of returning justice to the South, to induce his countrymen to execute those laws, and he lost much of his popularity, in consequence.
The laws were not only positively disobeyed, but they were formally nullified by the Legislatures of fourteen of the Northern States; and penalties were annexed to any attempt to execute them. Mr. Webster, in speaking on this subject, says:
These States passed acts defeating the law of Congress, as far as it was in their power to defeat them. Those of them to whom I refer, not all, but several, nullified the law of 1793. They said in effect, 'We will not execute it. No runaway slave shall be restored.' Thus the law became a dead letter.
But here was the Constitution, and compact still binding; here was the stipulation, as solemn as words could form it, and which every member of Congress, every officer of the General Government, every officer of the State government, from governors down to constables, is sworn to support. It has been said in the States of New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio, over and over again, that the law shall not be executed. That was the language in conventions, in Worcester, Massachusetts; in Syracuse, New York, and elsewhere. And for this they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. Now, gentlemen, these proceedings, I say it upon my professional reputation, are distinctly treasonable. And the act of taking Shadrick [a fugitive slave] from the public authorities, in Boston, and sending him off, was an act of clear treason.
Great outcry was raised against South Carolina when she nullified the tariff law of 1830, passed in clear violation of the spirit of the Constitution; here we see fourteen States nullifying an act, passed to carry out an express provision of the same instrument, about which there was not, and could not be any dispute.
Let us again put Mr. Webster on the witness stand, and hear what he says, was the effect of this wholesale nullification by the Northern States of this provision of the Constitution. "I do not hesitate," says he,
to say, and repeat, that if the effect that part of the Constitution, which respects the restoration of fugitive slaves, the South would be no longer bound to keep the compact. A bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides.
That was spoken like Daniel Webster, the able jurist, and just man, and not like the Daniel Webster, whom I have before quoted, in these pages, as the casuist, and the sophist. The reader cannot fail to see what a full recantation we have here, of Mr. Webster's heresy, of 1833, when he contended that the Constitution had been "ordained and established," by the people of the United States, in the aggregate, as one nation.
Mr. Webster now calls the States, the parties to the instrument, and claims that the infraction of it, by some of the States, releases the others from their obligations under it.
It is then, after all, it seems, a federal compact; and if it be such, we have the authority of Mr. Webster, himself, for saying that the States may withdraw from it, at pleasure, without waiting for an infringement of it, by their co-States.
But the Southern States did not desire to withdraw from it, without reason. They were sincerely attached to the Union and were willing to suffer, and endure much rather than that it should be destroyed.
They had stood, shoulder to shoulder, with the North in two wars against the mother country, and had freely spent their wealth, and shed their blood in defense of the common rights. They had rushed to the defense of New England, in the war of the Revolution, and had equally responded to her call in 1812, in defense of her shipping interests.
Mr. Madison relied much upon these ties, as a common bond of union. When Patrick Henry and other Southern patriots were warning their people against the new alliance, proposed to them in the Federal Constitution, he spoke the following fervid language in reply to them, in one of the numbers of the "Federalist."
Hearken not to the unnatural voice, which tells you, that the people of America, knit together, as they are, by so many natural cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue mutual guardians of their mutual happiness. * * * No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys. The kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defense of their sacred rights, consecrate their union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies.
Much of this feeling still lingered in the bosoms of Southern men. They were slow to awaken from this dream of delusion. A rude and rough hand had been necessary to disenchant them.
But they were compelled, in spite of themselves, to realize the fact at last, that they had been deceived, and betrayed into the federal compact, that they might be made slaves.
Like an unhappy bride, upon whose brow the orange-wreath had been placed, by hands that promised tenderness, and protection, the South had been rudely scorned, and repelled, and forced in tears, and bitter lamentation, to retract the faith which she had plighted.
To carry still further our simile; like the deceived, and betrayed bride, the least show of relenting, and tenderness was sufficient to induce the South to forgive, and to endeavor to forget.
The history of our unhappy connection with the North is full of compromises, and apparent reconciliations---prominent among which was the compromise of 1833, growing out of the nullification of South Carolina, on the tariff question; and the compromise of 1850, in which it was promised, that Congress should not interfere with the question of slavery, either in the States, or Territories.
The South, like the too credulous bride, accepted these evidences of returning tenderness, in good faith; the North, like the coarse and brutal husband, whose selfishness was superior to his sense of justice, withdrew them, almost as soon as made. The obnoxious laws which had been modified, or repealed, under these compromises, were reenacted with additional provocations, and restrictions.
So loath was the South to abandon the Union, that she made strenuous efforts to remain in it, even after Mr. Lincoln had been elected President, in 1860.
In this election, that dreaded sectional line against which President Washington had warned his countrymen, in his Farewell Address, had at last been drawn; in it,---"the fire-bell of the night,"---which had so disturbed the last days of Jefferson, had been sounded.
There had, at last, arisen a united North, against a united South. Mr. Lincoln had been placed by the Chicago Convention on a platform so purely sectional, that no Southern State voted, or could vote for him. His election was purely geographical; it was tantamount to a denial of the co-equality of the Southern States, with the Northern States, in the Union, since it drove the former out of the common Territories.
This had not been a mere party squabble---the questions involved had been federal, and fundamental. Notwithstanding which, some of the Southern States were not without hope, that the North might be induced to revoke its verdict.
Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, introduced into the Senate, a series of resolutions, which he hoped would have the effect of restoring harmony; the chief feature of which was, the restoration of the Missouri Compromise, giving the Southern States access to the Territories south of a geographical line.
Although this compromise was a partial abandonment of the rights of the South, many of the ablest, and most influential statesmen of that section, gave in their adhesion to it; among others, Mr. Jefferson Davis. The measure failed.
Various other resolutions, looking to pacification, were introduced into both houses of Congress; but they failed, in like manner.
The border Slave States aroused to a sense of their danger---for by this time, several of the Gulf States had seceded---called a Convention in the city of Washington, to endeavor to allay the storm. A full representation attended, composed of men, venerable for their years, and renowned for their patriotic services, but their labors ended also in failure; Congress scarcely deigned to notice them.
In both houses of Congress the Northern faction, which had so recently triumphed in the election of their President, was arrayed in a solid phalanx of hostility to the South, and could not be moved an inch. The Puritan leaven had at last "leavened the whole loaf," and the descendants of those immigrants who had come over to America, in the May Flower, feeling that they had the power to crush a race of men, who had dared to differ with them in opinion, and to have interests separate and apart from them, were resolved to use that power in a way to do no discredit to their ancestry. Rebels, when in a minority, they had become tyrants, now that they were in a majority.
Nothing remained to the South, but to raise the gantlet which had been thrown at her feet. The Federal Government which had been established by our ancestors had failed of its object. Instead of binding the States together, in peace, and amity, it had, in the hands of one portion of the States, become an engine of oppression of the other portion.
It so happened, that the slavery question was the issue which finally tore them asunder, but, as the reader has seen, this question was a mere means, to an end.
The end was empire, and we were about to repeat, in this hemisphere, the drama which had so often been enacted in the other, of a more powerful nation crushing out a weaker.
The war of the American sections was but the prototype of many other wars, which had occurred among the human race. It had its origin in the unregenerated nature of man, who is only an intellectual wild beast, whose rapacity has never yet been restrained, by a sense of justice.
The American people thought, when they framed the Constitution, that they were to be an exception to mankind, in general. History had instructed them that all other peoples, who had gone before them, had torn up paper governments, when paper was the only bulwark that protected such governments, but then they were the American people, and no such fate would await them.
The events which I have recorded, and am about to record, have taught them, that they are no better---and perhaps they are no worse---than other people.
It is to be hoped that they will profit by their dear-bought experience, and that when they shall have come to their senses, and undertake to lay the foundation of a new government, they will, if they design to essay another republic, eliminate all discordant materials.
The experiment of trusting to human honesty having failed, they must next trust to human interests---the great regulator, as all philosophy teaches, of human nature.
They must listen rather to the philosophy of Patrick Henry, than to that of James Madison, and never attempt again to bind up on one sheaf, with a withe of straw, materials so discordant as were in the people of the North, and the people of the South.
NOTE: The magnificent statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes that was put up around June 1900 was removed June 5, 2020 by a horribly misguided Republican mayor named Sandy Stimpson. Sandy Stimpson is not good enough to polish Raphael Semmes's shoes. Stimpson said "Moving this statue will not change the past. It is about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city." THAT FUTURE SHOULD NOT INCLUDE ANYBODY LIKE SANDY STIMPSON. He is more aligned with the Democrat Party that hates America. SCV camps in the area should look into what some are doing in Georgia and SUE PERSONALLY public officials like Stimpson who break the law. Republicans are safe defending Southern history. President Trump does. See:
"Republicans, There Is No Downside to Defending Southern History" at