American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Encyclopedia of Slavery and Abolition in the United States - O




Chapter: “Activity of the Abolitionists. - Action of Northern Legislatures,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872:

Ohio was settled, especially its eastern and northern portions, by a different class of citizens. There the New England element was strong; and, being removed from the corrupting influences of cities and of commercial and manufacturing interests; society, at least in many localities, did not deteriorate as rapidly and fatally as did that which was left behind. There were many strong and earnest men in the abolition ranks, and many active antislavery associations; though the southern portion of the State, like Indiana and Illinois, was strongly tinctured with proslavery sentiments, that had secured legislation and laws which they inspired and which were enacted at their behests. Its State Society, of which Leicester King, some years afterward nominated as a candidate for the Vice-Presidency by the Liberty party, was president, held a convention in April, 1835, continuing three days. At this convention, in addition to a consideration of the general subject, particular attention was paid to the condition of the colored people in the State, as also to the inhuman and barbarous laws which disgraced its statute-books, and which were only too faithfully executed by its inhabitants, especially by those residing in and near Cincinnati and on the borders of the Ohio River.

Indeed, a prominent feature of the meeting was the reading and discussion of two very able and exhaustive reports from committees appointed to consider “the condition of people of color," and the "laws of Ohio” concerning them. These laws forbade the entrance into the State of negroes and mulattoes without giving two freehold sureties to the amount of five hundred dollars for their good behavior and for their support if they should become a public charge. The penalty for not giving such sureties was “to be removed in the same manner as is required in the case of paupers." By another section it was enacted that if " any person being a resident of this State shall employ, harbor, or conceal any such negro," he shall pay a sum not exceeding one hundred dollars, and be liable for his support if he become a public charge. By another statute it was enacted that no black or mulatto person should give evidence in court in a controversy or case in which a white person was involved.

It was easy, of course, for the committee to point out not only the inhumanity and wickedness of such legislation, but its unconstitutionality, -- or, at least, its incompatibility with the constitution of the State, which declares “that ALL are born free and independent, and have certain natural and inalienable rights." Nor was it any less easy to point out the evil workings of such statutes on the people thus hampered and held in check and constraint by them. “Few amongst the whites," they say,” would be able to obtain sureties on such conditions; and much less blacks, who are strangers and penniless, and against whose race there exists a general prejudice." As if to make their condition insupportable, all persons were forbid hiring or employing them. And if, in spite of all such cruel and unjust disabilities, any should succeed in life, and amass wealth, the section confronted them, forbidding their evidence in court on any subject in which a white man is involved. It was, then, but a legitimate inference when the committee declared that the “influence of such laws could not be otherwise than destructive to their moral and intellectual character and their pecuniary interests. Mental debasement, moral degradation, self-disrespect, unyielding prejudice on the part of the whites, and the most distressing poverty, are the natural and necessary consequences of their pernicious, unjust, and impolitic laws."

Nor was it strange that the committee on the condition of the colored people " was obliged to report that of the estimated seven thousand and five hundred in the State, as a class, we find them ignorant, many of them intemperate and vicious," intemperance, ignorance, and lewdness " being their besetting vices; that, instead of seeking to gain freeholds, and depending upon farming for subsistence, they congregate in towns, and become day laborers, barbers, and menial servants." There were, however, redeeming facts, and satisfactory mention was made of “a settlement in Stark County, J where there were three hundred people, mostly farmers," with a meeting-house and school-house, the whole population, with few exceptions; abstaining from intoxicating drinks.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 363-365.



Chapter: “Admission of Oregon and Kansas,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

THE fact that the barbarism of slavery was not confined to the slave States had many illustrations. Among them, that afforded by Oregon was a signal example. In 1857 she formed a constitution, and applied for admission into the Union. Though the constitution was in form free, it was very thoroughly imbued with the spirit of slavery; and though four fifths of the votes cast were for the rejection of slavery, there were seven eighths for an article excluding entirely free people of color. As their leaders were mainly proslavery, it is probable that the reason why they excluded slavery from the constitution was their fear of defeat in their application for admission. Their organs contended that, if they must have colored people among them at all, they should be as slaves; as they feared that they could not effect their enslavement, they advocated their exclusion. Oregon was indeed destined to be a free State, but, in the words of Edmund Quincy, “in its moral attitude, in its external policy, in its relations to the great general issues pending in the whole country between mastership and manhood, it is virtually a slave State."

On the 11th of February, 1859, Mr. Stephens reported from the Committee on Territories a bill for the admission of Oregon as a State. A minority report, signed by Grow, Granger, and Knapp, was also presented, protesting against its admission with a constitution so discriminating against color. The proposition led to an earnest debate. Several amendments were offered, but they were ruled out of order, and the debate proceeded upon the merits of the two reports. Mr. Grow opposed the admission with such a constitution, on account of its injustice to a whole class born on American soil, “because they are poor, despised, and friendless." This declaration drew from Eli Thayer of Massachusetts the response that he should vote for the admission, because Oregon came, “not asking, but bringing gifts”; and because of the state of the parties, which necessitated some compromise. There were, he said, three parties in the Territory, the free State party, the slave State party, and the anti-negro party, the latter preferring to have slaves rather than free negroes. To secure the support of these, the Republicans and free State Democrats inserted the provision complained of. Mr. Comins of the same State expressed his regret that Oregon, among whose early settlers were many New England men, should have inserted such a provision; but being now at the door, he should vote for its admission. James Hughes, a Democratic member from Indiana, spoke of the party that had just sprung into being, and had almost seized the reins of government; but he denounced it severely for its opposition to the bill, and he accused its members of being in favor of “negro equality." Charles Case of Indiana, though admit ting that no State had gone so far as Oregon in its discrimination against free negroes, for there was not a slave State, he said, in which a free negro could not go into court and sue for redress of grievances, expressed his purpose to vote for its admission, as he did not wish it to be exposed to the corrupting influences of the administration; besides, he indulged the hope that in tune it would become as just as it was free.

But though, as ever in those days, power was on the side of the oppressor, the strength of argument and the earnestness and eloquence of appeal were on the side of the oppressed. Clarke B. Cochrane of New York said it was not a question of negro equality, but one of ordinary humanity; and he expressed the hope that those Republicans whose votes should give vitality to that constitution would say nothing more of the wrongs of the slave. It was better to be a slave, he said, " than to be an outlaw and an outcast, pursued, hunted, and homeless, without country, security, or friends, excluded from the courts, driven from the soil, and cast, a mere worthless waif, upon society." “Were I by my vote," said Mr. Dawes of Massachusetts, “to breathe the breath of life into that constitution, I should expect to be burned in effigy at every cross road in my district." Mr. Hoard of New York said there could not be found, in all the constitutions of the slave States combined, so much inhumanity and injustice as in the constitution before them.

Mr. Bingham of Ohio made a very thorough and eloquent argument against the bill. With great force and felicity of language, and with befitting vehemence of expression, he entered his protest against “the horrid injustice" of this war on “the rights of human nature." He said that, before the Constitution, "all men are sacred, white or black, rich or poor, strong or weak, wise or simple; that before its divine rule of justice and equality of natural rights, Lazarus in his rags is on a level with the rich man clothed in purple and fine linen; the peasant in his hovel as sacred as the prince in his palace or the king on his throne." Stating the fact that there were about eight hundred thousand native-born colored men in the country, and affirming the principle that if Oregon might exclude them all other States might, he asked : " What in the name of God will you do with these men, these eight hundred thousand free native-born of our common country ? In the name of eternal justice I deny this pretended State right to exile any of its native-born freemen, or deny them a fair hearing in maintenance of their rights in the courts of jus tice." Anticipating the contingency that the bill might pass, he exclaimed: " 0, sir, how will this burning disgrace about to be enacted into law hiss among the nations that your boasted trial by jury is to be withheld from eight hundred thousands of our citizens and their posterity forever, because they were so weak or unfortunate as to be born with tawny skins." But notwithstanding these cogent arguments and earnest protests, the bill passed the House by a vote of one hundred and fourteen to one hundred and three.

On the 5th of May it was taken up in the Senate, where substantially the same line of argument was pursued, for and against it, as had been followed in the House. Fessenden, Wade, and Wilson entered their protest against this inhuman provision, and refused to vote for the admission asked for. The slaveholders did not fail to make this action of a North ern Territory a text and occasion for defences of slavery and their slaveholding policy. Mr. Mason predicted that the time would come when the non-slaveholding States would be forced to adopt the same policy, and the escaped fugitives would return and ask to be made slaves again. Mr. Brown said that a portion of the people of the Northern States were very anxious to persuade and aid their slaves to escape, but after they had escaped they would have nothing to do with them. All their pretended sympathy, he charged, was a mockery. Mr. Douglas could not permit the opportunity to escape without the expression of his "care not” policy. “If Oregon wants that population," he said, “let her have them; if she does not want them, let her exclude them; it matters not to me. If she wants slaves, let her have them; if she does not want them, let her exclude them; that is her business, not mine." The bill was adopted on the 18th of May by a vote of thirty-five to seventeen, several Republicans voting for it.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 624-627.



See Also US Congress Debates on Slavery, 30th Congress; US Congress Debates on Slavery 31st Congres

Chapter: “Exclusion of Slavery from Oregon,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

Among the villanies of which slavery was said to be the "sum" was its essential dishonesty. Conceived in fraud, it began and perpetuated its existence by the most flagrant outrage on the commonest and most sacred of human rights. Consequently the Slave Power, its embodiment, was never fair and honorable, high-minded or magnanimous. Never true to its pledges, and never bound by formal compacts, it very naturally treated with equal disregard the unwritten laws of social comity and good neighborhood. Gratitude and reciprocity were as foreign to it as justice and integrity. Its friendships were only simulated, and even its professions of regard were measured by the benefit hoped for therefrom. It clung to persons and parties only so long as they could be used, and when they ceased to be serviceable they were discarded and flung away. Not an inapt illustration was afforded by its treatment of the Northern Democracy on the Oregon question. 

The fidelity of Northern Democrats on the Texan issue, the fearful burden they assumed in consequence, and the inroad it made on their ranks, were matters of common notoriety. For the sake of appearances, if nothing more, they demanded something like reciprocity, from their Southern allies when .the question in debate referred to northern extension on "the Pacific. When, therefore, the dispute arose concerning the northwestern boundary between the United States and British America, the Northern Democrats assumed, as a party issue, the most extreme limit as their demand. The limit fixed upon was the parallel of fifty-four degrees and forty minutes, north latitude. The title of the United States up to that line, they contended, was clear and unquestionable. ''Fifty-four, forty or fight “became their watchword and rallying-cry. But the Southern Democrats, true to their instincts, though ready to encounter any danger, national or partisan, to extend the boundaries southward, made no concealment of their lack of interest or zeal in this cry for northern extension. That there was danger of this added territory being free if acquired, that England might reject and resist such a claim, were sufficient reasons why they did not desire it, while no counterbalancing considerations were allowed in the form of obligations due for past favors and the past fealty of their Northern allies. Having used them in carrying to a successful issue the Texas scheme, they recognized no obligation to reciprocate the favor, and so the "fifty-four forty " came down quietly and quickly to forty-nine.

Before, however, this settlement of the dispute with Great Britain, and while it was in abeyance, there had been attempts to provide a government for Oregon. As far back as 1844 a bill had been introduced, not only singular in the time of its introduction, as its adoption then might have been cause of war with England, but containing the strange provision, that the sole power of framing and establishing the laws, slave or free, for the Territory, should be given to two officers, the governor and judge, to be appointed by the President. As the administration was under the control of the Slave Power, and as Indian slavery was already existing in this territory, there was the well-grounded fear that, though lying north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, the adoption of the bill would somehow inure to the damage of freedom.

This fear, with the solicitude that England would deem its adoption just cause of war, created a determined purpose in those who dreaded both slavery and war to defeat the project, , especially as there were evidences of an arrangement between. Northern and Southern men by which Southern support of this project was made the condition precedent of Northern votes for the Texas scheme. Prominent in this effort was Robert C. Winthrop of Massachusetts. To prevent, as he avowed, “the two irresponsible lawgivers” from” legalizing the existence of slavery in Oregon," he moved the adoption of a provision, involving the principle of the ordinance of. 1787, and the famous “Wilmot proviso," of a later date. His purpose, however, as he afterward explained, was mainly strategic, he supposing that the adoption of such a provision would render the measure so distasteful to Southern members as to prevent their support of the bill thus hampered by his amendment. He failed, however; for, though his provision was adopted, the South voted for the bill; which was carried in the House, but failed in the Senate. In 1846, Stephen A. Douglas, then a-member of the House, reported a bill for the government of Oregon with its northern boundaries fixed by a treaty with England. This bill, amended so as to prohibit slavery, was adopted by the House, but it never reached a vote in the Senate. At the next session, he introduced another bill, to which Mr. Burt of South Carolina proposed, as all" amendment, that slavery should be prohibited, " for the reason" that Oregon was territory north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, the line of the Missouri Compromise, dividing freedom from slavery. But the amendment was rejected, and the bill, though passing the House, failed in the Senate.

Early in January, 1848, Mr. Douglas, having been transferred to the Senate and to the leadership of its Committee on Territories, introduced a similar bill into that body. Near the close of May Mr. Hale introduced an amendment incorporating the principle of the ordinance of 1787 into the act proposed. ·A debate of great earnestness and forensic ability followed, continuing several weeks, in which Southern members indulged in their accustomed style of invective and attempted intimidation.  In his support of the amendment, Mr. Hale spoke with his usual courtesy and good-nature, but expressive of his defiance of all threats, and of his determination to press the matter of slavery prohibition according to the dictates of his judgment and conscience. “I am willing," he said, “to place myself upon the great principle of human right, to stand where the Word of God and my own conscience concur in placing me, and then bid defiance to all consequences." He was replied to by Democratic senators with great vigor, and with same display of feeling. Mr. Hannagan of Indiana accused him of provoking " a protracted, useless, idle, and pestiferous discussion"; Mr. Bagby of Alabama said the amendment " cast a direct, unnecessary, and gratuitous insult in the teeth of the people of the South "; while Mr. Foote expatiated largely on the dangerous consequences of the proposed amendment. Mr. Hale withdrew his amendment; but his withdrawal did not stop debate.

One section of the bill, the twelfth, proposed to recognize the laws framed by the settlers of Oregon, which excluded slavery, and to grant to its inhabitants the rights, privileges, and immunities secured to the inhabitants of Iowa, where slavery had been prohibited. Jesse D. Bright of Indiana, subsequently expelled from the Senate for giving aid and comfort to the Rebellion, moved to strike out this section. This necessarily opened the whole question of the relations of slavery to the general government. It was really the question afterward more tersely expressed: Shall slavery be national or sectional? Shall the Federal government take it under the aegis of its protection, or shall it be remanded to local laws and municipal regulations? As the slave-masters did not expect Oregon would ever be largely slaveholding, the discussion became rather one of principles than of measures.

In it Mr. Calhoun urged his peculiar views, and proclaimed his recently discovered dogma, that the national flag carried slavery wherever it floated. He maintained the extreme position, that Congress had no power to prevent the citizen of a slave State from emigrating with his slave property to any Territory, and holding his slaves there in servitude; that the people of such Territory had no right to legislate adversely thereto; and that Congress had no power to vest such authority in a Territorial legislature. That doctrine, then deemed novel and alarming, Mr. Calhoun deduced from the equality of the States in the Federal compact.

Mr. Underwood, a Kentucky Whig, of moderate and conservative tendencies, charged the Northern Abolitionists with retarding the work of emancipation in his State, and with adopting a narrow policy and proscriptive tests. He warned the Northern members of ·his party that the tendency in the South 'was to produce a political alliance, offensive and defensive, with the Northern men they denounced as “doughfaces." If slavery should become the great test, he ·said, the maxim, “Divide and conquer," would be engraven on the Southern escutcheon. “That is," he said,” the only course left us whereby to escape the chain which Northern fanaticism is forging for us."

On the other hand, Mr. Baldwin of Connecticut combated the theories of Mr. Calhoun, maintaining that, under the circumstances in which the people of Oregon had been placed, there was an obvious propriety in the recognition of the validity of their past legislation. Deeply interested in the great issue involved in the question concerning their domestic institutions, unless estopped by the higher considerations of national policy and good faith, their voice should be heeded. The question was indeed one of a character affecting the whole American people, and fixing for all future time the destinies of the immense territorial acquisitions on the Pacific. Mr. Niles, too, his colleague, though a prominent member of the Democratic party, maintained substantially the same view, averring that he could not vote for the bill if the twelfth section was stricken out. Indeed, he avowed his willingness to incorporate into the bill, without qualification or restriction, the principle of the ordinance of 1787. “I do not profess," he said, " to belong to the party of progress, and God forbid that I should belong to that progressive party which advances backwards in the cause of civil liberty ; which instead of advancing and adopting a more liberal, comprehensive, and enlightened policy, proposes to fall back on antiquated ideas and to extend and perpetuate an institution, originating in a barbarous age, and equally in conflict with every sound idea of an enlightened government, as it is with every true-feeling of humanity." Even Mr. Houston of Texas expressed the opinion that it was not inconsistent with the slaveholding interests of the country to allow the citizens of Oregon to inhibit slavery.

But Mr. Berrien, though a Whig, seemed equally solicitous with Mr. Calhoun lest some principle should be admitted or precedent established that might inure to the damage of slavery. It was simply, he said pointedly, the question whether the ordinance of 1787 should be extended to Oregon. Reverdy Johnson maintained that, if the bill was passed as it stood, slavery would never be allowed in the Territory of Oregon. He wished the senators from the South to be aware of the fact, that if the "twelfth section stood, slavery was just as effectually prohibited in that Territory as if they attached the Wilmot proviso to the bill.

The question recurring on striking out the twelfth section, Mr. Dix, a Democratic senator from New York, made an elaborate and scholarly speech in opposition to the extension of slavery, " as of evil tendency in government, wrong in itself, and repugnant to the humanity and civilization of the age." It was then moved by Jefferson Davis to so amend the twelfth section, as to provide that it should not be so construed as to authorize the prohibition of domestic slavery.

 Mr. Bright, having withdrawn his motion to strike out the twelfth section, moved that the, line of the Missouri Compromise be extended to the Pacific. Mr. Berrien, however, immediately renewed the motion, and the debate proceeded.

In his speech Mr. Calhoun advanced another extreme opinion, that the only property put under the express guaranty of the Constitution was that of slaves. He asserted, too, that the South would never have assented to its adoption, had the Constitutional convention refused to provide for such protection. He developed and expatiated at great length upon the theory that slave-masters might take their slaves into the Territories and hold them there. He expressed, too, his belief that the issues growing out of the slavery question were the only issues potent enough to dissolve the Union. He opposed all antislavery restriction, past, present, or prospective. "If our Union," he said, " and system of government are doomed to perish, and we are to share the fate of so many great people who have gone before us, the historian, who, in some future day, may record the events tending to so calamitous a result, will devote his first chapter to the ordinance of 1787, lauded as it and its authors have been, as the first in that series which led to it. His next chapter will be devoted to the Missouri Compromise. Whether there will be another beyond I know not. It will depend on what we may do. If that historian should possess a philosophical turn of mind, and be disposed to look to more remote and recondite causes, he will trace it to a proposition, which originated in a hypothetical truism, but which as now expressed and now understood is the most false and most dangerous of all political errors. The proposition to which I allude has become an axiom in the minds of a vast majority on both sides of the Atlantic, and is repeated daily from tongue to tongue as an established and incontrovertible truth; it is that, ' all men are born free and equal’…As understood, there is not a word of truth in it…It is utterly untrue." 

While others, from indolence, greed of gain, and lust of power, without much consideration of questions of casuistry and political economy involved, eagerly clutched whatever the wicked laws of slavery gave them, Mr. Calhoun's devotion to the system seemed to be the result of carefully studied and well-matured convictions. He was the acknowledged embodiment and exponent of the principles of chattelhood, its philosopher, statesman, and chief. In this speech, which was one of his most elaborate efforts, he proceeded at great length in the development of the fundamental ideas and philosophy of his system. Discarding the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence, the doctrines of Locke and Sydney, he maintained that they had retarded the cause of liberty and civilization ; powerful to pull down governments and prevent their construction ; had contributed largely to the " anarchical condition of Europe " ; had caused Jefferson to take utterly " false views " of the subordinate relation of the black to the white race in the South ; and threatened, through "deep and dangerous agitations," to involve the country in countless woes. Mr. Berrien followed in a speech hardly less extreme in the opinions advanced, or less violent in the tones and terms with which they were expressed.

Mr. Phelps of Vermont replied to both, at length, in a speech of remarkable eloquence and power. He commented in strong and severe language upon the insincerity of the nation's professions of liberty, while it sent forth and spread over its Territories the relics of a barbarous civilization. He protested against the doctrines advanced in the debate, and reminded senators of events then transpiring in France. “We have," he said,” seen the masses rising in their might, and, amid the throes of revolution, prostrating their arbitrary, tyrannical, and oppressive institutions, and proclaiming the doctrines of universal liberty and political equality. Nay, more, we have seen the shackles stricken from the African, as one of the first fruits of the revolution, and the whole system of African slavery exterminated at a blow, fully, absolutely, and forever, in all the dominion of the new republic. And we raised aloud the voice of approbation and sympathy. Yet, while the resolutions are floating to their destination, as if in mockery of our professions, our congratulations, and our sympathies, we are engaged in extending the same system of African slavery over the immense region now subject to our dominion, and preparing the way for its further extension to our future acquisitions." John Davis of Massachusetts, in a similar strain, pleaded against the proposed desecration of the virgin soil of Oregon. He expressed his willingness to abide by the compromises of the Constitution, and leave slavery in the States to be managed by themselves without outside interference; hut he insisted that free soil must not he encumbered by slavery.

The replies and arguments of Southern leaders exhibited very noticeable evidences of the transition through which their minds were passing. As new dangers to the slave system were revealing themselves, the necessity of new precautions and new guaranties became apparent. Exactly what was demanded and what could be secured were clearly matters of doubt on which agreement as yet had not been reached. Though many of their speeches seemed little more than random remarks, and their plans, if any, inchoate and only rudimentary, it was clear that they were enunciating novel views and preparing to take a new departure on the slavery issue, as new for the South as for the North. Thus Mr. Mason denied in his remarks that the people of Oregon had the right, if they were so disposed, to exclude slavery, and he sharply rebuked the committee for bringing in a bill to sanction their action. Mr. Johnson of Georgia spoke at great length, denying the right of Congress or of the Territorial legislature to exclude slavery, and for this extreme opinion he urged the strict construction of the Constitution, reminding the South that in this strict construction was their only hope. Reverdy Johnson took gloomy views of the crisis, expressing his unwillingness to think of the consequences, or to lift the veil that hung between them and the horrors behind it, if the slavery controversy was not amicably ended. He warned senators that the slavery question was " the question of the day,'' casting all others into the shade. It must be settled soon, too, he contended, if settled at all. Mr. Hunter of Virginia expressed the thought that Congress should not hesitate between the alternatives presented. On the one side were union, harmony, prosperity; on the other, bickerings, discord, and the wreck of every hope. The recognized right to take slaves into the Territory would bring the former; its inhibition the latter.

Jefferson Davis addressed the Senate at great length, maintaining that the real purpose of those who sought to appropriate the territories to the exclusive formation of non-slaveholding States was the political aggrandizement of the North; that the people of that section wished, by forbidding the growth of the slaveholding States, and by devoting the vast territorial domain to the formation of free States, to amend the Constitution and strip the South of the guaranties it gave. He asserted that, if the spirit of compromise had departed, the days of the confederacy were numbered, and that it was better to separate peaceably than to stain the battle-fields of the Revolution with the blood of civil war.

At the close of Mr. Davis's speech Mr. Clayton of Delaware, with a view, he said, to so concentrate opinion as to act with effect, moved for the appointment of ·a special committee of eight, four from the South and four from the North, to whom the bill should be recommitted. Mr. Foote of Mississippi approved the proposition for the settlement of the “much-vexed and perilous question." Daniel S. Dickinson, then a Democratic senator from New York, saw in the motion the “first gleam of sunshine." Mr. Hale did not share in such hopes, but thought that the exact reverse would be the result, and that its effect would be to "throw a mist all around us." He could never be a party to a compromise that involved moral dereliction. He could look all the horrors of dissolution steadily in the face before he could look to that "moral ruin which must fall upon us when we have so far prostituted ourselves as to become the pioneers of slavery over these Territories." Mr. Clayton's motion was adopted by a majority of seventeen, and himself, Bright of Indiana, Calhoun of South Carolina, Clarke of Rhode Island, Atchison of Missouri, Phelps of Vermont, Dickinson of New York, and Underwood of Kentucky, were appointed members of that committee.

Though, in form, the two sections were equally represented on this committee, yet the two conflicting ideas that were dividing the country were not. In form and by presence it was constituted in the spirit of compromise; in reality it meant then, as ever, Northern concession to Southern exactions. Indeed, freedom had but one voice or representative, and that in the person of Mr. Phelps; and he, although a man of brilliant parts and generous impulses, was often, by personal defects and habits, unreliable, and, never a match for the Southern members and the three who sympathized but too manifestly with Southern views. That such a committee did not hopelessly betray the cause of justice and humanity in that struggle must have been due to that overruling Providence which watched over the nation's destinies when so seriously imperiled by the malign purposes of its enemies and by the weak and vacillating course of its friends.

The committee reported a bill to establish Territorial governments for Oregon, California, and New Mexico. Introducing the report, the chairman remarked that the territory, for which governments were proposed, covered an area of more than a million of square miles, large as a third of Europe, and capable of sustaining a mighty empire. The matter in controversy, he said, was clearly a constitutional and judicial question. The South contended and the North denied that the Constitution gave the owners of slaves the right to carry them into the Territories. It became, therefore, a judicial question, and must be decided by the Supreme Court.

This report, though seemingly non-committal, was really a pro-slavery document. It created an issue where there was no issue, it questioned what should not have been questioned, and made that dependent on the decision of a court which had already been guaranteed by the higher law of natural right. And these questions, involving not only human rights for the moment, but the future destiny of States themselves, were referred to a court whose known predilections and proclivities were hostile to freedom. The report and accompanying bill were, of course, the signal of a protracted and heated debate, in which the lines between the advocates of the two ideas were sharply drawn and vigorously maintained.

The protest against the bill was earnest and strong. Mr. Niles characterized the compromise as no compromise at all, saying nothing, doing nothing, amounting to nothing. Mr. Baldwin, from the same State, moved an amendment, that provision should only be made for the government of Oregon; but the motion was rejected by twenty majority. Mr. Hamlin remarked that they were gravely discussing the question whether they would create human slavery in territory now free. Such was in fact the question. Sophistry could not evade it, and metaphysics could not escape it.

Mr. Corwin of Ohio brought to the discussion his distinguished ability and unrivalled powers of sarcasm. He maintained that if slavery went into the Territories and remained there one year, according to all experience, it would be eternal. For, if it planted its roots there, the next thing would be earnest appeals about the rights of property. He had great confidence in the Supreme Court, and agreed in the encomiums pronounced upon it by senators. He wished, however, to ascertain in what manner the response is to be obtained from “that infallible divinity, the Supreme Court." “It seems," he said, "that the meaning of the Constitution is to be forever hidden from us, until light shall be given by the Supreme Court. Sir, this bill seems to me a rich and rare legislative curiosity. It does not enact 'a law,' which I had supposed the usual function of legislation. No, sir: it enacts only 'a law-suit.' So we virtually enact that, when the Supreme Court say we can make a law, then we have made it." Portraying with great force of both logic and language slavery and its malign and blinding influences, he said if one man in- fifty were a slaveholder in that Territory, he would persuade the forty-nine that it was better it should exist there. It was capital and social position, opposed to labor and poverty. He reminded the Senate that they were called upon to lay the foundations of society over vast spaces of territory, and ages unborn would bless or curse them as their work was voted wisely or badly done. “If I part company," he said, "with some here, I still find with me some of the past whom the nations venerated. I stand on the ordinance of 1787; there the path is marked by the blood of the Revolution. I stand in company with ' the men of 1787 ,' their locks wet with the mists of the Jordan over which they passed; their garments purple with the waters of the Red Sea through which they led us, of old, to this land of promise. With them to point the way, however dark the present, hope shines upon the future; and, discerning their footprints in my path, I shall tread it with unfaltering trust." 

This earnest and vigorous debate continued till the 26th, when the Senate proceeded to vote on the bill and amendments. It was moved by Mr. Clarke of Rhode Island, that no law repealing the act of the provisional government of Oregon prohibiting slavery should be valid until approved by Congress; but his amendment was rejected by fourteen majority. Mr. Baldwin then moved that it should be the duty of the district attorney, on complaint of any one held in slavery, to take all needful measures in his behalf to secure his freedom, in the courts of the Territory, and, if the courts held that such person is a slave, to carry the case by appeal to the Supreme Court. But the amendment was rejected, less than one third voting for it. It was then moved by Mr. Davis of Massachusetts, that the ordinance of 1787 should remain in force in the Territory of Oregon; but that amendment was rejected by twelve majority. The amendments being disposed of, the bill was passed by a majority of eleven.

Having been reported to the House, Alexander H. Stephens moved that the bill be laid upon the table, which motion prevailed by a majority of fifteen. As the adoption of Mr. Clayton's "compromise" would unquestionably, as the Supreme Court was then constituted, have legalized slavery in Oregon, New Mexico, and California, it will ever remain a marvel that it should have been defeated on the motion of one who performed so important a part in the subsequent attempt to establish a confederacy with slavery for its "corner-stone." It was certainly singular that so prominent a representative of the Slave Power should thus throw away the advantage afforded by that report and bill.

In the House of Representatives, on the 9th of February, 1848, Caleb B. Smith, then a Whig member from Indiana, afterward Secretary of the Interior under President Lincoln, reported from the Committee on Territories a bill providing a Territorial government for Oregon. Near the close of the following month, it was taken up and debated in committee of the whole until the 1st of August. Upon that bill, the President's messages, measures relating to the Mexican war, the acquisition and government of Territories, and the presidential election, many speeches, several of marked ability, were made in the House touching slavery and its issues. In no previous· session had these subjects been more clearly and forcibly presented. Principles and policies had never been more fearlessly enunciated, and parties in the struggle were becoming more and more sharply defined. And yet, though the process of crystallization was in progress, there still appeared traces of individual preference and conviction, as if neither side had fully matured its policy, or clearly mapped out the ground it had finally decided to occupy. Consequently there was a great variety of motions, amendments, and conflicting votes, which would not have been witnessed at later stages of the struggle, when the issues had become more clearly defined, and the ascendency of the Slave Power more unquestioned and complete. The various amendments offered and rejected exhibited a similar confusion of ideas and want of concert, some votes being inconsistent with others given by the same individuals, making it apparent that there were those who gave conflicting votes, now on one side and now on another of the vexed question. What, however, could not be gained, was the rejection of the twelfth section. This the House uniformly voted down, and on the 2d of March it adopted the bill by a majority of fifty-eight. Among the amendments proposed and rejected was one by Mr. Palfrey of Massachusetts, to strike out the words “free white " from the required qualifications of voters

On the 5th of August, Mr. Douglas introduced into the Senate the bill with amendments, among which was one, extending the ordinance of 1787 to Oregon, with the reason,  “inasmuch as said Territory is north of the parallel of 36° 30' north latitude, usually known as the line of the· Missouri Compromise." Mr. Niles expressed his astonishment that the Committee on Territories should have reported such an amendment. Mr. Douglas explained that the committee unanimously desired that the vote on the Oregon Bill should commit no senator on the great question. Mr. Mason of Virginia charged the committee with a design to evade the slavery question. He referred to the." Free-Soil convention,'' soon to meet at Buffalo, and declared” but one god was to be worshipped there, and that that god was power, -the power to trample down the Constitution of the country." He referred with approbation to the recent decision of Virginia, not to regard any law of the United States that should forbid her citizens from carrying their slaves into any of the Territories.

In his reference to “power" as the only god of the new party, the irate and dogmatic Virginian spoke as a Southern politician, who forecasted the course of the new party of freedom by what he knew of the old party of slavery. As he and his party had known “no god but power," he may have apprehended that the chances were then adverse, and that the infant at Buffalo would soon become the giant to wrest from their hands the sceptre they had so long wielded with such despotic sway. But whatever may have been his thoughts or apprehensions, his words foreshadowed what soon became realities. The new party did obtain the power he feared, the old party did enact the treason he threatened. 

To the threat of the Virginian, that his State, if forced another step, would proclaim nullification, Mr. Dayton of New Jersey responded in proper terms of fearless rebuke. Mr. Webster, too, with strong and emphatic language, discarded the seeming apology of the amendment. He was unwilling, he said, to give as a reason for the act that Oregon was north of the compromise line. “My objection,'' he said,” to slavery is irrespective of lines and points of latitude; it takes in the whole country and the whole question. I am opposed to it in every shape and in every qualification, and am against any compromise of the question." It seems difficult to realize that in less than two years the author of these noble sentiments and purposes could have delivered the 7th of March speech.

Mr. Butler of South Carolina spoke with more than his usual irascibility. He referred to the action of Virginia, and asserted that she had been responded to by all the Southern States. He told the Senate that his advice to his constituents would be to go to the Territories with arms in their hands and take possession of what they had helped to acquire. “So help me God," he said,” I would advise my constituents to take with them their property, and settle at all hazards in that Territory. I would go home and give my constituents these views, and I trust I have not so much infirmity as to prevent me from carrying my purposes into effect." The bill, he declared, was a masked battery, from behind which the institutions of the South were to be assailed. But the South, he asserted, did not fear the contest; he was ready to embark in the boat with his State, and entrust it to the care of Heaven. Mr. Calhoun said the North could not be more determined to resist the South, than he was to resist such exclusion. He claimed that the North had been unable to meet the arguments of Southern senators. Referring to the divisions that distracted the North, he said the South stood united and firm. "Slavery," he maintained, with strange obliviousness of the facts ' of the case, “has benefited all mankind, all countries but the South. Slavery, like the waters of the Nile, has spread its fertilizing influences all over the world. It has benefited all but the Southern planter, who has been the tutor, the friend as well as the master of the slave, and has raised him I up to civilization."

Mr. Niles, on the other hand, declared that the South had in view the extension of slavery, and that Mr. Calhoun traced the crisis to a wrong cause when he attributed it to the Abolitionists of the North. It sprung, he said, from the opposition of the free States to the Southern policy of extending slavery over the new Territories. They thought the Slave Power strong enough, and they would oppose to the last every effort to extend slavery over the continent.

Reverdy Johnson, in reply to Mr. Webster, avowed that if the North had come to a fixed determination to prevent the South from carrying their slaves into the new territory, the States could remain together no longer, though he admitted the power of Congress to enact such prohibition, and he believed, as a judicial question, that the decision would be against the South. Mr. Webster said, in reply, that he only spoke for himself, and not for the North. “I do not know," he said, "what the North is, or where the North is." He claimed that he was not one of those who were accustomed to speak of the dissolution of the Union. An earthquake might come, a volcano might burst forth, and thus a dissolution of the Union might be among possible calamities.

The motion of Mr. Foote, that the bill do lie upon the table, was rejected by a decisive vote. The amendment reported by the committee, giving a reason for the prohibition of slavery, received only the vote of Mr. Douglas and Mr. Bright. Mr. Douglas then moved to extend the line of the Missouri Compromise to the Pacific Ocean. Mr. Johnson of Georgia expressed his willingness to vote for that line, if it was offered in the same spirit as in 1820; and he desired to know if it was so tendered. Mr. Douglas replied that, speaking for himself, he could say it was so offered. The amendment was agreed to, and the bill passed by eleven majority.

The House, having refused to concur in the amendment, only three members voting for it, the bill was returned to the Senate, Mr. Mason making an unsuccessful motion to lay the whole subject on the table. Mr. Benton moved to recede from the amendment, and briefly gave his reasons for his motion. Mr. Berrien made an earnest appeal to the Senate "not to let this last opportunity for conciliation pass away," and he expressed his desire for a committee of conference. Mr. Calhoun urged the same course, saying that “the great strife between the North and the South is ended,"· that “the separation of the North and the South is completed. The South has now a most solemn obligation to perform, to herself, to the Constitution, to the Union. She is hound to come to a decision, not to permit this to go on any further, but to show that, dearly as she prizes the Union, there are questions she regards of greater importance than the Union." He closed by the declaration that, if the North did not give to the South a compromise then, she would at the next session demand all, and would not be satisfied with anything less. It seems hardly credible, in view of what were then notorious facts, and especially in the light of subsequent events and revelations, that one of Mr. Calhoun's intelligence could have ventured upon such assertions before the American people. Monomania on the subject, is the only explanation which will rescue his, memory from the imputation of conscious unfairness and untruthfulness.

It was not singular, then, that other Southern members, unwilling to indorse his extreme opinions, were prompt to disclaim sympathy with them. Mr. Bell of Tennessee remarked that he· was a Southern man, and deeply involved in Southern interests, but he believed that Mr. Calhoun had placed the South in a wrong position when he assumed that by the decision of that question the die would be cast, and the issue then made would involve the dissolution of the Union. Mr. Houston protested against every attempt to traduce the Union, and every cry for its dissolution. He was of the South, and was ready to defend the South; but the Union was his guiding star, and he would fix his eyes on that star to direct, his course. He expressed his regret that Mr. Calhoun had used menacing language against it. He solemnly affirmed that he would never go into a Southern convention, nor aid in any scheme to bring about a disruption of the States. He desired to know if “the South would raise troops to cut off emigrants to Oregon because they were going there without negroes. The senator from South Carolina, he said, after voting for the Missouri Compromise, could not head such a convention. Heaven would not let him. '' Such a mutinous, nondescript company as he would have under him would never have been seen before."

Mr. Benton reminded the Senate that they had agreed to every word of the bill as it came from the House, but they had incorporated into it extraneous matter. They had heard from Mr. Calhoun of a “second chapter “in the history of dissolution. Chapter "number two” was to open on the Oregon bill. Menaces of that kind had no influence upon him. The man who should bring brick, mortar, and trowel to dam up the Mississippi had commenced a feasible enterprise in comparison with the project of that man who undertook to run a dividing line between the States. The debate continued through the night till after nine o'clock on Sunday morning, when a vote, taken on Mr. Benton's motion to recede from the amendment extending the line of the Missouri compromise to the Pacific Ocean, was agreed to by a majority of four; and the bill establishing a Territorial government for Oregon became a law. President Polk accompanied his signature of the bill with a message, in which he said that he did so only in consideration of the fact that the Territory was far to the north of the Missouri Compromise line. “Had it," he said,” embraced  territory south of that compromise, the question presented for my consideration would have been of a far different character, and my action upon it must have corresponded with my convictions.''

Thus closed a long, excited, and severe struggle to secure freedom to Oregon. Its people, left without a Territorial organization, had established a provisional government in which slavery was forbidden. Though their wishes had been thus manifested and their opinions were thus· clearly known, yet for months Congress was made the theatre of a fierce and protracted struggle, led, too, by those most clamorous for State rights, to override those well-known opinions and wishes, and to give the slave-masters a right to carry their slaves across the continent, over the Rocky Mountains, and to hold them among a people who had shown their abhorrence of the system by their decisive vote against it. These aggressive demands of slavery, during that long and fierce struggle, were resisted by the Northern Whigs with great firmness. Quite a number, too, of the Northern Democrats left on record their protestations of voice and vote against this attempt to force slavery upon Oregon against the clearly expressed wish of its inhabitants. Among them stand prominent the names of Dix of New York, Niles of Connecticut and Hamlin of Maine.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 31-49.



Please note that this entry includes three chapters:

·        Wilson, “Organization of Southern Confederacy,” 1878

·        Wilson, “The Other Seceded States,” 1878

·        Wilson, “Withdrawal of Members and Action Thereon,” 1878

Chapter: “Organization of Southern Confederacy,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Hitherto the work of secession had been mainly among a comparatively few of the leading citizens of the slaveholding States. Others, it was seen, prominent in Church and State must be converted to the theory and policy of disunion before the people at large could be persuaded to lend their necessary co-operation and support. This then became the next necessity, and the conspirators entered upon the work, referred to and outlined in a previous chapter, with an earnest and determined purpose.

The South Carolina convention met on the 17th of December, 1860, at Columbia. General D. F. Jamison was chosen president. During the evening session commissioners from Alabama and Mississippi were introduced. They addressed the body in favor of immediate secession, and a resolution was unanimously carried favoring that decisive act. The next day a telegram was received from the governor of Alabama counselling the convention to listen to no proposition of compromise or delay.

On the 20th an ordinance of secession was reported by Mr. Inglis. That, too, received the unanimous support of the convention; so fiercely bent on rebellion were its members, so fully ripe for that supreme act of treason. It repealed the original act of the State ratifying the Constitution of the United States, and declared that the union subsisting between South Carolina and the other States was dissolved. The number of votes cast for the ordinance was one hundred and eighty-nine.

The exultant cry, "The Union is dissolved!" went forth, and was caught up by the enthusiastic multitude with sympathetic joy. The people of Charleston, on receiving the intelligence, crowded her streets, with loud huzzas for a Southern confederacy. Palmetto flags fluttered from the windows and waved over the public buildings. Amid these demonstrations, a body of young men marched to the grave of John C. Calhoun, formed a circle around his tomb, and made a solemn vow to devote "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of South Carolina independence."

At seven o'clock in the evening the convention assembled in the great hall of the South Carolina Institute, afterward known as "Secession Hall," and there with imposing ceremonies signed the ordinance of secession. After their signatures had been affixed, the president of the convention, having read it, made formal proclamation: " The ordinance of secession has been signed and ratified, and I proclaim the State of South Carolina an independent commonwealth." Amid shouts of exultation, the convention adjourned.

On the 21st the convention appointed Robert W. Barnwell, James H, Adams, and James L. Orr commissioners to proceed to Washington to treat with the national government. Robert Barnwell Rhett, from the committee to prepare an " Address of the people of South Carolina to the people of the slaveholding States," made report. The paper was drawn up by Mr. Rhett himself. Though claiming that it had been Southern statesmanship which had guided heretofore the government of the United States, it nevertheless made the avowal that the Constitution had failed of the purposes of its adoption. It declared that South Carolina desired no destiny separate from the Southern States; that she wished to be one of a great slaveholding confederacy; and that " united together we must be a great, free, and prosperous people, whose renown must spread throughout the civilized world, and pass down we trust to the remotest ages." It invoked their aid "in forming a confederacy of slaveholding States."

Charles G. Memminger reported a "Declaration of the causes which justified the secession of South Carolina from the national government." Though unanimous in the act of secession, the debate revealed a palpable disagreement as to the causes to be assigned therefor, or which led thereto. While the formation and success of the Republican party were cited as a sufficient cause, Mr. Rhett declared that the secession of South Carolina was not the event of a day. "It is not," he said, "anything produced by Mr. Lincoln's election, or by the non-execution of the Fugitive Slave Act. It is a matter which has been gathering head for thirty years." He had himself, he said, expressed doubts of the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act on the floor of the Senate, and had expressed the opinion that the States should be responsible for the rendition of fugitive slaves. Mr. Keitt, then a member of the House of Representatives, said, "I have been engaged in this movement ever since I entered political life." Mr. Parker declared it to be "no spasmodic effort that has suddenly come upon us; it has been gradually culminating for a long period of thirty years." And Mr. Inglis, who reported the ordinance, avowed that "most of us have had this matter under consideration for the last twenty years."

On the 24th of December Governor Pickens issued a proclamation. In it he declared that "South Carolina is, and has a right to be, a separate, sovereign, free, and independent State, and as such has a right to levy war, to conclude peace, to negotiate treaties, leagues, or covenants, and to do all acts whatever that rightfully appertain to a free and independent State." The convention, on the 26th, under the lead of Mr. Rhett, invited the seceding States to unite with South Carolina in convention, and to meet at Montgomery on the 13th of February, for the purpose of forming a Southern confederacy; agreed to send commissioners to each of the slaveholding States that might hold conventions, to ask their co-operation; and authorized the governor to receive ambassadors, ministers, and consuls from foreign countries. When the question of appointing commissioners to each of the States to bear to them a copy of the South Carolina ordinance of secession was pending, Mr. Dargen proposed to send also a copy to each of the States. Affirming that it was not true that all the Northern people were hostile to the rights of the South, he said, "We have a Spartan band in every Northern State." But the proposition failed. Governor Pickens appointed a cabinet of constitutional advisers, and assumed to be the chief magistrate of a nation. After the adjournment of the convention on the 5th of January, the legislature made a call for volunteers, authorized a loan of four hundred thousand dollars, and took other measures for the defence of what they deemed a new born nation.

The passage of the ordinance of secession was received in the cotton States with wild demonstrations and joyous declamations. Banners were unfurled, guns fired, music and song hailed and welcomed the advent.

Mississippi next followed. The 20th of December had been appointed for the election of delegates, and the 7th of January, 1861, for the meeting of the convention. The State, though united in favor of secession, was divided into two parties, "immediate secessionists" and " co-operationists." But when the convention assembled on the 7th of January, the former had complete control. The co-operationists sought to postpone action, but they were signally defeated. The committee appointed to draft an ordinance of secession reported on the 8th. The next day it was adopted by a vote of eighty-four to fifteen, and then declared unanimous. The sovereignty of the State was formally acknowledged by Judge Samuel J. Gholson of the United States District Court. In the exercise, too, of her sovereignty, the State assumed the right to dictate the terms upon which the Mississippi should be navigated. The governor ordered that the Whitman battery should be planted on the bluffs at Vicksburg, and that every vessel that should attempt to pass should be hailed and examined. Immediate measures were taken by the legislature to arm the military forces of the State. The governor of Louisiana sent muskets, cannon, and ammunition he had seized in the national arsenal at Baton Rouge. Jefferson Davis and Jacob Thompson guaranteed the payment of twenty-five thou sand dollars for the purchase of arms, and Albert G. Brown sent the governor five hundred dollars.

As the politicians of Florida had rivalled those of South Carolina in favor of slavery and the slave-trade, they were now equally earnest for the formation of a Southern confederacy. On the 3d of January the State convention met at Tallahassee, and on the 10th, by a vote of sixty-two to seven, it passed an ordinance of secession, declaring Florida to be " a sovereign and independent nation." The ordinance was signed, and this action of the State was welcomed by the ringing of bells and every demonstration of joy. Her Senators in Congress did not at once resign, Mr. Yulee giving as a reason for their remaining in their places until the 4th of March, that they could thus embarrass the administration of Mr. Buchanan and prevent the Republicans from effecting any legislation which would strengthen and provide for that of Mr. Lincoln. Delegates were appointed to the Montgomery convention, the legislature authorized the issuing of half a million of treasury notes, and made the holding of office under the national government treason, to be punished with death in the event of hostilities between the State and the nation.

Delegates were elected in Alabama on the 24th of December, and the convention assembled on the 7th of January at Montgomery. Southern Alabama was in favor of immediate secession; but Northern Alabama, freer from the influences of slavery, was for co-operation or for the Union. The convention was divided, as in other Gulf States, between the immediate secessionists and co-operationists; and yet it unanimously resolved that Alabama would not submit to a Republican administration. An ordinance of secession was reported by a committee of thirteen, though there was an accompanying minority report. On the 11th the final vote was taken, and the ordinance was passed by a vote of sixty-one to thirty-nine. The result was received with such popular demonstrations of approval that the co-operationists, who had in the convention refused to follow the lead of Yancey, pledged themselves and their constituents to the support of the ordinance, though a few delegates refused to sign it. Thomas J. Judge was appointed a commissioner to negotiate with the national government, and the convention adjourned on the 30th of January to the 4th of March, its president declaring Alabama to be "in dependent," and affirming that all idea of a reconstruction of the old Union should be now and forever "dismissed."

The election of delegates in Georgia was held on the 2d of January. The struggle in that State between the immediate secessionists and the co-operationists was bitter and active. A system of terrorism was organized by the secessionists. Knights of the Golden Circle, "minute-men," vigilance committees, and other disloyal associations, where they could not persuade, bullied and dragooned both before the election and at the ballot-box. Howell Cobb, who had retired from the Treasury Department, Toombs and Iverson, her Senators, and her Representatives in Congress were untiring in their efforts to commit Georgia to immediate secession. Toombs, then and always a violent and bitter secessionist, telegraphed, on the 22d of December, an address to the people of Georgia. Looking to Congress, or to the people of the North for security, he contended, was fraught with nothing but ruin. " Secession by the 4th of March next," he said, "should be thundered from the ballot by the unanimous voice of Georgia on the 2d of January next. Such a voice will be your best guaranty for liberty, security, tranquillity, and glory."

The Unionists of Georgia, who were for securing Southern rights in the Union, were alarmed by this despatch, and sought counsel and assurances from Douglas and Crittenden. While these gentlemen begged them not to despair of the Union, Toombs, the day before the election, telegraphed that the Cabinet had been broken up, that a coercive policy had been adopted by the administration, that Holt, their "bitter foe," had been made Secretary of War, that Fort Pulaski was in danger, and that " the Abolitionists are defiant." But in spite of all these despatches and other appliances the co-operationists elected a majority of the delegates to the convention.

But the men who were engineering this movement, who despised the masses and regarded them as fit only to be used, were not to be balked by an adverse popular vote, though it was the people's response to the appeal they had made for their indorsement and support. The same policy of repression and coercion, of cajolery and terrorism, which had been resorted to with only too great, though not complete, success in the election of delegates, was now brought to bear upon them when assembled in convention. Nor were their efforts without success, and men, who were chosen to represent the moderate policy of the co-operationists, were swept, by coaxing and bullying, and by the fierce, rushing, and maddening events of the hour, into the ranks of the extremists, and compelled to do their bidding. The convention assembled on the 2d of January, and consisted of two hundred and ninety-five delegates. Two days afterward, a resolution declaring it to be the right and duty of this State to withdraw from the Union was passed by a majority of thirty-five. An ordinance of secession was reported, abrogating all laws binding the State to the Union, and declaring that she was in " full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State." Herschell V. Johnson, B. H. Hill, and Alexander H. Stephens vainly struggled against immediate secession. Stephens spoke with great eloquence and force, using language which — whatever may have been his motive or excuse for afterward joining the Rebellion, admitting in its full force the Southern claim of State rights — convicted him and his co-conspirators of acting their part without sufficient cause, if with the show of reason. Hardly any one has ever painted with darker coloring the wickedness and folly of the great conspiracy. The government of the United States, he said, is the "best and freest government, the most equal in its rights, the most just in its decisions, the most lenient in its measures, and the most inspiring in its principles to elevate the race of men, that the sun of heaven ever shone upon. Now, for you to attempt to overthrow such a government as this, under which we have lived for more than three quarters of a century, — in which we have gained our wealth, our standing as a nation, our domestic safety, while the elements of peril are around, with peace and tranquillity accompanied with unbounded prosperity and rights unassailed, — is the height of madness, folly, and wickedness, to which I can neither lend my sanction nor my vote." But Toombs was a member of the convention, and, in response to his violent appeals, and under his lead, the ordinance was passed by a vote of two hundred and eight against eighty-nine. Unavailing efforts were made to postpone its operation until after the 3d of March, and to submit it to the consideration of the people at the ballot-box. Orr of South Carolina and Shorter of Alabama, commissioners from these States, were invited to seats in the convention. Delegates were appointed to the proposed convention at Montgomery, the governor was thanked for seizing Fort Pulaski, and measures were taken to maintain by force the independence of Georgia.

The election of delegates in Louisiana was on the 8th of January. The vote was light, and resulted in favor of secession. The convention met on the 12th, and ex-Governor Moulton was made its president. Showing how little the people had to do with these so-called popular movements, a letter dated nine days before the convention met, and signed by the Louisiana Senators and two of her Representatives in Congress, was addressed to Moulton as president of the convention, though written nearly a week before the delegates were chosen. Its writers recommended immediate and unqualified secession, and expressed the confident belief that every slave holding State, except Maryland and Delaware, would join in the revolutionary movement. They denounced Holt, the Secretary of War, as an open and virulent enemy of the South. They urged the convention to recognize the right to navigate the Mississippi freely to all citizens on its borders, and advised the convention that it might well treat the difference between secession and revolution " as one more of words than of sub stance, of ideas rather than of things." J. L. Manning of South Carolina and J. A. Winston of Alabama, who had been invited to take seats in the convention, spoke for immediate secession. John Perkins, Jr., chairman of the committee of fifteen appointed to draft an ordinance of secession, reported it on the 24th, and it was adopted by a vote of one hundred and thirteen to seventeen on the 26th. Its passage was received with tumultuous applause, and Governor Moore, accompanied by a military officer bearing the Pelican flag, which was placed in the hands of the president of the convention, entered the hall amid the cheering of the delegates. A motion to submit the ordinance to the people for ratification was lost, and it was then signed by one hundred and twenty-one of the delegates.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 109-117.

Chapter: “The Other Seceded States,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

No intelligent and adequate estimate of the Rebellion and its causes, immediate and remote, can be formed without special note of the small proportion of the people of the South who were at the outset in favor of that extreme measure. Even in the six States which first seceded, South Carolina possibly excepted, there was far from a majority who originally gave it their approval. In the remaining five the proportion was much smaller; though this large preponderance was overcome by able, adroit, and audacious management. By means illegitimate and indefensible, reckless of principle and of consequences, a comparatively few men succeeded in dragooning whole States into the support of a policy the majority condemned, to following leaders the majority distrusted and most cordially disliked. As no sadder and more suggestive commentary was ever afforded of the utter demoralization of slaveholding society, and of the helpless condition of a community that accepted slavery, and accommodated itself to the only conditions on which it could be maintained, it seems needful, to an intelligent apprehension of the subject, though it will be necessary to anticipate events somewhat, that notice should be taken here of the process by which this was done.

How, then, could such an object be accomplished? How could such a result be secured? How came it to pass that this comparatively small number could persuade whole States to support a policy that not only was, but was seen to be, suicidal? How could a class of men who despised the colored man because he was colored, and the poor whites because they were poor, inspire the latter with a willingness, an enthusiasm even, to take up arms, subject themselves to all the hardships and hazards of war, for the express purpose of perpetuating and making more despotic a system that had already despoiled them of so much, and was designed to make still more abject their degradation? A summary and substantial answer might be that it was by the adoption of the same principles and of the same policy by which the Slave Power had dominated and so completely controlled the nation for the preceding two generations; only aggravated and made more intolerant in the immediate communities where slavery was domiciled and had become the controlling social as well as political element. But there was an individuality and a specific character about this last and dying effort of slaveholding control that may justify and call for a more detailed account, even though it require the reproduction of some facts and features thereof of which mention has been already made. Nor does it seem amiss, in this connection, to introduce the words of another, — a foreigner, who thus records the impressions of one who made his observations uninfluenced at least by Northern prejudices and prepossessions. The first item or element in the answer now sought must be looked for in the mental and moral condition of Southern society. Alluding to this point in his recent History of the Civil War in America, the Comte de Paris, says: "Notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject [slavery], our people, who fortunately have not had to wrestle with it, are not aware how much this subtle poison instils itself into the very marrow of society…. But the effects of the servile institution upon the dominant race present a spectacle not less sad and instructive to the historian and philosopher; for a fatal demoralization is the just punishment that slavery inflicts upon those who expect to find nothing in it but profit and power." Proceeding to demonstrate how this demoralization " is the inevitable consequence of slavery, and how, by an inexorable logic, the simple fact of the enslavement of the black corrupts, among the whites, the ideas and morals which are the very foundation of society," and showing that "it is among what are called good slave-owners that we must inquire into the pretended moral perfection of slavery, in order to understand its flagrant immorality," he adds, with a pungent pathos that cannot but flush with shame the cheek of every thoughtful American, "What a deeply sorrowful spectacle for any one who wishes to study human nature to see every sense of righteousness and equity so far perverted in a whole population by the force of habit, that the greatest portion of the ministers of all denominations were not ashamed to sully Christianity by a cowardly approval of slavery ; and men who bought and sold their fellow-beings took up arms for the express purpose of defending this odious privilege, in the name of liberty and property." Alluding to another phase of slave holding society, he directs attention to the fact that " the servile institution, in violating the supreme law of humanity, which links indissolubly together those two words, labor and progress, and in making labor itself a means for brutalizing man, not only degraded the slave, but it also engendered depravity in the master; for the despotism of a whole race, like the absolute power of a single individual or an oligarchy, always ends by disturbing the reason and the moral sense of those who have once inhaled its intoxicating fragrance."

Speaking of the "falsehood" of slavery as having "become the basis of society," of the increase of its influence and power resulting from the prosperity produced by " the extraordinary impulse given to the cultivation of the sugar-cane and the cotton-plant, and of the change in Southern sentiment from regarding the system, with the fathers, as "a social sore" which "the enlightenment and patriotism of their successors " would " heal " to the opinion that regarded " the social system founded upon slavery as the highest state of perfection that modern civilization had reached," he thus sets forth his estimate of Southern society as it existed at the opening of the Rebellion: " In proportion as slavery thus increased in prosperity and power, its influence became more and more preponderant in the community which had adopted it. Like a parasitical plant, which, drawing to itself all the sap of the most vigorous tree, covers it gradually with a foreign verdure and poisonous fruits, so slavery was impairing the morals of the South, and the spirit of her institutions. The form of liberty existed, the press seemed to be free, the deliberations of legislative bodies were tumultuous, and every man boasted of his independence. But the spirit of true liberty, tolerance towards the minority and respect for individual opinion, had departed, and those deceitful appearances concealed the despotism of an inexorable master, slavery, — a master before whom the most powerful of slaveholders was himself but a slave, as abject as the meanest of his laborers.

"No one had a right to question its legitimacy, and like the Eumenides, which the ancients feared to offend by naming them, so wherever the Slave Power was in the ascendant, people did not even dare to mention its name, for fear of touching upon too dangerous a subject. It was on this condition only that such an institution could maintain itself in a prosperous and intelligent community. It would have perished on the very day when the people should be at liberty to discuss it.

"Therefore, notwithstanding their boasted love of freedom, the people of the South did not hesitate to commit any violence in order to crush out, in its incipiency, any attempt to discuss the subject. Any one who had ventured to cast the slightest reflection upon the slavery system could not have continued to live in the South; it was sufficient to point the finger at any stranger and call him an Abolitionist, to consign him at once to the fury of the populace."

Dwelling at some length upon the plantation system "the inconveniences felt in a region of country yet half wild," with a mention of some of the incidents and contingencies attending the working of " their large domains " by servile labor, he noted the division of Southern society into three classes, " at the foot of the ladder the negro bowed down upon the soil he had to cultivate; .... at the top the masters, in the midst of an entirely servile population, more intelligent than educated, brave but irascible, proud but overbearing, eloquent but intolerant, devoting themselves to public affairs — the exclusive direction of which belonged to them — with all the ardor of their temperament.

"The third class — that of common whites, the most important on account of its numbers — occupied a position below the second, and far above the first, without, however, forming an intermediate link between them, for it was deeply imbued with all the prejudices of color. This was the plebs romana, the crowds of clients who parade with ostentation the title of citizen, and only exercise its privileges in blind subserviency to the great slaveholders, who were the real masters of the country. If slavery had not existed in their midst, they would have been workers and tillers of the soil, and might have become farmers and small proprietors. But the more their poverty draws them nearer to the inferior class of slaves, the more anxious are they to keep apart from them, and they spurn work in order to set off more ostentatiously their quality of free men. This unclassified population, wretched and restless, supplied Southern policy with the fighting vanguard which preceded the planter's invasion of the "West with his slaves. At the beginning of the war the North believed that this class would join her in condemnation of the servile institution, whose ruinous competition it ought to have detested. But the North was mistaken in thinking that reason would overcome its prejudices. It showed, on the contrary, that it was ardently devoted to the maintenance of slavery. Its pride was even more at stake than that of the great slaveholders; for while the latter were always sure of remaining in a position far above the freed negroes, the former feared lest their emancipation should disgrace the middle white classes by raising the blacks to their level."

Without the adduction of other particulars, or the recognition of other elements, these make the improbability of the results now under consideration seem less than they would otherwise appear. For certainly it is sufficiently obvious that a society made up of such materials could not but present an inviting field for the machinations of the shrewd, unscrupulous, and designing. With ignorance so profound, with prejudices so unreasoning, and with passions so inflammable, it was not difficult to hoodwink and commit such people to purposes and plans not only dangerous to others but destructive to themselves. But there were other causes. There were auxiliaries that gave greatly increased potency to those elements of mischief. There were combination and careful and long considered preparation. Indeed, division of labor and assignment of parts have seldom been more carefully attended to. "Each man," says the Comte, "had his part laid out. Some, delegated by their own States, constantly visited the neighboring States in order to secure that unanimity to the movement which was to constitute its strength; others were endeavoring to win over the powerful border States, such as Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, as well as North Carolina and Tennessee, which stood aghast, terrified at the approach of the crisis brought on by their associates ; some, again, were even pleading their cause in the North, in the hope of recruiting partisans among those Democrats whom they had forsaken at the last election; while others kept their seats in Congress in order to be able to paralyze its action ; forming, at the same time, a centre whence they issued directions to their friends in the South to complete the dismemberment of the Republic. Jefferson Davis himself continued to take part in the deliberations of the Senate."

Corroborative of the above, and at the same time indicative of the actual method adopted by the conspirators, is the following letter which appeared in the "National Intelligencer," at Washington on the morning of January 11, 1861. It is introduced by the editor, with the remark that it was from "a distinguished citizen of the South who formerly represented his State with great distinction in the popular branch of Congress." It has since transpired that the writer was the Hon. L. D. Evans of Texas, formerly a member of the XXXIVth Congress, and subsequently a judge of the Supreme Court of his adopted State. A native of Tennessee and long resident in Texas, he ever remained true to the Union, and not only advised but encouraged and supported Governor Houston to resist the clamors of the revolutionists in their demands for an extra session of the legislature. Though overborne in this and compelled to leave the State, he rendered essential service to the Union cause and the administration of Mr. Lincoln. He writes: —

" I charge that on last Saturday night a caucus was held in this city by the Southern secession Senators from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. It was then and there resolved in effect to assume to themselves the political power of the South and the control of all political and military operations for the present. They telegraphed to complete the plan of seizing forts, arsenals, and customhouses, and advised the conventions now in session, and soon to assemble, to pass ordinances for immediate secession; but, in order to thwart any operations of the government here, the conventions of the seceding States are to retain their representatives in the Senate and the House.

"They also advised, ordered, or directed the assembling of a convention of delegates from the seceding States at Montgomery on the. 4th of February. This can of course only be done by the revolutionary conventions usurping the powers of the people, and sending delegates over whom they will lose all control in the establishment of a provisional government, which is the plan of the dictators.

"This caucus also resolved to take the most effectual means to dragoon the legislatures of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Virginia into following the se ceding States.

"Maryland is also to be influenced by such appeals to popular passion as have led to the revolutionary steps which promise a conflict with the State and Federal governments in Texas. They have possessed themselves of all the avenues of information in the South, — the telegraph, the press, and the general control of the postmasters. They also confidently rely upon defections in the army and navy.

"The spectacle here presented is startling to contemplate. Senators intrusted with the representative sovereignty of the States, and sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, while yet acting as the privy counsellors of the President, and anxiously looked to by their constituents to effect some practical plan of adjustment, deliberately conceive a conspiracy for the overthrow of the government through the military organizations, the dangerous secret order, the Knights of the Golden Circle, ' Committees of Safety,' Southern leagues, and other agencies at their command; they have instituted as thorough a military and civil despotism as ever cursed a maddened country.

"It is not difficult to foresee the form of government which a convention thus hurriedly thrown together at Montgomery will irrevocably fasten upon a deluded and unsuspecting people. It must essentially be ' a monarchy founded upon military principles ' or it cannot endure. Those who usurp power never fail to forge strong chains. It may be too late to sound the alarm. Nothing may be able to arrest the action of revolutionary tribunals whose decrees are principally in ' secret sessions.' But I call upon the people to pause and reflect before they are forced to surrender every principle of liberty, or to fight those who are becoming their masters rather than their servants."

Abundant corroboration of these statements has since been found, revealing the fact of such a meeting and its action. Among the proofs is a letter, written by Senator Yulee, one of the conspirators, and found in Florida after the capture of Fernandina, giving an account of the meeting and its purposes, among which, as he expresses it, was the thought, that by retaining their seats in Congress, " we can keep the hands of Mr. Buchanan tied, and disable the Republicans from effecting any legislation which will strengthen the hands of the incoming administration."

The next morning Mr. Wilson met Mr. Evans, and, surmising him to have been the writer of the communication, inquired whether or not his surmise was correct. Receiving an affirmative answer, with the remark that the members of that secret conclave should be arrested, Mr. Wilson replied that they deserved expulsion and punishment for their treason, but he felt constrained to add, " There are too many of them, and to expel them will be to precipitate the revolution " ; so perilous did he deem the situation, so really weak was the government, and so illy prepared to cope with its traitorous foes, and repel the dangers that threatened and surrounded it. Even such high-handed treason could be enacted with impunity, and that within the sacred precincts of the capitol.

Subsidiary to and a most important part of this preparation was the enrolment of volunteers. The chronic fear of slave insurrections had always invested with importance the local militia of the South, which similar organizations at the North had never possessed. Under the guise, therefore, of being pre pared to maintain Southern rights and protect Southern interests against all possible contingencies, agents, who were in the secret and who were carrying out purposes of the conspirators, were active in inviting and securing such volunteer enlistments. The Comte de Paris thus refers to this branch of the work of preparation that had been quietly going forward. "The volunteers," he said, " repaired to the recruiting offices which had been opened by the initiative action of the most zealous and ambitious persons in every district. The formation of regiments which were thus spontaneously called into existence throughout the Southern States was generally the private work of a few individuals, associated together for that purpose in their respective villages or quarters. Consequently, while the North was sincerely trying to effect some kind of political compromise, companies of volunteers were seen assembling and arming in haste throughout the whole of the slave States. Their minds were bent upon war, and they went to work with the greatest energy. The zeal of the women stimulated that of the men, and in that population, essentially indolent, whoever hesitated to don the uniform was set down as a coward."

But more effective than any other agency, and more successful in crushing out the Unionism of the slaveholding States were the violence and a system of terrorism which filled that whole land with the tortures of soul as well as those of the body, crushed out everything like freedom of action, of speech, or of thought, and made the words "the sunny South" but the mockery of a name.

This is the testimony of the Comte: "A few exceptions and a considerable number of forced enlistments sufficed to crush out every expression of Union sentiments. Vigilance committees were formed in all the Southern States; and if they did not everywhere proceed to the extremes of violence, they everywhere trampled underfoot all public and individual liberties, by resorting to search-warrants and other vexatious proceedings, which, by intimidating the weak and stimulating the irresolute, contributed to fill up the cadres of the volunteer regiments rapidly.

"In each of the growing centres of civilization, where farmers came from afar across the forests to attend to their political and commercial affairs, vigilance committees were formed, composed of men who had been conspicuous for their excesses during the electoral struggles. Assuming unlimited power without authority, they united in themselves the attributes of a committee of public safety with the functions of a revolutionary tribunal. The bar-room was generally the place of their meetings, and a revolting parody of the august forms of justice was mingled with their noisy orgies. Around the counter on which gin and whiskey circulated freely, a few frantic individuals pronounced judgment upon their fellow citizens, whether present or absent; the accused saw the fatal rope being made ready even before he had been interrogated; the person in contumacy was only informed of his sentence when he fell by the bullet of the executioner, stationed behind a bush for that purpose." Nor was this kind of preparation confined to these classes. Judge Paschal of Texas, visiting the military school at Lexington, Virginia, about the middle of January, 1861, wrote to a friend in Washington that, from conversation with the young men gathered there from the several Southern States, he had become convinced that " the South was virtually in arms and in motion northward," their objective point being the seizure of the national capital, and that General McCulloch was relied on to lead them in the threatened onset, A week later than the date of his letter to the "National Intelligencer," Judge Evans addressed another to Secretary Stanton. From " reliable information " he informed him that there were in process of formation " military associations " throughout the South ; that " within the last two weeks they have reached the magnitude and solidity of an army ready and willing to move at any moment and to any point " ; that " wild enthusiasm which now animates them supplies the place of a regular organization, and facilitates the greatest rapidity of communication " ; that " the movement comprises almost the entire youth of the South, all the restless and ambitious spirits, and all the ever floating population." After describing the general expectation that the government was on the verge of overthrow, that Congress would be broken up before the 15th of February, and that Lincoln would not be inaugurated, he added: "How far this idea has taken form I cannot say, but certain it is that among the members of the associations the belief is universal that such an expedition is intended."

Such substantially was the state of Southern society, and such were the conditions of success, when the secession leaders resolved to make their appeal to the people to come to their support in their great and guilty treason. Though they hoped that every slaveholding State would respond to that appeal and flock to their standard, they knew that some might fail. Accordingly, they resolved that such failure should be the result of no hesitation on their part to appeal to any motives or resort to any measures, however desperate or indefensible. That they did fail in some and succeed in others was due to circumstances and contingencies, agents and agencies, beyond all human prescience and control, as also to that higher agency of Him who was without doubt no less active in preventing some States from joining the Rebellion than He was, as the nation with few exceptions gratefully admitted, in preventing those that did join from accomplishing their fell purposes of dismemberment and destruction. Enough yielded to effect the great purposes of the war, but not enough to destroy the nation. Exactly why Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Arkansas should have been taken out of the Union, while Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were prevented from joining, no man is wise enough to say. At least none but general reasons can be given. Exactly why the purposes of the conspirators were foiled in the one case and not in the other, exactly when the current of treason was checked and turned in the one and not in the other, the wisest can only conjecture. Detailed statements of all the movements and counter-movements, of all the plans made and the plans foiled, of the happy thoughts and timely suggestions of one and another made in some States and their conspicuous absence in the other, would aid much in reaching an adequate estimate and satisfactory conclusions. But they would require more space than can be afforded. A brief and succinct statement of the leading facts in a majority, and a more particular review of the progress of events in two or three of these States, as samples of the whole, must suffice.

There was no State concerning whose course there was greater doubt or more anxious solicitude than Virginia. Her size, position, traditional influence, and past leadership, with the knowledge that, on whichever side of the scale her great weight should be thrown, the fortunes of the threatened conflict would be seriously affected thereby, intensified the anxiety felt. Great efforts were therefore made by the conspirators to commit her to their plans, but without immediate success. As early as January, 1860, Charles G. Memminger was sent by the legislature of South Carolina to that of Virginia, as a special commissioner to enlist its members in their scheme of disunion. He met, however, with indifferent success. In a letter written near the close of the month, he speaks of the difficulty he found in " seeing through the Virginia legislature." He wrote of the Democratic party as " not a unit “; of the Whigs as hoping to "cleave it " whenever dissensions arise; of the effect of Federal politics as " most unfortunate "; of " this great State as comparatively powerless “; of Governor Wise and Mr. Hunter as " really with us." He closed his letter with the declaration: " But still I hope that the result will be favorable. I see no men, however, who would take the position of leaders in a revolution." The reasons of this hesitation here as elsewhere were various, though they did not embrace any lack of interest in slavery, desire for its conservation, and determined purpose to maintain it at all hazards, — a result, it was rightly concluded, more surely attainable within than without the Union. Being a border State, and linked with the free States by family and business ties, many shrunk with reasonable dread from a rupture which could not but put in immediate peril what ever they held most dear. Others had faith that the North would yet favorably respond to their demands for new guaranties, and that they might still maintain their place and ascendency in the Union. It was at least their purpose to make the trial. And then others distrusted South Carolina, which one of her leaders denounced as " a common brawler and disturber of the peace for the last thirty years “; and they hesitated about putting themselves under the lead of one who could "give no security that she would not be as faith less to the next compact as she has been to this which she is now endeavoring to destroy." Nevertheless, the conspirators did not despair. Determined, adroit, audacious, they kept at work, hopeful of success. Nor, as the event proved, did they hope without reason.

John Letcher, then governor, though in too much sympathy with the spirit and purposes of the conspirators, was not fully prepared for the extreme measures they had inaugurated. At the urgent request, however, of leading citizens, he convoked a meeting of the legislature. That body assembled on the 7th of January, 1861. In his message the governor renewed a previous proposition for a general convention of the States. While his policy of caution and inaction was distasteful to those who demanded immediate co-operation, they were gratified with his denunciation of coercion by the general government, and the declaration of the legislature that " any attempt to coerce a State " would be resisted. Though the governor was opposed to a convention, the legislature authorized the election and assembling of one, decreeing in connection therewith that at the former the people should decide whether or not the doings of said convention should be submitted to a vote of the people. The election resulted in the choice of one hundred and fifty-two delegates, a decided majority of whom were op posed to secession. It convened on the 13th of February, and its sessions revealed the sharp conflict of opinion that pre vailed within as well as without the assembly. The conspirators met with indifferent success, and on the 4th of April the convention refused, by a vote of eighty-nine to forty-five, to pass an ordinance of secession. But they were desperate, and hesitated at nothing to enkindle feelings of discontent towards the Union and to inflame the passions of its members.

Alexander H. Stephens, having been sent to Virginia to strengthen the secessionists, addressed the people of Richmond on the 2.3d of April. He assured his excited auditory that the fires of patriotism were blazing brightly from Montgomery to Richmond, that the constitutional liberty they had vainly sought in the old Union they had found in the new; and he predicted that Lincoln would " quit Washington as ignominiously as he entered it." "The people of Virginia," he said, " and the States of the South are one in interest, in feeling, in institutions, and in hope; and why should they not be one in government? Every son of the South from the Potomac to the Rio Grande should rally beneath the same banner. The conflict may be terrible, but the victory will be ours. It remains for you to say whether you will share our triumphs."

To the blinding appeals of sophistry, and to sectional dis trust and hatred, they added attempts to reach the result aimed at by external pressure and the stimulus of Southern sympathy. Among those efforts were the purpose and attempt to goad the extreme Southern States to overt acts of violence and blood. Ruffin and Roger A. Pryor went to Charleston for this purpose. Nor did they go in vain. The jubilant correspondent who affirmed that the "ball fired by Edmund Ruffin will do more for secession in Virginia than volumes of stump speeches" correctly forecasted the effect of such blood-let ting. This, with the President's reply to the Virginia commissioners that he should "repel force by force," and his call for troops, changed very much the aspect of affairs. The feeling in Richmond, too, was contagious, and the men of the convention found it difficult to remain unaffected by the booming of cannon, the ringing of bells, the flying of flags, and the cheering of the excited multitude that were crowding the streets. Many faltered, either quailing before such men aces or seduced by such appliances, and the majority against disunion was rapidly melting away. And yet in a full convention there still remained a majority loyal to the government. But, drunk with passion and with blood, the leaders were not to be defeated, with success so near, if means, however desperate and indefensible, would prevent. In furtherance of that purpose, ten members of the convention were waited upon by leading conspirators, and informed that they had "the choice of three things, either to vote the secession ordinance, to absent themselves, or be hanged." Feeling that further resistance would be in vain, they succumbed to the pressure and were absent, and the ordinance of secession was passed by a vote of eighty-eight to fifty-five.

The convention appointed a committee, at the head of which was ex-President Tyler, to negotiate a treaty with Stephens. On the 24th of April a treaty was signed, providing the whole military force and operations, offensive and defensive, in the impending conflict, should be placed under the control of the President of the Southern Confederacy. The next day the convention adopted and ratified this treaty, appointed delegates to the Confederate Congress, and invited the Confederate government to make Richmond its capital. Thus the convention which had submitted the ordinance of secession to the people of that Commonwealth adopted the provisional government of the Confederate States, and they became, in the words of John Tyler, telegraphed to Governor Pickens, "fellow-citizens once more" While the question was pending before the people, Senator Mason, in a letter of the 16th of May to the " Winchester Virginian," contended that the ordinance of secession had annulled the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that its rejection by the people would violate the sacred pledge made to the Confederate States. He said that if there were those who could not in conscience vote to separate Virginia from the United States, their duty was simple and plain. " Honor and duty require alike," he said, " that they should not vote on the question; and if they retained such opinions, they must leave the State." Mason spoke the voice of the secession leaders. Thousands of Unionists did not dare to vote; Southern troops were on the soil of the State; Union men were everywhere proscribed and hunted down. The vote on the ordinance of secession was taken near the close of the month of May, and more than one hundred thousand majority was given therefor.

The delegates of Western Virginia in the convention re turned to their homes resolved to resist the policy of secession. Public meetings were held pledging fidelity to the Union. Francis H. Pierrpont, afterward governor of Virginia, and John S. Carlisle, afterward United States Senator, were active and zealous. On the 13th of May a convention of delegates representing thirty-five counties met at Wheeling. 'Repudiating secession and declaring in favor of separation from the seceding State, it called a provisional convention of delegates to be chosen on the 26th, and to meet on the 11th of June. The convention met, and Arthur J. Boreman, afterward governor and United States Senator, was made president. John S. Carlisle reported resolutions repudiating the action of the disunion convention and vacating the offices of all who adhered to the Rebellion. After debate it was voted unanimously to divide the State. On the same day Francis H. Pierrpont was chosen governor, and a legislature was elected. This body assembling at Wheeling, and, claiming to be the legislature of the State of Virginia, assented to the proposed division. Congress, after deliberation, decided that this government, this governor, and this legislature were the government, governor, and legislature of' loyal Virginia.

Tennessee afforded as apposite an illustration of the stern logic of events and of the difficulty of maintaining a position and at the same time discarding the measures necessary to hold it, as either of the States called to grapple with the problem of disunion. It deprecated and dreaded the dangers of an open rupture even to slavery itself, distrusted the proposed policy, and shrunk back from the leadership of the men who were urging upon them that desperate measure. In deed, so strong was the Union sentiment that as late as the 9th of February, on the question submitted to the people by the legislature, out of a vote of less than ninety-two thousand more than sixty-seven thousand voted against the proposed convention. And yet they were so opposed to the only measure that could prevent it, that they declared that if " any force be sent South for the purpose of subjugating the people thereof, the people of the State will join as one man to resist such an invasion at all hazards, and to the last extremity "; and the governor replied defiantly to the President's call for troops, that "Tennessee will not furnish a man for the purposes of coercion, but fifty thousand if necessary for the defence of our rights and those of our Southern brothers." An address from several leading men, including Neil S. Brown, John Bell, and others, while indorsing the position taken by the governor and legislature in refusing aid thereto, expressed the opinion that Tennessee should "not take sides against the government."

With sentiments like these it was only a question of time when the State would be found following the lead of the very men they so much distrusted, and linking their fortunes with a crusade they feared and had abundant reason to fear. They sought neutrality, but neutrality was obviously impossible.

Governor Harris called the legislature together on the 25th of April. The governor's sympathies had always been avowedly with those of the secession leaders, and in his message he called upon the legislature, notwithstanding the strong vote which the people had just cast against it, for the immediate adoption of an ordinance of secession and its early submission to the people. Henry W. Hillard of Alabama, who had been appointed a commissioner by the Confederate government, presented his views to the legislature. Assuming that the question involved was one of constitutional liberty, involving the right of the people to govern themselves, he maintained that the idea of reconstruction must be abandoned, that they would not submit to the Abolition North, and that a system of government founded on slavery was the only form that could be sustained.

 Ex-Governor Neil S. Brown urged the people to arm themselves, as it was the settled policy, he contended, of the administration and of the whole North to wage a war of extermination against the South. A treaty was negotiated on the 7th of May between the Confederate commissioner and commissioners appointed by the governor, with the authority of the legislature. By this treaty it was provided that the public property, munitions of war, and naval stores seized or acquired from the United States should be turned over to the Confederacy, and the Confederate President be authorized to exercise absolute military control in that State until it should become a member of the Confederacy. This treaty was sustained by nearly a two-thirds vote in each house. An ordinance of secession was submitted to the people, and also a proposition for the adoption of the provisional government of the Confederate States. Governor Harris was authorized to raise fifty-five thousand volunteers and to issue five millions of State bonds. Before the 8th of June, when the ordinance and proposition were to be submitted to a popular vote, a large military force had been organized, the people were overcome by violence, and the ordinance of secession was adopted by more than fifty-seven thousand majority.

East Tennessee, being mountainous and having few slaves, remained loyal to the Union by a majority of more than two to one; and she remained loyal to the end, though at a fearful cost. When the intelligence was received that the legislature had adopted an ordinance of secession, Mr. Brownlow, after ward governor and United States Senator, denounced the action in his paper in bold and fiery language, calling upon the people to vote against the ordinance of secession. " Let," he said, " every man, old and young, halt and blind, contrive to be at the polls on that day. If we lose then, our liberties are gone, and we are swallowed up by a military despotism."

The legislature of North Carolina assembled on the 19th of November. John W. Ellis, the governor, was a bitter and active secessionist, using both personal and political influence in favor of disunion. The legislature passed an act for calling a convention, but providing that no ordinance dissolving the connection of North Carolina with the Federal government, or connecting it with any other, "shall have any force or validity until it shall have been submit ted to, and ratified by, a majority of the qualified voters of the State." It also appointed commissioners to represent the State in the general convention at Montgomery, with instruction to act as "mediators to endeavor to bring about a reconciliation." It provided, too, for the arming of ten thou sand volunteers, the reorganization of the militia of the State, and declared by resolution that if peace negotiations should fail. North Carolina would go with the South. Thus, though proverbially moderate and conservative, the people so far yielded to the malign influences of the conspirators as to become passive instruments in their hands, and to elect a convention which, assembling on the 20th of May, adopted by unanimous vote an ordinance of secession.

The secession convention of Arkansas assembled on the 1st of March. On the 16th William S. Oldham appeared before it with a message from Jefferson Davis urging the State, whose interests, he affirmed, were identical with the new Confederacy, to secede. It refused by a majority of four, though a proposition was carried that a vote should be taken on the 1st of August, on the question of secession or co-operation. But when the intelligence was received of the assault on Sumter, the convention at once passed an ordinance of secession by a vote of sixty-nine to one.

At the outset Texas was far from being united for secession. Though the secessionists were numerous and noisy, and an ordinance of secession was finally carried in convention on the 1st of February, 1861, both the governor and many of its prominent men resisted for a long time the pressure in that direction. As late as the 23d of December there was a Union meeting, said to have been the largest ever held at the capital, at which was raised a liberty-pole ninety feet high, from which floated the Stars and Stripes, and beneath which patriotic speeches were made and patriotic songs were sung. About the same time Governor Houston issued an address to the people, assigning his reasons for not calling a session of the legislature. Disclaiming any purpose to thwart the wishes of the people, and avowing his belief that the time had come to stand up for Southern rights, he very naturally found himself powerless to resist the growing purpose to join the seceding States. A revolutionary call for a convention had been issued by sixty-one persons without even a show of authority. Though hardly more than half of the counties of the State responded to the call, a convention thus chosen assembled and adopted an ordinance of secession. A single member of the legislature took the responsibility of issuing a call for an extra session of that body. Governor Houston, to avoid a conflict, convened the legislature to meet on the 22d of January. There was, of course, little harmony of feeling between the executive and the two bodies thus convened. But the revolutionists not only effected their purposes, despite all gubernatorial protest and opposition, but saw Texas taken out of the Union, at least in form, and joined to the new Confederacy.

Such were the principles, policy, and practices, motives and measures, of the men who prepared for, inaugurated, and carried forward the great Rebellion. And certainly nothing more than their simple mention is needed to secure their sternest condemnation. No good cause ever demanded, justified, or permitted such a service. Had their vaunted doctrine of State-rights been all they claimed, had Southern grievances answered to their loudest and most bitter complaints, there was no justification for such a systematic violation of every principle of justice, honor, humanity, and fair dealing, such an organized assault upon both the amenities of life and the commonest rights of person, property, and the public weal. Done professedly in defence of Southern rights and in behalf of the people of the South, the world has never witnessed a more wanton and flagrant onslaught upon everything that men hold most dear. Done, too, avowedly in vindication of the doctrine of State rights, almost the first public act of the new government was to make Jefferson Davis virtual dictator, and place the military completely in his hands and at his sole disposal.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 127-146.

Chapter: “Withdrawal of Members and Action Thereon,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Although it had been determined by the disunion members of Congress, at their caucus of January 5, to maintain their seats in both houses until the 4th of March, that, according to the confession of Yulee of Florida, and by a policy as indefensible and discreditable as it was traitorous, they might most effectually embarrass and hamper the hands of the out-going and the incoming administrations, they soon discovered that such a course involved too much of political as well as personal peril. They had gone too far and too fully committed themselves to the crime of treason to render it safe to remain much longer within reach of those whose duty it would be to punish as well as detect. For, however slow the North had been to accept the conclusion, it could not close the eye entirely to these accumulating evidences of a desperate and deadly aim. Nor could it well be imagined, with the prestige and resources of the government in their hands, that the friends of the Union would stand idly by and see the conspirators proceeding in their work of destruction without some effort to stay its progress and punish the would-be destroyers. Other reasons no doubt influenced them. But however affected, they were induced to change their policy and vacate seats they could no longer hold with honor, and should have no longer held with safety. True, they calculated largely, and not without reason, on Northern pusillanimity and fear, and drew encouragement from the impunity with which they had hither to been allowed to trample on others' rights, the provisions of law, and the requirements of the Constitution even. They calculated, too, on the weakness of the government they had done so much to dismantle and demoralize, still in the feeble hands of an administration which had indeed protested against treason, but which had accompanied that protest with public proclamation that that government had neither the purpose nor the power to coerce the obedience of the recusant States.

Instead, however, of enacting their treason covertly, as if conscious of its guilt and unworthiness, they did it boldly and defiantly; instead of slinking away secretly and silently from places they had so unworthily filled, and from which they should have been ignominiously ejected, they took occasion, with characteristic effrontery and a kind of dramatic audacity, to proclaim their purpose and defy the government at the very seat of its power.

South Carolina had taken the lead, and as early as the 24th of December her delegates sent in their resignations. The paper was signed by John McQueen, M. L. Bonham, W. W. Boyce, and J. D. Ashmore. They based their action on the "official intelligence" they had received that "the people of South Carolina, in their sovereign capacity, have resumed the powers heretofore delegated by them to the Federal government of the United States." They expressed the desire that they might go forth " with feelings of mutual regard and respect," and the hope that in their future relations they might " better enjoy that peace and harmony essential to the happiness of a free and enlightened people." On the 12th of January the Mississippi delegation, consisting of Otho R. Singleton, William Barksdale, Reuben Davis, John McCrae, and L. Q. C. Lamar, sent in their resignation, based, like that of the South Carolina delegation, on the action of their State. While they expressed regret at its necessity, they avowed their "unqualified approval " of the same, and their determination to the bosom of their State, and "share her fortunes, whatever they may be."

On the 21st of the same month the Alabama delegation followed. Their paper was signed by Geo. S. Houston, Sydenham Moore, David Clopton, James L. Pugh, J. L. M. Curry, and James A. Stalworth. Like the preceding, they attributed their course to the action of their State, affirming that " duty requires our obedience to her sovereign will." On the 30th W. R. W. Cobb, another member of the same delegation, sent a longer communication to the House, containing a copy of an ordinance to dissolve the union between Alabama and the United States. This action was avowedly based on the election of Mr. Lincoln, the triumph of a sectional party, " preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the Constitution," —"a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character, as to justify the people of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security." It also extended an invitation to all the slaveholding States to meet in convention on the 4th of February, 1861, at the city of Montgomery, to consult and to secure " concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security." He closed his communication with the expression of his deep regret at the necessity of the step he felt constrained to take, and with the invocation that God would " save the country."

Mr. Cobb also made a speech in which he gave some reasons for the course he had adopted. With well-chosen words and pathos of manner he spoke of the duty which called upon him to join his fortunes to those of his State, and of his "profound " feeling as he "reluctantly " sundered the tie that had bound him to that body for fourteen years. He conjured the House to give him some token, or ground of hope, that the separation should not be final, and that the riven States might yet be reunited. He reviewed the events which had transpired since his service began. He spoke of the men of the North and the men of the South fighting upon the same battle-fields, the eagles of the Republic sweeping across the Rocky Mountains, the Stars and Stripes planted on the shores of the far Pacific, and flying in triumph in China and Japan. He alluded to the stars that had fallen from the galaxy of bright names adorning their country's history, — a Clay, a Calhoun, a Webster, and others, — and expressed the gratuitous assumption that if they could reappear they would tell them what their duty was, and how their country could be saved. He implored them not to send their armies to coerce and subjugate, but their messengers of peace. Appealing to the Republicans, he assured them that the question of peace or war was in their hands, and that they could still the storm before the sun was set. He exhorted them to stand no longer upon their assumed dignity and platform, but to sacrifice everything for their distracted country, while he indicated his purpose to return to his "dear Alabama," where the bones of his father and mother rested, to defend, if necessary, their ashes, and share, for weal or woe, the fate of those he loved.

On the 5th of February, Miles Taylor of Louisiana sent to the clerk a copy of a similar ordinance, renouncing the allegiance of his State to the general government, and the assumption that she was "in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State." On the question of its reception, Francis E. Spinner of New York expressed the opinion that it was "high time to put a stop to this countenancing of treason in the halls of legislation." Mr. Taylor, however, was permitted to speak by unanimous consent. Disclaiming any purpose to speak of the occurrences then in progress, cither of the causes that had produced the differences that had distracted and now threatened to divide the nation, he referred to the various propositions that were before Congress, especially to those of the committee of thirty-three, of which he was a member, and from which he had presented a minority report. Concerning them all lie expressed the opinion that they would be fruitless of good; that if " every one of those measures were to be adopted, and that by a unanimous vote of both houses, that fact would produce no effect in arresting the current that is sweeping State after State out of the Confederacy." Nothing short of constitutional amendments, changes in the organic law, which would " settle and put forever at rest all pretexts for the agitation of this sectional question," could, in his esteem, meet the exigencies of the hour. He characterized the propositions of the committee of thirty-three as mere "palliatives," and he assured the House that, if they could not " raise themselves to the height of these great acts," "a permanent dissolution" of the Union was "inevitable." Nor would anything less than war, with all its most destructive appliances, be adequate to any coercion that might be attempted. And, he contended, if the nation shall thus become divided into two contending factions, it would descend from its rank among the nations of the earth, and " call for the interposition of European powers in the common interest of mankind." Alluding to the great staple of the South, which, as the basis of its manufactured products, with the cost of the raw material, had reached "the amazing sum of twelve hundred million dollars," he predicted that disunion and war would diminish the production of cotton more than one half, would give a shock to the industry of the whole world, disturb all the currents of trade, overwhelm all civilized communities in bankruptcy, and shake the whole social system of Europe to its centre. He affirmed the extreme doctrine of State rights, scouted the idea of coercion, and asserted that the blockade of a Southern port or the entrance of an army into a Southern State would be war. "The first blow struck," he said, "will cause the spirit of Southern nationality to leap from the very hearts of her people," and men will leave the peaceful pursuits of life and rush to the rescue. Though there might be many who still loved the Union and would cling to it, when that blow is struck "there will not be found," he said, "on her soil one single man who will not be ready to meet the invaders of his country and to shed his blood in her defence."

He was followed by his colleague, John E. Bouligney, in quite another strain. He said he had just received official information of the action of his State. He had received no instruction from its legislature directing him to resign; nor, he added, should he do so, had such instructions been given, for he was not elected by that body. He had taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and to that oath he should firmly adhere to the end. Whenever instructed by his immediate constituents to withdraw from Congress he should resign; but, he added, yet "I shall be a Union man, and stand under the flag of the country which gave me birth."

Similar scenes were enacted in the Senate. As the ordinances of secession and resignations were communicated to that body, farewell speeches were made, and parting words of criticism and censure, deprecation and defiance, were spoken. On the 21st of January, David L. Yulee of Florida, rising in his place, informed the Senate that, in consequence of the action of his State, he and his colleague had reached the conclusion that their connection with that body had " legally terminated." Expressing the grateful recognition, by himself and people, of the blessings already received from the maintenance of the Union, he said that, in view of the apprehended evils and dangers arising " from a perverted and hostile employment of the powers of the Federal government," they professed to abandon all the hopes they had " rested upon the common growth and common power of the Union, and to assume the serious responsibilities of a separate existence and new and untried relations." In support and illustration of these alleged evils and dangers to be apprehended from Northern aggressions and designs, he said that " the equilibrium of power between the sections " had been " ruthlessly and un wisely destroyed by the legislation of 1850." In proof of the alleged fact that such had been the sentiment entertained by many Southern men, he alluded to "a protest," signed by several members of Congress and dated Senate Chamber, August 13, 1850, "against the bill admitting California as a State into this Union." He parried, or attempted to parry, the charge often made against Florida on account of her occupying acquired territory, and of her "paucity of numbers," by the assertion that "right of sovereignty and liberty depend not upon numbers," and a quotation from her act of admission that she "be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever."

His colleague, Stephen R. Mallory, followed in a similar strain, asserting, but deprecating, the sad necessity of leaving the Union, to maintain Southern rights, menaced by Northern aggression. " In thus turning from the Union," he said, "to the veiled and unknown future, we are neither ignorant nor reckless of the lions in our path." Either with a fatuous misconception of the spirit and purpose of the movement and of the character of the people he represented, or a marvellous indifference to the meaning of the words he used, he claimed that it was made in the name of liberty, and would inure to the cause of freedom. "So well," he said, " are human rights and national liberty understood by our people, so deeply are they imbued with the spirit of freedom and knowledge of government, that were this Republic utterly broken and destroyed, like the shattered vase of the poet, to whose very fragments the scent of the roses still clung, its very ruins, breathing the true spirit of civil and religious liberty, would plead for and demand a wise and noble reconstruction." With a spirit of bravado which nothing but ignorance could excuse, he disclaimed any fear of the result of a conflict of arms.  “Be the difficulties what they may," he said, " we stand forth a united people to grapple with and to conquer them We seek not to war upon, or to conquer you; and we know that you cannot conquer us. Imbrue your hands in our blood, and the rains of a century will not wash from them the stain, while coming generations will weep for your wickedness and folly."

On the same day, Clement C. Clay of Alabama rose in his place in the Senate and announced that his State had passed an ordinance of secession. "In taking this momentous step," he said, "they had not acted hastily, unadvisedly.” It is not the eruption of sudden, spasmodic, and violent passion. It is the conclusion they have reached after years of bitter experience of enmity, injustice, and injury, at the hands of their Northern brethren; after long and painful reflection; after anxious debate and solemn deliberation; and after argument, persuasion, and entreaty have failed to secure them their constitutional rights." With bitter and burning words he sketched the growth of Northern opposition to " that domestic institution of the South which is not only the chief source of her social prosperity, but the very basis of her social order and State policy," — an opposition that branded slaveholding as "a moral leprosy," and slavery and polygamy as "twin relics of barbarism." He considered the nomination and election of a Republican President as " the climax of insult to our feelings and menace of our rights." He flippantly disclaimed, for himself and people, "the godlike virtue which teaches us to love our enemies and to bless them that curse us." He closed by expressing the resolution of his people "not to trust to the hands of their enemies the measure of their rights. They intend to preserve for themselves and to transmit to posterity the freedom they received from their ancestors or perish in the attempt." His colleague, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, immediately arose, indorsed the speech which had just been delivered, con fessed the paramount obligation he owed to his State, and disclaimed any longer " the rights and privileges of a member of this body." "I acknowledge," he said, "no loyalty to any other power than that of my sovereign State; and I shall return to her with the purpose to sustain her action and to share her fortunes."

Jefferson Davis immediately arose and announced his resignation, and his renunciation of all further connection with that body. His speech was far less fiery and defiant than that of Mr. Clay. Basing his action on his theory of State rights, he said he should have yielded obedience to the demands of his State had he not approved her act. He drew a distinction between ' nullification and secession, and said that while he accepted the latter he discarded the former,—the former being the remedy of Mr. Calhoun, who loved the Union ; the latter that which alone seemed to him adequate to the exigencies of the case. General Jackson was right, he contended, when he determined to execute the laws in South Carolina while she remained a member of the Union, but his action afforded no legitimate precedent for such an attempt after a State has seceded and become "a foreign country."

Among the grievances he enumerated and the causes he adduced for the step his State had taken was the proclamation and persistent defence of the position of the North that the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence sustained the dogma of the equality of races. He contended that these doc trines could have no reference to the slave, as he was not put on an equality with white men, even paupers and convicts, being represented in the government only in the numerical proportion of three fifths. He claimed that the principles on which the American Union was based involved the right of secession. To deny the latter was to ignore the former. Regarding himself as " the type of the general feeling of his constituents," he assured the Senate that he left with no feelings of hostility, " unencumbered of the remembrance of any injury received." He hoped for peaceful, though separate relations with each other. If, however, the reverse should follow, "we will trust," he said, "the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and thus, putting our trust in God, and in our own firm hearts and strong hands, we will vindicate the right as best we may."

This action of the recusant States and their retiring Senators could not but lead to debate in the Senate. The next morning a motion was made that the places on the commit tees, left vacant by the resignation of the Senators, should be filled, which was unanimously adopted. Immediately on the declaration of the vote, the Vice-President asked instruction as to the course to be pursued, on three points, — whether the resignations should be noted on the journal of the Senate, whether their names should be called when votes were taken by yeas and nays, and whether he should proceed to fill the vacancies thus created. As there were no precedents to guide, there was much difference of opinion, some, with Mr. Wilson, regarding them as still members of the Senate, who might, if so disposed, reconsider their action and return; others, with Mr. Douglas, looking upon the step as irrevocable, so far as the individuals were concerned, whatever views might be taken of the action or condition of the States they represented. The mover, Graham N. Fitch of Indiana, gave as a reason for his motion his desire to shun discussion of these difficult points by quietly filling the vacancies thus created. This, however, Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana questioned, deeming it, he said, "impossible to avoid some determination of the questions presented." He expressed his great surprise that there were any who could question the fact of the absolute secession of the four States which had passed ordinances to that effect, and could maintain that they were "still members of the Union." The Vice-President having stated the fact that no entry had been made upon the journal, he moved that the record be so corrected as to state the fact. Mr. Seward of New York opposed any entry of the transaction, thinking " the less there is said about it the sooner it will be mended." He was in favor, too, of leaving the seats vacant until the retiring Senators, or some others from the States then unrepresented, should come back to occupy them. William P. Fessenden of Maine, while agreeing that the State act of secession was of no significance, admitted that there were "some difficulties" about the "legal effect" of the resigning members. They had not resigned in the method provided by the Constitution, and the question was. Were they, or were they not members of the Senate? The subject was considered at some length, but was finally, on motion of Mr. Seward, laid upon the table by a vote of thirty-two to twenty-two.

On the 4th of February John Slidell of Louisiana sent to the Secretary of the Senate a copy of the ordinance dissolving the union between his State and the United States, resuming all rights heretofore delegated to the latter, and absolving her citizens from their allegiance to the same. His speech, on taking his leave of his associates, " some forever, and others," he said, " in trust to meet again and to participate with them in the noble task of constructing and defending a new confederacy," was especially defiant and contumacious. He spoke of the seceding States as containing within themselves " the elements of greatness." With "the capacity and will, through the forms and in the spirit of the Constitution under which they have been born and educated," and with their " State governments already shaped to their hands," he predicted a sure success, both immediate and enduring, in their new departure on their course of self-government. Those States who might not choose to unite their destiny with them, he said, shall be esteemed "as enemies in war, in peace friends." " You will find us ready to meet you," he said, "with the out stretched hand of fellowship or in the mailed panoply of war, as you may will it; elect between these alternatives." Conjecturing that the North might madly attempt coercion and inaugurate war, he assured the Senate that they would reject Northern manufactures, that the sea would swarm with their privateers, and that, though at first relatively weaker, they would soon gain the ascendency. Accusing New York and New England of furnishing the means for the rigorous prosecution of the African slave-trade, he said from the same sources would be provided the privateers that would sweep the commerce of the North from the ocean. "Your mercantile marine," he said, "must either sail under foreign flags or rot at your wharves." Repeating the remark of the French general at the battle of Fontenoy, he said, we shall not "fire first." Notwithstanding the notorious fact that the secession movement was emphatically the work of leaders, he made the gratuitous and false affirmation that it was " not the work of political managers, but of the people "; and that the cause lay not in Mr. Lincoln's election, nor in any unfriendly legislation, but in the conclusive evidence of the determined hostility of the Northern masses toward Southern institutions. He gave warm expression to the feelings of regret with which he and his associates parted company from their fellow-members on the floor of the Senate, especially from those Northern Democrats who, with diminishing numbers, had defended the South in its unequal struggle with the encroaching North. "They have," he said, "one after another, fallen in their heroic struggle against a blind fanaticism, until now but few — alas, how few! — remain to fight the battle of the Constitution.”

He was followed by his colleague, Judah P. Benjamin, who, with his acknowledged ability and plausible eloquence, went as far as any of his fellows in the work of making "the worse appear the better reason." He began by indorsing most fully the action of his State, whose behests he not only obeyed, but obeyed most readily. Alluding to the argument that, if members of the old thirteen States could be justified in seceding from a compact to which they were the original parties, Louisiana must be denied that right, as she occupied territory that had been purchased by the common treasure of the nation, he would not, he said, discuss the repulsive dogma of a party which asserted the right of property in freeborn white men, to destroy the right of property in slave-born black men. He denied, however, that the United States did own Louisiana, and elaborated at some length the point that the sovereignty was conveyed in no other way than "in trust." To the objection that the admitted right of secession would make the Federal government "a mere rope of sand," he interposed for answer that for two thirds of a century the States, though claiming the right, had never threatened seriously its exercise but in two instances, and those were the movements of Massachusetts in the war of 1812 and in connection with the annexation of Texas. But, with wild, extravagant, and meaningless rhapsody, he added, suppose it were so, " better, far better, a rope of sand, ay, the flimsiest gossamer that ever glistened in the morning dew, than chains of iron and shackles of steel; better the wildest anarchy, with the hope, the chance, of one hour's inspiration of the glorious breath of freedom, than ages of hopeless bondage and oppression, to which our enemies would reduce us." Could senseless fanfaronade and brazen effrontery go further? When a leader in a crusade, whose animating spirit and purpose was the perpetuation of American slavery, can thus speak of even " the chance of one hour's inspiration of the glorious breath of freedom," can any limits be prescribed to the false and unmeaning use of words?

As to the charge that secession was rebellion and that seceders were traitors he was especially denunciatory and defiant. He claimed that they were only walking in the footsteps of the reformers of England, and of the patriots of the American revolution. Hampden and Vane, Henry and Adams, were but exemplars of the same spirit and purpose that glowed in the breasts of the new confederacy which was to rise, on the ruins of the American Union, at the South. With sarcastic contempt he spoke of " a senile Executive," proposing to secure a better execution of the laws by arming the military and blockading Southern ports. What imperial Britain could not attempt against the colonies without the vehement protest of her greatest statesmen, is now proposed " against independent States." He closed with a most eloquent peroration, pronouncing, for himself and for those he represented, his heartfelt farewell, especially grateful towards those Northern men who had made common cause against what he was pleased to stigmatize the growing tyranny of the then dominant party. With feeble foresight, as subsequent events proved, he exhibited singular misapprehension of the probable verdict of history in regard to the Northern sympathizers with the Rebellion and its cause, as he sought by confident predictions to inspire and keep alive the courage of those of whose cause he was so eloquent a champion. " When, in after days," he said, "the story of the present shall be written, — when History shall have passed her stern sentence on the erring men who have driven their unoffending brethren from the shelter of their common home, your names will derive fresh lustre from the contrast ; and when your children shall hear repeated the familiar tale, it will be with glowing cheek and kindling eye, their very souls will stand a-tiptoe as their sires are named, and they will glory in their lineage from men of spirit as generous and of patriotism as high-hearted as ever illustrated or adorned the American Senate."

The subject did not come up again until the special session of Congress. On the 13th of March Mr. Fessenden of Maine introduced a resolution, reciting the names of the seceding Senators, and moving that they, having announced that they are no longer members, their seats are vacant, and that their names be stricken from the roll of members. Mr. Bayard of Delaware moved as a substitute, that the Secretary be directed to omit their names in calling the roll of the Senate. Quite an animated discussion sprung up, in which the mover, Mr. Bayard, Mason of Virginia, Douglas of Illinois, and Clark of New Hampshire took part. In vainly attempting to fix the legal or constitutional status, or character, of an act which had never been contemplated or provided for by either statute or the Constitution, it foreshadowed very many of the difficulties that encompassed and embarrassed the subsequent legislation of Congress, during and after the civil war. The motion was at length adopted, with an amendment offered by Mr. Clark of New Hampshire, and it was resolved that the Secretary be directed to omit their names respectively from the roll.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 127-160.


OSBORN, Charles, 1775-1850, Kentucky and Mt. Pleasant, Ripley, Ohio, farmer, Society of Friends, Quaker, radical abolitionist, opponent of colonization.  Publisher of The Philanthropist, founded 1817.  With John Rankin, organized the Manumission Society of Tennessee in 1815.  Founder of anti-slavery newspaper, Manumission Intelligencer, in 1819.  

(Drake, 1950, pp. 128, 162, 165; Dumond, 1961, pp. 95, 136; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 7, Pt. 2, p. 66; American Reformers: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary, New York, 1985, pp. 621-623)


OWEN, Robert Dale, 1801-1877, author, abolitionist, diplomat, reformer.  Member of the American Freedman’s Inquiry Commission and the U.S. War Department, 1863.  Democratic Congressman from Indiana.  Anti-slavery and women’s rights activist.  Strong advocate of wartime emancipation of slaves.  Wrote “The Wrong of Slavery, the Right of Emancipation, and the Future of the African Race” (Philadelphia, 1864), of which Secretary Salmon P. Chace wrote that it “had more effect in deciding the president to make the [Emancipation] Proclamation than all other communications combined.” 

(Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 165, 397; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. IV, pp. 615-616; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 7, Pt. 2, p. 118; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 16, p. 861)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

OWEN, Robert Dale, author, b. in Glasgow, Scotland, 9 Nov., 1800; d. at his summer residence on Lake George, N.Y., 17 June, 1877, was educated under private tutors at home, and in 1820 was sent to Emanuel von Fellenberg's school at Hofwyl, near Berne, Switzerland, where he remained three years. In 1825 he came to the United States and aided his father in his efforts to found the colony at New Harmony, Ind. On the failure of that experiment he returned to Europe, and there spent some time in study, but returned to this country in 1827 and became a citizen. In November, 1828, he began in New York, with Frances Wright, the publication of “The Free Inquirer,” a weekly paper, devoted to the promulgation of pronounced socialistic ideas and the denial of the supernatural origin of Christianity. This journal was continued until 1832, when he returned to New Harmony. He was elected to the legislature of Indiana in 1835, and sat for three terms, during which, largely owing to his influence, one half of that part of the surplus revenue of the United States that had been appropriated to the state of Indiana was devoted to the support of public schools. He was sent to congress as a Democrat in 1843, and served twice, but was defeated for a third term. Mr. Owen, in January, 1844, introduced in congress a joint resolution relative to the occupation of Oregon, which, though it failed at that session, passed during the next, and became the basis of the settlement of the northwestern boundary that was effected in 1846. He also introduced in December, 1845, the bill under which the Smithsonian institution was organized, and was made chairman of the select committee on that subject, having as a colleague John Quincy Adams, who had made two unsuccessful attempts in former sessions to procure action in the matter. He was afterward appointed one of the regents of the Smithsonian, as well as chairman of its building committee. His speeches in congress on the Oregon question, the tariff, and the annexation of Texas had a wide circulation. In 1850 he was chosen a member of the convention that assembled to remodel the constitution of Indiana, and was made chairman of its committee on rights and privileges, and then chairman of its revision committee. He was a member of the legislature in 1851, was again made chairman of the committee on revision, and was the author of a bill that secured to widows and married women independent rights of property. On the enactment of this measure, the women of Indiana presented him with a testimonial “in acknowledgment of his true and noble advocacy of their independent rights.” In 1853 he was appointed chargé d'affaires at Naples, and he was raised to the grade of minister in 1855, remaining as such until 1858, in the meanwhile negotiating two valuable treaties with the Neapolitan government. After his return to the United States he devoted himself to various public interests, and in 1860 he discussed with Horace Greeley, in the columns of the New York “Tribune,” the subject of divorce. This discussion, reprinted in pamphlet-form, had a circulation of 60,000 copies. In 1862 he served on a commission relative to, ordnance and ordnance stores, and audited claims that amounted to $49,500,000, and in 1863 he was chairman of a commission that was appointed by the secretary of war to examine the condition of the recently emancipated freedmen of the United States. The results of his observations were published as “The Wrong of Slavery, the Right of Emancipation, and the Future of the African Race in the United States” (Philadelphia, 1864). In 1863 he published an address to the citizens of Indiana, showing the disastrous consequence that would follow from the success of the effort of certain politicians to reconstruct the Union with New England left out. The Union league of New York published 50,000 copies of this letter, and the Union league of Philadelphia an additional 25,000. During the civil war he further wrote and published a letter to the president, one to the secretary of war, one to the secretary of the treasury, and another to the secretary of state, advocating the policy of emancipation as a measure that was sanctioned alike by the laws of war and by the dictates of humanity. Sec. Chase wrote that his letter to Lincoln “had more effect in deciding the president to make his proclamation than all the other communications combined.” Mr. Owen was a believer in spiritualism, and was one of its foremost advocates in the United States. In 1872 he received the degree of LL.D. from the University of Indiana. He published “Outlines of the System of Education at New Lanark” (Glasgow, 1824); “Moral Physiology” (New York, 1831); “Popular Tracts” (1831); “Discussion with Origen Bachelor on the Personality of God and the Authority of the Bible” (1832); “Pocahontas: A Drama” (1837); “Hints on Public Architecture” (1849); “A Treatise on the Construction of Plank-Roads” (1856); “Footprints on the Boundary of Another World” (Philadelphia, 1859); “Beyond the Breakers” (1870); “Debatable Land Between this World and the Next” (New York, 1872); and “Threading My Way,” an autobiography (1874). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. IV, pp. 615-616.


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