Part V

Why The South Resisted Federal Encroachments.

       It can now be clearly seen why the South, being a minority section, with agriculture as the chief occupation and with the peculiar institution of African slavery fastened on her by Old England and New England, adhered to the State rights or Jeffersonian school of politics. Those doctrines contain the only principles or policy truly conservative of the Constitution. Apart from them, checks and limitations are of little avail, and the Federal government can increase its powers indefinitely. Without some adequate restraint or interposition, the whole character of the government is changed, and .forms, if retained, will be, as they have been in other countries, merely the disguises for accomplishing what selfishness or ambition may dictate. The truest friends of the republic have been those who have insisted upon obedience to constitutional requirements. The real enemies, the true disunionists, have been those who, under the disguise of a deceptive name, have perverted the name and true functions of the government and have usurped, for selfish or partisan ends, or at the demand of crazy fanaticism, powers which States never surrendered. Those who contend most strenuously for the rights of the States and for a strict construction of the Constitution are the genuine lovers and friends of the Union. Their principles conserve law, good order, justice, established authority; and their unselfish purpose has been to preserve and transmit our free institutions as they came from the fathers, sincerely believing that their course and doctrines were necessary to preserve for them and posterity the blessings of good government. The States have no motive to encroach on the Federal government and no power to do so, if so inclined, while the Federal government has always the inclination and always the means to go beyond what has been granted to it. No higher encomium could be rendered to the South than the fact, sustained by her whole history, that she never violated the Constitution, that she committed no aggression upon the rights or property of the North, and that she simply asked equality in the Union and the enforcement and maintenance of her clearest rights and guarantees. The latitudinous construction, contended for by one party and one section, has been the open door through which the people have complained. A strict construction gives to the general government all the powers it can beneficially exert, all that is necessary for it to have, and all that the States ever purposed to grant.
       Passion, revenge, cupidity, ignorance and fanaticism have created an incurable misunderstanding of secession, its source and object. In its simplest form and logically it meant a peaceable and orderly withdrawal from the compact of union, a dissolution of the civil partnership, a claim of the paramount allegiance of citizens, a declension to continue under the obligations due to or from the Federal government or the other States. The authority of the Constitution remains intact and unimpaired over the States remaining in the Union and ceases only as to the seceding State. The remaining or continuing States had no right of coercion nor of placing the "wayward sister" in the attitude of an enemy. The history of the Union does not show any eagerness on the part of any State to interpose its sovereign power for protection. During the first quarter of our existence as a confederate union, New England showed much impatience at remaining under the bonds, made angry and repeated threats of dissolution, but did not execute her menaces. The truth is that the Union is so strong, has so many advantages, so many patriotic associations, that the motives and reasons for continuance in it, for patient forbearance, for submission even to injustice and wrong, are well nigh overwhelming.
       The Southern States through many years showed the strength of their attachment to the Union by immeasurable sacrifices, illustrated their patriotism by acts of heroic devotion, and got their reluctant consent to a separation only after a series of unendurable wrongs, and the most' indisputable demonstration of the purpose of a united North to deprive them of solemn guarantees of equality in the Union. From the "Missouri compromise"--prohibiting Southern extension north of the line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes--substituting a new confederation for the old, drawing a geographical line, south of which was to be equality, north of which the Southern States were proscribed, dishonored, stigmatized, establishing the policy of an interference by Congress with an interest not common among all the States and thus creating two great combinations of States, between which mutual provocations were manufactured, down to the war between the States, the Congress and the government repeatedly and offensively declared that the Southern States were not the equals of the Northern States in the benefits of the Union, that property recognized and guaranteed in the Constitution must be restricted within narrow lines, and that "territory of the United States," obtained at the cost of common blood and common treasure, was not to be equally enjoyed, but was to be for the exclusive possession of the Northern States with their civilization and property.
       The Northern States, not in the regular and prescribed form, but in most irregular, illegal and contemptuous manner, by ecclesiastical action and influence, by legislative and judicial annulment, by public meetings, by pulpit and press, by mobs and conspiracies and secret associations, made null and void a clear mandate of the Constitution, protective of Southern property and adopted as an indispensable means for securing the entrance of the Southern States into the Union. To use the language of President Harrison: "Government of the mob was given preference over government of the law enforced by the court decrees and by executive orders." The highest Northern judicial and historical authorities concede that the Union would never have been formed without these compacts of guarantee and protection. This constitutional provision was sustained by the Supreme court and by every Congress and President up to 1861. Ten Northern States, with impunity, with the approval of such men as Governor Chase, afterward secretary of the treasury under Mr. Lincoln and chief justice of the Supreme court, nullified the Constitution, declared that its stipulation in reference to the reclamation of fugitives from labor was "a dead letter," and to that extent they dissolved the Union, or made an ex parte change of the terms upon which it was formed. These States did not formally secede, but of themselves, without assent of those Mr. Jefferson described as "co-parties with themselves to the compact," changed the conditions of union and altered the articles of agreement. Releasing themselves by their own motion, in most arbitrary, extra-judicial, extra-constitutional manner, of a covenant or injunction of the Constitution, because in their opinion it was unwise, they still, while thus in flagrante delicto, demanded obedience to the Constitution and laws on the part of the other co-signitories to the league of government. In the elections of 1860, on sectional issues and securing sectional ascendency, this rebellion against legitimate authority, this nullification, this assumption of a right to self-release from an imperative constitutional requirement, this setting up of private judgment, of individual or corporate whim, against statutory and organic law, an unbroken line of judicial precedents and the undisputed history of the formation of the Constitution, was sanctioned by the popular vote of the North and the election of President Lincoln, who had boldly declared that the States could not remain in union as they had originally agreed and stipulated. In that election, in direct antagonism to the opinions and covenants of the men who achieved our independence and framed and adopted the Constitution which made the Union, it was deliberately decided that the States could not exist together as slave-holding and non-slaveholding, and that "the irrepressible conflict" between them must go on until "the relic of barbarism" should be effaced from constitutions and laws.
       That election divided the Union into fixed hostile geographical parties, strongly distinguished by institutions, traditions, opinions and productions and pursuits, the stronger struggling and by the popular verdict licensed to enlarge its powers, and the weaker to save its equality and rights. It placed in the hands of the stronger section, dominated by a fanatical spirit, the power to crush the weaker section and institutions, to destroy at will the existing constitutional relation between the races, and to leave no alternative but reduction to provincial condition or resistance. With the ascendency previously acquired by territorial monopoly and government favoritism, it was now made certain that political power was centralized permanently in the North to the control and subjection of the South whenever the feelings or interests of the sections came into conflict. What the result would be it required no seer to prophesy.
        Whether the North had any purpose to uphold the Constitution and give equality in the Union may be judged from the appended opinions:

"There is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain. Slavery must be abolished, and we must do it."--Wm. H. Seward.

"The time is fast approaching when the cry will become too overpowering to resist. Rather than tolerate national slavery as it now exists, let the Union be         dissolved at once, and then the sin of slavery will rest where it belongs."--N. Y. Tribune.

"The Union is a lie. The American Union is an imposture, a covenant with death and an agreement with hell. We are for its overthrow! Up with the flag of  disunion, that we may have a free and glorious republic of our own. "--William Lloyd Garrison.

"I look forward to the day when there shall be a servile insurrection in the South; when the black man, armed with British bayonets, and led on by British
 officers, shall assert his freedom anti wage a war of extermination against his master. And, though we may not mock at their calamity nor laugh when their fear  cometh, yet we will hail it as the dawn of a political millennium."--Joshua R. Giddings.

"In the alternative being presented of the continuance of slavery or a dissolution of the Union, we are for a dissolution, and we care not how quick it comes."--Rufus P. Spaulding.

"The fugitive-slave act is filled with horror--we are bound to disobey this act."--Charles Sumner.

"The Advertiser has no hesitation in saying that it does not hold to the faithful observance of the fugitive-slave law of 1850."--Portland Advertiser.

"I have no doubt but the free and slave states ought to be separated .... The Union is not worth supporting in connection with the South."--Horace Greeley.

"The times demand and we must have an anti-slavery Constitution, an anti-slavery Bible, and an anti-slavery God."--Anson P. Burlingame.

"There is merit in the Republican party. It is this: It is the first sectional party ever organized in this country .... It is not national, it is sectional. It is the North arrayed against the South. . . . The first crack in the iceberg is visible; you will yet hear it go with a crack through the center "--Wendell Phillips.

"The cure for slavery prescribed by Redpath is the only infallible remedy, and men must foment insurrection among the slaves in order to cure the evils. It can never be done by concessions and compromises. It is a great evil, and must be extinguished by still greater ones. It is positive and imperious in its approaches, and must be overcome with equally positive forces. You must commit an assault to arrest a burglar, and slavery is not arrested without a violation of law and the cry of fire."--Independent Democrat, leading Republican paper in New Hampshire.

       The Southern States believed that the transfer of the government to pronounced hostility to their institutions involved a repudiation of the covenanted faith of their sister States, and released them from the burden of their own covenants when they were denied the benefit of the corresponding covenant of the other contracting states. Seeing the hopelessness of security from President, or Congress, or courts, or public opinion, all inflexibly averse to their constitutional rights, as understood by the patriot fathers, they felt constrained to withdraw from a government which had ceased to be what those fathers made it. Not to have done this would have been to leave the stronger section in entire and hostile control of the government and to consolidate the powers of our compound system in the central head. The last hope of preserving the Constitution of the Union being extinguished, nothing remained except to submit to a continuation of the violation of the compact of union, the perversion of the grants of power from their original and proper purposes, or to assert the sovereign right of re-assuming the grants which the States had made.

This Page last updated 02/10/02