Part VI

Secession The Separate And Legal Act Of The States.

       It is not uncommon to confound the secession of a state, as a separate, independent. sovereign act, with the subsequent establishment of a confederacy or a common government, by the co-operative action of several States after they had seceded. A State, by virtue of its individual, sovereign right, demonstrated in this introductory chapter, repealed or withdrew its act of acceptance of the Constitution, as the basis or bond of union, and resumed the powers which had been delegated and enumerated in that instrument. This act of resumption of delegated powers, assertion of undelegated sovereignty, was not by the legislature. There is in our American system what is not found elsewhere, a power above that of the Federal or of the State government, the power of the people of a State, who ordained and established constitutions for and over themselves. No secret conspiracy was needed, no mask to conceal the features of the State, no secret place in which to concoct or consummate the designs. Everything was done in broad daylight, and inspection was invited to the accomplishment of what had been repeatedly avowed as the logical consequence of sectional supremacy. The people of the State--the only "people" then known under our political system--had a regularly and lawfully constituted government, already in their hands and subject to their direction. They had a complete corps of administrative officers, an executive, a legislative, a judiciary, filling every department of a free, representative government, all holding office under State authority alone and wearing no badge of official subordination to any power. This government was complete in all its functions and powers, unchanged as to its internal affairs, altered only in its external or Federal relations, and law and order reigned in every portion of the State precisely as if no change had occurred. The secession was as valid as the act of ratification by which the State entered the Union. The secession, or withdrawal of a State from a league, had no revolutionary or insurrectionary character, and nothing which could be tortured into rebellion or treason except by ignorance or malignity.
       Several States having openly, with most public declaration of purposes, withdrawn from the compact, they established a union, a confederacy of states, for themselves. The constitution was formed, adopted, ratified, in precisely the same manner and by the same forms and agencies as the Constitution of the United States came into being. Not a Clause nor article interfered with the right of any Northern State or citizen. No assault was made upon property or institutions of any other people.
       The model of the Constitution of the Union, which had been respected, obeyed and revered by the Southern States, was followed, with only such changes as time and experience had demonstrated to be necessary for the states to retain their equality in the Union and have their guaranteed rights respected. There seemed no other alternative for the security of the domestic institutions of self-governing States--institutions over which neither the Federal government nor people outside the limits of such States had any control, and for which they had no moral or legal responsibility. Southern life was habitually denounced as utter "barbarism," and an institution of the remotest origin, sanctioned in the Old Testament and by the law of nations, and upheld for centuries by all civilized governments, and existing at the time of the Declaration of Independence in all the States, was held up to odium as "the sum of all villainies," and the Constitution, because of its explicit recognition and guarantee of this institution, was spurned as "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell." It was a logical and inevitable inference that the predominant and fanatical sentiment of the North should purge the country of such an "unmitigated crime" by its speedy suppression, and that invested with, or arrogating supreme power, it should throw its irresistible weight in the sacrifice of Southern interests to a remorseless and destructive propagandism.
       No one would now hazard the assertion that, if the Southern States had acquiesced in the result of the elections of 1860, the equality and rights of the Southern States could have continued unimpaired by the unfriendly action of the government at Washington and of the Northern States. We need not be left to conjecture as to what would have occurred, for a few years later--not during the frenzy of the war, but in the flush of victory and the strength of peace--we had a notable illustration of the insecurity of reliance upon the clearest constitutional prohibition. The Supreme Court, exercising its constitutional power and duty, gave an interpretation to the legal tender law that was not pleasing to Congress and certain moneyed interests. As a rebuke and remedy the court was reconstructed, the number of judges was increased, to reconsider and reverse the judgment, and this process President Harrison, speaking on a kindred subject in a political address in New York, characterized as "packing the court with men who will decide as Congress wants them to."
       Perhaps more conclusive proof of the insecurity of a minority and of unresisted tendency toward assumption of all power which may be supposed to be needed for the accomplishment of coveted ends, may be found in the reconstruction measures, which were deliberately purposed to punish "the rebels" and to subject the white people to negro domination. Roger Foster, in his commentaries on the Constitution, 1896 (pp. 265-267), speaks of the dealings of Congress and the Federal government with the Southern States during the period of reconstruction. At his hands the story becomes a gloomy tale of vacillation, intimidation and fraud; but he tells it with plainness and directness and with more than his usual force. In his opinion "the validity of the acts of Congress" is "open to investigation," and, "in view of the language of the Constitution, the decisions of the courts on cognate questions, and the action of Congress in other respects toward the States which were the seat of the insurrection, it seems impossible to find any justification for them in law, precedent or consistency. The reconstruction acts must consequently be condemned as unconstitutional, founded on force, not law, and so tyrannical as to imperil the liberty of the entire nation should they be recognized as binding precedents." The change of sentiment in reference to John Brown is a startling revelation of the rapidity with which sectional and political hostility can pervert the judgment and the conscience.
       In October, 1859, this bold, bad man attempted his bloody foray into Virginia, fraught with most terrible consequences of spoliation of property, arson, insurrection, murder and treason. The raid was a compound of foolhardiness and cruelty. Conservative and respectable journals and all decent men and women denounced, at the time, the arrogant and silly attempt of the murderer to take into his destructive hands the execution of his fell purposes. Sympathy with those purposes and his methods was vehemently disclaimed by representatives of all parties in Congress, conspicuously by Hon. John Sherman. Few, except red-handed and insane fanatics, lifted voice against his execution, after a fair trial and just verdict by a Virginia court. A Senate committee, after a laborious investigation of the facts, submitted a report accompanied by evidence, and said: "It was simply the act of lawless ruffians, under the sanction of no public or political authority, distinguishable only from ordinary felonies by the ulterior ends in contemplation by them, and by the fact that the money to maintain the expedition, and the large armament they brought with them, had been contributed and furnished by the citizens of other States of the Union under circumstances that must continue to jeopardize the safety and peace of the Southern States, and against which Congress has no power to legislate." Now, John Brown inspires a popular song and poetry and eloquence, almost a national air, and Northern writers and people compare him to Jesus Christ and put him in the Saints' Calendar of Freedom.
       The organization of the Grand Army of the Republic has become a potent political agency, demanding that Union soldiers shall have preference, and making connection with the army, irrespective of service or personal merit, the highest consideration in appointments to places of profit and trust. Akin to this, a gigantic pension system, heavier and more exhaustive than the support of the huge standing army in Germany, has been fastened on the public treasury, subsidizing States and making the name of soldier or sailor the passport to the support of himself and family. The strange and vicious doctrine has been affirmed over executive protest that fraud and perjury do not vitiate a pension once allowed, and that any disabilities incurred, whether in the line of duty or of pecuniary aggrandizement, within the "sphere of communication" with either army, are sufficient grounds for the paternal adoption of such a son. And a presidential candidate, in his letter of acceptance of the nomination, seeking arguments for popular support, makes the" need" of a soldier or sailor, however that need may have been created, a sufficient plea for "generous aid" by the government.
       As has been affirmed and reiterated, the action of the seceding States was deliberate and most publicly pre-announced. The Northern States and the government at Washington were not taken by surprise, for the purpose of the South, in a certain anticipated contingency, was well known and had been repeatedly and solemnly declared. Exercising a right claimed by the States in their ratification and adoption of the Constitution, and reaffirmed from that day continuously, the seceding States neither desired nor expected resistance to their action. The power to coerce States had been explicitly rejected in the convention. Hamilton said: "To coerce the States was one of the maddest projects ever devised." No provision had been made by any of the States to meet a resistance to their withdrawal from the partnership. (Madison Papers, 732, 761, 822, 914; 2d Elliot's Debates, 199, 232, 233.) Not a gun, not an establishment for their manufacture or repair, nor a soldier, nor a vessel, had been provided as preparation for war, offensive or defensive. On the contrary, they desired to live in peace and friendship with their late confederates, and took all the necessary steps to secure that desired result. There was no appeal to the arbitrament of arms, nor any provocation to war. They preferred and earnestly sought to make a fair and equitable settlement of common interests and disputed questions with their former associates, so as to preserve most amicable relations and avoid the infliction of any damage or loss.
       To show that peace was ardently desired by the government and the people of the Confederacy, it is sufficient to state that the Confederate Congress, prior to the inauguration of the chief magistrate, passed a resolution asking for the appointment of commissioners to be sent to the government of the United States, "for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that government and the Confederate States, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two governments upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith." In his inaugural President Davis said: "If a just perception of neutral interests shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled." "In furtherance of these accordant views of the Congress and the people," said the president in his first message, 29th April, 1861; "I made choice of three discreet, able and distinguished citizens, who repaired to Washington. Aided by their cordial co-operation and that of the secretary of state, every effort compatible with self-respect and the dignity of the Confederacy was exhausted before I allowed myself to yield to the conviction that the government of the United States was determined to attempt the conquest of this people, and that our cherished hopes of peace were unattainable." On the 12th of March the commissioners officially addressed the secretary of state (Mr. Seward), informing him of the purpose of their mission, and stating, in the language of their instructions, their wish "to make to the government of the United States overtures for the opening of negotiations, assuring the government of the United States that the President, Congress and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution of these great questions; that it is neither their interest nor their wish to make any demand which is not founded on strictest justice, nor do any act to injure their late confederates." To this no formal reply was received until the 8th of April. In the meantime, with the firm resolve to avoid war if possible, the commissioners waived all questions of form and held unofficial intercourse through an intermediary, Justice Campbell, late of the Supreme court of the United States, and through him assurances were received from the government of the United States "of peaceful intentions; of the determination to evacuate Fort Sumter; and, further, that no measure, changing the existing status prejudicially to the Confederate States, especially at Fort Pickens, was in contemplation, but that in the event of any change of intention on the subject notice would be given to the commissioners." In the closing paragraph of the message the President protested "solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, this we must, resist to the last extremity."
       On May 8th, 1861, the president submitted a special message to Congress, communicating a report of Judge Campbell stating what he had done in connection with the commissioners for a peaceful adjustment of the pending difficulties between the two governments. In the papers were letters from Judge Campbell to President Davis and to Secretary Seward, the latter having been submitted to Mr. Seward, who did not reply or publicly question the correctness or accuracy of the recital. Judge Campbell held written and oral conferences with Secretary Seward, and from these he felt justified in writing to Mr. Seward, "The commissioners who received these communications conclude they have been abused and overreached. The Montgomery government hold the same opinion." "I think no candid man who will read over what I have written, and consider for a moment what is going on at Sumter, but will agree that the equivocating conduct of the administration, as measured and interpreted in connection with these promises, is the proximate cause of the great calamity." He further affirmed the profound conviction of military and civil officers "that there has been systematic duplicity practiced on them through me." President Davis had previously said: "The crooked paths of diplomacy can furnish no example so wanting in courtesy, in candor, in directness, as was the course of the United States government toward our commissioners in Washington."
       A Peace Convention was held in Washington City, with representatives from border and other States, to devise terms of honorable adjustment and prevent the calamity of war or disunion. Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, a statesman of experience, ability and conservatism, submitted a series of compromise measures and they were indignantly and insultingly rejected. The speaker of the house of representatives was not allowed even to present certain proposed amendments to the Constitution, looking to pacification, while the convention in Virginia, so unwilling, so reluctant, to take extreme steps, tendered to Senator Crittenden, by a unanimous vote, the thanks of the people of the State for his able and patriotic efforts "to bring about a just and honorable adjustment of our national difficulties."

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