An Array of Facts--The Right of Secession is Set Forth Unmistakably.
THE SENTIMENT IN THE NORTH.
[From the Richmond, Va., Times, October 22, 1899.]
The South Not Alone in its Interpretation of the Constitution--Virginia's Love for the Union--The Institution of Slavery--Good of the Negroes.
At the unveiling of the monument to' the Confederate soldiers of Accomac and Northampton at Parksley, Friday last, Hon. Beverley B. Munford, of this city, delivered an address which excited widespread interest, and brought out facts unknown to the majority of the present generation.
Mr. Munford, after an appropriate allusion to the West-Harmanson Camp of Confederate Veterans, under whose leadership the monument had been erected, proceeded to portray the heroic conduct of the Confederate soldiers from Accomac and Northampton counties. Cut off from the balance of the State, their section early passed under the control of the Federal power. Uninfluenced either by the safety of their situation, or by the fears of the dominant power, the men of this sea-girt land sped to the succor of their State and to their brethren on the other shore of the bay. Mr. Munford paid a high tribute to the valor of the men in whose honor the West-Harmanson Camp was named, of the various officers and privates from Eastern Shore who bore heroic parts in the great struggle, and then proceeded as follows:
But, my countrymen, while the erection of monuments to commemorate the heroism of the Confederate soldier is a work worthy of the highest commendation, there remains for this generation a still more sacred and important duty--the duty of portraying the high motives which impelled him, and of vindicating his name from the charge of treason.
The world acknowledges the splendid valor with which he maintained his cause, yet waits to declare whether his course was justified by the tests of ethical and constitutional right. It is only by repeated expositions that our children, and the mind and conscience of the outside world will be informed both with respect to his rights and the motives which influenced his conduct. This exposition is due as well to the actors in that great contest as to our countrymen of every phase of thought. The Union, and love for the Union, the closer sympathy between the States and sections, will be strengthened rather than hindered by a correct understanding of the rights asserted by the parties to that, the mightiest conflict of modern times.
THE RIGHT OF SECESSION.
First and foremost of the States which seceded appealed to the Constitution in justification of their course. The rightfulness of this contention must be determined not by our conceptions of what would have been the best system of government or the best form of constitution, but what, in the light of the admitted facts of history, and the actual terms of the Constitution as adopted, were the relative rights of the States and of the Union, with respect to this great problem. I can not, upon this occasion, do more than epitomise the facts and reasoning upon which the advocates of secession maintained the justice of their cause. It will help to a clearer understanding if we take one Commonwealth and portray her relations to the Union, and as we are to-day to honor the memory of Virginians, I shall select for that purpose our native State.
Virginia was one of the original colonies, having a separate existence from
the other colonies, and yet, like the others, forming an integral part of the
British Empire. Pending this political relation, the allegiance of her citizens
was due the British crown.
On the 15th of May, 1776, the people of Virginia met in convention, and acting without association with any of the other colonies, declared her separation from and independence of Great Britain.
BILL OF RIGHTS.
On the 12th of June, 1776, she adopted and proclaimed her bill of rights; and on the 29th of June adopted her Constitution. She declared all power of government vested in her own people, who alone succeeded to the rights and territories of the crown. Her governor and State officers were elected, taking an oath of fealty to the Commonwealth of Virginia. All this was accomplished before the 4th of July, 1776--before the Declaration of Independence, which declared the colonies free and independent States, had been proposed at her instigation and prepared by her great son.
Thus, the people of Virginia became citizens of the State, and she their sovereign. The Declaration of Independence, so far from changing the allegiance of her citizens or proclaiming the independence of the country as a whole, by its very terms declares that the several colonies are "free and independent States."
The Articles of Confederation were formulated by the Continental Congress in November, 1777, and submitted to the legislatures of the respective States as such, and not to the people, for ratification.
These articles constituted by their very terms a compact between States, naming them, and not the people of the whole, country; and declare that each State retains its sovereignty and every power which is not expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled. While numerous powers were vested in the Federal Congress, yet it had no power, except acting on and through the States as such, even to collect taxes or to enlist troops for the prosecution of the war of the Revolution.
NOT AS A WHOLE.
When, by the treaty of peace with Great Britain, our independence was acknowledged, the independence of the people of the United States as a whole was not recognized, but each of the separate Commonwealths, naming them, was declared a free, sovereign and independent State.
Thus stood the government--Federal and State--and the allegiance of the citizen, after the treaty of peace with Great Britain acknowledging our independence.
In 1787 the Constitutional Convention, as it was called--a body authorized by no Federal enactment--assembled at Philadelphia, prepared and proposed to the several States for adoption a new constitution. The old Confederacy was abandoned, and by the express terms of the Constitution it was not to be effective until nine States should have ratified the same.
The adoption of the Constitution was not the act of the people of the whole country, but of each State, as only by the separate acceptance of its terms by each State could it become binding upon her. The States were absolutely free to enter the new Union, or to retain their complete independence. Thus North Carolina and Rhode Island--the latter not being even represented at the Philadelphia convention--refused to enter. The Congress of the United States laid tariff duties upon imports from both of these Commonwealths, as in the case of other foreign States--acts which were not repealed until they entered the Union.
When Mr. Henry, who was not a member of the Philadelphia convention, charged that the expression, "We, the people of the United States," in terms implied a consolidated government. Mr. Madison, the foremost architect of the Constitution, replied: "Who are the parties to it? (the Constitution). The people. But not the people as composing one great body, but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties. Were it, as the gentlemen asserts, a consolidated government, the consent of a majority of the people would be sufficient for its establishment."
The bare recital of these facts would seem to demonstrate that in the formation of the Constitution, and the resulting Union, the States acted as separate sovereignties, and that the government thus created, was the result of a compact between them, and not the act of the people as a whole.
The powers of the Federal Government, therefore, were delegated and not inherent; and to ascertain them it is only necessary to search the Constitution, where those so delegated are enumerated.
In the conventions of Virginia and New York, the question was raised as to the relative rights and powers of the State and Federal governments, and in order to define more clearly the meaning of the Constitution, and to establish more firmly the rights of the States, the resolution of the Virginia convention, in adopting the Constitution, uses this language:
"We, the delegates of the people of Virginia, do in the name and behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known, that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed whenever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression."
The resolution of adoption by the New York convention is of very much the same import. These two States also proposed amendments to the Constitution, which were quickly ratified and made a part of the instrument itself. The amendment bearing specifically upon the point under consideration, was the 10th, which expressly provides "That the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Thus, with the very adoption of the Constitution, the position maintained by the statesmen that the Constitution was a compact between States, was established, as they thought, beyond a question.
If it was a compact between separate sovereignties, and the compact enumerated all the powers surrendered to the federal head, then the parties to the compact could withdraw as an incident to their sovereignty, and because that right had not been surrendered. The citizen, as we know, was the citizen of the State, and not of the Union. If the State had a right to secede, it had the supreme claim upon the allegiance of all its citizens, even in a controversy between the State and the federal head.
POSITION OF THE FOUNDERS.
This was the position of the advocates of the right of secession, and the reasoning upon which they based their claim. The principle so declared, had been frequently asserted by States and statesmen, in the most solemn manner. Thus, upon the passage of the Alien and Sedition laws, the celebrated resolutions of 1798 were adopted by the legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia--the first of which was prepared by Jefferson, and the second by Madison. These resolutions, thus prepared by the author of the Declaration of Independence and the father of the Constitution, asserted in the most solemn form that the government was a compact between States; that its powers were limited to those specifically delegated in the Constitution; and that the States had the right to determine for themselves when the Federal government exceeded its authority.
These declarations became the subject of assault and defence, but so far from the principles annunciated being repudiated, at the very next election, Mr. Jefferson was elected President of the United States, and after a service of eight years, was succeeded by Mr. Madison, who filled the office for a like period.
CAUSE OF DISSOLUTION.
In 1804, the legislature of Massachusetts passed an act declaring that the purchase and annexation of the territory of Louisiana by the general government was a sufficient cause for the dissolution of the Union.
In 1814 the representatives from the six New England States assembled in the celebrated Hartford convention, and, because of their opposition to the war with England, declared that unless the policy of the administration in prosecuting this war was changed, they would be forced to adopt measures for withdrawing from the Union. The convention adjourned to meet the following June, when the timely ending of the war prevented the necessity of its reassembling.
Josiah Quincy, of Massachusetts, in a speech delivered in the House of Representatives upon a bill for the admission of the first State from the Louisiana purchase, declared: "It is my deliberate opinion that if this bill passes, the bonds of the Union are virtually dissolved; that the States which oppose it are morally free from their obligations, and that as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, to prepare definitely for a separation."
In 1839 John Quincy Adams, in an address before the New York Historical Association, declared: "We may admit the same right has vested in the people of every State of the Union with reference to the general government, which was exercised by the people of the united colonies with reference to the supreme head of the British Empire, of which they formed a part, and under these limitations have the people of each State in the Union a right to secede from the Confederate Union itself."
NO BINDING FORCE.
In 1845 the legislature of Massachusetts, in view of its opposition to the proposed annexation of Texas, passed a series of resolutions in which, after declaring that there was no precedent for the admission of a foreign State or territory into the Union, and as the powers granted in the Constitution do not provide for such legislation, so "an act of admission would have no binding force whatever upon the people of Massachusetts."
These various resolutions and enactments of State authorities, and declarations of statesmen both of the Revolutionary and later periods, were accepted as avowals of constitutional rights, implying no lack of loyalty or patriotism.
If the States had the right under the Constitution to secede, then the Federal government had no constitutional right to coerce them. The inability of the Federal government to coerce States had been frequently illustrated by the refusal of governors to honor requisitions made upon them by governors of other States for the rendition of fugitive slaves, though the statute under which the requisitions were made was passed by Congress, and the government stood pledged to enforce its execution.
Thus stood the historical and legal features of the great controversy. To say that the people of Virginia, or of any other State, acting under the forms of law, could not withdraw from the Union without a violation of the Constitution, was to contest what was an accepted theory of the government, held by leaders of thought in every section, from the day of its foundation.
We are not discussing either the wisdom of exercising the right of secession or the wisdom of the fathers in the formation of such a government, but we are considering the actual terms of the Constitution and the truths of history. And in the light of these conditions, that man is indeed reckless of inexorable facts who avows that men who died in the maintenance of rights so time-honored and so widely accepted were guilty of treason.
THE RIGHT OF REVOLUTION.
The statesmen of the seceding States founded their action, as we have seen, upon their rights under the Constitution. They never admitted that it was necessary to have recourse to the right of revolution. Mixed, however, in the popular mind with the right of secession was the conviction that the right of revolution was one that could not be denied. They had never learned to admit that George Washington was a traitor, only saved from the scaffold by the adventitious fortunes of war. Less than one hundred years before, their fathers had decided for themselves the great question of their political destiny, with no higher warrant than the brave avowal of the declaration that governments are instituted among men, "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
The people felt that they had walked the path blazed out by the fathers, and asserted rights which had been vindicated in the heroic days from Lexington to Yorktown. If thirteen colonies, with a population of less than three million of free men had the right to determine for themselves their form of government, and secede from the mother country, how much more should this new nation, possessing a territory twice as great, with a population of over six million of free men, exercise the same prerogative?
SOUTH NOT ALONE.
And not alone was this the conviction of the people of the seceding States, but the same sentiment was wide-spread among leading statesmen, journalists and the people of the North. Thus, the New York Tribune, foremost among the organs which had supported Mr. Lincoln, declared: "If the Declaration of Independence justified the secession from the British Empire of three million of subjects in 1776, it was not seen why it would not justify the secession of five millions of Southerners from the Union in 1861."
At a great meeting held in New York on the 31st of January, 1861, after the Cotton States had seceded, addresses were delivered by ex-Governor Seymour, Chancellor Walworth, and other leading citizens. Governor Seymour asked whether "successful coercion by the North is less revolutionary than successful secession by the South? Shall we prevent revolution by being foremost in overthrowing the principles of our government and all that makes it valuable to our people, and distinguishes it among the nations of the earth?"
Chancellor Walworth declared: "There were laws that were to be enforced in the time of the American Revolution. Did Lord Chatham go for enforcing those laws? No, he gloried in the defence of the liberties of America."
Here was an imperial empire, four times as large as either Germany or France, peopled by a self-reliant race, the descendants of men who had established the great principle that the power to determine their form of government is inherent in the people; and avouching these facts they demanded of their sister Commonwealths of the Union and the world, what they regarded was a birthright bequeathed them by the fathers. To maintain this principle the Confederate soldier fought and sealed with his life his devotion to the cause. The country at whose call he went forth to battle, now appeals to the world for a recognition of the high motives which impelled his conduct, and an acknowledgment of the great avowal that he died for principle.
VIRGINIA'S LOVE FOR THE UNION.
But while Virginia was foremost among the States in her efforts to maintain their rights, she was none the less conspicuous in her efforts to preserve the Union. While jealous of the rights of local self-government, as the surest guarantee of the liberties of the citizen, she none the less loved the Union. In every stage of the country's history, and at no time more earnestly than in the fateful days of 1860-'61, the dominant element of the Virginia people stood as well for the Union of the States as for the rights of the States.
The part which Virginia played in the formation of the government, and in augmenting the glory and power of the Union, may be found on every page of our country's history. It was her great son, Patrick Henry, who, as far back as 1765, prepared the resolutions denouncing the Stamp Act, and supported them with his thrilling arraignment of British tyranny.
It was Virginia who proposed the Committee of Correspondence between the colonies, from which sprung the Continental Congress. She gave to that body its President in the person of Peyton Randolph, and fired the representatives of the several colonies with the spirit of co-operation and nationalism in the words of her Henry, who declared:
"British oppression has effaced the boundaries of the several colonies. The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American."
And in the brave words of her Washington before the convention: "I will raise 1,000 men, subsist them at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston "--words of patriotism, breathing a love for the whole country--quickly to be followed by the march of Virginians under Daniel Morgan, to the succor of that besieged city.
It was her legislature that passed the resolution calling upon Congress to declare that the colonies were free and independent States. It was Richard Henry Lee who submitted this brave motion, and Thomas Jefferson who penned the Declaration. It was her great son who took command of the Continental armies, and under his matchless leadership brought victory to a cause which, but for him, would undoubtedly have suffered overwhelming defeat.
While bearing her part in maintaining the cause of the colonies in their great struggle with the mother country, she commissioned and equipped the expedition which, under the leadership of her son, George Rogers Clarke, conquered the empire of the northwest; and then, in the plenitude of her patriotism, she donated this great territory to the Union.
A CLOSE UNION.
When the Revolution had finally triumphed in the great battle fought out on her soil, her statesmen were the first to realize the necessities of a closer union, and under her leadership the Constitutional Convention was called. George Washington presided over its deliberations; Edmund Randolph proposed a plan which was the basis of the new Constitution, and James Madison was at once the foremost architect in its construction, as he was the ablest advocate in favor of its subsequent adoption by the States. For thirty-six years--save four--Virginia furnished the Presidents who shaped the destinies of the infant republic. John Marshall, first among the foremost jurists of the English-speaking world, for thirty-five years filled the high place of Chief Justice, and by his great decisions performed a work of incomparable importance in the making of the Union. Under the leadership of Jefferson, the empire stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi to Canada and the Pacific was acquired from France, while Monroe secured from Spain the cession of Florida.
Her Taylor and Scott led the triumphant forces of the Union in the war with Mexico, while a brilliant of younger sons, Lee, Jackson, Johnston and others, shed new lustre upon American arms by their personal heroism in that war.
Wherever the genius and prowess of leadership had added strength and glory to the Union and her institutions, whether in the cabinet, in the council, or on the field, Virginia had been foremost in her contributions of wisdom and of heroism. Thus was the Union so indissolubly linked with her own interests and glory that she was presently to be called upon to declare whether she would aid and abet it in the policy of what she regarded as unconstitutional coercion, or stand forth herself to brook its power.
TO PRESERVE THE UNION.
The foregoing constitutes but an imperfect recital of the part borne by Virginia in the making of the Union, and so whenever the clouds of civil dissention arose, and peace between the States or between a State and the Union, was imperilled, Virginia was foremost in her mediations. Thus in 1832, when South Carolina, by her Ordinance of Nullification, brought on the crisis involving a conflict between the State and Federal powers, it was Virginia who stepped forward as the peace-maker, and as a result of her mediations, the threatened rupture was averted.
Again, in 1860, the alignment of parties demonstrated that the election of either Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Breckinridge to the Presidency would be followed by a rupture, and so Virginia, with her eldest daughter, Kentucky, alone of the States of the Union except Tennessee, cast her vote for Bell and Everett, the Union candidates, standing on the platform, "The Constitution of the country; the Union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws."
But Mr. Lincoln and his associate upon the ticket, Hannibal Hamlin, were elected, and for the first time in the history of the government these high offices were to be filled by men from one section of the country, elected by the electoral votes only of States from the same geographical division, and that too despite the fact that the opposing tickets combined received a majority of over a million of the popular vote.
Following the election of Mr. Lincoln, under the leadership of South Carolina and Cotton States, seven in number, withdrew from the Union and formed a government, and adopted a constitution in February, 1861. While there was a strong party in Virginia which not only believed in the right of secession, but advocated the immediate assertion of the right, yet the dominant voice of her people was still for the Union, and in obedience to this sentiment every possible effort was put forth to avert a collision between the Federal power and the seceding States, and to bring the latter back into affiliation with the Union.
THE PEACE CONGRESS.
Her legislature was called in extra session and resolutions immediately adopted calling for a meeting of commissioners from the States still in the Union, to assemble at Washington and to devise means to avert the threatened calamity. The resolutions of the legislature recite that: "Whereas it is the deliberate opinion of the General Assembly of Virginia that unless the unhappy controversy which now divides the States of this Confederacy shall be satisfactorily adjusted, a permanent dissolution of the Union is inevitable, and the General Assembly, representing the wishes of the people of the Commonwealth, is desirous of employing every reasonable means to avert so dire a calamity"; and then proceeds to call upon the States to send commissioners to what has been known in history as the "Peace Congress." To this Congress Virginia sent as her representatives ex-President John Tyler, William C. Rives, John W. Brockenbrough, George W. Summers and James A. Seddon.
The Peace Congress accordingly met in Washington in February, 1861, where representatives from twenty-three States assembled and took part in the deliberations, though there were, of course, no representatives present from the seven Commonwealths who had already formed the Southern Confederacy. John Tyler, of Virginia, was elected its president, and his speech accepting the position thrilled with sentiments of patriotism and devotion to the country. He declared:
"The voice of Virginia has invited her co-States to meet her in council. In the initiation of this government that same voice was heard and complied with, and the result seventy odd years has fully attested the wisdom of the decisions then adopted. Is the urgency of her call now less great than it was then? Our Godlike fathers created! We have to preserve. They have built up through their wisdom and patriotism monuments which have eternized their name. You have before you, gentlemen, a task equally grand, equally sublime, quite as full of glory and of immortality: you have to snatch from ruin a grand and glorious confederation; to preserve the government, and to renew and invigorate the Constitution. If you reach the height of this great occasion, your children's children will rise up and call you blessed."
The deliberations of the Peace Congress availed nothing to stem the tide of disunion, which seemed to flow in from both sections. It is almost pathetic to read the speeches of some of the participants in that great conference, as evidencing their yearnings for reconciliation between the sections and to avert the threatened calamity of civil war. Over against this sentiment was a counterspirit which foreboded no good for the peace of the country. As an example of the first, let me quote a few sentences from a speech of William C. Rives, one of the Virginia delegates:
"Mr. President, the position of Virginia must be understood and appreciated. She is just now the neutral ground between two embattled legions--between two angry, excited and hostile portions of the Union. Something must be done to save the country, to allay these apprehensions, to restore a broken confidence. Virginia steps in to arrest the progress of the country on its way to ruin. She steps in to save the country. * * * Sir, I have had some experience in revolutions in another hemisphere; in revolutions produced by the same causes that are now operating among us. What causes led to the revolution in France?
"One I saw myself, where interest was arrayed against interest, friend against friend, brother against brother. I have seen the pavements of Paris covered and her gutters running with fraternal blood. God forbid I should see this horrid picture repeated in my own country; and yet it will be, sir, if we listen to the counsels urged here."
From these appeals and warnings of this distinguished son of Virginia, I turn to the characteristic utterance of one of the leaders in the opposing element. The Peace Conference had been from the first opposed by a faction, and under the influence of their leadership, several of the Northern States had refused to send delegates. As the patriotic character of the Congress, however, and of the great mission which it had in hand, impressed itself more and more upon the thought and conscience of the country, other States sent forward their representatives. Then fearing that the friends of reconciliation would be dominant in the congress, this ultra element sought to secure the appointment of delegates from the States not represented, who would combat this sentiment and defeat the accomplishment of any practical results. It was in this spirit that Zachariah Chandler, then a Senator from Michigan, wrote the following letter to the Governor of that State:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 1861.
My dear Governor:
Governor Bingham and myself telegraphed you on Saturday, at the request of Massachusetts and New York, to send delegates to the Peace, or Compromise Congress. They admit that we were right, and that they were wrong; that no Republican State should have sent delegates; but they are here and cannot get away. Ohio, Indiana, Rhode Island are caving in, and there is danger of Illinois; and now they beg us for God's sake to come to their rescue and save the Republican party from rupture. The whole thing was gotten up against my judgment and advice, and will end in thin smoke. Still, I hope as a matter of courtesy to some of our erring brethren, that you will send the delegates.
Truly your friend,
Z. W. CHANDLER.
His Excellency, Austin Blair.
P. S.--Some of the manufacturing States think that a fight would be awful. Without a little blood-letting, this Union will not, in my estimation, be worth a rush."
It may not be amiss to quote at this point from the declarations of Robert E. Lee, made in January, 1861, as the sentiment of the leading Virginian of his time. Referring to Washington, he wrote:
"How his spirit would be grieved, could he see the wreck of his mighty labors. I will not, however,, permit myself to believe, until all ground for hope has gone, that the fruit of his noble deeds will be destroyed, and that his precious advice and virtuous example will be so soon forgotten by his countrymen. As far as I can judge from the papers, we are between a state of anarchy and civil war. May God avert both of these evils from us."
In the same month he again wrote: "I shall mourn for my country, and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved, and the government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and save in defence will I draw my sword on none."
Thus at this momentous crisis Virginia furnished the "neutral ground between the embattled legions "--and declared in the words of her great son, "Save in defence will I draw my sword on none."
VIRGINIA CONVENTION OF 1861
The same legislature which called the Peace Congress passed an act providing a popular convention of the people to consider what should be the course of Virginia in the crisis with which she was confronted. By the terms of the act the people were not only to select delegates to a convention, but they were to declare by a separate vote whether the action of that convention should be referred back to the people for ratification, or whether its action should be binding upon the Commonwealth. The result of the popular vote not only overwhelmingly committed the convention to submit its findings to the people for ratification or rejection, but sent to the convention a majority of delegates opposed to the secession of Virginia from the Union.
The dominant element in the convention elected as its president the venerable John Janney, and the spirit and purpose of the body may be gathered from his address in accepting the position. He said:
"It is now almost seventy-three years since a convention of the people of Virginia was assembled in this hall to ratify the Constitution of the United States, one of the chief objects of which was to consolidate--not the government, but the union of the States. Causes which have passed, and are daily passing into history, which will set its seal upon them, but which I do not mean to review, have brought the Constitution and the Union into imminent peril, and Virginia has come to the rescue. It is what the whole country expected of her--her pride, as well as her patriotism, her interest, as well as her honor, call upon her with an emphasis she could not disregard, to save the monuments of her own glory."
I would that time permitted to quote the whole of his splendid oration. The foregoing extract, however, will suffice to show the spirit in which the dominant element of that great convention approached the consideration of the grave problem which confronted them. From the day of its opening session, on the 13th of February, down to the 17th of April, the advocates of secession and of union confronted each other in debate. Foremost among the Union men were John B. Baldwin, Robert Y. Conrad, Jubal A. Early, Alex. H. H. Stuart, George W. Summers, Williams C. Wickham, and the president, John Janney.
RIGHT TO SECEDE.
Of the 152 members of the convention there were probably few who did not hold to the constitutional right of a State to retire from the Union; but, as I have said, a majority were opposed to the exercise of that right, and clung tenaciously to the hope that the alternative would never be put to Virginia--either to draw her sword to coerce the States of the Southern Confederacy, or withdraw from the Union.
This alternative, however, at length came, when on the 15th day April, Mr. Lincoln made his call for 75,000 men with which to invade the Southern Confederacy, and demanded of Virginia her quota. To honor this call was to abandon her principles, join in an unconstitutional invasion of the Southern States, and inaugurate a cruel war upon their people.
On the 17th of April, by a vote of 88 to 55, the convention resolved upon an ordinance repealing the act by which Virginia had entered the Union, and submitted to a popular vote of the State, at an election to be held on the 4th Thursday of the following May, the ratification or rejection of this momentous step. The sentiments of many of the Union men of the convention doubtless found expression in the declaration of John B. Baldwin, the great Union leader, who, when called upon to know what would be the course of the Union men in Virginia declared: "We have no Union men in Virginia now, but those who were Union men will stand to their guns and make a fight that will shine out on the page of history as an example of what a brave people can do, after exhausting every means of pacification."
Thus was precipitated Virginia's secession from the Union. Thus was ushered in one of the most terrific wars in all history.
THE CAUSES OF WAR.
Time will not permit a consideration of the causes which brought on this great conflict. They are to be gathered from remote and far distant times, as well as the epoch of the great event. Echoes of the battles of Naseby and Marston Moor; differences in the mental and religious characteristics of Puritan and Cavalier; divergent interests springing from dissimilar commercial and industrial conditions; conflicting notions as to the purposes of the Federal Government; crimination and recrimination as to the alleged prostitution of its powers for the advantage or disadvantage of the two sections; the institution of slavery; the attempted enforcement of the Fugitive Slave law; the nullification by States of this Federal statute; the abolition movement; the John Brown Raid; the growing hostility between the peoples of the North and the South; and finally, the triumph of sectionalism in the elections of 1860.
VIRGINIA DID NOT FIGHT TO MAINTAIN SLAVERY.
There is, however, one popular misconception to which I would direct your attention. While the institution of slavery and the rise of the abolition party were undoubtedly among the causes which precipitated the war, yet the statement is false either that Virginia seceded in order to maintain the institution of slavery, or that the authorities of the Federal Government inaugurated the war to emancipate the slaves.
What had been Virginia's position with reference to this institution, and what historically speaking, was the cause for which the Federal Government drew its sword?
Slavery was introduced into Virginia in 1619--a period of the world's history when the slave trade and the ownership of slaves was everywhere legalized by law. Between the date of the introduction of the first slave in 1619 and 1776, when Virginia declared her independence of Great Britain, petition after petition was addressed by her people and her Assembly, imploring the British crown to interdict the importation of slaves. Not only were petitions presented, but between the dates mentioned numerous Acts of Assembly were passed, the object and purpose of which was to stop the traffic. All of these acts were vetoed by the King, and, despite the declared opposition of the colonists, for over a century and a half the traffic continued, with each importation adding more and more to the difficulties and dangers of emancipation.
AGAINST HUMAN NATURE.
When her great son, Mr. Jefferson, came to pen the Declaration of Independence, and to arraign the King for his veto of these enactments, he declared that George III "has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty, in the persons of distant people who never offended him, captivating them and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere." * * * "This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative by suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce."
This clause in the Declaration of Independence was omitted from the draft adopted by Congress. Jefferson declares in his autobiography that it "was struck out in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures, for though their people had very few slaves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them, to others."
In October, 1778, the General Assembly of Virginia, then freed from the control of the British King, passed an act forever prohibiting the further importation of slaves into her Commonwealth. When she ceded to the Union the great northwest territory, won by the blood and the treasure of her people, she not only dedicated to the general government this imperial empire, but by the hand of her sons, Edward Carrington and Richard Henry Lee, constituting with Nathan Dane, of Massachusetts, a special committee, prepared the celebrated ordinance of 1787 for its government, in which it was provided that slavery should never exist in all that wide territory.
THE SLAVE TRADE.
Thus Virginia not only gave to the Union the territory from which five of the foremost Commonwealths were carved, but dedicated it to freedom. The supreme opportunity, however, of suppressing the slave trade, came upon the adoption of the Federal Constitution. With every increase in the number of slaves, the difficulties and dangers of emancipation were multiplied. The hope of emancipation rested in stopping their importation, and dispersing over the whole face of the land those who had already found a home in our midst. Despite the opposition of Virginia, the legality of the foreign slave trade was extended for a period of twenty years. This action of the convention is declared by Mr. Fiske, the New England historian, "a bargain between New England and the far South." Continuing, he says: "This compromise was carried against the sturdy opposition of Virginia."
George Mason, the author of our Bill of Rights, denounced what he called the "infernal traffic." "Slavery," said he, "discourages arts and manufactures; the poor despise labor when performed by slaves; they prevent the emigration of whites, who really strengthen and enrich a country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners; every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant; they bring the judgment of heaven on a country; as nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities." "But," says Mr. Fiske, "these prophetic words were powerless against the combination of New England with the far South."
Thus by the votes of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, with those of the far South, an additional twenty years was added to the century and a half during which the slave trade was licensed by law, and when that period had rolled around, the statesmen and thinkers of the land stood front to front with the problem of emancipation under far different, and more difficult conditions.
The General Assembly of Virginia on more than one occasion considered the subject of gradual emancipation, and as late as 1832, the advocates of such a course mustered a following almost large enough to enact their resolutions into laws. The great difficulty, however, lay in the dangers to the community of the mere presence of such a host of slaves suddenly released from the restraints and care with which they were formerly surrounded.
The sentiment of a large, if not the dominant element of the people of Virginia, was doubtless expressed in the words of Robert E. Lee, who, writing in December, 1856, declared:
SLAVERY AN EVIL.
"There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. I think it is a greater evil to the white, than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically and socially. * * * Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity, than from the storm and tempest of melting controversy. * * * While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress, as well as the results, in the hand of Him who sees the end, who chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but a single day."
The great apostle of liberty, Mr. Jefferson, realizing the dangers and difficulties of emancipation, and yet discerning some signs of the future, penned in the closing years of his life these words: "Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races equally free, can not live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion, has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them."
TO DEPORT THEM.
The leaders and philanthropists of Virginia grew to realize the truth of these sentiments, and so the efforts which were made in the State Legislature to secure the enactment of laws for the emancipation of the slaves, were in time abandoned, and followed by the inauguration of movements for their deportation. It was nowhere felt that either the peace of the community or the well being of the slave, would be subserved by his emancipation, unless followed by his exodus from the country. In this work many of our foremost citizens were enlisted when the rise of what was known as the "Abolition Party" at the North, projecting itself as a disturbing force between master and slave, and in the councils of the Federal Government, with respect to this--a purely domestic and local institution--quenched the sentiment in favor of emancipation and riveted the startled minds of the people upon the new dangers, which as a result of the movements and discussions of the Abolition Party, confronted them.
The reality of these fears was illustrated and intensified by the raid of John Brown and his followers, which sent a thrill of horror through the land.
Such was Virginia's record with reference to slavery. Such the sentiments of some of her greatest sons.
In the light of such a record, and such sentiments, will it be seriously insisted that she gave her home to desolation and her people to death, to maintain the institution? The vast majority of her sons who went forth to battle were not slave owners, and had little or no love for the institution.
But beyond all this, the secession of Virginia could not have been to prevent the threatened emancipation of her slaves, because as we know, the Federal Government meditated no such course.
The platform of the party which elected Mr. Lincoln emphatically declared against any interference by the Federal power, with this domestic institution in the States, in which it already existed; and Mr. Lincoln in his inaugural address reiterated and reaffirmed that declaration. From no authoritative source was any assault meditated upon the institution of slavery.
Even the right of the slave owner to carry his slaves into the territories, which had constituted the great question at issue, was now relinquished by the seceding States, and the territories themselves abandoned to the Union. The right of slavery in the territories was thus forever settled, while the question of the abolition of slavery in the States where it existed, had never been put in issue between the contending parties. The States of the Confederacy avowed the right to secede, and denied the power of the Federal Government to coerce them. Mr. Lincoln denied the first, and maintained the second. It was on this issue the two parties litigant submitted their controversy to the wage of battle.
How, then, did the emancipation of the slaves become involved in the great war which followed? The facts are facts of history, and can be quickly declared.
PROCLAMATION OF 1862.
On the 22d of September, 1862, after the war had been in progress for a year and a half, Mr. Lincoln issued his proclamation, in which he declared that the slaves held in the States, or portions of States which should be still in rebellion on the 1st of January, 1863, following, would be, by a subsequent proclamation, emancipated. His justification was found in the fact that, as a war measure, it would deplete the strength of the Confederacy and augment the forces of the Union.
In all other portions of the Union where slavery was legalized, to-wit: Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and portions of Louisiana and Virginia, the institution would remain unaffected by the proclamation. More than that, by the very terms of the proclamation, the people of the States in which it was made to apply could escape its effects by laying down their arms. Surely if the preservation of the institution of slavery in the seceding States furnished the incentive for their conduct, these States had simply to ground their arms and the institution would have remained.
On the 1st of January, 1863, the final proclamation was made, in which it was recited, because of the failure of the people of the States and portions of States above mentioned to lay down their arms, the slaves within those designated localities were declared free, and the President pledged all the powers of the Union to make good this declaration. It may be of interest to note that, among the counties of Virginia excepted from the operation of this proclamation, were Accomac and Northampton--in honor of the Confederate soldiers from which this monument is dedicated to-day.
Thus, and thus only, did the emancipation of the slaves become involved in the war. Mr. Lincoln only justified his proclamation as a war measure to help the cause of the Union, for he said: "If he could save the Union by freeing the slaves, he would do it; if he could save it by freeing one-half and keeping the other half in slavery, he would take that plan; if keeping them all in slavery would effect the object, that would be his course."
REASON FOR SECESSION OF VIRGINIA.
What, then, was the true cause which impelled Virginia to secede and for which her people fought? It may be stated in a word. Statesmen from the dawn of the Union had declared, and her people had been educated to believe, that any State had the constitutional right to peaceably withdraw from the Union. When the Cotton States adopted that course and formed the Southern Confederacy, Virginia, while deploring the event, still felt they had but exercised an undoubted right, and therefore any armed coercion on the part of the Federal government was not warranted by the Constitution.
Mr. Davis, in one of his first messages, thus stated the position of this new government: "In independence we seek no conquests, no aggrandizements, no concessions of any kind from the States with which we have lately been 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."
Virginia believed they had the right to make that declaration, and to take that stand; and because of this conviction, and because of its repeated declaration in the most solemn and authoritative form, both by legislative enactment and the avowals of her leaders, to have remained in the Union and joined in the coercion of the seceding States, would have been a repudiation of her principles and an act of tyranny and dishonor.
The people of Virginia were devoted to the memories, traditions, and the very soil of their Commonwealth--proud of her history, and jealous beyond comparison of her fame. The settlement of the State, the part which she had borne in the Revolution, and other wars, the romantic and daring adventures of her sons in every period of storm and stress, the brave avowals of her great leaders in the cause of the civil and religious liberty; the deep-seated belief that the rights of the government were only derived from the consent of the governed; the position of the parties to the impending conflict--the North rich in teeming population, diversified wealth, established government and the prestige of the old flag and the old constitution--the South unequal in every point, save in the enthusiasm and determination of her people; all this made the strongest appeal to the imagination and sympathies of her sons. To stand by as a neutral would have been to wear the badge of confessed dishonor. At the thought of invasion either of their homes or their liberties, there sprang to the hearts of these cavaliers and the sturdy yeomanry of the mountain and the plain, the inspiring words of the poet of their fatherland:
"In our halls is hung--
Armory of the invincible knights of old;
We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spoke; the faith and morals hold
Which Milton held--in everything we are sprung
Of earth's first blood, have titles manifold."
The prophetic warning of her statesmen as to the terrors which would mark the conflict, were more than realized in her desolated homes, her impoverished people, and the myriad graves of her sons that marked the face of the Commonwealth; and yet when all was over, and standing in the midst of her desolation, the figure which represented the true life and genius and heroism of the Commonwealth, could but exclaim in the language of Demosthenes:
"I say if the event had been manifest to the world beforehand, not even then ought Athens to have forsaken this course, if Athens had any regard for her glory, or for her past, or for the ages to come."
I have thus, my countrymen, attempted to epitomize some of the causes and motives which influenced the people of Virginia during the momentous period of the Civil War. If I have presented one fact or suggested one thought which will tend to make clear the truth, then my labor has not been in vain. The great duty of this generation is to present to the world the truth with reference to the causes and motives which actuated our people in that struggle.
To the future we may look with confidence for a vindication of the high principles and pure motives which controlled Virginians. The very pathos of our story will enlist the interest of the world. Calvaries and Crucifixions take deepest hold upon humanity. The truth will be found and proclaimed just so sure as sacrifice and devotion appeal most strongly to the hearts and minds of men.
"Thou hast great allies.
Thy friends are exultations, agonies
And love, and man's unconquerable mind."
Already the truth of this assertion is being verified, and writers and thinkers of this and the old world make bold to affirm the integrity and heroism of Virginia's course. Thus Henderson, the English military critic and author, in his Life of Jackson, declares:
JUSTICE TO CROMWELL.
"The world has long since done justice to the motives of Cromwell and of Washington, and signs are not wanting that before many years have passed, it will do justice to the motives of the Southern people. They were true to their interpretation of the Constitution."
Then referring to Virginia--" Her best endeavors were exerted to maintain the peace between the hostile sections, and not until her liberties were menaced did she repudiate a compact which had become intolerable. It was to preserve the freedom which her forefathers had bequeathed her, and which she desired to hand down unsullied to future generations, that she acquiesced in the Revolution."
Ropes, the New England historian and author, in his History of the Civil War, referring to the Southern people, says: "They are not in their own opinion rebels at all; they were defending their States, that is, the nations to which they conceived themselves to belong, from invasion and conquest."
Mr. Lecky, England's greatest living historian, in his Democracy and Liberty, declares: "The self-sacrifice, the unanimity, the tenacity of purpose, the indomitable will displayed on both sides by the vast citizen armies, in that long and terrible struggle, form one of the most splendid pages in 19th century history."
But not only will these facts impress the minds and demand recognition of the students and historians of the future, but the time will come when the united voice of this whole land will proclaim the integrity of purpose which controlled our people in that conflict, and when their heroism will be proudly claimed as a part of the heritage of our country.
All that was pure and knightly--all that was magnanimous and strong--will yet be treasured as evidences of our country's glory.
What Englishman to-day, while recalling the heroism displayed at Naseby and Marston Moor, stops to inquire whether his forefathers fought for Parliament or King?
The day is not far distant when upon the fields where were fought the great battles of the Civil War, monuments will be erected to commemorate the prowess and valor of American manhood as exhibited in those fierce struggles for principle. On the plains of Abraham, which overlooked the city of Quebec, was fought the last battle between the French and English-speaking races for the mastery of this continent. Victory crowned the English arms under the splendid leadership of Wolfe, despite the desperate resistance of the French, led by the noblest heroic Montcalm. Both leaders fell at their posts of duty. To-day a beautiful monument rises above the plain. It carries no sting to the hearts of the vanquished, for it commemorates the heroism of both Wolfe and Montcalm, in the generous inscription: "Valor gave them a common death; history a common fame; and posterity a common monument."
Inspired by the remembrance of the valor of the soldiers of Accomac and Northampton, their surviving comrades have erected this monument to perpetuate their fame.
Let it stand a lasting memorial of the heroic men of this sea-girt land.
Let it make known the ever blessed story of duty well performed; of steadfast valor and fortitude in the face of defeat. For it invokes the reverential care of all who love devotion to principle; and over it I pronounce as a sentence of consecration, the beautiful epitaph which is said to mark the last resting place of the first Grenadier of France: "Consecrated to virtue and courage, and put under the protection of the brave in every age and country."
Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXVII. Richmond, Va, January-December. 1899.