Monday, April 11, 2005

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 11: A "gentleman of Mississippi" defends secession

This 1863 diatribe by a pseudonymous "gentleman of Mississippi" offers a dense dose of Calhounian horsefeathers about sovereignty and states rights and yadda, yadda: Secession: Considered as a Right in the States Composing the Late American Union of States, and as to the Grounds of Justification of the Southern States in Exercising the Right by a Gentleman of Mississippi (1863).  It's a wartime document, but it mainly deals with the prewar period.

It's not until page 27 that "the gentleman" gets to "the grounds of justification for the secession of the Southern States."

According to the neo-Confederates' "it had nothing to do with slavery" argument, this poor guy was also clueless about the cause he was defending in real time. In describing the political disputes that produced the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the first of many major concessions by the free states to the slaveholding states, he writes:

African slavery was then a part of the domestic policy of the these South-Western and Southern States; and it would, at that time, have been absolutely ruinous to new States to be made of the territory adjacent to them, to be deprived of slave labor in their agricultural pursuits, and to be admitted only on condition that it was excluded within their limits. Hence to require such a condition was in fact to exclude the State from the Union; and that was the real design. It was believed, by the contrivers of this plot, that such was the prejudice then existing in the sentiment of most of the civilized nations of the earth, and even in this country, against negro slavery, that their odious motive would be concealed under the cloak of benevolence and philanthrophy, whilst they secured the power and honors of the Government, and employed them for their emolument.

The first State which applied for admission after these purposes were conceived, was the State of Missouri; and this furnished the first opportunity to the party, to put into practice the scheme which they had planned. All their strength was accordingly put forth to prevent the admission of the State, except upon the condition of exclusion of slavery within her limits--a condition desstructive to the rights of a large number of her people, ruinous to her settled policy and interests, and of course wholly impracticable to be accepted; and a flagrant violation of the Constitution, as has since been adjudged by the Supreme Court of the United States. Yet they urged it with alltheir power and with unyielding obstinacy; and the memorable struggle ensued which brought the Union to the verge of destruction. They persisted in their demand until the destruction of the Union or the rejection of the condition, was the inevitable alternative; and, even under these awful circumstances, they only agreed to recede from their position in the particular case, by obtaining another condition, declaring as the settled policy of the Government, in effect, that slavery should never exist in any of the Western States to be created out of the territory in that section--a principle which they believed would exclude from the Union a large number of agricultural States to be made out of the Western territory, whose interests and political principles would be opposed to their own. But for this unconscientious advantage, it is plain that these wicked men would then have dissolved the Union.(my emphasis)

He summarizes the events from John Quincy Adams post-presidential return to the House of Representatives to the Lincoln presidency:

Mr. Adams was sent to Congress, the chosen man of the party; and, reckless of decency and of the dignity which his recent position would have suggested to a man of juster sensibilities, he quickly began the agitation of the slavery question, with all the violence which disappointed personal ambition and thirst for power, the prostration of his sectional party and the defeat of their schemes for ill gotten gain, could give to a man of untiring energy, of great abilities and of the deepest malignity. His effort was to stab, in its vitals, that section which had directed against him the blow that had felled and degraded him, and was about to deprive his section of its unconscientious gains; and he scrupled at nothing which he could use as a means of wreaking his revenge. Incessantly did he exert himself, by appeals to false sympathy and to hypocritical philanthrophy, and by ingenious sophistries, to arouse the spirit of fanaticism in behalf of the happy and contented slaves of the South. At first his efforts met with no favor. This but incited him to greater exertions. He found coadjutors in Congress. His spirit was communicated to leading men throughout his section, and to many in the West who had emigrated from that section or who had been corrupted by his jesuitism. It was then found that the Missouri Compromise had worked its office, and would add to the Northern and Eastern faction, the new States to be made of Western territory, by preventing the immigration of Southern men with their slaves there, and that those States would ultimately be added to their party; and hence it was no longer necessary to oppose the admission of new States from that region. The party increased in numbers from year to year, until all the Eastern and North-Eastern States, and a large majority of the Western States--which were peopled for the most part by men of Eastern and Northern birth and by foreigners--were enlisted under its banner. They avowed themselves prepared to trample under foot the principles of the Constitution; their Legislatures passed acts deliberately annulling a positive provision of the Constitution for the rendition of fugitive slaves, and setting at nought the act of Congress passed in furtherance of that provision; and these outrageous acts they persisted in carrying out even by force; (my emphasis)

And, of course, the final blow of those perfidious opponents of slavery:

and in the Presidential election of 1860, the votes of those States, constituting a large majority of the States of the Union, were cast for Abraham Lincoln, who was openly pledged to use all the powers of the Government to put an end to slave property in the States, and to prevent its existence in the Territories--rights clearly recognised in the Constitution; adjudged by the Supreme Court to be guarantied by the Constitution; considdred vital to the welfare and happiness of fifteen States of the Union--rights, without the recognition of which in the Constitution the Union could never have been formed. (emphasis in original)

Shoot, this guy seems to think that the reason for secession had to do with slavery and, uh, slavery!  He proceeds to quote Lincoln on slavery, Seward on slavery, Chase on slavery, and the Republican Party platform on slavery.  Stuff like tariffs or whatever else our neo-Confederates think was the reason for the Confederate rebellion just didn't loom very large for this particular advocate of the Not-Yet-Lost Cause, two years into the war.

Among the horrors charged to Lincoln's account is, "He has seduced slaves from their masters and placed arms in their hands, enabling them to commit murder and plunder, and has enlisted many of them as soldiers in his armies."  Arming the slaves and accepting them as soldiers was a particularly threatening act for the Southerners, awakening all their dread of slave rebellion that had become thoroughly ingrained in their culture, for nonslavholding free whites as well as slaveowners.

And, worst of all: Lincoln has issued an Emancipation Proclamation!

This edict, if effectual for the object intended, would at once annihilate a large part of the property of the people composing the Southern States, the right to which is expressly recognised by the Constitution. It would annihilate with it the main business, pursuits, property, wealth and social institutions dependant on that species of property in those States and reduce their people to ruin and their country to desolation. It would raise a servile war of extermination either of the white, or of the slave, population, producing scenes, which no mind, but that of a fiend in human form, can contemplate without the deepest horror. Yet this vile and flagitious manifesto regards these scenes with encouragement, and promises to "maintain the freedom of such slaves," by the whole power of the Government, and to "do no act to repress them in any efforts they may make for freedom." After inciting them to these horrors, their authors are to do no act to repress them in their efforts for freedom, however revolting to humanity! Well may this atrocious act call forth, as it has done, the execrations of the civilized world against the monster who has proclaimed it.

But its gross usurpation and base purpose are not more striking than its shameless violation of the declarations that Mr. Lincoln has made from the date of his inauguration to the time of his proclamation, in relation to interfering with slavery in the States. (my emphasis)

Darn, the Confederates were worried about those tariffs, weren't they?  See with what passion the "gentleman of Mississippi" regards the oppressive tariffs:

That the people of these States must either submit, in the Union, to be robbed of all their most sacred rights secured by the Constitution, or be visited, if they withdraw from the Union, with fire and sword, with plunder and murder, their own slaves armed and incited to the most horrid deeds of destruction and brutality against all ages, sexes and conditions of the white race, because these people were driven, for the necessary protection of their dearest rights, to withdraw from the grasp of the usurper and tyrant-- ...

These designs, at first disguised, now stand out in all their horrors, openly avowed under the pretext of necessity; and now the contest waged by Abraham Lincoln against the Confederate States, exhibits an open and undisguised struggle between Constitutional government, civil and religious liberty, good faith and justice, on the one side; and tyranny, fanaticism, robbery and Red Republicanism, on the other. In such a contest, surely the South had no course but resistance to the oppressions, by all the means which God and nature have placed in her hands. (my emphasis)

(I can't help but notice that with the now-common assignment of party colors in political discussion in the US, Red Republicanism finally arrived with the first "election" of George W. Bush.)

Aside from being one of a practically endless pieces of documentation that slavery was central to the war and Confederate secession, this also gives a glimpse of what terror Southerners held for "servile insurrection" (slave rebellions) and how they saw that sucessful implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation would mean the death of their Confederacy.  And it was.

The "gentleman of Mississippi" was not wrong in regarding it as a revolutionary document.  Because from that point on, the Union cause became a war aiming at the revolutionizing of social and class relations in the South.  The conventional war had become a revolutionary war.

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month post 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

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