Part 3 of 6: Secession…The most misunderstood and wrongfully taught period of U.S. history.
The Compromise of 1850 was “desirable, for the peace, concord, and harmony of the Union of these States, to settle and adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy between them arising out of the institution of slavery upon a fair, equitable and just basis…” A resolution Henry Clay introduced as part of the Compromise on January 29, 1850, included the fact Congress acknowledged that slavery did not exist by law (at this time). Slavery was not likely to be introduced into any of the territory acquired from Mexico…without the adoption of any restriction or condition on the subject of slavery.
The acknowledgment that Congress had the authority to restrict or place restrictions on the subject of slavery effectively legalized and codified slavery into law. Without the express written intent to abolish slavery in all forms in all states of the country, Congress effectively legalized slavery by this Compromise. The resolution went on to state that it was “inexpedient to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia whilst that institution continues to exist in the State of Maryland, without the consent of that State, without the consent of the people of the District, and without just compensation to the owners of slaves within the District.”
This effectively acknowledged that Congress had no direct authority to outlaw slavery in the states without the consent of the states. The Compromise also effectively declared that slaves were indeed personal property by the reference to just compensation (for loss of personal property). In effect, it acknowledged that the Government can take personal property provided the owner is given equitable/monetary relief for the forfeited property. However; on September 20, 1851, a subsequent act was passed in which slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia.
One plan being considered during this time was the creation of smaller states in the West to drive up the number of sympathetic legislators in Congress. By around 1880 or 1890 they could have created a very strong majority using these tactics and potentially pressed through an abolition amendment. It is also somewhat likely that Delaware and Maryland would have eventually aligned with the Northern antislavery coalition. Sounds like a tactic being used by Democrats in 2017-2018 through illegal immigration. Remember this tactic of developing the West. It will come up again during Reconstruction.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, President Buchanan still had to deal with the possibility of secession for four months until Lincoln’s scheduled inauguration in March. His response was inaction, believing that secession was illegal, but armed efforts to prevent states from leaving the Union were also without sanction.
Buchanan stated in his Inaugural Address in 1857 that “All agree that under the Constitution slavery in the States is beyond the reach of any human power except that of the respective States themselves wherein it exists. May we not, then, hope that the long agitation on this subject is approaching its end and that the geographical parties to which it has given birth, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, will speedily become extinct? Most happy will it be for the country when the public mind shall be diverted from this question to others of more pressing and practical importance.”
In his State of the Union address in December 1860, President Buchanan said, “The course of events is so rapidly hastening forward that the emergency may soon arise when you may be called upon to decide the momentous question whether you possess the power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union. I should feel myself recreant to my duty were I not to express an opinion on this important subject. The question fairly stated is, Has the Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a State into submission which is attempting to withdraw or has actually withdrawn from the Confederacy?”
“I hold it to be a paramount duty of us in the free states, due to the Union of the states, and perhaps to liberty itself (paradox though it may seem) to let the slavery of the other states alone; while, on the other hand, I hold it to be equally clear, that we should never knowingly lend ourselves directly or indirectly, to prevent that slavery from dying a natural death—to find new places for it to live in, when it can no longer exist in the old.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume I, “Letter to Williamson Durley” (October 3, 1845), p. 348.
In an 1858 letter, Lincoln said, “I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that in my opinion neither the General Government nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists.”
In a Springfield, Illinois, speech, he explained: “My declarations upon this subject of Negro slavery may be misrepresented but cannot be misunderstood. I have said that I do not understand the Declaration (of Independence) to mean that all men were created equal in all respects.” Debating Sen. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”
Those on both sides of the slavery issue basically admitted that each side knew slavery would die a natural death in the United States. They just had different ideas on how the end of slavery would come about. “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. For this, neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume IV, “Letter to John A. Gilmer” (December 15, 1860), p. 152.
In numerous letters and speeches, Abraham Lincoln outlined the difference between the Northern position on slavery and the Southern position on slavery. “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume IV, “Letter to Alexander H. Stephens” (December 22, 1860), p. 160.
There were other considerations related to trade, taxes, and tariffs that were also major differences in the two forms of society that developed in the United States.
Both Northern Democratic and Republican Parties favored allowing the South to secede. Just about every major Northern newspaper editorialized in favor of the South’s right to secede. We all know how the media like to dictate a narrative! New York Tribune (Feb. 5, 1860): “If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons [spelling theirs] from the Federal Union in 1861.” Detroit Free Press (Feb. 19, 1861): “An attempt to subjugate the seceded states, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil — evil unmitigated in character and appalling in content.” The New York Times (March 21, 1861): “There is growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go.”
The “Old Gray Lady” better known as the New York Times was quoted in the Richmond Whig of April 9, 1861, just before Ft. Sumter: “Slavery has nothing whatever to do with the tremendous issues now awaiting a decision. It has disappeared almost entirely from the political discussions of the day. No one mentions it in connection with our present complications. The question which we have to meet is precisely what it would be if there were not a Negro slave on American Soil…” [emphasis theirs]. The New York Times believes it is ordained with absolute knowledge and ultimate truth even to this day.
South Carolina (seceded December 20, 1860), Mississippi (seceded January 9, 1861), Florida (seceded January 10, 1861), Alabama (seceded January 11, 1861), Georgia (seceded January 19, 1861), Louisiana (seceded January 26, 1861), Texas (seceded February 1, 1861).
Isaac W. Hayne, the Attorney General of South Carolina exchanged several written letters on behalf of South Carolina with President James Buchanan through an emissary of U.S. Secretary of War Joseph Holt regarding the peaceful surrender of Ft. Sumter to South Carolina in January 1861. South Carolina viewed the federal installation a threat and sought an amicable and equitable resolution surrendering Ft. Sumter to South Carolina. A senator of Alabama and senators of other seceded states who remained in Washington following secession also viewed this issue important to how their respective states would be likewise affected and assisted in negotiations. SC Attorney General Hayne in a reply to Pres. Buchanan lamented, “This reply of yours through the Secretary of War ad interim, to the application made by the Senators, was entirely unsatisfactory to me. It appeared to me to be not only a rejection, in advance, of the main propositions made by these Senators, to wit: that “an arrangement should be agreed on between the authorities of South Carolina and your Government,” at least until the 15th Feb., by which time South Carolina and the States represented by the Senators “might in a Convention devise a wise, just and peaceable solution of the existing difficulties.” Hayne wrote that an agreement could be reached to resupply Ft. Sumter with the necessities of food, fuel, and water including the free exercise of communication by post or special messengers, with the President, upon the understanding that the President will not send him (Major Anderson) reinforcements during the same period. Hayne went on to write, “…there was a distinct refusal (in Mr. Holt’s letter) to make any stipulation on the subject of reinforcements, even for the short time that might be required to communicate with my Government.”
Sensing the Union intended to maintain Ft. Sumter as a military installation, Hayne emphatically wrote, “If Fort Sumter is not held as property, it is held,” say my instructions, “as a military post, and such a post within the limits of South Carolina will not be tolerated.” One could say this parallels the Castle Doctrine regarding the defense of one’s home.
A phrase in Hayne’s reply letter to President Buchanan stood out: “South Carolina has every disposition to preserve the public peace, and feels, I am sure, in full force those high ‘Christian and moral duties’ referred to by your Secretary….” It appears that U. S. Secretary of War Joseph Holt had the ordained, Christian, moral authority on which to dictate terms of acceptance to Hayne that Ft. Sumter would remain a federal military post in South Carolina instead of an amicable and equitable resolution surrendering Ft. Sumter to South Carolina. Haynes communicated that the possession of mere property was not the subject of these negotiations, but the sovereignty and safety of the people of South Carolina was the subject. Hayne’s letter conveys the underlying fact that the North did not desire peace nor worked toward the avoidance of war against South Carolina and the seceded states of the Confederacy. Click for more about Hayne’s documented communications with President Buchanan.
The mere fact that the Governor and Attorney General of South Carolina attempted to negotiate aided by senators and the United States utilized the Secretary of War as an emissary of President Buchanan makes a definitive statement about which side desired peace and which side desired war. Holt was later offered the position of U.S. Attorney General by Lincoln but refused to remain judge advocate general of the army. As judge advocate general, Holt presided over the famous “Copperhead Cases.” Two specific copperhead cases, Ex parte Vallandigham (1864) and Ex parte Milligan (1866), in which Northerners sympathized with the South, cast a shadow upon Holt who received significant criticism later in life.
If Lincoln did not feel that ‘neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other’ and ‘if it certainly is the only substantial difference (slavery) between us’ given his written letters, why did the Union refuse to negotiate a peaceful surrender of Ft. Sumter and the Confederacy?
On April 12, 1861, having witnessed Union reinforcement of Ft. Sumter, the South Carolinians fired upon the federal garrison. South Carolina did so in defense of her own dignity as a sovereign and the safety of her people as a duty against a government she no longer acknowledged.
On April 15, 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to join the Northern Army. The states of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee said they were unwilling to do to so, severed ties with the federal government and seceded. Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, Governor of Missouri responded, “Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhumane and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the state of Missouri furnish to carry on such an unholy crusade.”
The issue of slavery was not the central issue that led to the Civil War as 6th-grade level, brain dead historians want you to believe. Southern protests against the “Tariff of Abominations” in the 1820s and the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s demonstrated how deep a rift the tariff controversy was creating between North and South. There was great wealth in the South, but it was tied up in the slave economy. In 1860, the economic value of slaves in the United States exceeded the invested value of all of the nation’s railroads, factories, and banks combined. (Resource)
Lincoln’s economic guru, Henry C. Carey, was quite clear when he wrote to Congressman Justin S. Morrill in mid-1860 that “Nothing less than a dictator is required for making a really good tariff” (p. 614, “Abraham Lincoln and the Tariff”). Frank Taussig, in Tariff History of the United States (1931), wrote that “the import-dependent South was paying as much as 80 percent of the tariff while complaining bitterly that most of the revenues were being spent in the North. The South was being plundered by the tax system and wanted no more of it.” Then Lincoln and the Republicans come along tripling the rate of tariff taxation (before the war was an issue).
Lincoln in his first inaugural said: “The power confided in me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property, and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion–no using force against, or among the people anywhere.” Lincoln basically told the South either you pay the taxes or we will invade. That was on March 4. Five weeks later, on April 12, Fort Sumter, a tariff collection point in Charleston Harbor, was bombarded by the Confederates.
The Chicago Daily Times editorial dated March 2, 1861: “That either the revenue from duties must be collected in the ports of the rebel states or the port must be closed to importations from abroad is generally admitted. If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; there shall be no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe. There will be nothing to furnish means of subsistence to the army; nothing to keep our Navy afloat; nothing to pay the salaries of the public officers; the present order of things must come to a dead stop.”
The first two years the War went terribly for the North. Lincoln eventually made it the central issue upon which he made the moral justification to wage war in the face of growing Northern opposition to the War. Famed Abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ newspaper editorial “Fighting Rebels with Only One Hand” acknowledged the North’s strategic problem in the war:
“Why does the Government reject the negro? Is he not a man? Can he not wield a sword, fire a gun, march, and countermarch, and obey orders like any other?…We would tell him [Lincoln] that this is not the time to fight with one hand when both are needed; that this is no time to fight with your white hand, and allow your Black hand to remain tied.” Lincoln was finally convinced in 1863 to allow black soldiers to join the fighting. Up until this point, it was an all-white army of the North fighting the army of the South that included black soldiers. As Sen. Mason of Virginia stated, “it was a war of sentiment and opinion by one form of society against another form of society”.
Coming up next: Reconstruction