The Times Change
New Orleans Daily Crescent, December 20, 1860
When Virginia was invaded by John Brown, her citizens murdered, and their slaves vainly approached with a view to a servile insurrection, the circumstance produced a profound sensation, not in that State alone, but throughout the South. It was one of the first fruits of the irrepressible conflict, which was to make the States of the Union all "free." Although the soil of Virginia only was invaded, the other Southern States felt that it was a blow aimed at them all alike. It was intended as the beginning of a crusade against slavery all through the South, to be ended only with the utter extermination of the institution wherever it existed.
Two of the other Southern StatesSouth Carolina and Mississippiindignant at the outrage, and sympathising with Virginia, appointed Commissioners to that State to tender the aid of the States they represented in repelling all similar incursions in the future, and to get the consent of Virginia to enter a convention of all the States of the South. These Commissioners were received and treated with characteristic hospitality and kindness; but the suggestion of concert of action among the States of the South was respectfully declined. Virginia, not from any lack of appreciation of the indignity offered her, nor from any want of fealty to the rights and institutions of the South, but from a conviction that there was then no necessity for the step proposed, declined going into the conference proposed by her Southern sisters.
In one view of the case, the action of Virginia was undoubtedly right. Under the theory of our Governmenta theory, however, which has been woefully perverted in its practical applicationeach State is a sovereign power in respect of all matters of internal concern. Each State is the judge and arbiter of her own rights, her own wrongs, and her own remedies, in all things outside of the few delegated powers held by the Federal Government. Virginia, with none but the kindest feelings for her sister States which had proffered their aid and their sympathy, yet held that she was able to take care of herself, as well against hostile and revolutionary incursions like that of John Brown, as against any present or threatened usurpation by the Federal Government upon the reserved rights of the States, or any encroachment upon that sovereignty which, as an independent Commonwealth, she had ever claimed.
But, is there not an inconsistency in the present appeal of the Border States for a conference, when the proposition for a conference, made by at least two of the Cotton States, has already been rejected? It may be answered that the circumstances of the case are now different. This is truebut the difference is all in favor of the present position of the States of the extreme South. The case is made only the stronger in our favor by the different phase of affairs at the present time. Then, it was only proposed to consult together about the John Brown outrage, and the mode of preventing such things in futureand this was something legitimately within the jurisdiction of all the slave-holding States of the South. An attack upon the institution of slavery anywhere, was an attack upon it everywhere. It was an institution common to all the Southern States, and for this reason those States might properly consult together to guard against forcible and violent raids, like that of John Brown. But, in the present crisis, we are to determine another matter altogether. We are not to concert measures to protect slavery in the Union, but we are simply to decide whether to remain in the Union or to go out of it. And this is something which cannot now be done by the united action of all the Southern Stateseven were it Constitutional so to do, as we showed yesterday that it was not. It can be properly done in no other way than by the separate action of each State, acting upon her own responsibility, and in her capacity as an independent political sovereign.
No man who admits the doctrine of State rights and State sovereignty, can consistently favor the plan of cooperation, or can consistently oppose the duty and the necessity of separate State action. It has ever been the boast and the pride of the Southern States to assert their sovereignty, and to claim it as the safe-guard of their rights. Whatsoever powers were yielded to the Federal Government were in no respect intended to impair the sovereignty of the States individually. Virginia and Kentucky, by resolutions which have become specially noted in the political annals of the country, have been among the foremost States to assert and uphold this doctrine.
Now, then, a sovereign State must properly go out of the Union as such. A poor exhibition of sovereignty would it be for the States to league together, as if they were petty dependencies, instead of free and independent communities. The States asserted their sovereignty when they were weak, and each one decided for herself whether she would go into the Union or not. Now that they are strong, are they any the less proud of their sovereignty, or any the less tenacious of their reserved rights? If they were bold and independent when they were feeble in population and resources, shall they be the reverse now, when they are strong and powerful?
No. The States must go out of the Union, if they go out at all, precisely as they went inone by one. Each State determined for herself, and at different periods of time, whether she would become a member of the Federal Unionand each State must now determine for herself whether she will stay in or not. For, disguise it as you may, this is the naked issue. There is none other. The issue is whether to stay in the Union, and become abject submissionists to Northern domination, and kissers of the rod that smites us, or to resume the rights granted to the Federal Government for good purposes, but perverted by that Government to purposes most unholy and infamous. Any side issue, anything, in short, which complicates the matter, no matter whether so intended or not, leads to submission. And submission, in our deliberate opinion, is, but another name for dishonor and disgrace.
Last Updated: July 10, 2007 3:44 PM