New Lines of Sectionalism
New Orleans Daily Picayune, December 8, 1860
For twenty-five years, the North and the South have been diverging from each other, their former fraternal spirit gradually disappearing, until they now stand in the attitude of such fierce antagonism that the possibility of a longer existence of the present Government is a doubtful problem. Wearied by the experience of the past, and determined to rely upon themselves for the protection of their rights, they look to a future Confederacy, in which common institutions and sympathies shall furnish guarantees of peace and accord between all of its members.
The tendency of some of the measures suggested by the Governors of several Southern States, and not unfavorably received, though not finally adopted, is to create a new line of sectionalism that shall divide the slave States themselves. Even at this early stage of the present Southern movement, the germs of future controversy, growing out of conflicting interests, are plainly to be seen.
Though the existence of slavery is a common bond of union between what are usually denominated the Southern States, their interests are not entirely coincident. Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri look to the cotton region for a market for their surplus black labor, while the introduction of manufacturing industry gives them a divergence from principles that the cotton growers consider vital to their highest prosperity.
The States now moving for immediate secession from the Federal Government suggest the necessity of prohibiting the introduction of slaves for sale within their limits from either of the frontier Commonwealths. They would hold them, by this prohibition, as a shield of defense against the aggression of a hostile North; and force them to maintain the institution of slavery from the sheer impossibility of getting rid of it.
Doubt and suspicion of the soundness of the people of these States on the Southern question, has long been manifested by the advocates of extreme action in the cotton region, which now have actually grown so decided as to incite the recommendation of really unfriendly legislation. Hostility to a proposed convention of all the slave Commonwealths to decide upon future concurrent action, arises from want of confidence in them, and a feeling that material differences of opinion already seriously divides the South.
In some quarters the fears of such disagreement are so strong, that in the event of separate State action producing the future necessity of a Southern Confederacy, the determination is openly uttered to admit no State outside of the cotton region to have any influence in moulding its character. The door is to be left open for the admission of the frontier States, but they are not to be invited to be actors in the formation of the new government.
On another point the commencement of future difficulties is apparent. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are free trade States. Already the manifestation of a future free trade policy, in any new confederation that may be established, is openly made. But Louisiana is scarcely prepared to abandon at once all duties upon foreign sugar. Her sugar planters are now protected by what is equivalent to $300 bonus on every $1000 worth of sugar raised. With this protection to her industry the sugar planters are growing exorbitantly rich. Material interests will doubtless weigh but little in restraining her resistance, but it is different when a new government is to be formed.
In case of the separation of the slave States from the Union, the frontier States will become manufacturing States. The iron interests of Virginia and Tennessee would be sacrificed by a system of free trade, while other branches of manufacturing industry would be overwhelmed with certain ruin. The two great questions which for many years has disturbed the peace of the present Union are likely still to exist to harass the South, even after separate State action has been the cause of the dissolution of the present relations of the slave States.
We are in danger of creating a new line of sectionalism; of awakening an antagonism of feeling between the frontier and the Gulf States, and even finding, at least one of them, that would view with much discontent a majority in any new confederation consisting of a majority opposed to her interests.
The question then arises, if we are likely to get rid, by separate State action, of periodic agitation; if we can form a new government in which a happy accord between its confederate members will secure a long continued peace and prosperity. It will not take so long a time, in any new confederacy, for dissatisfaction, with a majority rule of free trade, or cotton States, to precipitate a new revolution. The example of secession from a strong government can much more easily be copied in one that must necessarily be held together by weaker bonds.
Nor is it difficult to suppose that the controversy, once aroused, would be as much more violent as the contending parties are the more nearly connected by many common sympathies. It is human nature to tolerate in strangers that which would not be endured from close friends.
The clear manifestation of causes and action tending to create a new line of sectionalism, more forcibly than any other argument, proves the absolute necessity for a general Southern convention, to compose present difficulties, or to direct the future course of the South.
It is unjust to the people of the border slave States to consider them less chivalrous, less devoted to the interests of the South, or less to be depended on than those of the Cotton States, in any great struggle to conserve common honor and protect common rights.—It is a selfish policy, and one hostile to success in the present great movement, to decry the patriotism or cast doubts upon fealty to home institutions of any citizen or any State because of a difference only in the mode of action to secure an object alike the interest and honor of all.
Any action that disregards the invitation of sister States to counsel together before the final steps be taken—to deliberate in view of the vast responsibilities of decisions to compose differences and comprise conflicting opinions—to nip in the bud the possibility of the scenes of the past twenty-five years being re-enacted more violently on a narrower stage—is unwise, not to say unpatriotic, and hostile to the true cause of the South.
A new confederacy, if the present Union be dissolved, it must be conceded, is a necessity. The history of the world proves the failure of governments embracing very small communities. Italy, broken into minute divisions, has for centuries been the prey of the strong and the victim of the bold, and the present reunion of her people under one government is hailed by the civilized world as the regeneration of that country, famous alike for its ancient glory and modern shame. But the advocates of separate State action and immediate secession are working to produce the same fate for the South, which for centuries has degraded and ruined the Italians, unless the way is provided for a reconstruction of a government with territory, population, resources and wealth that will command the respect of the world. But separate State action and reconstruction by a few only of the slave States promises to prevent that agreement which concurrent action of all the States only can effect. It is even now giving birth to a sectionalism between the South quite as fatal as that that now exists between non-slaveholding and slave States.
In the present crisis, the presentation of the dangers and difficulties of hasty action is a duty which true men owe to the South. To be silent, or to slur over what should be understood by every man, is the part of that quiet submission which will meet every disgrace rather than come up to the courage necessary to express an opinion. Where our State finally goes, we are prepared to go; but until she acts we should labor to show all the difficulties, all the dangers of following mere impulses instead of being guided by great principles and actual facts, and expose the necessary consequences of the unfriendly acts to sister slave States, that seem to have no weak endorsement in the outward expression of public opinion. The cause of the South is our cause; the success of our section, if conciliation cannot be effected on our own terms, has our earnest hopes.