A Southern Conference
Richmond Semi-weekly Examiner, January 24, 1860
The speech of the Commissioner from South Carolina, on Thursday, was a complete and able refutation of every vague, false and absurd rumor which was in circulation respecting the object of his mission.
The Legislature are now aware of the fact that our chivalrous, gallant and favorite Southern sister seeks from Virginia no immediate act of disunion nor any endorsation of measures of an impracticable and untimely character. Far from doing any of these things, whilst recapitulating through her Commissioner the many aggressions of the North by which the slave States have been insulted and stripped of their early power and influence, South Carolina now proposes to Virginia a plan for uniting the South and securing concert of action for our protection and defense, the wisdom, safety and practicability of which commends itself to the most conservative of the true and loyal of all parties.
Immediate, precipitate disunion, rash and suicidal from want of concert of action among the Southern States, is not what South Carolina desires at the hands of Virginia.
The lessons of experience taught by past events have not been lost upon her statesmen and people. Alive to dangers which surround us, painfully aware that for nearly half a century the work of sapping and mining the Constitutional rights of the Slave States has been insidiously, yet constantly progressing, South Carolina now seeks the counsel and aid of Virginia as the leading Southern State. A feeling of reverence for the ancient and present greatness of the Old Dominion, mingled with a chivalrous desire to share the dangers which environ Virginia as a frontier State, prompted South Carolina to select Virginia, of all the slave States, as the first of the Southern Sovereignties to whom she sent her Commissioner.
She remembered, too, that in times gone by, but not forgotten, Virginia sent to South Carolina an Ambassador, on a mission of peace and sympathy, and that the Executive of this State then declared no soldier of the Federal Government should tread Virginia's soil in invading the Palmetto State.
In making an appeal to Virginia at this time, South Carolina doubtless remembered that as she, upon two memorable occasions, repealed the ordinances of her Conventions and the resolutions of her Legislature, at the earnest and respectful solicitation of Virginia, that we would now accede to her requests. Particularly does the mission of Col. MEMMINGER commend itself to the people of Virginia, from the fact that it looks to the protection of the interests of no particular Southern State, but to the welfare of every State where slavery exists.—Interested as we all are in the same species of property, menaced as we all are by the same dangers, the only difference between us being that some are frontier States and others not.—South Carolina, as she does not contemplate separate secession, has no interests or objects which are not in common with those of Virginia.
What South Carolina proposes at this time may, therefore, be briefly stated. She desires to secure concert and unity of action by the appointment or election by all the Southern States of delegates or Commissioners, who shall meet in Conference for the purpose of consultation and grave deliberation, and for the recommendation of measures, designed at once to unite the slave States, and also to take the necessary steps for the defense and protection of our common interests. To prevent that infirmity of purpose, vacillation, and impotency for effective action, which, for forty years, has resulted in disasters and sacrifices innumerable to the South, this Conference of Southern deputies is designed.—As a Conference, it does not contemplate final action. Its ordinances, provisions, and recommendations will be subject to the approval or disapproval of the Legislatures or people of all the Southern States.
Such a Conference would make patent a conclusion at which nearly every Southern man has long since arrived, which is, that the rights of the South are now so inadequately protected by the General Government that the people of the slave States must define and clearly set forth those measures of redress, indemnity and protection which the dominant party in the free States have again and again insultingly denied us.
To this Conference we should send statesmen of approved judgment and tried fidelity to the South; and such men, we hope and believe, are yet to be found in the Southern States.
Such a deliberative body would separate all great questions of vital importance to the South from ordinary matters of Federal legislation. It would direct and concentrate the attention of the Southern people upon the deliberations of a body charged with the responsible duty of framing a Charter of Southern Rights as sacred as that of the "Barons of England." If the action of such a Conference met the approval of the Southern States, it would present an ultimatum to the free States which they would be required to as religiously respect as the Kings of England have respected the action of that famous old Conference at Runnymede. Why should not the South have her Magna Charta as plainly and strongly written as that by which the English people, without a disrupture of the Government, defined the powers and checked a monarch not half so lawless and aggressive as the Black Republican party has proved itself to be? Why should we not, ere it is too late, solemnly and deliberately designate to the North the exact limits and boundary of our forebearance and patience, and thus secure the existence of the only Union in which the South can remain with honor?
The advantage which the North possesses over the South, at this time, consists mainly in the thorough organization of that sectional party which menaces the Union with speedy dissolution. So thorough is the discipline and drill of this party, that it is able, for weeks together, to present an unbroken phalanx to the assaults of a divided and discordant South.—Ordinary party discipline at the South has not been able to procure the concert of action essential to the efficient defence of our rights and liberties. Elected with reference to other issues than those presented by the present fearful crisis, the Southern members of the National House of Representatives can unite in support of no efficient man or measure.
We believe that in a conference of Southern delegates the requisite harmony and concert of action could be secured.
One of the recommendations of the Conference proposed by South Carolina is, that, whilst the chances in favor of its accomplishing much good are very great, its recommendations and suggestions must meet the formal approval of the Southern States before they become binding or obligatory. The result of its labors, like those of the Convention which formed the Federal Constitution, must be submitted to either the people or the Legislatures of each of the slave States. Meeting and deliberating as the representatives of sovereign States, the action of a majority of the States will not bind the minority. Each State will express, in due form, its approval or disapproval of the action of the Conference, and those who shall not acquiesce in the wisdom of its recommendations will not be governed by them in any manner whatever.
To those who may be inquisitive with respect to the questions which will, in all probability, engage the attention of the Conference, we may venture to say, that all matters of interest to the South, growing out of sectional agitation, will be topics of legitimate discussion by the Conference.
A demand for the repeal of all laws passed by the free States nullifying those acts of Congress which have simply carried out the provisions of the Federal Constitution for the protection of the property of the South, would be considered by the Convention.
It would also secure concert of action upon the part of the Southern States with reference to the solution of the problem of Southern commercial independence by the encouragement of direct trade and domestic manufactures. To secure the success of such measures, unity of action among the Southern States is indispensable; for whilst one slave State favors commercial independence of the North, and the rest of the Southern States enrich the Abolition States by their trade, nothing of importance can be accomplished.
Many other questions of even greater importance would occupy the attention of the Conference; but we deem it unnecessary to enumerate them.
A Conference of the character desired by South Carolina would be an admirable initiatory step to sending Commissioners to the Northern States, charged with the grave task of presenting to them a Southern ultimatum.—Before the South can venture to say to the North, "Thus far shalt thou come, but no farther," it is indispensable to the success of our last effort to preserve our rights and honor within the Union that the South should agree upon some fixed, determined, matured plan of action.
How can this concert of action be secured better than by a Conference of delegates from the Southern States? It cannot be attained by legislative resolutions, for they would afford no opportunity for a comparison and reconciliation of conflicting views.
Regarding, therefore, the Conference proposed by South Carolina as the best as well as the most pacific means for securing united action upon the part of the Southern States, we earneastly recommend an immediate compliance with the request which South Carolina has just made of Virginia. She asks it in behalf of the whole South, and she appeals to Virginia as a State of whose fame and greatness all of her sister States of the South are justly proud. Reminding Virginia of the respect and reverence with which South Carolina has heretofore listened to her counsels, our well-beloved Southern sister asks us to provide a safe and effectual means for uniting the South in defence of common rights and against common dangers. This she asks, and in a manner so courteous, and through a Commissioner so prudent, able and discreet, as to disarm every prejudice.
If Virginia refuses to appoint delegates to confer with those from the other States of the South, when the object of the proposed Conference is the defence of violated rights and the protection of kindred interests, it will be a declaration, upon her part, that she does not desire concert of action upon the part of the Southern States. She will refuse to acquiesce in the only practical scheme of the day for uniting the South.
Standing at the head of the column of Southern States, the invasion of her own soil being the proximate cause of the impending crisis, is Virginia prepared to shrink from the position of leader in this last great plan for the preservation of the Union by the South's making a solemn appeal to the justice and conservatism of the North? Shall she say to South Carolina: "We refuse to aid you in your proposed call for a peaceful Conference of the slave States, although the design of it is to protect that institution in which we are most largely interested." For South Carolina asks, through her Commissioner, for nothing more than a Conference, an advisory body whose action must meet with the approval of each slave State before it can be binding. Surely the Legislature of Virginia will not deny to the people of the South this safe and judicious means for procuring harmony and concert of action.
We, therefore, appeal to the Legislature to make provision, without delay, for the appointment of delegates to the Conference of the slave States proposed by South Carolina.