Virginia Refuses to Confer with Her Southern Sister States

Charleston Mercury, March 10, 1860

For the last ten years the people of South Carolina have thought that a dissolution of the Union afforded the only adequate remedy to check Northern aggressions upon the South, and to secure Southern institutions and civilization from the fierce and increasing assaults of that inimical section. In ‘51 the State was divided between those who, after the failure of Virginia and other States following her lead, to resist at all hazards the adoption of Squatter-Sovereignty in California, favored the separate secession of South Carolina from the Union, and those who proposed to wait for co-operate action of several Southern States. The developments of the last year roused the people of the South to the dangers that menace them; and the Legislature of South Carolina adopted, by a unanimous vote, a preamble and resolutions. These stated her right of secession, and her reason for [not] exercising it, to be a deference to the position of other Southern States with whom she was desirous to act in concert. Measures of defense and security seemed necessary; and South Carolina invited a conference for comparison of opinions and the consideration of remedies, that by discussion and the canvass of suggestions, the States of the South might select and enforce whatever measure would be efficient to release us from the present condition of continued harassment, growing inferiority, and increasing peril. An especial Commissioner was sent to Virginia to solicit her co-operation and leadership in this calm and cautious method of getting the Southern States to address themselves in earnest to the solution of their present and portending difficulties. The matter has been fairly and ably presented and pressed upon the Legislature of Virginia. It has been urged upon that body, day after day, as a Union measure for rallying the South to check the North, through fear of the consequences of Southern unanimity looking to action. But, after many weeks, the telegraph announces that, by a vote of two-thirds, the proposition, even to consider remedies in concerted action, is refused. Virginia will not or cannot lead the South, either in determining upon or enforcing the remedy against the evils that are upon us.

Virginia is truly Southern in her feelings and sympathies. There is doubtless a party in that State who see the dangers and are ready to meet them in time and by adequate action; but this party is too weak to inaugurate any measure of real resistance. There are influences, associations, and disabilities, which will ever prevent that State from moving in the van of the South. And if this mission has failed in its prime object, it has at least accomplished a good purpose in showing where the Southern people are to look for measures of redemption.

We have heretofore repeatedly expressed an opinion which we now reiterate. In the contest forced upon us by the North, the South proper—the necessarily Slave South—has labored under two fatal errors: First, in relying upon any party of the North as able to protect us; and second, in relying upon the Frontier Southern States—Slave States at convenience—to lead the van of our resistance, and to bear the brunt of the conflict.

When we do save ourselves—when we do establish firmly and in peace the institution of slavery at the South—it will be by acting independently of both these allies. The pro-slavery party of the North has gone down for the want of sufficient support at the South. On each and every occasion of appealing to the Union sentiment to kill off the enemies of our constitutional rights, they have been made to cut the figure of the credulous or designing man who cried “wolf, wolf,” without reason. We have not been prompt to defend our interests or safety, and our tame conduct belying their predictions in our behalf have put them at the mercy of the enemy. Instead of fighting our battle so as to strengthen and assist these friends, we have made fools of them, calling upon them to fight for us, while we idly threaten without striking a blow to save them from destruction or give triumph to our just cause. Had we relied upon ourselves and fought our own battle these twenty years, there would be no lack of true friends—not half-faced enemies—now.

And what right have we to expect Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, to bear the brunt of the struggle in which we are much more vitally interested, with fewer inducements to postponement and inaction? What reason have we to expect either of them to take the initiative in our defense? They may live and thrive without slavery; and with them slavery or its abolishment is a question of expediency—a choice of different instrumentalities of prosperity. To us the institution is indispensable. We must maintain ourselves in the contest, or be utterly destroyed; and it is, so far as we are concerned, vain and cowardly to look to the Frontier States to lead the South to the recovery of her independence and security. The Slave South proper—the Cotton States—must look to themselves alone for defense.

This refusal of Virginia will have the effect of inspiring the Black Republican party with confidence in the submissive spirit of resistance, and greatly tend to remove fear of a dissolution of the Union. In our opinion it insures the election of a Black Republican to the Presidency. To resist this, two of the Cotton States, Alabama and Mississippi, have pledged themselves. South Carolina is ready to co-operate with them. These States will constitute a nucleus around which several others will rally. We trust that hereafter Virginia will not be looked to for leadership. It is a false position to assign her, situated as she is, and her truest and ablest men are ready to acknowledge the fact and urge other States to move. Virginia will always be found to follow the South, to which she really and truly belongs. In December, 1857, a distinguished Virginian, who has profoundly studied the subject, Mr. EDMUND RUFFIN, discussed this very matter in De Bow’s Review.[1] We cannot better close this article than by citing his opinion. The following is the passage: “The opposers of further submission to wrongs, and consequent advocates for secession, in the more Southern States, have been looking to the great State of Virginia to lead in the movement, in which case the large majority of the more Southern States would follow immediately, and all others of the slaveholding States soon after. But, for reasons which ought to be manifest to every thinking man, a border State, as Virginia, or Maryland, or Kentucky, would be after the general separation, never will, and scarcely can take the first step in the actual deliberate movement of secession. There will always be in States thus situated, at least a minority, timid, and also numerous enough to paralyze the will and strength of the majority. And such is the case now in Virginia, even though a large majority of the citizens are most earnestly opposed to longer submission to Northern wrongs. The proper and perfectly safe and peaceable course to bring about the secession and subsequent confederation of all the slaveholding States (excepting Delaware perhaps) will be for Virginia, and all the other of the Northern tier of the slaveholding States, with North Carolina and Tennessee, not to move at first, or as early as the more Southern States. Whenever the evils inflicted under the present Union, and the usurpations and oppressions by the Northern States are deemed no longer tolerable (if that time has not already arrived), if five or six only of the more Southern States adjoining each other, acting in concert, shall declare their independence of, and secession from, the present Federal Government, the movement will be perfectly safe from the danger of producing individual conflicts and border feuds, as well as from attack or war from the Northern States, or the still remaining Federal Power. There could be no border feuds, because the people and their magistrates, or leaders on both sides of the new (and but temporary) line of separation, would be alike in interests and sentiments. And if the government or people of the Northern States should be so insane as to make war, and attempt to march an army to coerce or conquer the seceding States, there would be to these an impregnable barrier of protection afforded in the common feeling and friendship, and the position of the slaveholding and (as yet) non-seceding States. And within a few months, or as early as the plan of government of the new Southern confederacy would be determined on and organized, and the power of the already separated States would be consolidated, the time would have arrived for the final and practical settlement of the great question—the question which would have been growing more and more intense in interest as to the subsequent course of the nonseceding and slaveholding States. This question is, would they follow the course and share the fortunes of their friends, or remain in the power, now more than doubled for their injury, of their opponents and worst enemies? Whether the first seceding States were ten or but five in number, they would be equally and perfectly safe from Northern hostility or attack. And whether five or ten in number, their secession would equally leave the non-seceding and slaveholding States in a helpless and hopeless minority in their then political connection, and at the mercy of a hostile, malignant, and remorseless majority of their enemies. If now, when the Southern States in the present confederacy number fifteen, to sixteen non-slaveholding States, their rights are trodden down, and their dearest interests are in the course of being gradually but certainly destroyed by their barely more numerous coStates, what will be their prospect for defense or safety when they shall number but five or ten to sixteen hostile Northern States? Scarcely would a year elapse, or the requisite legal formalities be complied with, before the present provisions of the Federal Constitution, which authorize slave representation, and protect slave property, would be annulled, and when other enactments would make the complete destruction of the institution of slavery but a question of time. Would Virginia and North Carolina, or Kentucky and Missouri, wait for this certain consummation? Certainly they will not, unless they are already prepared to submit to this extreme measure of outrage and spoliation. As soon as these middle-ground States could act through their legislatures, they would undoubtedly and necessarily determine to unite with their more Southern sister States in their common cause and political connection. Not only would all these named States so act, both from preference and necessity, but Maryland also. For, if this State were separated from political connection and friendship with Virginia and the other more Southern States, the commerce of Baltimore would be ruined, and with it the great commercial interests, as well as the property in slaves of that State. Unless the people of Maryland are prepared to make these sacrifices, immediate or remote, for the benefit of remaining united with the Northern States, ready indeed to submit to certain ruin, they will as certainly concur in and follow the seceding movement, as will the more Southern people.

“In this manner, without risk of war or bloodshed, the separation of our present Union with our worst enemies may be effected, and the consequent construction of a Southern and slaveholding confederacy. Then, freed from the hostile and incendiary action of our now fellow citizens and ‘brethren’ of the North, the people of the South will be well able to guard against them either as foreigners or (if they prefer that character) as enemies. Slave property, by being then duly guarded and protected, will become even more secure in the northern border counties of Virginia and Maryland, than now in their southern frontiers. Freed from longer paying millions every year of legal tribute to the North, through the machinery of tariffs, banks, and other commercial privileges (as in the fishery bounties, exclusive coast navigation and bounties to lines of ocean steamers), the Southern States would soon rise to the high position of economical, commercial, and political prosperity, which would be the certain result of retaining the products of their industry and wealth for their own use and benefit. On the other hand, if things continue as they are, the outside pressure of fanaticism, and its secret incendiary action, operating more and more to render property in slaves unsafe, will continue to cause (as has long been the case) and to increase the removal of the slave population from the border slaveholding States until these will lose all, and ceasing to be slaveholding, must consequently become more and more assimilated to the North in sentiment and policy. On this account, every year that shall pass before the secession movement is made, will serve to depress still lower the property and slavery interests, and the power for resistance and self-protection of the border slaveholding states. If these States are to be successfully defended in the possession of their property, their political rights, and everything dear to free men, or if they are to be preserved as a future integral portion, and the border bulwark of a Southern confederacy, it must be secured by the more Southern States seceding first, and speedily.”

1. De Bow’s Review, XXIII, 605-607.