Charlottesville Review, January 25, 1861
Would the people of Albemarle desire a dissolution of the Union per se? Do they desire it for its own sake?
There are two things to be considered by our people in deciding whether our great country shall be dismembered and broken down: the first is the point of honor: the second is the point of interest. The question of honor is paramount to all others. If the Northern people, or rather the Republicans, will not concede equality to Virginia as a member of this Confederacy, we for one are for disunion—and shut our eyes to the consequences. Let our slaves be lost; let our fields be desolated; let our blood flow; never— never, with our consent, shall the free, proud spirit of this Commonwealth—be humbled—never shall this brave people yield that most precious of all earthly possessions—their feeling of self-respect. There is a habit of speaking derisively of going to war for an idea—an abstraction—something which you cannot see. This is precisely the point on which we would go to war. An idea is exactly the thing that we would fight for. It is for ideas that all the great contests of the world have taken place. The Revolution of 1688 in England, and the execution of Charles I., was for an idea. The French Revolution was for an idea. Our resistance to Great Britain was for an idea.
The people who will not fight for ideas will never retain the spirit to fight for anything.—Life loses its highest meaning when opinions become matters of indifference.
It is the reproduction of the old fallacy, that it does not matter what a man believes; it is only his acts that are to be looked to. But a false belief necessarily begets wrong actions. A man's belief is the man. That which is in his mind flowers and becomes manifest in his daily life. A man who believes wrong may in his outward life appear to act well; but the whole is a counterfeit, resembling the true thing, yet essentially base and worthless. Such a man is a villain for all the smooth and specious covering that he puts upon his actions.
Therefore, we say, for this idea of State honor—for this abstract principle of not bating her just claims upon threats of coercion—we would convulse this Union from centre to circumference. When that equitable ultimatum which the South should demand has been determined on by our people—there let our feet be planted, and let us stand like a rock.
When we come to the other matter to which. we have referred, the question of interest—here our public men begin to divide. There is a large class who love the Union, who see in it innumerable advantages and blessings—who believe that its destruction will bring ruin on many, if not all, of the States—and who earnestly desire its salvation and perpetuity. There is another class, who see in it nothing but injury and oppression to the South—who regard it as a great incubus upon our industrial interests—as the source and origin of all the evils that afflict us as a political body. These desire the dissolution of the Union. When some message comes upon the telegraph, announcing something favorable to peace, they question it and are disturbed at it. When there is a prospect of a collision at some fort—or when they hear of a violent coercion speech from a Republican, they tell it with undisguised happiness, and say that we must get away from them as quickly as possible.
Nothing will satisfy these gentlemen. Their demands rise with the prospects of a settlement. We were conversing with one of them—a distinguished name in the State—recently in Richmond. He assured us very oracularly that all hope was over. That they would yield nothing. We ventured to refer to the CRITTENDEN resolutions; "Oh, they—he wouldn't touch them—they wouldn't do at all." We mildly suggested, that we saw Mr. HUNTER had expressed his willingness to vote for them.—"The fact is," said our distinguished friend—a leading member of the CALHOUN school—"the fact is, it is the general opinion, that Mr. HUNTER has shown by his recent speech that he is not equal to rising to the exigencies of the times." We said, that we observed that Senator DAVIS, of Mississippi, had expressed his willingness to sustain the resolutions. "The fact is," said our distinguished friend, "the general opinion is, that Mr. DAVIS also has fallen short of the exigencies of the times." We refrained from pushing him any further by adding that Senator Toombs was also not fully up to "the exigencies of the times."
This is the feeling. Such men as HUNTER and DAVIS are behind the revolution. So of Gov. WISE, we suppose. No settlement is wanted.
Which of the two classes of men, thus decided, should be sent to the Virginia Convention? A Unionist at heart, or a Disunionist at heart? The man who will vote for the secession of Virginia, as the last resort—but would be pleased to see peace restored; or the man who would take Virginia out of the Union the first opportunity—and would rather deplore the reconstruction of the old fabric?
There are persons who either believe, or profess to believe, that the material and social advancement of the South would be best promoted by an independent, slaveholding Confederacy—even if our just claims are admitted by the North. Such, we hope and believe, are few in number. We presume that the great mass of our people are animated by the desire to restore and maintain this great Republic, in all its integrity, if it can be done consistently with our rights and our honor. Having this common object in view, they are divided, as upon all other questions, as to the means by which it can best be accomplished. We have distinctly and emphatically indicated what method appears to us to present the most feasible hope of adjustment—a Border State Convention. In this view we are sustained by many of the wisest and most patriotic men of this and neighboring States. Ex-President Tyler has declared for it; Gov. Magoffin, of Kentucky, recommends it in his message; we have reason to think that Maryland favors it, and that Missouri and Tennessee will cordially unite in carrying it out. Others think that a National Convention offers a better mode of securing to the South the Constitutional amendments which we are entitled to, and which we are determined to have if we remain in the Union. We will cheerfully lend our efforts to further this scheme if it is promptly taken up and meets encouragement North and South. There is a third class who urge that the only method by which the Southern States can impress upon our Northern brethren the necessity of concession, is by immediate secession, and by presenting an undivided front. They allege that this attitude will be so imposing from its strength and its determination, that the North will not only give up all idea of coercion, but will be compelled to yield all our demands in order to bring us again into the Confederacy. So specious is this argument that it has had vast weight in this community, and has converted numbers of conservative, Union-loving men into regular fire-eating secessionists. We propose to examine briefly the validity of this position.
The Northern mind has been trained for two generations to look upon slavery as a great moral, social and political evil. In an abstract point of view, nothing to them could be more unjust, or more injurious to the country; and upon this idea has been built up a great party, which at length, has gotten the reins of government in its hands. Whilst all this has been going on, they have never, as a people, ceased to remember that the question is not an abstract one. They recognize the fact that it has ever been protected by the Constitution of the United States, and that we of the South are alone responsible for any sin that they conceive to exist in the institution. They have never wished to make war upon it in the States where it is recognized, and have never dared to oppose its introduction into the Territories, except by professedly Constitutional means. In this view of the case, suppose this Union to be dissolved, and the North thus to be released from all obligation to recognize the existence of slavery. Does any one suppose that they would ever deliberately place themselves in the position of establishing slavery by a direct act of their own; that looking upon this holding and trafficking in slaves as a sin, they would vote to take this sin on their conscience, by uniting in a Constitution that legalized and protected it? He knows but little of the Northern mind who supposes that anything but the requirements of an existing Government and law could make them be participants in what would, to them, be crime to establish. We pronounce, then, emphatically that there can be no such thing as a reconstruction, if the fifteen Southern States dissolve their connection with this Union.
Again: imagine this dissolution to have taken place. Of course we come forward to claim our share of the general property. We must have a division of the public domain; we must have the city of Washington with its numerous and costly public buildings, as lying within the area of the Southern Confederacy; we must have the fortifications in the Florida Keys, which command the navigation of the Gulf of Mexico; we must have the right to establish strict police regulations on the Mississippi river. Does any one suppose that all or any one of these things will be yielded by the North? We deliberately dissolve our connection with the General Government, and leave it, in their opinion, a just claim to this property, and an army and navy to defend that claim. The result will be, that they will make no war on us, but we will be forced to make war on them; or else ignominiously resign all our just and equitable claims.
Such are the inevitable consequences of a general secession of the Southern States. We say all this that the public may clearly know what is before them when they are called upon to act.
It is with unutterable grief that we can sit down to the contemplation of the destruction of all the fond anticipations, all the grand conceptions based upon this great experiment of popular government.
To us there is more involved in this question than the mere destruction of our material prosperity. With the dismemberment of this Confederacy, which has, in the brief space of eighty years, become already the asylum of all oppressed nations, perishes the brightest beacon to struggling freedom that the world has ever seen. Pause, then, fellow countrymen, before you dash all these hopes to the ground.—Do not, we implore you, give up this brilliant promise until all honorable efforts are exhausted.
For our part, we are prepared calmly to accept all the “woes unnumbered” consequent upon a separation, before we will submit to any degradation. We say now that these questions must be finally settled. They must be settled by constitutional amendments, securing the rights of the South. If all the means which have been indicated fail to secure this settlement and these rights, then, and not till then, let us renounce all allegiance to the American Union and the American flag.