Stonewall Jackson and Secession

 

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Stonewall Jackson Free Online Books | Stonewall Jackson in Civil War | Stonewall Jackson Biography | Stonewall Jackson Obituary | Stonewall Jackson's Last Words | Stonewall Jackson Birthday | Stonewall Jackson Quotes

STONEWALL JACKSON
Chapter IV
SECESSION.   1860–61

Stonewall Jackson Index | Stonewall Jackson at West Point | Stonewall Jackson and Mexican War | Stonewall Jackson Lexington | Stonewall Jackson and Secession | Stonewall Jackson and Harper's Ferry | Stonewall Jackson at Battle of Bull Run | Stonewall Jackson at Romney | Stonewall Jackson at Kernstown | Battle of McDowell | Battle of Winchester | Battle of Cross Keys and Port Republic | Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign | The Seven Days Battle | Battle of Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill | Battle of Cedar Run | Second Battle of Bull Run | Battle of Second Bull Run Conclusion | Battle of Harper's Ferry | Battle of Sharpsburg | Battle of Fredericksburg | The Army of Northern Virginia | Stonewall Jackson's Winter Quarters | Battle of Chancellorsville | Battle of Chancellorsville Conclusion


1861   Jackson spent ten years at Lexington, and he was just five-and-thirty when he left it. For ten years he had seen no more of military service than the drills of the cadet battalion. He had lost all touch with the army. His name had been forgotten, except by his comrades of the Mexican campaign, and he had hardly seen a regular soldier since he resigned his commission. But, even from a military point of view, those ten years had not been wasted. His mind had a wider grasp, and his brain was more active. Striving to fit himself for such duties as might devolve on him, should he be summoned to the field, like all great men and all practical men he had gone to the best masters. In the campaigns of Napoleon he had found instruction in the highest branch of his profession, and had made his own the methods of war which the greatest of modern soldiers both preached and practised. Maturer years and the search for wisdom had steadied his restless daring; and his devotion to duty, always remarkable, had become a second nature. His health, under careful and self-imposed treatment, had much improved, and the year 1861 found him in the prime of physical and mental vigour. Already it had become apparent that his life at Lexington was soon to end. The Damascus blade was not to rust upon the shelf. During the winter of 1860–61 the probability of a conflict between the free and slave-holding States, that is, between North and South, had become almost a certainty. South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia,

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Louisiana, and Texas, had formally seceded from the Union; and establishing a Provisional Government, with Jefferson Davis as President, at Montgomery in Alabama, had proclaimed a new Republic, under the title of the Confederate States of America. In order to explain Jackson’s attitude at this momentous crisis, it will be necessary to discuss the action of Virginia, and to investigate the motives which led her to take the side she did.

Forces which it was impossible to curb, and which but few detected, were at the root of the secession movement. The ostensible cause was the future status of the negro.

Slavery was recognised in fifteen States of the Union. In the North it had long been abolished, but this made no difference to its existence in the South. The States which composed the Union were semi-independent communities, with their own legislatures, their own magistracies, their own militia, and the power of the purse. How far their sovereign rights extended was a matter of contention; but, under the terms of the Constitution, slavery was a domestic institution, which each individual State was at liberty to retain or discard at will, and over which the Federal Government had no control whatever. Congress would have been no more justified in declaring that the slaves in Virginia were free men than in demanding that Russian conspirators should be tried by jury. Nor was the philanthropy of the Northern people, generally speaking, of an enthusiastic nature. The majority regarded slavery as a necessary evil; and, if they deplored the reproach to the Republic, they made little parade of their sentiments. A large number of Southerners believed it to be the happiest condition for the African race; but the best men, especially in the border States, of which Virginia was the principal, would have welcomed emancipation. But neither Northerner nor Southerner saw a practicable method of giving freedom to the negro. Such a measure, if carried out in its entirety, meant ruin to the South. Cotton and tobacco, the principal and most lucrative crops, required an immense number of hands, and in those hands—

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his negro slaves—the capital of the planter was locked up. Emancipation would have swept the whole of this capital away. Compensation, the remedy applied by England to Jamaica and South Africa, was hardly to be thought of. Instead of twenty millions sterling, it would have cost four hundred millions. It was doubtful, too, if compensation would have staved off the ruin of the planters. The labour of the free negro, naturally indolent and improvident, was well known to be most inefficient as compared with that of the slave. For some years, to say the least, after emancipation it would have been impossible to work the plantations except at a heavy loss. Moreover, abolition, in the judgment of all who knew him, meant ruin to the negro. Under the system of the plantations, honesty and morality were being gradually instilled into the coloured race. But these virtues had as yet made little progress; the Christianity of the slaves was but skin-deep; and if all restraint were removed, if the old ties were broken, and the influence of the planter and his family should cease to operate, it was only too probable that the four millions of Africans would relapse into the barbaric vices of their original condition. The hideous massacres which had followed emancipation in San Domingo had not yet been forgotten. It is little wonder, then, that the majority shrank before a problem involving such tremendous consequences.

A party, however, conspicuous both in New England and the West, had taken abolition for its watchword. Small in numbers, but vehement in denunciation, its voice was heard throughout the Union. Zeal for universal liberty rose superior to the Constitution. That instrument was repudiated as an iniquitous document. The sovereign rights of the individual States were indignantly denied. Slavery was denounced as the sum of all villainies, the slave-holder as the worst of tyrants; and no concealment was made of the intention, should political power be secured, of compelling the South to set the negroes free. In the autumn of 1860 came the Presidential election. Hitherto, of the two great political parties, the Democrats had long ruled the councils of the nation, and nearly the

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whole South was Democratic. The South, as regards population, was numerically inferior to the North; but the Democratic party had more than held its own at the ballot-boxes, for the reason that it had many adherents in the North. So long as the Southern and Northern Democrats held together, they far outnumbered the Republicans. In 1860, however, the two sections of the Democratic party split asunder. The Republicans, favoured by the schism, carried their own candidate, and Abraham Lincoln became President. South Carolina at once seceded and the Confederacy was soon afterwards established.

It is not at first sight apparent why a change of government should have caused so sudden a disruption of the Union. The Republican party, however, embraced sections of various shades of thought. One of these, rising every day to greater prominence, was that which advocated immediate abolition; and to this section, designated by the South as “Black Republicans,” the new President was believed to belong. It is possible that, on his advent to office, the political leaders of the South, despite the safeguards of the Constitution, saw in the near future the unconditional emancipation of the slaves; and not only this, but that the emancipated slaves would receive the right of suffrage, and be placed on a footing of complete equality with their former masters.1 As in many districts the whites were far outnumbered by the negroes, this was tantamount to transferring all local government into the hands of the latter, and surrendering the planters to the mercies of their former bondsmen.

It is hardly necessary to say that an act of such gross injustice was never contemplated, except by hysterical abolitionists and those who truckled for their votes. It was certainly not contemplated by Mr. Lincoln; and it was hardly likely that a President who had been elected by a minority of the people would dare, even if he were so inclined, to assume unconstitutional powers. The Democratic party, taking both sections together, was still the stronger;

1  Grant’s Memoirs, vol. i, p. 214.

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and the Northern Democrats, temporarily severed as they were from their Southern brethren, would most assuredly have united with them in resisting any unconstitutional action on the part of the Republicans.

If, then, it might be asked, slavery ran no risk of unconditional abolition, why should the Southern political leaders have acted with such extraordinary precipitation? Why, in a country in which, to all appearances, the two sections had been cordially united, should the advent to power of one political party have been the signal for so much disquietude on the part of the other? Had the presidential seat been suddenly usurped by an abolitionist tyrant of the type of Robespierre the South could hardly have exhibited greater apprehension. Few Americans denied that a permanent Union, such as had been designed by the founders of the Republic, was the best guarantee of prosperity and peace. And yet because a certain number of misguided if well-meaning men clamoured for emancipation, the South chose to bring down in ruin the splendid fabric which their forefathers had constructed. In thus refusing to trust the good sense and fair dealing of the Republicans, it would seem, at a superficial glance, that the course adopted by the members of the new Confederacy, whether legitimate or not, could not possibly be justified.1

Unfortunately, something more than mere political rancour was at work. The areas of slave and of free labour were divided by an artificial frontier. “Mason and

1  I have been somewhat severely taken to task for attaching the epithets “misguided,” “unpractical,” “fanatical,’ to the abolitionists. I see no reason, however, to modify my language. It is too often the case that men of the loftiest ideals seek to attain them by the most objectionable means, and the maxim “Fiat justitia ruat cœlum” cannot be literally applied to great affairs. The conversion of the Mahomedan world to Christianity would be a nobler work than even the emancipation of the negro, but the missionary who began with reviling the faithful, and then proceeded to threaten them with fire and the sword unless they changed their creed, would justly be called a fanatic. Yet the abolitionists did worse than this, for they incited the negroes to insurrection. Nor do I think that the question is affected by the fact that many of the abolitionists were upright, earnest, and devout. A good man is not necessarily a wise man, and I remember that Samuel Johnson and John Wesley supported King George against the American colonists.

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Dixon’s line,” originally fixed as the boundary between Pennsylvania on the north and Virginia and Maryland on the south, cut the territory of the United States into two distinct sections; and, little by little, these two sections, geographically as well as politically severed, had resolved themselves into what might almost be termed two distinct nations.

Many circumstances tended to increase the cleavage. The South was purely agricultural; the most prosperous part of the North was purely industrial. In the South, the great planters formed a landed aristocracy; the claims of birth were ungrudgingly admitted; class barriers were, to a certain extent, a recognised part of the social system, and the sons of the old houses were accepted as the natural leaders of the people. In the North, on the contrary, the only aristocracy was that of wealth; and even wealth, apart from merit, had no hold on the respect of the community. The distinctions of caste were slight in the extreme. The descendants of the Puritans, of those English country gentlemen who had preferred to ride with Cromwell rather than with Rupert, to pray with Baxter rather than with Laud, made no parade of their ancestry; and among the extreme Republicans existed an innate but decided aversion to the recognition of social grades. Moreover, divergent interests demanded different fiscal treatment. The cotton and tobacco of the South, monopolising the markets of the world, asked for free trade. The manufacturers of New England, struggling against foreign competition, were strong protectionists, and they were powerful enough to enforce their will in the shape of an oppressive tariff. Thus the planters of Virginia paid high prices in order that mills might flourish in Connecticut; and the sovereign States of the South, to their own detriment, were compelled to contribute to the abundance of the wealthier North. The interests of labour were not less conflicting. The competition between free and forced labour, side by side on the same continent, was bound in itself, sooner or later, to breed dissension; and if it had not yet reached an acute stage, it had at least

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created a certain degree of bitter feeling. But more than all—and the fact must be borne in mind if the character of the Civil War is to be fully appreciated—the natural ties which should have linked together the States on either side of Mason and Dixon’s line had weakened to a mere mechanical bond. The intercourse between North and South, social or commercial, was hardly more than that which exists between two foreign nations. The two sections knew but little of each other, and that little was not the good points but the bad.

For more than fifty years after the election of the first President, while as yet the crust of European tradition overlaid the young shoots of democracy, the supremacy, social and political, of the great landowners of the South had been practically undisputed. But when the young Republic began to take its place amongst the nations, men found that the wealth and talents which led it forward belonged as much to the busy cities of New England as to the plantations of Virginia and the Carolinas; and with the growing sentiment in favour of universal equality began the revolt against the dominion of a caste. Those who had carved out their own fortunes by sheer hard work and ability questioned the superiority of men whose positions were no guarantee of personal capacity, and whose wealth was not of their own making. Those who had borne the heat and burden of the day deemed themselves the equals and more than equals of those who had loitered in the shade; and, esteeming men for their own worth and not for that of some forgotten ancestor, they had come to despise those who toiled not neither did they spin. Tenaciously the Southerners clung to the supremacy they had inherited from a bygone age. The contempt of the Northerner was repaid in kind. In the political arena the struggle was fierce and keen. Mutual hatred, fanned by unscrupulous agitators, increased in bitterness; and, hindering reconciliation, rose the fatal barrier of slavery.

It is true that, prior to 1860, the abolitionists were not numerous in the North; and it is equally true that by

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many of the best men in the South the institution which had been bequeathed to them was thoroughly detested. Looking back over the years which have elapsed since the slaves were freed, the errors of the two factions are sufficiently manifest. If, on the one hand, the abolitionist, denouncing sternly, in season and out of season, the existence of slavery on the free soil of America, was unjust and worse to the slave-owner, who, to say the least, was in no way responsible for the inhuman and shortsighted policy of a former generation; on the other hand the high-principled Southerner, although in his heart deploring the condition of the negro, and sometimes imitating the example of Washington, whose dying bequest gave freedom to his slaves, made no attempt to find a remedy.1

The latter had the better excuse. He knew, were emancipation granted, that years must elapse before the negro could be trained to the responsibilities of freedom, and that those years would impoverish the South. It appears to have been forgotten by the abolitionists that all races upon earth have required a protracted probation to fit them for the rights of citizenship and the duties of free men. Here was a people, hardly emerged from the grossest barbarism, and possibly, from the very beginning,

1  On the publication of the first edition my views on the action of the abolitionists were traversed by critics whose opinions demand consideration. They implied that in condemning the unwisdom and violence of the anti-slavery party, I had not taken into account the aggressive tendencies of the Southern politicians from 1850 onwards, that I had ignored the attempts to extend slavery to the Territories, and that I had overlooked the effect of the Fugitive Slave Law. A close study of abolitionist literature, however, had made it very clear to me that the advocates of emancipation, although actuated by the highest motives, never at any time approached the question in a conciliatory spirit; and that long before 1850 their fierce cries for vengeance had roused the very bitterest feelings in the South. In fact they had already made war inevitable. Draper, the Northern historian, admits that so early as 1844 “the contest between the abolitionists on one side and the slave-holders on the other hand had become a mortal duel.” It may be argued, perhaps, that the abolitionists saw that the slave-power would never yield except to armed force, and that they therefore showed good judgment in provoking the South into secession and civil war. But forcing the hand of the Almighty is something more than a questionable doctrine.

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of inferior natural endowment, on whom they proposed to confer the same rights without any probation whatsoever. A glance at the world around them should have induced reflection. The experience of other countries was not encouraging. Hayti, where the blacks had long been masters of the soil, was still a pandemonium; and in Jamaica and South Africa the precipitate action of zealous but unpractical philanthropists had wrought incalculable mischief. Even Lincoln himself, redemption by purchase being impracticable, saw no other way out of the difficulty than the wholesale deportation of the negroes to West Africa.

In time, perhaps, under the influence of such men as Lincoln and Lee, the nation might have found a solution of the problem, and North and South have combined to rid their common country of the curse of human servitude. But between fanaticism on the one side and helplessness on the other there was no common ground. The fierce invectives of the reformers forbade all hope of temperate discussion, and their unreasoning denunciations only provoked resentment. And this resentment became the more bitter because in demanding emancipation, either by fair means or forcible, and in expressing their intention of making it a national question, the abolitionists were directly striking at a right which the people of the South held sacred.

It had never been questioned, hitherto, that the several States of the Union, so far at least as concerned their domestic institutions, were each and all of them, under the Constitution, absolutely self-governing. But the threats which the Black Republicans held out were tantamount to a proposal to set the Constitution aside. It was their charter of liberty, therefore, and not only their material prosperity, which the States that first seceded believed to be endangered by Lincoln’s election. Ignorant of the temper of the great mass of the Northern people, as loyal in reality to the Constitution as themselves, they were only too ready to be convinced that the denunciations of the abolitionists were the first presage of the storm that was presently to overwhelm them, to reduce their States to provinces, to wrest from them the freedom they had

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inherited, and to make them hewers of wood and drawers of water to the detested plutocrats of New England.

But the gravamen of the indictment against the Southern people is not that they seceded, but that they seceded in order to preserve and to perpetuate slavery; or, to put it more forcibly, that the liberty to enslave others was the right which most they valued. This charge, put forward by the abolitionists in order to cloak their own revolt against the Constitution, is true as regards a certain section, but as regards the South as a nation it is quite untenable, for three-fourths of the population derived rather injury than benefit from the presence in their midst of four million serfs.1 “Had slavery continued, the system of labour,” says General Grant, “would soon have impoverished the soil and left the country poor. The non-slave-holder must have left the country, and the small slave-holder have sold out to his more fortunate neighbour.”2 The slaves neither bought nor sold. Their wants were supplied almost entirely by their own labour; and the local markets of the South would have drawn far larger profit from a few thousand white labourers than they did from the multitude of negroes. It is true that a party in the South, more numerous perhaps among the political leaders than among the people at large, was averse to emancipation under any form or shape. There were men who looked upon their bondsmen as mere beasts of burden, more valuable but hardly more human than the cattle in their fields, and who would not only have perpetuated but have extended slavery. There were others who conscientiously believed that the negro was unfit for freedom, that he was incapable of self-improvement, and that he was far happier and more contented as a slave. Among these were ministers of the Gospel, in no small number, who, appealing to the Old Testament, preached boldly that the institution was of divine origin, that the coloured race

1  Of 8.3 million whites in the fifteen slave-holding States, only 346,000 were slave-holders, and of these 69,000 owned only one negro.
Battles and Leaders, vol. iii, p. 689.

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had been created for servitude, and that to advocate emancipation was to impugn the wisdom of the Almighty.

But there were still others, including many of those who were not slave-owners, who, while they acquiesced in the existence of an institution for which they were not personally accountable, looked forward to its ultimate extinction by the voluntary action of the States concerned. It was impossible as yet to touch the question openly, for the invectives and injustice of the abolitionists had so wrought upon the Southern people, that such action would have been deemed a base surrender to the dictation of the enemy; but they trusted to time, to the spread of education, and to a feeling in favour of emancipation which was gradually pervading the whole country.1

The opinions of this party, with which, it may be said, the bulk of the Northern people was in close sympathy,2 are perhaps best expressed in a letter written by Colonel Robert Lee, the head of one of the oldest families in Virginia, a large landed proprietor and slave-holder, and the same officer who had won such well-deserved renown in Mexico. “In this enlightened age,” wrote the future general-in-chief of the Confederate army, “there are few, I believe, but will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it a greater evil to the white than to the coloured race, and while my feelings are strongly interested in the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa—morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare them for better things. How long their subjection may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and

1  There is no doubt that a feeling of aversion to slavery was fast spreading among a numerous and powerful class in the South. In Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri the number of slaves was decreasing, and in Delaware the institution had almost disappeared.
2  Grant’s Memoirs, p. 214.

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melting influence of Christianity than from the storms and contests of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small part of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of slavery is still onward, and we give it the aid of our prayers and all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in His hands, who sees the end and who chooses to work by slow things, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. The abolitionist must know this, and must see that he has neither the right nor the power of operating except by moral means and suasion; if he means well to the slave, he must not create angry feelings in the master. Although he may not approve of the mode by which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same; and the reason he gives for interference in what he has no concern holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbours when we disapprove of their conduct.”

With this view of the question Jackson was in perfect agreement. “I am very confident,” says his wife, “that he would never have fought for the sole object of perpetuating slavery. . . . He found the institution a responsible and troublesome one, and I have heard him say that he would prefer to see the negroes free, but he believed that the Bible taught that slavery was sanctioned by the Creator Himself, who maketh all men to differ, and instituted laws for the bond and free. He therefore accepted slavery, as it existed in the South, not as a thing desirable in itself, but as allowed by Providence for ends which it was not his business to determine.”

It may perhaps be maintained that to have had no dealings with “the accursed thing,” and to have publicly advocated some process of gradual emancipation, would have been the nobler course. But, setting aside the teaching of the Churches, and the bitter temper of the time, it should be remembered that slavery, although its

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hardships were admitted, presented itself in no repulsive aspect to the people of the Confederate States. They regarded it with feelings very different from those of the abolitionists, whose acquaintance with the condition they reprobated was small in the extreme. The lot of the slaves, the Southerners were well aware, was far preferable to that of the poor and the destitute of great cities, of the victims of the sweater and the inmates of fever dens. The helpless negro had more hands to succour him in Virginia than the starving white man in New England. The children of the plantation enjoyed a far brighter existence than the children of the slums. The worn and feeble were maintained by their masters, and the black labourer, looking forward to an old age of ease and comfort among his own people, was more fortunate than many a Northern artisan. Moreover, the brutalities ascribed to the slave-owners as a class were of rare occurrence. The people of the South were neither less humane nor less moral than the people of the North or of Europe, and it is absolutely inconceivable that men of high character and women of gentle nature should have looked with leniency on cruelty, or have failed to visit the offender with something more than reprobation. Had the calumnies1 which were scattered broadcast by the abolitionists possessed more than a vestige of truth, men like Lee and Jackson would never have remained silent. In the minds of the Northern people slavery was associated with atrocious cruelty and continual suffering. In the eyes of the Southerners, on the other hand, it was associated with great kindness and the most affectionate relations between the planters and their bondsmen. And if the Southerners were blind, it is most difficult to explain the remarkable fact that throughout the war, although thousands of plantations and farms, together with thousands of women and children, all of whose male relatives were in the Confederate armies, were left entirely to the care of the negroes, both life and property were perfectly secure.

Such, then, was the attitude of the South towards

Uncle Tom's Cabin to wit.

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slavery. The institution had many advocates, uncompromising and aggressive, but taking the people as a whole it was rather tolerated than approved; and, even if no evidence to the contrary were forthcoming, we should find it hard to believe that a civilised community would have plunged into revolution in order to maintain it. There can be no question but that secession was revolution; and revolutions, as has been well said, are not made for the sake of “greased cartridges”. To bring about such unanimity of purpose as took possession of the whole South, such passionate loyalty to the new Confederacy, such intense determination to resist coercion to the bitter end, needed some motive of unusual potency, and the perpetuation of slavery was not a sufficient motive. The great bulk of the population neither owned slaves nor was connected with those who did; many favoured emancipation; and the working men, a rapidly increasing class, were distinctly antagonistic to slave-labour. Moreover, the Southerners were not only warmly attached to the Union, which they had done so much to establish, but their pride in their common country, in its strength, its prestige, and its prosperity, was very great. Why, then, should they break away? History supplies us with a pertinent example.

Previous to 1765 the honour of England was dear to the people of the American colonies. King George had no more devoted subjects; his enemies no fiercer foes. And yet it required very little to reverse the scroll. The right claimed by the Crown to tax the colonists hardly menaced their material prosperity. A few shillings more or less would neither have added to the burdens nor have diminished the comforts of a well-to-do and thrifty people, and there was some justice in the demand that they should contribute to the defence of the British Empire. But the demand, as formulated by the Government, involved a principle which they were unwilling to admit, and in defence of their birthright as free citizens they flew to arms. So, in defence of the principle of States’ Rights the Southern people resolved upon secession with all its consequences.

It might be said, however, that South Carolina and her

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sister States seceded under the threat of a mere faction; that there was nothing in the attitude of the Federal Government to justify the apprehension that the Constitution would be set aside; and that their action, therefore, was neither more nor less than rank rebellion. But, whether their rights had been infringed or not, a large majority of the Southern people believed that secession, at any moment and for any cause, was perfectly legitimate. The several States of the Union, according to their political creed, were each and all of them sovereign and independent nations. The Constitution, they held, was nothing more than a treaty which they had entered into for their own convenience, and which, in the exercise of their sovereign powers, individually or collectively, they might abrogate when they pleased. This interpretation was not admitted in the North, either by Republicans or Democrats; yet there was nothing in the letter of the Constitution which denied it, and as regards the spirit of that covenant North and South held opposite opinions. But both were perfectly sincere, and in leaving the Union, therefore, and in creating for themselves a new government, the people of the seceding States considered that they were absolutely within their right.1

It must be admitted, at the same time, that the action of the States which first seceded was marked by a petulant haste; and it is only too probable that the people of these States suffered themselves to be too easily persuaded that the North meant mischief. It is impossible to determine how far the professional politician was responsible for the Civil War. But when we recall the fact that secession followed close on the overthrow of a faction which had long monopolised the spoils of office, and that this faction found compensation in the establishment of a new government, it is not easy to resist the suspicion that the secession movement was neither more nor less than a conspiracy, hatched by a clever and unscrupulous cabal.

It would be unwise, however, to brand the whole, or even the majority, of the Southern leaders as selfish and

1  For an admirable statement of the Southern doctrine, see Ropes’ History of the Civil War, vol. i, chap. i.

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unprincipled. Unless he has real grievances on which to work, or unless those who listen to him are supremely ignorant, the mere agitator is powerless; and it is most assuredly incredible that seven millions of Anglo-Saxons, and Anglo-Saxons of the purest strain—English, Lowland Scottish, and North Irish—should have been beguiled by silver tongues of a few ambitious or hare-brained demagogues. The latter undoubtedly had a share in bringing matters to a crisis. But the South was ripe for revolution long before the presidential election. The forces which were at work needed no artificial impulse to propel them forward. It was instinctively recognised that the nation had outgrown the Constitution; and it was to this, and not to the attacks upon slavery, that secession was really due. The North had come to regard the American people as one nation, and the will of the majority as paramount.1 The South, on the other hand, holding, as it had always held, that each State was a nation in itself, denied in toto that the will of the majority, except in certain specified cases, had any power whatever; and where political creeds were in such direct antagonism no compromise was possible. Moreover, as the action of the abolitionists very plainly showed, there was a growing tendency in the North to disregard altogether the rights of the minority. Secession, in fact, was a protest against mob rule. The weaker community, hopeless of maintaining its most cherished principles within the Union, was ready to seize the first pretext for leaving it; and the strength of the popular sentiment may be measured by the willingness of every class, gentle and simple, rich and poor, to risk all and to suffer all, in order to free themselves from bonds which must soon have become unbearable. It is always difficult to analyse the motives of those by whom revolution is provoked; but if a whole people acquiesce, it is a certain proof

1  “The Government had been Federal under the Articles of Confederation (1781), but the [Northern] people quickly recognised that that relation was changing under the Constitution (1789). They began to discern that the power they thought they had delegated was in fact surrendered, and that henceforth no single State could meet the general Government as sovereign and equal.” Draper’s History of the American Civil War, vol. i, p. 286.

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of the existence of universal apprehension and deep-rooted discontent. The spirit of self-sacrifice which animated the Confederate South has been characteristic of every revolution which has been the expression of a nation’s wrongs, but it has never yet accompanied mere factious insurrection.

When, in process of time, the history of Secession comes to be viewed with the same freedom from prejudice as the history of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it will be clear that the fourth great Revolution of the English-speaking race differs in no essential characteristic from those which preceded it. It was not simply because the five members were illegally impeached in 1642, the seven bishops illegally tried in 1688, men shot at Lexington in 1775, or slavery threatened in 1861, that the people rose. These were the occasions, not the causes of revolt. In each case a great principle was at stake: in 1642 the liberty of the subject; in 1688 the integrity of the Protestant faith; in 1775 taxation only with consent of the taxed; in 1861 the sovereignty of the individual States.1

The accuracy of this statement, as already suggested, has been consistently denied. That the only principle involved in Secession was the establishment of slavery on a firmer basis, and that the cry of States’ Rights was raised only by way of securing sympathy, is a very general opinion. But before it can be accepted, it is necessary to make several admissions; first, that the Southerners were absolutely callous to the evils produced by the institution they had determined to make permanent; second, that they had persuaded themselves, in face of the tendencies of civilisation, that it was possible to make it permanent; and third, that they conscientiously held their progress and

1  It has been remarked that States’ Rights, as a political principle, cannot be placed on the same plane as those with which it is here grouped. History, however, proves conclusively that, although it may be less vital to the common weal, the right of self-government is just as deeply cherished. A people that has once enjoyed independence can seldom be brought to admit that a Union with others deprives it of the prerogatives of sovereignty, and it would seem that the treatment of this instinct of nationality is one of the most delicate and important tasks of statesmanship.

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prosperity to be dependent on its continued existence. Are we to believe that the standard of morals and intelligence was so low as these admissions would indicate? Are we to believe that if they had been approached in a charitable spirit, that if the Republican party, disclaiming all right of interference, had offered to aid them in substituting, by some means which would have provided for the control of the negro and, at the same time, have prevented an entire collapse of the social fabric, a system more consonant with humanity, the Southerners would have still preferred to leave the Union, and by creating a great slave-power earn the execration of the Christian world?

Unless the South be credited with an unusual measure of depravity and of short-sightedness, the reply can hardly be in the affirmative. And if it be otherwise, there remains but one explanation of the conduct of the seceding States—namely the dread that if they remained in the Union they would not be fairly treated.

It is futile to argue that the people were dragooned into secession by the slave-holders. What power had the slave-holders over the great mass of the population, over the professional classes, over the small farmer, the mechanic, the tradesman, the labourer? Yet it is constantly asserted by Northern writers, although the statement is virtually an admission that only the few were prepared to fight for slavery, that the Federal sentiment was so strong among the Southerners that terrorism must have had a large share in turning them into Separatists. The answer, putting aside the very patent fact that the Southerner was not easily coerced, is very plain. Undoubtedly, throughout the South there was much affection for the Union; but so in the first Revolution there was much loyalty to the Crown, and yet it has never been asserted that the people of Virginia or of New England were forced into sedition against their will. The truth is that there were many Southerners who, in the vain hope of compromise, would have postponed the rupture; but when the right of secession was questioned, and the right of coercion was proclaimed, all differences of opinion were swept away, and

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the people, thenceforward, were of one heart and mind. The action of Virginia is a striking illustration.

The great border State, the most important of those south of Mason and Dixon’s line, was not a member of the Confederacy when the Provisional Government was established at Montgomery. Nor did the secession movement secure any strong measure of approval. In fact, the people of Virginia, owing to their closer proximity to, and to their more intimate knowledge of, the North, were by no means inclined to make of the Black Republican President the bugbear he appeared to the States which bordered on the Gulf of Mexico. Whilst acknowledging that the South had grievances, they saw no reason to believe that redress might not be obtained by constitutional means. At the same time, although they questioned the expediency, they held no half-hearted opinion as to the right, of secession, and in their particular case the right seems undeniable. When the Constitution of the United States was ratified, Virginia, by the mouth of its Legislature, had solemnly declared “that the powers granted [to the Federal Government] under the Constitution, being truly derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whenever the same shall be perverted to their injury and oppression.” And this declaration had been more than once reaffirmed. As already stated, this view of the political status of the Virginia citizen was not endorsed by the North. Nevertheless, it was not definitely rejected. The majority of the Northern people held the Federal Government paramount, but, at the same time, they held that it had no power either to punish or coerce the individual States. This had been the attitude of the founders of the Republic, and it is perfectly clear that their interpretation of the Constitution was this: although the several States were morally bound to maintain the compact into which they had voluntarily entered, the obligation, if any one State chose to repudiate it, could not be legally enforced. Their ideal was a Union based upon fraternal affection; and in the halcyon days of Washington’s first presidency, when the long and victorious struggle against a common enemy was still fresh in men’s minds, and the sun of liberty shone in an unclouded sky, a

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vision so Utopian perhaps seemed capable of realisation. At all events, the promise of a new era of unbroken peace and prosperity was not to be sullied by cold precautions against civil dissensions and conflicting interests. The new order, under which every man was his own sovereign, would surely strengthen the links of kindly sympathy, and by those links alone it was believed that the Union would be held together. Such was the dream of the unselfish patriots who ruled the destinies of the infant Republic. Such were the ideas that so far influenced their deliberations that, with all their wisdom, they left a legacy to their posterity which deluged the land in blood.

Mr. Lincoln’s predecessor in the presidential chair had publicly proclaimed that coercion was both illegal and inexpedient; and for the three months which intervened between the secession of South Carolina and the inauguration of the Republican President, the Government made not the slightest attempt to interfere with the peaceable establishment of the new Confederacy. Not a single soldier reinforced the garrisons of the military posts in the South. Not a single regiment was recalled from the western frontiers; and the seceded States, without a word of protest, were permitted to take possession, with few exceptions, of the forts, arsenals, navy yards and custom houses which stood on their own territory. It seemed that the Federal Government was only waiting until an amicable arrangement might be arrived at as to the terms of separation.

If, in addition to the words in which she had assented to the Constitution, further justification were needed for the belief of Virginia in the right of secession, it was assuredly to be found in the apparent want of unanimity on so grave a question even in the Republican party, and in the acquiescent attitude of the Federal Government.

The people of Virginia, however, saw in the election of a Republican President no immediate danger of the Constitution being “perverted to their injury and oppression.” The North, generally speaking, regarded the action of the secessionists with that strange and good-humoured

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tolerance with which the American citizen too often regards internal politics. The common sense of the nation asserted itself in all its strength. A Union which could only be maintained by force was a strange and obnoxious idea to the majority. Amid the storm of abuse and insult in which the two extreme parties indulged, the abolitionists on the one side, the politicians on the other, Lincoln,

“The still strong man in a blatant land,”

stood calm and steadfast, promising justice to the South, and eager for reconciliation. And Lincoln represented the real temper of the Northern people.

So, in the earlier months of 1861, there was no sign whatever that the Old Dominion might be compelled to use the alternative her original representatives had reserved. The question of slavery was no longer to the fore. While reprobating the action of the Confederates, the President, in his inaugural address (March 4, 1861), had declared that the Government had no right to interfere with the domestic institutions of the individual States; and throughout Virginia the feeling was strong in favour of the Union. Earnest endeavours were made to effect a compromise, under which the seceded communities might renew the Federal compact. The Legislature called a Convention of the People to deliberate on the part that the State should play, and the other States were invited to join in a Peace Conference at Washington.

It need hardly be said that during the period of negotiation excitement rose to the highest pitch. The political situation was the sole theme of discussion. In Lexington as elsewhere the one absorbing topic ousted all others, and in Lexington as elsewhere there was much difference of opinion. But the general sentiment was strongly Unionist, and in the election of members of the Convention an overwhelming majority had pronounced against secession. Between the two parties, however, there were sharp conflicts. A flagstaff flying the national ensign had been erected in Main Street, Lexington. The cadets fired on the flag,

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and substituting the State colours placed a guard over them. Next morning a report reached the Institute that the local company of volunteers had driven off the guard, and were about to restore the Stars and Stripes. It was a holiday, and there were no officers present. The drums beat to arms. The boys rushed down to their parade-ground, buckling on their belts, and carrying their rifles. Ammunition was distributed, and the whole battalion, under the cadet officers, marched out of the Institute gates, determined to lower the emblem of Northern tyranny and drive away the volunteers. A collision would certainly have ensued had not the attacking column been met by the Commandant.

In every discussion on the action of the State Jackson had spoken strongly on the side of the majority. In terse phrase he had summed up his view of the situation. He was no advocate of secession. He deprecated the hasty action of South Carolina. “It is better,” he said, “for the South to fight for her rights in the Union than out of it.” But much as they loved the Union, the people of Virginia revered still more the principles inculcated by their forefathers, the right of secession and the illegality of coercion. And when the proposals of the Peace Conference came to nothing, when all hope of compromise died away, and the Federal Government showed no sign of recognising the Provisional Government, it became evident even to the staunchest Unionist that civil war could no longer be postponed. From the very first no shadow of a doubt had existed in Jackson’s mind as to the side he should espouse, or the course he should pursue. “If I know myself,” he wrote, “all I am and all I have is at the service of my country.”

According to his political creed his country was his native State, and such was the creed of the whole South. In conforming to the Ordinance of Secession enacted by the legislatures of their own States, the people, according to their reading of the Constitution, acted as loyal and patriotic citizens; to resist that ordinance was treason and rebellion; and in taking up arms “they were not, in their own opinion, rebels at all; they were defending

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their States—that is, the nations to which they conceived themselves to belong, from invasion and conquest.”1

When, after the incident described above, the cadets marched back to barracks, it was already so certain that the Stars and Stripes would soon be torn down from every flagstaff in Virginia that their breach of discipline was easily condoned. They were addressed by the Commandant, and amid growing excitement officer after officer, hardly concealing his sympathy with their action, gave vent to his opinions on the approaching crisis. Jackson was silent. At length, perhaps in anticipation of some amusement, for he was known to be a stumbling speaker, the cadets called on him by name. In answer to the summons he stood before them, not, as was his wont in public assemblies, with ill-dissembled shyness and awkward gesture, but with body erect and eyes sparkling. “Soldiers,” he said, “when they make speeches should say but few words, and speak them to the point, and I admire, young gentlemen, the spirit you have shown in rushing to the defence of your comrades; but I must commend you particularly for the readiness with which you listened to the counsel and obeyed the commands of your superior officer. The time may come,” he continued, and the deep tones, vibrating with unsuspected resolution, held his audience spellbound, “when your State will need your services; and if that time does come, then draw your swords and throw away the scabbards.”

The crisis was not long postponed. Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbour, the port of South Carolina, was held by a Federal garrison. The State had demanded its surrender, but no reply had been vouchsafed by Lincoln. On April 8 a message was conveyed to the Governor of the State that an attempt would be made to supply the troops with provisions. This message was telegraphed to Montgomery, still the capital of the Confederacy, and the Government ordered the reduction of the fort. On the morning of April 12 the Southern batteries opened fire, and the next day, when the flames were already scorching the doors

History of the Civil War, Ropes, chap. i, p. 3.

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of the magazine, the standard of the Union was hauled down.

Two days later Lincoln spoke with no uncertain voice. 75,000 militia were called out to suppress the “rebellion.” The North gave the President loyal support. The insult to the flag set the blood of the nation, of Democrat and Republican, aflame. The time for reconciliation was passed. The Confederates had committed an unpardonable crime. They had forfeited all title to consideration; and even in the minds of those Northerners who had shared their political creed the memory of their grievances was obliterated.

So far Virginia had given no overt sign of sympathy with the revolution. But she was now called upon to furnish her quota of regiments for the Federal army. To have acceded to the demand would have been to abjure the most cherished principles of her political existence. As the Federal Government, according to her political faith, had no jurisdiction whatever within the boundaries of States which had chosen to secede, it had not the slightest right to maintain a garrison in Fort Sumter. The action of the Confederacy in enforcing the withdrawal of the troops was not generally approved of, but it was held to be perfectly legitimate; and Mr. Lincoln’s appeal to arms, for the purpose of suppressing what, in the opinion of Virginia, was a strictly constitutional movement, was instantly and fiercely challenged.

Neutrality was impossible. She was bound to furnish her tale of troops, and thus belie her principles; or to secede at once, and reject with a clean conscience the President’s mandate. On April 17 she chose the latter, deliberately and with her eyes open, knowing that war would be the result, and knowing the vast resources of the North. She was followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.1

The world has long since done justice to the motives of Cromwell and of Washington, and signs are not wanting

1  Kentucky and Missouri attempted to remain neutral. Maryland was held in check by the Federal Government, and Delaware sided with the North. The first three, however, supplied large contingents to the Confederate armies.

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that before many years have passed it will do justice to the motives of the Southern people. They were true to their interpretation of the Constitution; and if the morality of secession may be questioned, if South Carolina acted with undue haste and without sufficient provocation, if certain of the Southern politicians desired emancipation for themselves that they might continue to enslave others, it can hardly be denied that the action of Virginia was not only fully justified, but beyond suspicion. The wildest threats of the Black Republicans, their loudly expressed determination, in defiance of the Constitution, to abolish slavery, if necessary by the bullet and the sabre, shook in no degree whatever her loyalty to the Union. Her best endeavours were exerted to maintain the peace between the hostile sections; and not till her liberties were menaced did she repudiate a compact which had become intolerable. It was to preserve the freedom which her forefathers had bequeathed her, and which she desired to hand down unsullied to future generations, that she acquiesced in the revolution.

The North, in resolving to maintain the Union by force of arms, was upheld by the belief that she was acting in accordance with the Constitution. The South, in asserting her independence and resisting coercion, found moral support in the same conviction, and the patriotism of those who fought for the Union was neither purer nor more ardent than the patriotism of those who fought for States’ Rights. Long ago, a parliament of that nation to which Jackson and so many of his compatriots owed their origin made petition to the Pope that he should require the English king “to respect the independence of Scotland, and to mind his own affairs. So long as a hundred of us are left alive,” said the signatories, “we will never in any degree be subjected to the English. It is not for glory, or for riches, or for honour that we fight, but for liberty alone, which no good man loses but with his life.” More than five hundred years later, for the same noble cause and in the same uncompromising spirit, the people of Virginia made appeal to the God of battles.

 

 

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