Secession, North and South

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Posted : January 14, 2021

Secession, North and South

Secession, North and South

Address by Col. E. Polk Johnson at U.D.C. Convention in Louisville, April, 1919 (from Confederate Veteran magazine, Vol. XXVII, No. 5, May, 1919)

[Publisher’s Note: It was this time of year, one hundred and sixty-one years ago, that seven Southern states, believing with every ounce of their being that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” seceded from the old Union and formed a new nation on this earth: the Confederate States of America.

For over a decade, those seven states along with the rest of the South, had endured abject hatred and violence encouraged by a political party that was determined to rally its voters in the populous North. They wanted political control of the country so they could continue to enrich themselves with high tariffs, bounties, subsidies and monopoly status for their businesses (not unlike the tyrannical monopoly status Google, Facebook and Twitter enjoy today).

That party was the first sectional party in American history, “a party of the North pledged against the South,” as Wendell Phillips proudly stated.

Hate works, in politics, as we see today, and the Republican Party had used it brilliantly. Their nominee, Abraham Lincoln, won but with only 39.9% of the popular vote, meaning 60% of the country voted against him.

So, the consent of the governed in the South was not there for continuance in a Union that hated them and was robbing them blind. They seceded peacefully and expected to live in peace but were promptly invaded because the North could not stand a low tariff nation on its border, especially one that promised to be a formidable competitor with 100% control of the most demanded commodity on the planet: King Cotton.

The North faced economic annihilation without the South as free trade Southerners sought to buy better goods from Europe rather than the overpriced North.

There was also the astronomical Morrill Tariff, the epitome of Northern greed and economic stupidity. It threatened to destroy the Northern shipping industry overnight as ship captains beat a path from the high tariff North to the low tariff South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional.

Lincoln needed his war before Europeans recognized Southern independence and gave military aid along with the trade agreements they both sought. With European military aid, the North would not have been able to beat the South, and Lincoln knew it. Thus, he sent warships, troops and supplies to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island in Pensacola Bay, and Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, to get the war started.

Before the smoke had cleared from the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Lincoln announced his blockade, which chilled European recognition of the South and caused Europe to take a wait and see attitude.

By the time Lincoln’s war was over, 750,000 were dead, and over a million, wounded.

The Republic of the Founding Fathers was dead too, and in its place, the Northern dominated federal leviathan we have today.

Northern anti-slavery was in no way pro-black. It was anti-black. They didn’t like slavery because they did not like blacks and didn’t want blacks anywhere near them in the West.

“Anti-South” is a more accurate term than anti-slavery because most of Northern anti-slavery was political and economic, designed to rally votes for the Republican Party, not to help black people.

Several Northern and Western states had laws preventing free blacks from residing there or even visiting for more than a few days including Lincoln’s Illinois. If blacks stayed too long, they could be arrested and in some cases, whipped.

People like Horace Greeley and many others were what is known today as virtue signalers. They agitated to end slavery but did not put forth a single plan to phase out slavery such as the gradual, compensated emancipation that most countries on earth used effectively and easily to end slavery.

The Northern states used gradual compensated emancipation to end slavery in the North though their record is miserable because in most cases, before the poor slave was to be free, ever thrifty Yankees sold him or her back into slavery in the South. Alexis de Tocqueville said the North did not end slavery but just changed the slave’s master from a Northern to a Southern one.

The following is an excellent historical analysis of the causes of the war, the North’s carrying on of the slave trade, the right of secession, the horror of federal coercion as stated by Alexander Hamilton, and ultimately, reconciliation. It was written by a former Confederate, Col. E. Polk Johnson, 54 years after the war, when memories were fresh. It would be like someone today writing about events in 1967.]


IT HAS BEEN THOUGHT APPROPRIATE by the Program Committee that a part of the evening’s proceeding shall be devoted to the question of secession and the withdrawal of the Southern States from the Union in 1860, and to me has been assigned the preparation of a paper on that subject.

In the North it was and is thought that the South was prompted in the movement of 1860-61 by the sole desire to perpetuate slavery.

This we deny.

The Southern States have been persistently misrepresented as the propagandists of slavery, and the Northern States as the defenders and champions of universal freedom. It has been dogmatically asserted that the War between the States was caused by efforts on the one side to extend and perpetuate human slavery and on the other to resist it and establish human liberty.

Neither allegation is true.

To whatever extent the question of slavery many have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause of the war.

As a historical fact, negro slavery existed in all the original thirteen States. It was recognized by the Constitution. Owing to climatic, industrial, and economical–not moral nor sentimental–reasons, it had gradually disappeared in the Northern States, while it had persisted in the Southern States.

The slave trade was never conducted by the people of the South. It had been monopolized by Northern merchants and carried on by Northern ships.

Men differed in their views as to the abstract question of the right or wrong of slavery, but for the two generations after the Revolution there was no geographical line of such differences. It was during the controversy over the Missouri question that the subject first took a sectional aspect, but long after that period abolitionists were mobbed and assaulted in the North. Lovejoy, for instance, was killed in Illinois in 1837. The above statements are from a short history of the Confederate States by Jefferson Davis.

The object of the war on the part of the North was ostensibly “to save the Union,” but before it had ended it had become an open crusade to free the slaves of the South.

It may be of some interest to inquire at this point how the negro came to be here. Let Matthew Page Andrews, an impartial historian, answer: “Ships engaged in this traffic [the slave trade] had regular routes from several of the New England States to the West Indies, whither they took merchandise to exchange for tropical products, especially sugar and molasses.

They then returned to New England, converted the molasses of their cargoes into rum, and went from there to Africa. With the rum and beads and trinkets they bought the ignorant savages of Africa. The slave vessels now returned to America and sold their cargoes in the Southern slave markets. * * * Clergymen in the North would return thanks for the safe arrival of these slave ships.”1

“In 1619 slavery was not recognized in English law nor in the laws and customs of Virginia; and although previously referred to in Virginia court records as in existence, slavery was not regulated by statutory laws until 1661, several years subsequent to such action in Massachusetts (1640) and Connecticut (1650).”2

“As late as February 12, 1853, Illinois enacted legislation making it a crime for a free negro to come or be brought into the State.”3

“The New England States desired the continuance of this traffic (slave trade) for the reason that their ships were making large profits from it.”4

“In answer to a memorial from Pennsylvania praying the abolishment of slavery, Congress declared that under the Constitution the question could be decided by the States only and that the Federal government had no authority in the matter.”5

“The moral question involved in the extension of slavery was by no means predominant. The conflict was fundamentally a political and economic one.”6

The Narraganset Indians in December, 1675, were attacked by a force of colonists, who destroyed their fort and killed more than a thousand of them. “By the summer of 1676 the three Indian tribes were utterly crushed and their chieftains, Philip and Cananchet, killed. The captured Indians were sold as slaves.”7

Referring to the Emancipation Proclamation, Andrews says on page 293: “if the proclamation had aroused the slaves in resistance throughout the Confederacy, the Southern armies could not have been maintained in the field. That the slaves remained faithful to the trust committed to their care by the men who went to the front is not only a tribute to the training and character of the Southern negroes, but an enduring memorial of the kindly relations between the master and servants.”

This is but a grouping of facts known to all who have a knowledge of the earlier history of our country. They are collected here for easy reference by those who may not have paid attention to the events which culminated in the War between the States.

It is not necessary to read between the lines to learn that our very patriotic brethren of new England had a very healthy and ever-present affection for the mighty dollar and nice elastic consciences, which they never permitted to interfere with the collection thereof.

One recalling the pretended holy horror of the North at the thought of secession may be misled into the belief that it was a plant of purely Southern growth which could neither germinate nor exist in any other climate or locality. Permit a glance at the utterances of some of the leaders of thought in the North prior to the war.

Joshua R. Giddings: “I look forward to the day when there shall be a servile insurrection in the South, when the black man, armed with British bayonets and led by British officers, shall assert his freedom and wage a war of extermination against his master. And though we may not mock at their calamity nor laugh when their fear cometh, we shall hail it as the dawn of a political millennium.”

Rufus P. Spalding: “In the alternative being presented of the continuation of slavery or a dissolution of the Union, we are for a dissolution, and we care not how quickly it comes.”

Charles Sumner: “The fugitive slave act is filled with horror. We are bound to disobey this act.” Sumner was a Senator from Massachusetts, sworn to support the laws of the country, yet he taught their nullification when they did not suit him. Andrew Jackson called this treason when South Carolina sought to nullify an act of Congress.

Portland (Me.) Advertiser: “The Advertiser has no hesitation in saying that it does not hold to the faithful observance of the fugitive slave law of 1850.” This journal was an apt and ready pupil in the school of disunion taught by Charles Sumner and the other extremists in the North.

Horace Greeley: “I have no doubt but the free and slave States ought to be separated. The Union is not worth supporting in connection with the South.” When several of the States had withdrawn from the Union, he said: “Let the erring sisters go in peace.”

Wendell Phillips: “There is merit in the Republican party. It is the first sectional party ever organized in this country. It is not national; it is sectional. It is the North against the South. The first crack in the iceberg is visible. You will yet hear it go with a crack through the center.”

The Independent Democrat, a New Hampshire newspaper which belied its name, said: “The cure for slavery prescribed by Redpath is the only infallible remedy, and men must ferment insurrection among the slaves in order to cure the evils. It can never be done by concessions and compromises. It is a great evil and must be extinguished by still greater ones. It is positive and imperious in its approaches and must be overcome with equally positive forces. You must commit an assault to arrest a burglar, and slavery is not arrested without a violation of law and the cry of fire.”

In October, 1859, John Brown, of a memory almost as infamous as the cowardly crew in the background outside the line of fire who supplied the money that armed his marauding murderers, made an attack upon Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, his object being the stirring up of an insurrection among the slaves and the murder of the whites. Of this event the Hon. J. L. M. Curry, in his “Civil History of the Confederate States,” says: “In October, 1859, John Brown, a bold and bad man, made his bloody foray into Virginia, fraught with the most terrible consequences of spoliation of property, arson, insurrection, murder, and treason.

This raid was a compound of foolhardiness and cruelty. Conservative and respectable journals and all decent men and women denounced at the time the arrogant and silly attempt of the murderer to take into his destructive hands the execution of his fell designs.

Sympathy with those purposes and his methods was vehemently disclaimed by the representatives of all parties in Congress, and conspicuously by John Sherman. Few, except redhanded and dastard fanatics, lifted voices against his execution after a fair trial and a just verdict by a Virginia court. A Senate committee, after laborious investigation submitted a report, accompanied by evidence, and said: ‘It was simply the act of lawless ruffians under the sanction of no public or political authority, distinguishable only from ordinary felonies by the ulterior ends in contemplation by them and by the fact that the money to maintain the expedition and its large armament they brought with them had been constituted and furnished by the citizens of other States of the Union under circumstances that must continue to jeopardize the safety and peace of the Southern States and against which Congress has no power to legislate.”

Andrews says of the affair, on page 261: “No one prominent in political life in the North seems to have been directly concerned with this proposed servile insurrection, but a number of well-known abolitionists contributed money and supplies. The most noteworthy of these was Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The distinguished philosopher and author, Ralph Waldo Emerson, declared: ‘The new saint (Brown) will make the gallows glorious like the cross.'”

Mr. Curry concludes as follows: “So much for the Senate. Now John Brown inspires a popular song and poetry and eloquence, almost a national air, and Northern writers and people compare him to Jesus Christ and put him in the Saints’ Calendar of Freedom.”

Among other canonized saints in the North in the period before the war was Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the most mendacious of all the literature of that day, did more to fan the fires of hatred and keep them burning in the North than all the utterances of the half-mad fanatics whose object was the goading of the South into acts of reprisal for the John Brown raid. The list could be extended indefinitely, but enough has been said to show the menace which faced the quiescent South.

Touching the rights of the States to control their own affairs, upon which the South insisted and still insists, it is interesting to note the expressions of several of the States made at the time of their acceptance of the Constitution, showing, as they do, beyond any doubt the same construction of that instrument that was and is to-day the sentiment of the South.

Virginia, the mother of States and of Presidents, declared that “The powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression,” and that “every power not granted thereby remains with them (the people) and at their will.”

New York with equal candor resolved: “That the power of the government may be resumed by the people whenever it shall become necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or the departments thereof remains in the people of the several States or to their respective State governments to whom they have granted the same; and those clauses in the said Constitution which declare that the Constitution shall not have nor exercise certain powers do not imply that the Constitution is entitled to any powers not given by said document, but such clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specifications or as inserted merely for greater caution.”

Rhode Island declared in 1790 that “the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whenever it shall become necessary to their happiness.”

Maryland declared that nothing in the Constitution “warrants a construction that the States do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them and vested in the general government of the Union.”

A public meeting of citizens of Boston, Mass., in Faneuil Hall in 1809 in a celebrated memorial states that they looked “only to the State legislature, which was competent to devise relief against the unconstitutional acts of the general government; that your power is adequate to that object is evident from the organization of the Confederation.”

Proceeding now to an expression of personal opinion, William H. Seward, Secretary of State in the cabinet of Mr. Lincoln, is found saying: “There is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain. Slavery must be abolished, and we must do it.” It was a common expression during the war that the Constitution was laid away during the struggle, an expression corroborated by Mr. Seward’s sentiment.

Horace Greeley, in the New York Tribune, wrote: “The time is fast approaching when the cry will become too overpowering to resist. Rather than tolerate national slavery as it now exists, let the Union be dissolved at once, and then the sin of slavery will rest where it belongs.”

Mr. Lloyd Garrison defiantly declared from every Northern platform that “the Union is a lie. The American Union is an impostor, a covenant with death and an agreement with hell. We are for its overthrow. Up with the flag of disunion, that we may have a free and glorious republic of our own!”

Where did secession have is birth? Was it at the North or at the South? Let Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, answer. He regarded the purchase of Louisiana by Mr. Jefferson as invalid until each of the original thirteen States had signified its assent, and on the bill for the admission of Louisiana into the Union in 1811 he declared: “If the bill passes, it is my deliberate opinion that it is virtually a dissolution of the Union; that it will free the States from their moral obligation; and as it will be the right of all, so will it be the duty of some, definitely to prepare for a separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must.”

In 1844 Charles Francis Adams, of Massachusetts, introduced into the legislature of that State a resolution of reference to the annexation of Texas almost identical with that of Mr. Quincy in 1841, declaring that Massachusetts was “determined to submit to undelegated powers in no body of men on earth.”

In 1857 a State Disunion Convention was held at Worcester, Mass., at which it was resolved to seek “the expulsion of the slave States from the Confederation, in which they have ever been an element of discord, danger, and disgrace.” It was also proposed to organize a party whose candidates should be publicly pledged to “to ignore the Federal government, to refuse an oath to its Constitution, and to make the States free and independent communities.” These quotations indicate the views of the North in regard to the perpetuity of the Union and the free and easy manner in which they declared for its immediate dissolution.

A word from the South is now in order on the same subject. In “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” Mr. Davis calmly and in a statesmanlike manner, devoid of that passion which so marked the disunion sentiment of the North, summarizes the following proposition:

“That the States of which the American Union was formed from the moment they emerged from their colonial or provincial condition become severally sovereign, free, and independent States, not one State or nation.”

“That the Union formed under the Articles of Confederation was a compact between the States in which these attributes of sovereignty, freedom, and independence were expressly asserted.”

“That in forming the more perfect Union of the Constitution afterwards adopted the same contracting powers formed an amended compact without any surrender of those attributes of sovereignty, freedom, and independence, either expressed or implied; that, on the contrary, by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, limiting the power of the government to its express grants, they distinctly guarded against the presumption of a surrender of anything by implication.”

“That political sovereignty resides neither in individual citizens nor in unorganized masses nor in fractional subdivision of a community, but in the people of an organized political body.”

“That ‘no republican form of government’ in the sense in which that expression is used in the Constitution and was generally understood by the founders of the Union, whether it be the government of a State or a confederation of States, is possessed by any sovereignty whatever, but merely exercises certain powers delegated by the sovereign authority of the people and subject to recall and reassumption by the same authority that conferred them.”

“That the ‘people’ who organized the first confederation, the people who dissolved it, the people who ordained and established the Constitution which succeeded it, the only people, in fine, known or referred to in the phraseology of that period, whether the term was used collectively or distributively, were the people of the respective States, each acting separately and with absolute independence of the other.”

“That in forming and adopting the Constitution the States, or the people of the States–terms which, when used with reference to acts performed in a sovereign capacity, are precisely equivalent to each other–formed a new government, but no new people, and that consequently no new sovereignty was created, for sovereignty in an American republic can belong only to a people, never to a government, and that the Federal government is entitled to exercise only the powers delegated to it by the people of the respective States.”

“That the term ‘people’ in the preamble to the Constitution and in the Tenth Amendment is used distributively; that the only ‘people of the United States’ known to the Constitution are the people of each State in the Union; that no such political community of corporate unit as one people of the United States then existed, has ever been organized, or yet exists; and that no political action by the people of the United States in the aggregate has ever taken place or ever can take place under the Constitution.”

John Marshall, the famous Chief Justice of the United States and one of the most prominent members of the Federalist party, who cannot be accused of sympathy with  States’ rights views, delivered an address in the Virginia Convention of 1798 from which the following quotations are made: “The State governments did not derive their powers from the general government, but each government derived its power from the people, and each was to act according to the power given. Would any gentleman deny this? Could any man say that this power was not retained by the States, as they had not given it away? The State legislature had power to command and govern their militia before and have it still undeniably, unless there be something in the Constitution that takes it away.”

In another instance the special subject was the power of the Federal judiciary, of which Mr. Marshall said: “I hope that no gentleman will think that a State can be called at the bar of a Federal court. Is there no such case at present? Are there not many cases in which the legislature of Virginia is a party and yet the State is not sued? Is it rational to suppose that the sovereign power shall be dragged before  a court.”

Daniel Webster, in a speech in Virginia in 1851, said: “If the Senate were to violate any part of the Constitution intentionally and systematically and persist in so doing year after year and no remedy could be had, would the North be any longer bound by the rest of it? And if the North were deliberately, habitually and at fixed purpose to disregard one part of it, would the South be bound any longer to observe its other obligations? How absurd it is, then to supposed that when different parties enter into a compact for certain purposes either can disregard any one provision and expect, nevertheless, the other to observe the rest! I have not hesitated to say, and I repeat, that if the Northern States refuse willfully and deliberately to carry into effect that part of the Constitution which respects the restoration of fugitive slaves, and Congress provides no remedy, the South would be no longer bound to observe the compact. A bargain cannot be broken on one side and still blind the other side.”

Alexander Hamilton, the father of the Federalist party, said in the New York convention: “To coerce a State is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised. What picture does this idea present to our view? A complying State at war with a noncomplying State, Congress marching the troops of one State into the bosom of another. Here is a nation at war with itself. Can any reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself, a government that can exist only by the sword? But can we believe that one State will ever suffer itself to be used as an instrument of coercion? The thing is a dream. It is impossible.”

Unhappily our generation and that which preceded us have seen come to pass the very thing that to Hamilton was a dream, an impossibility. We have seen States willingly used for the wicked purpose of coercing their sister States and counting it unto themselves as righteousness. We have seen the South crushed beneath the feet of the soldiery of her sister States and heard the ribald laughter of the Northern politicians as they mocked us in our calamity. But, thanks to a just God, we have survived the worst that ever befell a people, and the South, regenerated, true to its every plighted word, stands foursquare to every wind that blows.

As a Kentuckian and a former Confederate soldier, my heart beats in unison to-day, as it beat half a century ago, with that of the brave old Governor of Kentucky who, in reply to Mr. Lincoln’s call for troops, said: “I say emphatically that Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern States.” Nor did she furnish any while brave old Beriah Magoffin was Governor.

Quoting again from Mr. Davis, he is found saying: “We have seen how vehemently the idea of even political coercion was repudiated by Hamilton, Marshall, Webster, and others. The suggestion of military coercion was uniformly treated as in the quotations from the authorities just named, but with still more abhorrence. No principle was more fully and firmly settled on the highest authority than that under our system there could be no coercion of a State.”

Nor had any one with authority to speak denied the unalienable right of a State to withdraw from the Union at the moment when its rights were infringed and its freedom of action denied. Indeed, this paper, if it proves anything, has proved by the testimony of Northern witnesses that it was entirely proper, legal, and justifiable for a Northern State to secede from the Union at any moment, but it was illegal, unjust, and not to be thought of that a Southern State should exercise a like action.

After all, the highest proof of the correctness of the Southern view was shown by the failure of the government to press the trial of Mr. Davis for treason on the indictment returned against him at Richmond, Va. The foremost legal minds of the North knew that he was not a traitor, nor could he be proved so under the law. Hence the dismissal of legal proceedings against him and his ultimate release from the charge.

This action was a high testimonial to the position the South through its leaders had taken before, during, and after the war. Mr. Davis and the men who followed the flag of the South during four years of a heartbreaking struggle were not traitors nor rebels, but patriots from their point of view, and not one of the living men of that struggle but is proud of his participation therein and of the southern cross pinned to his ragged gray jacket by the hands of a Daughter of the Confederacy.

The war was inevitable. In no other way could the differing views of the North and the South be brought to a conclusive settlement. Every patriot heart beats more warmly to-day at the thought that it has been settled and can arise no more to disturb our happily reunited country.

Mr. Davis, in concluding the history of the Confederate government, uses these words: “In asserting the right of secession it has not been my wish to incite to its exercise. I recognize the fact that the war showed it to be impracticable, but this did not prove it to be wrong; and now that it may not again be attempted and that the Union may promote the general welfare, it is needful that the truth, the whole truth, should be known, so that recrimination may forever cease and that on the basis of fraternity and faithful regard for the rights of the States there may be written on the arch of the Union, Esto perpetua.”

(This article is verbatim, with spelling and text, from the original in Confederate Veteran magazine. Some longer paragraphs were broken up for ease of reading but nothing was left out or changed.)

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