Why The South Seceded and Fought For Her Independence
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Posted : July 28, 2020
Dr. Randolph McKim’s 1904 UCV Speech
Why The South Seceded and Fought For Her Independence
This address of why the South seceded and fought for her independence was given by Dr. Randolph McKim, at the United Confederate Veterans Reunion in June 1904, in Nashville, Tennessee. The full address was published in the “Confederate Veteran” magazine, Vol. 13, No. 3, March, 1905. Dr. McKim was a native of Baltimore who was in seminary school in the Shenandoah when the war began, and whose Unionist father was sorely disappointed when he joined the Confederate army. McKim became a Captain and Adjutant to Brig. Gen. George “Maryland” Steuart, whose brigade was part of Edward “Alleghany” Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Corps, at the battle of Gettysburg. After the war Dr. McKim became minister at what was to become the Washington National Cathedral in D.C.
It is with deep emotion that I rise to address you to-day. When I look over this vast concourse of the brave men and the noble women of the South—representing every one of the eleven sovereign States once associated in the Southern Confederacy—and when I look into the faces of the veteran survivors of that incomparable army that fought with such magnificent valor and constancy for four long years under those tattered battle flags, now furled forever, I am overwhelmed at once by the dignity and the difficulty of the task
assigned me. There is such a vast disproportion between the powers which the occasion demands and those which I possess that I should not dare to essay the task but for my
confidence in your generosity and forbearance to a speaker who at least can say : “I too loved the Confederacy and marched and fought under the banner of the Southern Cross.”
A stranger coming into our midst and observing our proceedings might suppose that we were met here to celebrate the foundation of a State, or to acclaim the triumph of armies, or to exult in the victory of a great cause. But no! Nine and thirty years ago our new republic sank to rise no more; our armies were defeated; our banner went down in blood! What then? Are we here to indulge in vain regrets, in lament over our defeat, or to conspire for the reestablishment of our fallen cause? No! The love and loyalty which we give to that cause and to the defeated banner is a demonstration of the deep hold that cause had upon the hearts of the Southern pc. pie, and of the absolute sincerity and the complete devotion with which they supported it ; but it is no evidence of unmanly and fruitless repining over defeat, nor of any lurking disloyalty to the Union, in which now.
Thank God! the Southern States have equal rights and privileges with all the other States of our broad land. We saw our banner go down with breaking hearts. When our idolized leader sheathed his sword at Appomattox the world grew dark to us. We felt as if the sun had set in blood, to rise no more. It was as if the foundations of the earth were sinking beneath our feet. But that same stainless hero, whom we had followed with unquestioning devotion, taught us not to despair. He told us it was the part of brave men to accept defeat without repining. “Human virtue,” he said, “should be equal to human calamity.” He pointed upward to the star of duty, and bade us follow it as bravely in peace as we had
followed it in war. Henceforth it should be our consecrated task, by the help of God, to rebuild the fallen walls of our prosperity.
And so we accepted the result of the war in good faith. We abide the arbitrament of the sword. We subscribe as sincerely as the men who fought against us to the sentiment. “One flag, one country, one constitution, one destiny.” This is now for us an indissoluble Union of indestructible States. We are loyal to the starry banner. We remember that it was baptized with Southern blood when our forefathers first unfurled it to the breeze. We remember that it was a Southern poet, Francis Key, who immortalized it in the “Star Spangled Banner.” We remember that it was the genius of a Southern soldier and statesman, George Washington, that finally established it in triumph. Southern blood has again flowed in its defense in the Spanish war; and, should occasion require, we pledge our lives and our sacred honor to defend it against foreign aggression as bravely as will the descendants of the Puritans. And yet to-day, while that banner of the Union floats over us, we bring the offering of our love and loyalty to the memory of the flag, of the Southern Confederacy! Strange as it may seem to one who does not understand our people, inconsistent and incomprehensible as it may appear, we salute yonder flag—the banner of the stars and stripes—as the symbol of our reunited country at the same moment that we come together to do homage to the memory of the stars and bars. There is in our hearts a double loyalty to-day—a loyalty to the present, and a loyalty to the dear, dead past. We still love our old battle flag with the Southern Cross upon its fiery folds! We have wrapped it round our hearts! We have enshrined it in the sacred ark of our love; and we will honor it and cherish it evermore, not now as a political symbol, but as the consecrated emblem of a heroic epoch, as the sacred memento of a day that is dead, as the embodiment of memories that will be tender and holy as long as life shall last.
Let not our fellow-countrymen of the North mistake the spirit of this great occasion. If Daniel Webster could say that the Bunker Hill Monument was not erected “to perpetuate hostility to Great Britain,” much more can we say that the monuments we have erected, and will yet erect, in our Southland to the memory of our dead heroes are not intended to perpetuate the angry passions of the Civil War or to foster or keep alive any feeling of hostility to our brethren of other parts of the Union. No; but these monuments are erected, and these great assemblages of our surviving veterans are held, in simple loyalty to the best and purest dictates of the human heart. The people that forget its heroic dead are already dying at the heart: and we believe it will make for the strength and the glory of the United States if the sentiments that animate us to-day .shall be perpetuated, generation after generation. Yes, we honor, and we bid our children honor, the loyalty to duty, to conscience, to fatherland that inspired the men of 1861 ; and it is our prayer and our hope that as the years and the generations pass, the rising and the setting sun, the moon and the stars, winter and summer, spring and autumn will soe the people of the South loyal to the memories of those four terrible but glorious years of strife, loyally worshiping at the shrine of the splendid manhood of our heroic citizen-soldiers, and the even more splendid womanhood, whose fortitude and whose endurance have challenged the admiration of the world. Then, when the united republic, in years to come, shall call, “To arms!” our children and our children’s children will rally to the call, and, emulating the fidelity and the supreme devotion of the soldiers of the Confederacy, will gird the stars and stripes with an impenetrable rampart of steel.
But it is not the dead alone whom we honor here to-day. We hail the presence of the survivors of that tremendous conflict. Veterans of more than forty years! You have come from all over the South—from the Patapsco and the Potomac, the James and the Rappahannock, the Cumberland and the Tennessee, the Mississippi and the Rio Grande—from the seashore, from the Gulf, from the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies, and some of you even from the shores of the Pacific Ocean—to pay your tribute to the defeated cause and the dead heroes who laid down their lives for it. May I, on behalf of this great assembly—on behalf of the whole South—offer you a tribute of respect and veneration to-day? We hail you as the honored survivors of a great epoch and a glorious struggle. We welcome you as the men whom, above all others, the South delights to honor.
It is indeed a matter of course that we, your comrades and your fellow-Southrons, should honor you. But we are not alone. Your brave antagonists of the Northern armies begin at last to recognize the purity of your motives, as they have always recognized the splendor of your valor. The dispassionate historian, even though his sympathy is given to the North, no longer denies the sincerity of your belief in the sacredness of your cause. The world confesses the honesty of your purpose and the glory of your gallant struggle against superior numbers and resources. Most of you that survive have no insignia of rank, no title of distinction. You were private soldiers, but I see round your brows the aureole of a soldier’s glory. You are transfigured by the battles you fought, Nashville, Franklin, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Shiloh, Chickamauga, in the West ; and Manassas, Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor, in the East.
But you have done more than bare your breast to the foeman’s steel. You have shown the world how the defeats of war may be turned to the victories of peace. You have taught mankind how a proud race may sustain disaster and yet survive and win the applause of the world. In those terrible years of Reconstruction—how much more bitter than the four years of war !—you splendidly exemplified the sentiment, “Merges profundo, pulchrior exilit!” Out of the depths of the bitter flood of reconstruction the South emerged, through your fortitude, through your patience, through your courage, more beautiful than ever.
For all this your people honor you in your old age. They cherish the memory of your deeds, and will hand it down, a priceless heirloom, to their children’s children. You are not pensioners on the bounty of the Union, thank God! Your manhood is not sapped by eating the bread of dependence. You have faced poverty as bravely as you faced the cannon’s mouth, and so I salute you as the aristocracy of the South. Your deeds have carved for you a place in the temple of her fame. They will not be forgotten—the world will not forget them. Your campaigns are studied to-day in the military schools of Europe; yes, and at West Point itself.
Comrades, standing here at the foot of that unseen column, reared by the valor and the virtue of the citizen-soldiers of the armies of the South, I feel that a duty is laid upon me which I may not refuse to perform. From the hills and valleys of more than a thousand battlefields, where sleep the silent battalions in gray, there rises to my ear a solemn voice of command which I dare not disobey. It bids me vindicate to the men of this generation the course which the men of the South followed in the crisis of 1861. It is not enough that their valor is recognized. It is not enough that their honesty is confessed. We ask of our Northern brethren—we ask of the world—a recognition of their patriotism and their love of liberty. We cannot be silent as long as any aspersion is cast by the pen of the historian or by the tongue of the orator upon their patriotic motives or upon the loftiness of the object they had in view through all that tremendous conflict. We make no half-hearted apology for their act. It is Justice for which we plead, not charity.
The view of the origin and character of the course of action followed by the Southern States in 1861, which has so widely impressed itself upon the popular mind, may be summed up in four propositions. First, that the secession of the Cotton States was the result of a conspiracy on the part of a few of their leaders, and that it was not the genuine expression of the mind of the people. Secondly, that the act whereby the Southern States withdrew from the Union was an act of disloyalty to the Constitution and of treason to the
United States government. Thirdly, that the people of the South were not attached to the Union, and were eager to seize upon an excuse for its dissolution. Fourthly, that the South plunged into a desperate war for the purpose of perpetuating slavery, and made that institution the comer stone of the new Confederacy which it sought to establish.
I propose briefly to show that every one of these propositions, when scrutinized under the impartial light of history, must be pronounced essentially erroneous………
1. I need not spend much time upon the first of these propositions. The evidence at the disposal of the historian is conclusive that the action taken by the Cotton States in withdrawing from the Union had the support of an overwhelming majority of the people of those States. There was no conspiracy. The people were in advance of their leaders. The most recent, and perhaps the ablest, of the Northern historians acknowledges this, and says that had not Davis, Toombs, and Benjamin led in secession the people would have chosen other leaders. The number of unconditional Union men in the seven States that first seceded, he declares, was insignificant; and he makes the remarkable admission that “had the North thoroughly understood the problem, had it known that the people of the Cotton States were practically unanimous and that the action of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee was backed by a large and genuine majority, it might have refused to undertake the seemingly unachievable task.” [Rhodes’s History of the United States, Vol. III., p. 404.] There can be no question, then, that the impartial historian of the future will recognize that, whether right or wrong, the establishment of the Southern Confederacy was the result of a popular movement—was the act not of a band of conspirators, but of the whole people, with a unanimity never surpassed in the history of revolutions.
2. I come now to the question whether the act of the Southern States in withdrawing from the Union was an act of disloyalty to the Constitution and of treason to the government of the United States. This once burning question may now be discussed without heat. It is no longer a practical, but a thoroughly academic, question. The right of secession, if it ever existed, exists no longer. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution has changed the character of our political fabric. When we surrendered at Appomattox the right of secession was surrendered forever.
But when we say that right does not exist to-day we do not acknowledge that it did not exist in 1861. On the contrary, we maintain that it did exist, and that those who maintained its existence had upon their side, logically and historically, the overwhelming weight of evidence. Our late antagonists, who are now our brethren and our fellow citizens, cannot be expected to agree with us in this proposition: but we put it to their candor and their sense of justice to say whether the South had not as good a right to her opinion of the meaning of the Constitution as the North had to hers. There were in 1860 two interpretations of that instrument; there were two views of the nature of the government which was established. On what principle and by what authority can it be claimed that the view taken by the South was certainly wrong and that the view taken by the North was certainly right? Or, waiving the question which view was really right, we ask our Northern friends to tell us why the South was not justified in following that interpretation which she believed to be the true one. She had helped to build—nay, she was the chief builder of—the fabric of the Constitution. A Massachusetts historian [Mr. John Fiske] has said that of the five great men who molded the nation four were men of the South—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Marshall—and. though these great men differed in political opinion, yet three at least, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, are on record as declaring that the Constitution was a compact between the States, and that those thirteen States were thirteen independent sovereignties.
Let the young men of the New South remember the part the Old South took in the planting and training of Anglo-Saxon civilization on these Western shores.
Our New England brethren have been so diligent in exploiting the voyage of the Mayflower and the landing of the pilgrims and their services to morality and civilization and liberty in the new world that they seem to have persuaded themselves, and would fain persuade the world, that American liberty is a plant chiefly of New England growth, and that America owes its ideas of political independence and representative government and its reverence for conscience to the sturdy settlers of our Northeastern coasts. Her orators and her poets year after year on Forefathers’ Day not only glorify, as is meet, the deeds of their ancestors, but seem to put forward the claim, in amazing forgetfulness of history, that it is to New England that the great republic of the West owes the genesis of its free institutions, the inspiration of its love of civil and religious liberty, and its high ideals of character. Rev. Dr. Coyle, in a recent sermon before the Presbyterian General Assembly, refers to “the Puritan Conscience which put rock foundations under this republic.”
It is then not amiss to remind the Southern men of this generation that fourteen years before the Mayflower landed her pilgrims at Plymouth Rock three English ships—the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery-came to anchor in the James River, Virginia, and that the vine of English civilization and English liberty was first planted, not on Plymouth Rock, in 1620, but at Jamestown Island. Va., on the 13th of May, 1607. What Webster so nobly said of the Mayflower may be as truly said of these three ships that bore the first Virginia colony. “The stars that guided them were the unobscured constellations of civil and religious liberty. Their decks were the altars of the living God.” Let me also recall the fact that on July 30, 1619, eighteen months before the pilgrims set foot on American soil, the vine of liberty had so deeply taken root in the colony of Virginia that there was assembled in the church at Jamestown a free representative body (the first on .American soil)—the House of Burgesses—to deliberate for the welfare of the people. There also, more than a century before the Revolution, when Oliver Cromwell’s fleet appeared to whip the rebellious Old Dominion into obedience, Virginia demanded and obtained recognition of the principle, “No taxation without representation;” and there, in 1676, just one hundred years before the revolt of the colonies, that remarkable man, Nathaniel Bacon, “soldier, orator, leader,” raised the standard of revolt against the oppressions of the British crown.
But this is not all. That spot on Jamestown Island, marked to-day by a ruined, ivy-clad church tower and a group of moss-covered tombstones, is the sacred ground whence sprang that stream of genius and power which contributed most to the achievement of American independence and to the organization of American liberty. That first colony, planted in Tidewater, Va., was, in the revolutionary period, prolific in men of genius and force and intense devotion to liberty never perhaps equaled in modern times in any region of equal size and of so small a population. This is acknowledged by careful and candid historians to-day, among whom I may mention Senator Lodge, of Massachusetts It was a Southern orator, Patrick Henry, who gave to the colonists in his matchless eloquence the slogan, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It was a Southerner, Richard Henry Lee, who brought forward in the first Congress the motion that these colonies by right ought to be free and independent! It was a Southerner, Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the immortal Declaration of Independence! It was a Southerner, George Mason, who had earlier drawn the Virginia Bill of Rights, a document of even profounder political statesmanship, and which was taken by Massachusetts as the model of her own Bill of Rights! It was a Southerner, George Washington, who made good the Declaration of Independence by his sword after seven years of war! If was a Southerner, James Madison, who earned the title “Father of the Constitution!” It was a Southerner, John Marshall, who became its most illustrious interpreter!
I ask, then, in view of all this, whether the South was not justified in believing that the views of constitutional interpretation which she had inherited from such a political ancestry were not the true views? Let our Northern friends answer, in all candor, whether the South, with such a heredity as this, with such glorious memories of achievement, with such splendid traditions of the part her philosophers and statesmen and soldiers had taken, both in the winning of independence and in the building of the temple of the Constitution, had not good reason for saying: “We will follow that interpretation of the Constitution which we received from our fathers—from Jefferson, Madison, and Washington—rather than that which can claim no older or greater names than those of Story and Webster.” For be it remembered that for forty years after the adoption of the Constitution there was approximate unanimity in its interpretation upon the great issue on which the South took her stand in 1861. In truth Webster and Story apostatized from the New England interpretation of the Constitution. It is a historical fact that the Constitution was regarded as a compact between the States for a long period (not less than forty years after its adoption) by the leaders of opinion in the New England States. Moreover, in the same quarter, the sovereignty of the States was broadly affirmed; and also the right of the States to resume, if need be, the powers granted under the Constitution. Samuel Adams objected to the preamble to the Constitution. “I stumble at the threshold,” he said; “I meet a national government instead of a federal union of sovereign States.” To overcome this, Gov. Hancock brought in the tenth amendment as to the reservation to the States of all powers not expressly delegated to the general government. The Websterian dogmas had then no advocates in New England. Hancock, Adams, Parsons, Bowdoin, and Ames were all for State sovereignty.
These statements will no doubt be received by many with surprise, possibly with incredulity. Permit me, then, briefly to justify them by the unquestionable facts of history. The impartial historian of the future will recall the fact that the first threat of secession did not come from the men of the South, but from the men of New England. Four times before the secession of South Carolina, the threat of secession was heard in the North—in 1802-03, in 1811-12, in 1814, and in 1844-45. The first time it came from Col. Timothy Pickering, of Massachusetts, a friend of Washington and a member of his Cabinet ; the second time, from Josiah Quincy, another distinguished citizen of Massachusetts ; the third time, from the Hartford Convention, in which five States were represented; the fourth time, from the Legislature of Massachusetts. On January 14, 1811, Josiah Quincy, of Massachusetts, in the debate on the admission of Louisiana, declared his “deliberate opinion that if the bill passes the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved; . . . that as it will be the right of all [the States] so it will be the duty of some to prepare definitely for a separation—amicably if they can, violently if they must.” In 1812 “pulpit, press, and rostrum” of New England advocated secession. In 1839 ex-President John Quincy Adams urged publicly that it would be better for the States to “part in friendship from each other than to be held together by constraint,” and declared that “the people of each State have the right to secede from the confederated Union.” In 1842 Mr. Adams presented a petition to Congress from a town in Massachusetts, praying that it would “immediately adopt measures peaceably to dissolve the union of these States.” In 1844, and again in 1845, the Legislature of Massachusetts avowed the right of secession, and threatened to secede if Texas was admitted to the Union. Alexander Hamilton threatened Jefferson with the secession of New England “unless the debts of the States were assumed by the general government.” February 1, 1850, Mr. Hale offered in the Senate a petition and resolutions, asking that body to devise, “without delay, some plan for the immediate peaceful dissolution of the American Union.” Chase and Seward voted for its reception.
The occasions calling forth these declarations of the purpose of dissolving the Union were the acquisition of Louisiana, the proposed admission of Louisiana as a State into the Union, the dissatisfaction occasioned by the war with Great Britain, and then the proposed annexation of Texas. These measures were all believed by the New England States to be adverse to their interests. The addition of the new States would, it was thought, destroy the equilibrium of power and give the South a preponderance; and therefore these stalwart voices were raised, declaring that there was in the last resort a remedy, and that was the dissolution of the Union. This was the language used by the Legislature of Massachusetts: “The commonwealth of Massachusetts, faithful to the compact between the people of the United States, according to the plain meaning and intent in which it was understood by them, is sincerely anxious for its preservation; but it is determined, as it doubts not the other States are, to submit to undelegated powers in no body of men on earth.”
This stalwart utterance of Massachusetts expresses exactly the attitude of the seceding States in 1861. They believed that “the compact between the people of the United States” had been violated, that they could no longer enjoy equal rights within the Union, and therefore they refused to submit to the exercise of “undelegated powers” on the part of the national government. Thus the North and the South, at these different epochs, held the same view of the right of withdrawal from the Union.
The South held with great unanimity to the doctrine of State sovereignty, and that that sovereignty was inviolable by the general government. She had good reason to believe it, for it had been the faith of her greatest statesmen from the very foundation of the republic. Mr. Madison, the father of the Constitution, held to that faith; and when Patrick Henry opposed the adoption of the Constitution upon the ground that the words “we, the people,” seemed to imply a “consolidated government” and not “a compact between
States,” he replied that it was not “we, the people,” as composing one great body, but the people of thirteen sovereignties.
Daniel Webster, in his great speech in reply to Mr. Hayne in 1830, and again in 1833 in his reply to Calhoun, argued that the Constitution was not a “compact,” not a “confederacy,” and that the acts of ratification were not “acts of accession.” These terms, he said, would imply the right of secession, but they were terms unknown to the fathers; they formed a “new vocabulary,” invented to uphold the theory of State sovereignty.
Alexander Hamilton spoke of the new government as “a Confederate republic,” a “Confederacy,” and called the Constitution a “compact.” Gen. -Washington wrote of the Constitution as a compact, and repeatedly uses the terms “accede” and “accession,” and once the term “secession.” Massachusetts and New Hampshire, when ratifying the Constitution, referred to that instrument as “an explicit and solemn compact.”
Mr. Webster, in the very last year of his illustrious life, distinctly recognized the right of secession, for in his speech at Capon Springs, Va., in 1851, he said: “If the South 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 of fixed purpose to disregard one part of it, would the South be bound any longer to observe its other obligations? … 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 provide no remedy, the South would no longer be bound to observe the compact. A bargain cannot be broken on one side and still bind the other side.”
Looking back then to-dav. my comrades, over the four and, forty years which separate us from the acts of secession passed by the Southern States, we say to the men of this generation and to those who will come after us that the opprobrium heaped upon those who then asserted the right of secession is undeserved. That right had not then been authoritatively denied. On the contrary, it had been again and again asserted, North and South, by eminent statesmen for nearly sixty years after the formation of the Union. Those who held it had as good right to their opinion as those who denied it. The weight of argument was overwhelmingly in their favor. So clear was this that the United States government wisely decided after the fall of the Confederacy that it was not prudent to put Jefferson Davis upon his trial for treason. Let it be remembered that the formation of the United States, in 1788, was accomplished by nine of the States seceding from the Confederacy which had existed for eleven years, and which had bound the States entering into it to “a perpetual Union.” Thus the Union itself was the child of secession!
There was a time during those dark years of reconstruction when public opinion in the North demanded that we who had fought under the Southern flag should prove the sincerity of our acceptance of the results of the war by acknowledging the unrighteousness of our cause and by confessing contrition for our deeds.
But could we acknowledge our cause to be unrighteous when we still believed it just? Could we repent of an act done in obedience to the dictates of conscience? The men of the North may claim that our judgment was at fault; that our action was not justified by reason; that the fears that goaded us to withdraw from the Union were not well grounded; but so long as it is admitted that we followed duty as we understood it they cannot ask us to repent. A man can repent, I repeat, only of what he is ashamed, and it will not be claimed that we should be ashamed of obeying the dictates of conscience in the face of hardship and danger and death.
Capt. Oliver -Wendell Holmes, of Massachusetts, who now occupies a scat upon the Supreme Bench of the United States, uttered these generous words nearly a quarter of a century ago: “We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluble; but we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred convictions that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.”
All honor to the valiant soldier and accomplished scholar who uttered those words! All honor, too, to another noble son of New England, Charles Francis Adams, who has more recently declared, recognizing the same principle, that both the North and the South were right in the great struggle of the War between the States, because each believed itself right. When Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were cadets at West Point, the text-books in use on political science were by St. George Tucker, a Southern writer, and William
Rawle, a Northern writer, and both taught the right of a State to secede. Can these illustrious men be attainted as traitors because they put in practice the principles taught them by the authority of the government of the United States?
I come now to the third proposition—viz., that “the people of the South were not attached to the Union, and were eager to seize upon an excuse for its dissolution.” ….
In considering this assertion it will be necessary to distinguish in our reply between the States that first seceded and the border States of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, which later gave in their adhesion to the Southern Confederacy. As to the former—the Cotton States—if it be true, as candid historians acknowledged, that their people “all held that the North was unconstitutionally and unjustly attempting to coerce the sovereign States; “if it be true, as we have seen is now conceded, that the people of those States solemnly believed that their liberties were assailed, and that the war waged against them was a war of subjugation—then I submit that they were constrained to choose between their love of the Union and their love of liberty; and I do not believe that any brave and candid patriot of any Northern State will condemn them because, holding that belief, they made the choice they did. The judgment of the South may be impeached, but not her patriotism, not her love for the Union, if, shut up to such an alternative, she preferred liberty without union to union without liberty. Yet her judgment was sustained by some of the most illustrious men of the North. Millard Fillmore had said, in 1856, in referring to the possible election of Fremont as a sectional President: “Can they have the madness or folly to believe that our Southern brethren would submit to be governed by such a chief magistrate?” And Rufus Choate the same year wrote that if the Republican party “accomplishes its objects and gives the government to the North I turn my eyes from the consequences.”
The case of the border States is somewhat different. Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee were all opposed to secession. They refused to follow the lead of South Carolina. For example, as late as April 4 Virginia voted by eighty-nine to forty-five against the ordinance of secession. They believed the Southern States had just grievances against the North, and that there was much to justify the fears which they entertained, but they were not prepared to dissolve the Union. They still hoped for redress within the Union by constitutional means. Moreover, the men who became our greatest generals and our most illustrious and determined leaders in the Southern Confederacy were, a majority of them, earnest Union men. I think it may be said, too, that the States which furnished most of the munitions of war and most of the fighting men were opposed to secession. The Union, which their forefathers had done so much to create, first by the sword and then by the pen and the tongue, was dear to their hearts. When, after the Revolution, it became apparent that jealousy of the preponderance of Virginia, resulting from the vastness of her domain, would prevent the formation of the Union, that State, with truly queenly generosity, gave to the Union her Northwestern Territory, out of which the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota were afterwards carved. This was in 1787. Has any other State, or group of States, done as much in proof of attachment to the Union? Moreover, she dedicated this vast territory as free soil by the ordinance of 1787.
But there came a cruel issue. On the 15th of April, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for seventy five thousand men to coerce the seceded States back into the Union. The border States were called upon to furnish their quota of armed men to march against their Southern brethren. Thus an issue was forced upon them which the future historian, however antagonistic to the South, must ponder with sympathy and emotion. The men of these border States were compelled to decide either to send soldiers to fight against their brethren or to say: “We will throw in our lot with them and resist military coercion.” Now, whatever division of sentiment existed in regard to the policy, or even the right, of secession, there was almost complete unanimity in these States in repudiating the right of coercion. That right had been vehemently repudiated in the discussions in the Constitutional Convention by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Edmund Randolph. The South remained true to the doctrine of the fathers on this point. Mr. Madison opposed the motion to incorporate in the Constitution the power of coercing a State to its duty, and by unanimous consent the project was abandoned. Alexander Hamilton denounced the proposal to coerce a State as “one of the maddest projects ever devised.” Edmund Randolph said it meant “civil war.”
But, waiving all this, I come back to the question, Can any blame attach to the people of the border States for choosing as they chose in the face of the cruel alternative, which was forced upon them by Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation, to abandon the Union or to draw their swords against their Southern brethren?
It has been well and wisely said by a recent historian (Mr. Rhodes) that “the political reason of Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky inclined them to the North; their heartstrings drew them to the South.” I put it to any man with a heart to say whether, when the bayonet is directed against the bosom of a member of one’s own household, he is to blame for throwing himself in the breach in defense, even though the bayonet be in the hand of the officer of the law. I affirm that the ties of blood and kindred are more sacred even than those which bind a man to the government of his country. Could the men of Virginia and North Carolina and Tennessee be expected to raise their hands against their family altars and firesides, whatever view they might have taken of the constitutional questions at issue? But the men of those States believed with great unanimity that the sovereignty of a State was inviolable by the general government. That was the faith they had received from their fathers, from a long line of illustrious statesmen and political philosophers. Of this let one decisive example suffice. Though Robert E. Lee abhorred the idea of secession and loved the Union with a passionate devotion, yet when he was asked by a member of a committee of Congress whether he did not consider that he was guilty of treason in drawing his sword in behalf of the South he answered: “No, I believed my allegiance was due to the State of Virginia.”
The people of the South believed, as we have said, that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. They believed the general government had no rightful power of coercion. Their New England brethren had for many years confirmed them in that belief
I come now to consider the opinion, so widely held, that the South plunged into a desperate war for the purpose of perpetuating slavery, and made that institution the corner stone of the new Confederacy which it sought to establish. Before dealing directly with this, however, a little history upon the subject of the relation of the South to slavery will be salutary.
Certainly we have no tears to shed over its abolition. There is not a man in the South who would wish to see it reestablished. But there are several facts, unknown to some and ignored by other historians, which are essential to a right understanding of this question. I shall hold them up to the light to-day because I would not have the attitude of that dear, noble Old South misrepresented or misunderstood by our descendants.
In the first place, let it never be forgotten that it was the government of England, and not the people of the South, which was originally responsible for the introduction of slavery. In 1760 South Carolina passed an act to prohibit further importation of slaves, but England rejected it with indignation.
The colony of Virginia again and again protested to the British king against sending slaves to her shores, but in vain—they were forced upon her. One hundred petitions against the introduction of slaves were sent by the colonists of Virginia to the British government. Then, too, Virginia was the first of all the States, North or South, to prohibit the slave trade, and Georgia was the first to incorporate such a prohibition in her organic constitution. In fact, Virginia was in advance of the whole world on this subject; she abolished the slave trade in 1778, nearly thirty years before England did, and the same period before New England was willing to consent to its abolition. Again, at the formation of the Constitution, Virginia raised her protest against the continuance of that traffic; but New England raised a voice of objection, and, uniting her influence with that of South Carolina and Georgia, secured the continuance of the slave trade for twenty years more by constitutional provision. On the other hand, the first statute establishing slavery in America was passed by Massachusetts in December, 1641, in her code entitled Body of Liberties. The first fugitive slave law was enacted by the same State, while every Southern State legislated against the slave trade. Thus slavery was an inheritance which the people of the South received from the fathers; and if the States of the North, very soon after the Revolution, abolished the institution, it cannot be claimed that the abolition was dictated by moral considerations, but by differences of climate, soil, and industrial interests. The Supreme Court in 1857 used the following language: “This change had not been produced by any change of opinion in relation to this race, but because it was discovered by experience that slave labor was unsuited to the climate and productions of these States, for some of them were actively engaged in the slave trade.”
Goodell’s “Slavery and Antislavery”—an authority not friendly to the South—says (pp. 10, 11) that the merchants of New England seaports “almost monopolized the immense profits of that lucrative, but detestable, trade.”
“The principal operation of abolition in the North,” says an English authority, “was to transfer Northern slaves to Southern markets.” (Ingram’s “History of Slavery,” London, 1895, p. 184.)
On March 26, 1788, the Legislature of Massachusetts passed a law ordering all free negroes out of the State. If they would not go voluntarily, they were to be whipped out.
It existed in several of the Northern States more than fifty years after the adoption of the Constitution, while the importation of slaves into the South continued to be carried on by Northern merchants and Northern ships, without interference in the traffic from any quarter, until it was prohibited by the spontaneous action of the Southern States themselves.
Note this also: The contest between the North and the South over the extension of slavery to the territories was a contest on the part of the South for equal rights under the Constitution, and it ought to be clearly understood that it did not involve the increase of slavery. Had that right been conceded, not one additional slave would have been added to the number existing in the country. “It was a question of the distribution or dispersion of the slaves rather than of the extension of slavery. Removal is not extension. Indeed, if emancipation was the end to be desired, the dispersion of the negroes over a wider area, among additional territories eventually to become States, and in climates unfavorable to slave labor, instead of hindering, would have promoted this object by diminishing the difficulties in the way of ultimate emancipation.” This is the language of Jefferson Davis, but the argument is Henry Clay’s. In 1820 he argued that the extension of slavery was farseeing humanity, and Mr. Jefferson agreed with him, saying that spreading the slaves over a larger surface “will dilute the evil everywhere and facilitate the means of getting finally rid of it.” Mr. Madison took the same view, and these three statesmen were all earnest emancipationists.
“In 1822 there were five or six abolition societies in Kentucky. In 1819 the first distinctively emancipation paper in the United States was published in Jonesboro, Eastern Tennessee.” There were eighteen emancipation societies in that region organized by the Covenanters, Methodists, and the Quakers.
A Massachusetts writer, George Lunt, says: “The States of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee were engaged in practical movements for the gradual emancipation of their slaves. This movement continued until it was arrested by the aggressions of the abolitionists.”
The people of the South believed they were, at heart, more friendly to the negro race than their Northern brethren, and such facts as the following appeared to justify their belief. In 1830 Senator Benton called attention to the “actual expulsion of a great body of free colored people from the State of Ohio, and not one word of objection, not one note of grief.” The whole number expatriated was estimated at ten thousand. He added: “This is a remarkable event, paralleled only by the expulsion of the Moors from Spain and the Huguenots from France.” In 1846 the liberated slaves of John Randolph were driven by a mob away from the lands which had been purchased for them in Ohio. In 1855 the Topeka (Kan.) Constitution, adopted by the Freesoilers, contained an article, ratified by a vote of almost three to one, forbidding any free negro to reside in the State, and this was accepted by the Republican House of Representatives. In 1860 the Constitutions of thirty out of thirty-four States of the Union excluded negroes from exercising the suffrage. Facts like these did not tend to confirm the confidence of the people of the South in the sincerity of the agitation on behalf of the negro.
And now I call your attention to a fact of capital importance in this discussion—viz., that the sentiment in favor of emancipation was rapidly spreading in the South in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. It is stated on high authority that in the year 1826 there were one hundred and forty-three emancipation societies in the whole country, and of this number one hundred and three were established in the South. It is well known that one branch of the Legislature of Virginia came within one vote of passing a law of emancipation in the year 1832. And I was assured in 1860 by Col. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, of Virginia, the grandson of Mr. Jefferson—himself an influential member of the Legislature in 1832—that emancipation would certainly have been carried the ensuing year but for the revulsion of feeling which followed the fanatical agitation of the subject by the abolitionists of the period. The Legislature of 1832 defeated the emancipation bill by only one vote.
It is our belief that, but for passions naturally roused by the violent attacks made upon the moral character of the Southern slaveholder, slavery would have been peaceably abolished in the border States before the middle of the nineteenth century.
Fanatics and abolitionists demanded immediate emancipation without compensation or consideration of any kind. England in 1833 abolished slavery in the West Indies, but she compensated the slave owners, devoting $100,000,000 to that purpose. But never in all the long abolition agitation of thirty years, from 1831 to 1861, was there any proposition to remunerate the South for the loss of her slaves. Her people were expected to make a sacrifice for emancipation never demanded before of any people on earth. I do not forget that in March, 1862, Mr. Lincoln proposed remuneration to the border States which had not seceded; but it came too late, when flagrant war had embittered the hostility between the sections.
Mr. Gladstone admitted that the extinction of slavery was “a consummation devoutly to be desired and in good earnest to be forwarded,” yet held that “immediate and unconditional emancipation without a previous advance in character must place the negro in a state where he would be his own worst enemy.” The people of the South, too, realized the difficulty and the danger of emancipation. She was, as Jefferson said, in the position of the man who held the wolf by the ears—she didn’t want to hold on, but she was afraid to let go.
If it is charged that slavery was the corner stone of the Southern Confederacy, what are we to say of the Constitution of the United States? That instrument as originally adopted by the thirteen colonies contained three sections which recognized slavery.
But after all that may be said we are told that slavery was the cause of the war and that the citizen-soldiers of the South sprang, to arms in defense of slavery.
Yes, my comrades, calumny, masquerading as history, has told the world that that battle flag of yours was the emblem of slave power, and that you fought not for liberty but for the right to hold your fellow-men in bondage.
Think of it, soldiers of Lee! Think of it, followers of Jackson and Stuart and Albert Sidney Johnston! You were fighting, they say, for the privilege of holding your fellow men in bondage! Will you for one moment acknowledge the truth of that indictment? Ah, no! That banner of the Southern Cross was studded with the stars of God’s heaven. You could not have followed a banner that was not the banner of liberty! You sprang from the loins of freemen! You drank in freedom with your mothers’ milk! Your revolutionary sires were not inspired by a more intense devotion to liberty than you were!
Tell me, were you thinking of your slaves when you cast all in the balance, your lives, your fortunes, your sacred honor, in order to endure the hardships of the march and the camp and the peril and suffering of the battlefield? Why, it was but a small minority of the men who fought in the Southern armies—hardly one in ten—that were financially interested in the institution of slavery.
There is, however, a court to which this contention may be referred for settlement—one whose decision all men ought to accept. It is composed of the three men who may be supposed to have known, if any man knew, the object for which the war was waged—Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee. And their decision is unanimous. Mr. Lincoln always declared that the object of the war was the restoration of the Union, and not the emancipation of the slaves. Mr. Davis as positively declared that the South was not fighting for slavery, but for independence. And Robert E. Lee expressed his opinion by setting all his slaves free January 8, 1863, and then going on with the war for more than two years longer.
The generation which participated in that great struggle is rapidly passing away, and we believe that no fitting occasion should be neglected by those who yet survive to vindicate the motives and to explain the principles of the actors in that great drama. Only by iteration and reiteration by the writers and speakers of the South will the real facts be rescued from oblivion, and the conduct and characters of our leaders, and the heroic men who followed them, be understood and honored as they ought to be. And, my friends, the fulfillment of this duty will make for unity and fraternity among Americans, not for sectionalism. It will strengthen, not weaken, the bonds of the Union in the years to come if the generations yet unborn are taught to recognize that the principles and the aims of the men of the South were as high and as pure as those which animated their foemen of the North. Let the Union of the future be founded on mutual respect, and to this end let the truth concerning the principles and acts of the old South be told—the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Comrades and fellow-citizens, we thank God that to-day the sun shines upon a truly reunited country. In the providence of God the Spanish war has drawn North and South together in bonds of genuine brotherhood. Their blood has watered the same soil; the common patriotism has glorified again the land of Washington. There was no North or South on those fields of battle, or in Santiago Harbor, or in front of Manila. Yes, and as was well said by our own Hilary Herbert at the Peace Jubilee, “Out of the grave of sectionalism arose the triumphant spirit of Americanism.”
For one moment let us turn from the sacred past—from the memories of this day and hour—and look into the future. Surely a Pisgah prospect of beauty and hope! A great destiny opens before America. Great are her privileges, her opportunities, her responsibilities.
But this occasion belongs not to the future but to the past. Let our closing thoughts then be dedicated to the memory of our dead—that mighty host of brave soldiers and sailors who fell under the banner of the lost Confederacy forty years ago, of those now silent battalions of Southern soldiers that sleep on so many hard-fought fields.
I will not attempt then to pronounce a fitting panegyric upon those brave men nor upon their splendid leaders: captains whose valor, whose prowess, whose skill, whose heroic constancy were never outshone on any field; in any age, by any leaders of men; not by Agamemnon, “king of men;” not by Achilles, the “swift-footed,” “the invincible ;” not by Ulysses, “the wise;” nor by Ajax, “the mighty;” not by Miltiades at Marathon; nor by Leonidas himself at Thermopylae; nor by any of the long line of illustrious heroes and patriots who, in ancient and in modern times, have shed luster on manhood by their valor or by their constancy. Comrades, it is my conviction that the Muse of History will write the names of some of our Southern heroes as high on her great roll of honor as those of any leaders of men in any era. Fame herself will rise from her throne to place the laurel with her own hands upon the immortal brows of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Stonewall Jackson. I grant, indeed, that it is not for us who were their companions and fellow-soldiers to ask the world to accept our estimate of their rightful place in history. We are partial, we are biased in our judgments, men will say. Be it so. We are content to await the calm verdict of the future historian, when with philosophic impartiality the characters and achievements and motives of our illustrious leaders shall have been weighed in the balances of truth. What that verdict will be is foreshadowed, we believe, by the judgment expressed by Gen. Lord Wolseley, who said: “I believe Gen. Lee will be regarded not only as the most prominent figure of the Confederacy but as the great American of the nineteenth century, whose statue is well worthy to stand on an equal pedestal with that of Washington, and whose memory is equally worthy to be enshrined in the hearts of all his countrymen.”
What you ask of me, however, comrades, in these closing moments is quite apart from the task of the historian or the orator. It is simply to give honest utterance to the love and admiration that glow in the breast of every one of us for those, our companions in arms, who fell on the almost countless bloody fields of that Titantic struggle in repelling the invaders from our soil. All honor to their memory! We cannot call their names. They are too numerous to be told over, even if we had here the muster rolls of all the Confederate armies. But if their names could be called, we could answer: “Dead on the field of honor!”. . . Yes, for these men to whom we pay the tribute of our homage were heroes, if ever heroes were. What hardships did they not uncomplainingly endure on the march, in the bivouac, in the trenches! What sacrifices did they not cheerfully make for a cause dearer than life itself! What dangers did they not face with unquailing front! Who that ever saw them can forget those hardy battalions? Rusty and ragged were their uniforms, but bright were their muskets and their bayonets, and they moved like the very whirlwind of war!
They fill, most of them, nameless graves. They were private soldiers. Fame will not herald their names and deeds to posterity. They fought without reward and they died without distinction. It was enough for them to hear the voice of duty and to follow it, though it led them by a rugged path to a bloody grave. “Tell my father or my mother I tried to do my duty,” was the last message of many a dying soldier boy to his comrades on the field of battle. Oh, it is for this we honor and revere their nameless memories today. They were not soldiers of fortune, but soldiers of duty, who dared all that men can dare and endured all that men can endure in obedience to what they believed the sacred call of country.
They loved their State; they loved their homes and their firesides. They knew little of the warring theories of constitutional interpretation. But one thing they knew: armed legions were marching upon their homes, and it was their duty to hurl them back at any cost. For this, not we only who shared their perils and hardships do them honor—not the Southern people only—but all brave men everywhere. Nameless they may be, but the name of “Confederate soldier” will echo around the world through the coming years, and will be accepted as the synonym of valor, of constancy, and of loyalty to the sternest call of duty.
My comrades, I have been in the Eternal City, surrounded by the deathless relics and monuments which commemorate the glorious achievements of the citizens and soldiers of ancient Rome. I have paced the aisles of that stately church in which Venice has piled up the splendid memorials in brass and in marble of the men who made her name great in Europe—who made her to sit as a queen upon her watery throne among the nations. I have stood under a dome in Paris, on the spot upon which France has lavished with unstinted hand her wealth and her art to shed glory upon the name of her greatest soldier- his sarcophagus reposes upon a pavement of costly marbles gathered from all quarters of the globe, and so arranged as to represent a Sun of Glory irradiating the name of the hero of Merango and of the Pyramids, of Jena and of Austerlitz. And I have meditated in awe struck silence beneath the fretted roof of Westminster Abbey, surrounded by the almost countless memorial marbles which twenty generations of Englishmen have erected to celebrate the fame of their most illustrious kings and nobles, soldiers and patriots, jurists and statesmen, poets and historians, musicians and dramatists.
But on none of these occasions have I been so impressed with the patriotic and unselfish devotion that human nature is capable of as when I have contemplated the character and the career of the private soldiers of the Confederacy. Not for fame or for reward, not for place or rank, not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity, but in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it, these men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all—and died ! No stately abbey will ever cover their remains. Their dust will never repose beneath fretted or frescoed roof. No costly bronze will ever blazon their names for posterity to honor; but the Potomac and the Rappahannock, the James and the Chickahominy, the Cumberland and the Tennessee, the Mississippi and the Rio Grande, as they run their long race from the mountains to the sea, will sing of their prowess for evermore! The mountains of Virginia and Tennessee and Georgia will stand eternal witnesses of their valor.
As I recall the magnificent valor of those half-fed, half-clad legions of the Confederacy the thought comes: “But after all they failed. The Confederacy fell. The banner of the Southern cross sank to earth to rise no more.”
But was it in vain? I do not believe it. It is true that their flashing bayonets did not establish the new Confederacy. It is true that those proud armies of Lee and Johnston were slowly worn away by attrition until, reduced to gaunt skeletons of what they had been, they surrendered to the vast hosts of the Union armies. But it is not true that those gallant Southrons suffered and died in vain. No brave battle fought for truth and right was ever in vain! The truth survives, though the soldier of the truth perishes. His death, his defeat, becomes the seed of future success. . . “Being dead they yet speak.” They tell us and our children and children’s children that courage, self-sacrifice, loyalty to conviction is sublime; it is better than mere success; it carries with it its own reward. Death was not too high a price to pay for the exhibition to the world of such heroism as theirs. That cannot die. It shines as the stars with a deathless light above the sordid and selfish aims of men. It will inspire generations to come with noble ideals of unselfish living. It is a new example of the profound words of Jesus: “He that loseth his life shall find it.”
Let us note, then, wherein they failed and wherein they did not fail. They failed to establish the Southern Confederacy. Why? For no other reason but this—God decreed otherwise. Yes, my comrades, the military genius of our commanders was not at fault, the valor of the Confederate armies was not at fault. … It was the cause of liberty that fired their souls to do, to dare, and to die. They conceived that the Federal government was trampling on the liberties of the States, and they rose in their defense. It was the sacred heritage of Anglo-Saxon freedom, of local self-government won by Runnymede, that they believed in peril when they flew to arms as one man from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. They may have been right or they may have been wrong, but that was the issue they made. On that they stood. They died for the preservation of the supreme and sacred right of self-government.
It is my belief that the close and candid student of public opinion in our country these forty years past will conclude that this protest of theirs has not been in vain. In spite of the historians who have misread the causes and the objects of the war on the part of the South, the fact that the Confederate soldiers and the people of the South made their superb struggle and their marvelous sacrifices for the right of local self-government has silently impressed the minds of the American people, with the result that that right has been steadily gaining in the strength of its hold upon the people of many of the States of
the Union. Members of Congress from the South observe a great change in this respect in the sentiments of their fellow-members from the North and the West. Moreover, the limitation of the authority of the general government to those powers distinctly delegated and the reservation to the States of the powers not delegated has been affirmed again and again by the Supreme Court since the war.
So convinced am I of this that I make bold to predict that the future historian will say that while the armies of the North saved the Union from dissolution, the armies of the South saved the rights of the States within the Union. Thus victor and vanquished will both be adjudged victorious; for if it is due to the Federal soldier that the Union is henceforth indissoluble, it is equally due to the Confederate soldier that this indissoluble Union is composed, and shall forever be composed, of indestructible States.
Yes, ye gallant defenders of our stainless Confederate banner, ye did not die in vain! Your deeds have cast a halo of glory over our Southern land which will only grow brighter as time advances. Your memory will be a priceless heritage which we will transmit to our children’s children untarnished. None shall ever write “Traitor” over your graves unrebuked by us while God gives us the power of speech! Farewell, brave comrades, farewell till the tryst of God beyond the river. The bugle has sounded “taps” over your graves. After all these years its pathetic notes still vibrate in our ears, reminding us that we shall see your faces no more on earth. But we clasp your dear memory to our hearts to-day once more. Ye are “our dead;” ours ye were in those stern years from 1861 to 1865, when we marched and camped and battled side by side; “ours” by the sacred bond of a common consecration to a cause which was holy to us.