The Great Conspiracy

The National platform of the “Constitutional Union” Party, was adopted,
unanimously, in these words:

“Whereas, experience has demonstrated that platforms adopted by the
partisan Conventions of the Country have had the effect to mislead and
deceive the People, and at the same time to widen the political
divisions of the Country, by the creation and encouragement of
geographical and Sectional parties; therefore,

“Resolved, That it is both the part of patriotism and of
duty to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of
the Country, the Union of the States, and the Enforcement of the Laws,
and that, as representatives of the Constitutional Union men of the
Country, in National Convention assembled, we hereby pledge ourselves to
maintain, protect, and defend, separately and unitedly, these great
principles of public liberty and national safety, against all enemies,
at home and abroad; believing that thereby peace may once more be
restored to the Country, the rights of the people and of the States re-
established, and the Government again placed in that condition of
justice, fraternity, and equality which, under the example and
Constitution of our fathers, has solemnly bound every citizen of the
United States to maintain a more perfect Union, establish justice,
insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote
the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves
and our posterity.”

Thus, by the last of June, 1860, the four National Parties with their
platforms and candidates were all in the political field prepared for
the onset.

Briefly, the attitude of the standard-bearers representing the platform-
principles of their several Parties, was this:

Lincoln, representing the Republicans, held that Slavery is a wrong, to
be tolerated in the States where it exists, but which must be excluded
from the Territories, which are all normally Free and must be kept Free
by Congressional legislation, if necessary; and that neither Congress,
nor the Territorial Legislature, nor any individual, has power to give
to it legal existence in such Territories.

Breckinridge, representing the Pro-Slavery wing of the Democracy, held
that Slavery is a right, which, when transplanted from the Slave-States
into the Territories, neither Congressional nor Territorial legislation
can destroy or impair, but which, on the contrary, must, when necessary,
be protected everywhere by Congress and all other departments of the

Douglas, representing the Anti-Lecompton wing of Democracy, held that
whether Slavery be right or wrong, the white inhabitants of the
Territories have the sole right to determine whether it shall or shall
not exist within their respective limits, subject to the Constitution
and Supreme Court decisions thereon; and that neither Congress nor any
State, nor any outside persons, must interfere with that right.

Bell, representing the remaining political elements, held that it was
all wrong to have any principles at all, except “the Constitution of the
Country, the Union of the States, and the Enforcement of the Laws”–a
platform which Horace Greeley well described as “meaning anything in
general, and nothing in particular.”

The canvass that ensued was terribly exciting–Douglas alone, of all the
Presidential candidates, bravely taking the field, both North and South,
in person, in the hope that the magnetism of his personal presence and
powerful intellect might win what, from the start–owing to the adverse
machinations, in the Northern States, of the Administration or
Breckinridge-Democratic wing–seemed an almost hopeless fight. In the
South, the Democracy was almost a unit in opposition to Douglas,
holding, as they did, that “Douglas Free-Soilism” was “far more
dangerous to the South than the election of Lincoln; because it seeks to
create a Free-Soil Party there; while, if Lincoln triumphs, the result
cannot fail to be a South united in her own defense;” while the old Whig
element of the South was as unitedly for Bell. In the North, the
Democracy were split in twain, three-fourths of them upholding Douglas,
and the balance, powerful beyond their numbers in the possession of
Federal Offices, bitterly hostile to him, and anxious to beat him, even
at the expense of securing the election of Lincoln.

Douglas’s fight was that the candidacy and platform of Bell were
meaningless, those of both Lincoln and Breckinridge, Sectional, and that
he alone bore aloft the standard of the entire Union; while, on the
other hand, the supporters of Lincoln, his chief antagonist, claimed
that–as the burden of the song from the lips of Douglas men, Bell men,
and Breckinridge men alike, was the expression of a “fear that,” in the
language of Mr. Seward, “if the people elected Mr. Lincoln to the
Presidency, they would wake up and find that they had no Country for him
to preside over”–“therefore, all three of the parties opposing Mr.
Lincoln were in the same boat, and hence the only true Union party, was
the party which made no threats of Disunion, to wit, the Republican

The October elections of 1860 made it plain that Mr. Lincoln would be
elected. South Carolina began to “feel good” over the almost certainty
that the pretext for Secession for which her leaders had been hoping in
vain for thirty years, was at hand. On the 25th of October, at Augusta,
South Carolina, the Governor, the Congressional delegation, and other
leading South Carolinians, met, and decided that in the event of Mr.
Lincoln’s election, that State would secede. Similar meetings, to the
same end, were also held about the same time, in others of the Southern
States. On the 5th of November–the day before the Presidential
election–the Legislature of South Carolina met at the special call of
Governor Gist, and, having organized, received a Message from the
Governor, in which, after stating that he had convened that Body in
order that they might on the morrow “appoint the number of electors of
President and Vice-President to which this State is entitled,” he
proceeded to suggest “that the Legislature remain in session, and take
such action as will prepare the State for any emergency that may arise.”
He went on to “earnestly recommend that, in the event of Abraham
Lincoln’s election to the Presidency, a Convention of the people of this
State be immediately called, to consider and determine for themselves
the mode and measure of redress,” and, he continued: “I am constrained
to say that the only alternative left, in my judgment, is the Secession
of South Carolina from the Federal Union. The indications from many of
the Southern States justify the conclusion that the Secession of South
Carolina will be immediately followed, if not adopted simultaneously, by
them, and ultimately by the entire South. The long-desired cooperation
of the other States having similar institutions, for which so many of
our citizens have been waiting, seems to be near at hand; and, if we are
true to ourselves, will soon be realized. The State has, with great
unanimity declared that she has the right peaceably to Secede, and no
power on earth can rightfully prevent it.”

[Referring to the Ordinance of Nullification adopted by the people
of South Carolina, November 24, 1832, growing out of the Tariff Act
of 1832–wherein it was declared that, in the event of the Federal
Government uudertaking to enforce the provisions of that Act: “The
people of this State will thenceforth hold themselves absolved from
all further obligation to maintain or preserve their political
connection with the people of the other States, and will forthwith
proceed to organize a separate government, and do all other acts
and things which Sovereign and independent States may of right

He proceeded to say that “If, in the exercise of arbitrary power, and
forgetful of the lessons of history, the Government of the United States
should attempt coercion, it will become our solemn duty to meet force by
force”–and promised that the decision of the aforesaid Convention
“representing the Sovereignty of the State, and amenable to no earthly
tribunal,” should be, by him, “carried out to the letter.” He
recommended the thorough reorganization of the Militia; the arming of
every man in the State between the ages of eighteen and forty-five; and
the immediate enrollment of ten thousand volunteers officered by
themselves; and concluded with a confident “appeal to the Disposer of
all human events,” in whose keeping the “Cause” was to be entrusted.

That same evening (November 5), being the eve of the election, at
Augusta, South Carolina, in response to a serenade, United States
Senator Chestnut made a speech of like import, in which, after
predicting the election of Mr. Lincoln, he said: “Would the South submit
to a Black Republican President, and a Black Republican Congress, which
will claim the right to construe the Constitution of the Country, and
administer the Government in their own hands, not by the law of the
instrument itself, nor by that of the fathers of the Country, nor by the
practices of those who administered seventy years ago, but by rules
drawn from their own blind consciences and crazy brains? * * * The
People now must choose whether they would be governed by enemies, or
govern themselves.”

He declared that the Secession of South Carolina was an “undoubted
right,” a “duty,” and their “only safety” and as to himself, he would
“unfurl the Palmetto flag, fling it to the breeze, and, with the spirit
of a brave man, live and die as became” his “glorious ancestors, and
ring the clarion notes of defiance in the ears of an insolent foe!”

So also, in Columbia, South Carolina, Representative Boyce of that
State, and other prominent politicians, harangued an enthusiastic crowd
that night–Mr. Boyce declaring: “I think the only policy for us is to
arm, as soon as we receive authentic intelligence of the election of
Lincoln. It is for South Carolina, in the quickest manner, and by the
most direct means, to withdraw from the Union. Then we will not submit,
whether the other Southern States will act with us or with our enemies.
They cannot take sides with our enemies; they must take sides with us.
When an ancient philosopher wished to inaugurate a great revolution, his
motto was to dare! to dare!”


THE 6th of November, 1860, came and passed; on the 7th, the prevailing
conviction that Lincoln would be elected had become a certainty, and
before the close of that day, the fact had been heralded throughout the
length and breadth of the Republic. The excitement of the People was
unparalleled. The Republicans of the North rejoiced that at last the
great wrong of Slavery was to be placed “where the People could rest in
the belief that it was in the course of ultimate extinction!” The
Douglas Democracy, naturally chagrined at the defeat of their great
leader, were filled with gloomy forebodings touching the future of their
Country; and the Southern Democracy, or at least a large portion of it,
openly exulted that at last the long-wished-for opportunity for a revolt
of the Slave Power, and a separation of the Slave from the Free States,
was at hand. Especially in South Carolina were the “Fire-eating”
Southrons jubilant over the event.

[“South Carolina rejoiced over the election of Lincoln, with
bonfires and processions.” p. 172, Arnold’s “Life of Abraham

“There was great joy in Charleston, and wherever ‘Fire Eaters’ most
did congregate, on the morning of November 7th. Men rushed to
shake hands and congratulate each other on the glad tidings of
Lincoln’s election. * * * Men thronged the streets, talking,
laughing, cheering, like mariners long becalmed on a hateful,
treacherous sea, whom a sudden breeze had swiftly wafted within
sight of their longed-for haven.” p. 332, vol. i., Greeley’s
American Conflict.]

Meanwhile any number of joint resolutions looking to the calling of a
Secession Convention, were introduced in the South Carolina Legislature,
sitting at Columbia, having in view Secession contingent upon the
“cooperation” of the other Slave States, or looking to immediate and
“unconditional” Secession.

On the evening of November 7th, Edmund Ruffin of Virginia–a Secession
fanatic who had come from thence in hot haste–in response to a
serenade, declared to the people of Columbia that: “The defense of the
South, he verily believed, was only to be secured through the lead of
South Carolina;” that, “old as he was, he had come here to join them in
that lead;” and that “every day delayed, was a day lost to the Cause.”
He acknowledged that Virginia was “not as ready as South Carolina;” but
declared that “The first drop of blood spilled on the soil of South
Carolina would bring Virginia, and every Southern State, with them.” He
thought “it was perhaps better that Virginia, and all other border
States, remain quiescent for a time, to serve as a guard against the
North. * * * By remaining in the Union for a time, she would not only
prevent coercive legislation in Congress, but any attempt for our

That same evening came news that, at Charleston, the Grand Jury of the
United States District Court had refused to make any presentments,
because of the Presidential vote just cast, which, they said, had “swept
away the last hope for the permanence, for the stability, of the Federal
Government of these Sovereign States;” and that United States District
Judge Magrath had resigned his office, saying to the Grand Jury, as he
did so: “In the political history of the United States, an event has
happened of ominous import to fifteen Slave-holding States. The State
of which we are citizens has been always understood to have deliberately
fixed its purpose whenever that event should happen. Feeling an
assurance of what will be the action of the State, I consider it my
duty, without delay, to prepare to obey its wishes. That preparation is
made by the resignation of the office I have held.”

The news of the resignations of the Federal Collector and District
Attorney at Charleston, followed, with an intimation that that of the
Sub-Treasurer would soon be forthcoming. On November 9th, a joint
resolution calling an unconditional Secession Convention to meet at
Columbia December 17th, was passed by the Senate, and on the 12th of
November went through the House; and both of the United States Senators
from South Carolina had now resigned their seats in the United States

Besides all these and many other incitements to Secession was the fact
that at Milledgeville, Georgia, Governor Brown had, November 12th,
addressed a Georgian Military Convention, affirming “the right of
Secession, and the duty of other Southern States to sustain South
Carolina in the step she was then taking,” and declaring that he “would
like to see Federal troops dare attempt the coercion of a seceding
Southern State! For every Georgian who fell in a conflict thus incited,
the lives of two Federal Soldiers should expiate the outrage on State
Sovereignty”–and that the Convention aforesaid had most decisively
given its voice for Secession.

It was about this time, however, that Alexander H. Stephens vainly
sought to stem the tide of Secession in his own State, in a speech
(November 14) before the Georgia Legislature, in which he declared that
Mr. Lincoln “can do nothing unless he is backed by power in Congress.
The House of Representatives is largely in the majority against him. In
the Senate he will also be powerless. There will be a majority of four
against him.” He also cogently said: “Many of us have sworn to support
it (the Constitution). Can we, therefore, for the mere election of a
man to the Presidency–and that too, in accordance with the prescribed
forms of the Constitution–make a point of resistance to the Government,
and, without becoming the breakers of that sacred instrument ourselves,
withdraw ourselves from it? Would we not be in the wrong?”

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