The Great Conspiracy

In the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives–as also was
shown by the appointment, heretofore mentioned, of Select Committees to
consider the gravity of the situation, and suggest a remedy–the same
spirit of Conciliation and Concession, and desire for free and frank
discussion, was apparent among most of the Northern and Border-State
members of those Bodies. But these were only met by sneers and threats
on the part of the Fire-eating Secession members of the South. In the
Senate, Senator Clingman of North Carolina, sneeringly said: “They want
to get up a free debate, as the Senator (Mr. Seward) from New York
expressed it, in one of his speeches. But a Senator from Texas told me
the other day that a great many of these free debaters were hanging from
the trees of that country;” and Senator Iverson, of Georgia, said:
“Gentlemen speak of Concession, of the repeal of the Personal Liberty
bills. Repeal them all to-morrow, and you cannot stop this revolution.”
After declaring his belief that “Before the 4th of March, five States
will have declared their independence” and that “three other States will
follow as soon as the action of the people can be had;” he proceeded to
allude to the refusal of Governor Houston of Texas to call together the
Texas Legislature for action in accord with the Secession sentiment, and
declared that “if he will not yield to that public sentiment, some Texan
Brutus will arise to rid his country of this hoary-headed incubus that
stands between the people and their sovereign will!” Then, sneering at
the presumed cowardice of the North, he continued: “Men talk about their
eighteen millions (of Northern population); but we hear a few days
afterwards of these same men being switched in the face, and they
tremble like sheep-stealing dogs! There will be no War. The North,
governed by such far-seeing Statesmen as the Senator (Mr. Seward) from
New York, will see the futility of this. In less than twelve months, a
Southern Confederacy will be formed; and it will be the most successful
Government on Earth. The Southern States, thus banded together, will be
able to resist any force in the World. We do not expect War; but we
will be prepared for it–and we are not a feeble race of Mexicans

On the other hand, there were Republicans in that Body who sturdily met
the bluster of the Southern Fire-eaters with frank and courageous words
expressing their full convictions on the situation and their belief that
Concessions could not be made and that Compromises were mere waste
paper. Thus, Senator Ben Wade of Ohio, among the bravest and manliest
of them all, in a speech in the Senate, December 17, the very day on
which the South Carolina Secession Convention was to assemble, said to
the Fire-eaters: “I tell you frankly that we did lay down the principle
in our platform, that we would prohibit, if we had the power, Slavery
from invading another inch of the Free Soil of this Government. I stand
to that principle to-day. I have argued it to half a million of people,
and they stand by it; they have commissioned me to stand by it; and, so
help me God, I will! * * * On the other hand, our platform repudiates
the idea that we have any right, or harbor any ultimate intention to
invade or interfere with your institutions in your own States. * * *
It is not, by your own confessions, that Mr. Lincoln is expected to
commit any overt act by which you may be injured. You will not even
wait for any, you say; but, by anticipating that the Government may do
you an injury, you will put an end to it–which means, simply and
squarely, that you intend to rule or ruin this Government. * * * As to
Compromises, I supposed that we had agreed that the Day of Compromises
was at an end. The most solemn we have made have been violated, and are
no more. * * * We beat you on the plainest and most palpable issue
ever presented to the American people, and one which every man
understood; and now, when we come to the Capital, we tell you that our
candidates must and shall be inaugurated–must and shall administer this
Government precisely as the Constitution prescribes. * * * I tell you
that, with that verdict of the people in my pocket, and standing on the
platform on which these candidates were elected, I would suffer anything
before I would Compromise in any way.”

In the House of Representatives, on December 10, 1860, a number of
propositions looking to a peaceful settlement of the threatened danger,
were offered and referred to the Select Committee of Thirty-three. On
the following Monday, December 17, by 154 yeas to 14 nays, the House
adopted a resolution, offered by Mr. Adrian of New Jersey, in these

“Resolved, That we deprecate the spirit of disobedience to the
Constitution, wherever manifested; and that we earnestly recommend the
repeal of all Statutes by the State Legislatures in conflict with, and
in violation of, that sacred instrument, and the laws of Congress passed
in pursuance thereof.”

On the same day, the House adopted, by 135 yeas to no nays, a resolution
offered by Mr. Lovejoy of Illinois, in these words:

“Whereas, The Constitution of the United States is the Supreme law of
the Land, and ready and faithful obedience to it a duty of all good and
law-abiding citizens; Therefore:

“Resolved, That we deprecate the spirit of disobedience to the
Constitution, wherever manifested; and that we earnestly recommend the
repeal of all Nullification laws; and that it is the duty of the
President of the United States to protect and defend the property of the
United States.”

[This resolution, before adoption, was modified by declaring it to
be the duty of all citizens, whether “good and law abiding” or not,
to yield obedience to the Constitution, as will be seen by
referring to the proceedings in the Globe of that date, where the
following appears:

“Mr. LOGAN. I hope there will be no objection on this side of the
House to the introduction of the [Lovejoy] resolution. I can see
no difference myself, between this resolution and the one
[Adrian’s] just passed, except in regard to verbiage. I can find
but one objection to the resolution, and that is in the use of the
words declaring that all’ law abiding’ citizens should obey the
Constitution. I think that all men should do so.

“Mr. LOVEJOY. I accept the amendment suggested by my Colleague.

“Mr. LOGAN. It certainly should include members of Congress; but
if it is allowed to remain all ‘good and law abiding’ citizens, I
do not think it will include them. [Laughter.]

“The resolution was modified by the omission of those words.”]

It also adopted, by 115 yeas to 44 nays, a resolution offered by Mr.
Morris of Illinois, as follows:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives: That we properly estimate the
immense value of our National Union to our collective and individual
happiness; that we cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment
to it; that we will speak of it as the palladium of our political safety
and prosperity; that we will watch its preservation with jealous
anxiety; that we will discountenance whatever may suggest even a
suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned, and indignantly frown
upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our
Country from the rest, or enfeeble the sacred ties which now link
together the various parts; that we regard it as a main pillar in the
edifice of our real independence, the support of tranquillity at home,
our peace abroad, our safety, our prosperity, and that very liberty
which we so highly prize; that we have seen nothing in the past, nor do
we see anything in the present, either in the election of Abraham
Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States, or from any other
existing cause, to justify its dissolution; that we regard its
perpetuity as of more value than the temporary triumph of any Party or
any man; that whatever evils or abuses exist under it ought to be
corrected within the Union, in a peaceful and Constitutional way; that
we believe it has sufficient power to redress every wrong and enforce
every right growing out of its organization, or pertaining to its proper
functions; and that it is a patriotic duty to stand by it as our hope in
Peace and our defense in War.”


While Congress was encouraging devotion to the Union, and its Committees
striving for some mode by which the impending perils might be averted
without a wholesale surrender of all just principles, the South Carolina
Convention met (December 17, 1860) at Columbia, and after listening to
inflammatory addresses by commissioners from the States of Alabama and
Mississippi, urging immediate and unconditional Secession, unanimously
and with “tremendous cheering” adopted a resolution: “That it is the
opinion of the Convention that the State of South Carolina should
forthwith Secede from the Federal Union, known as the United States of
America,”–and then adjourned to meet at Charleston, South Carolina.

The next day, and following days, it met there, at “Secession Hall,”
listening to stimulating addresses, while a committee of seven worked
upon the Ordinance of Secession. Among the statements made by orators,
were several clear admissions that the rebellious Conspiracy had existed
for very many years, and that Mr. Lincoln’s election was simply the
long-sought-for pretext for Rebellion. Mr. Parker said: “It is no
spasmodic effort that has come suddenly upon us; it has been gradually
culminating for a long period of thirty years. At last it has come to
that point where we may say, the matter is entirely right.” Mr. Inglis
said: “Most of us have had this matter under consideration for the last
twenty years; and I presume that we have by this time arrived at a
decision upon the subject.” Mr. Keitt said: “I have been engaged in
this movement ever since I entered political life; * * * we have
carried the body of this Union to its last resting place, and now we
will drop the flag over its grave.” Mr. Barnwell Rhett said: “The
Secession of South Carolina is not an event of a day. It is not
anything produced by Mr. Lincoln’s election, or by the non-execution of
the Fugitive Slave Law. It has been a matter which has been gathering
head for thirty years.” Mr. Gregg said: “If we undertake to set forth
all the causes, do we not dishonor the memory of all the statesmen of
South Carolina, now departed, who commenced forty years ago a war
against the tariff and against internal improvement, saying nothing of
the United States Bank, and other measures which may now be regarded as

On the 20th of December, 1860–the fourth day of the sittings–the
Ordinance of Secession was reported by the Committee, and was at once
unanimously passed, as also was a resolution that “the passage of the
Ordinance be proclaimed by the firing of artillery and ringing of the
bells of the city, and such other demonstrations as the people may deem
appropriate on the passage of the great Act of Deliverance and Liberty;”
after which the Convention jubilantly adjourned to meet, and ratify,
that evening. At the evening session of this memorable Convention, the
Governor and Legislature attending, the famous Ordinance was read as
engrossed, signed by all the delegates, and, after announcement by the
President that “the State of South Carolina is now and henceforth a Free
and Independent Commonwealth;” amid tremendous cheering, the Convention
adjourned. This, the first Ordinance of Secession passed by any of the
Revolting States, was in these words:

“An Ordinance to dissolve the Union between the State of South Carolina
and other States united with her, under the compact entitled the
‘Constitution of the United States of America.’

“We the people of the State of South Carolina in Convention assembled,
do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the
Ordinance adopted by us in Convention on the 23rd day of May, in the
year of our Lord 1788, whereby the Constitution of the United States of
America was ratified, and also all Acts and parts of Acts of the General
Assembly of this State ratifying the amendments of the said
Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the Union now subsisting
between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the United
States of America, is hereby dissolved.”

Thus, and in these words, was joyously adopted and ratified, that solemn
Act of Separation which was doomed to draw in its fateful train so many
other Southern States, in the end only to be blotted out with the blood
of hundreds of thousands of their own brave sons, and their equally
courageous Northern brothers.

State after State followed South Carolina in the mad course of Secession
from the Union. Mississippi passed a Secession Ordinance, January 9,
1861. Florida followed, January 10th; Alabama, January 11th; Georgia,
January 18th; Louisiana, January 26th; and Texas, February 1st;
Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia held back until a later period;
while Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware, abstained
altogether from taking the fatal step, despite all attempts to bring
them to it.

In the meantime, however, South Carolina had put on all the dignity of
a Sovereign and Independent State. Her Governor had a “cabinet”
comprising Secretaries of State, War, Treasury, the Interior, and a
Postmaster General. She had appointed Commissioners, to proceed to the
other Slave-holding States, through whom a Southern Congress was
proposed, to meet at Montgomery, Alabama; and had appointed seven
delegates to meet the delegates from such other States in that proposed
Southern Congress. On the 21st of December, 1860, three Commissioners
(Messrs. Barnwell, Adams, and Orr) were also appointed to proceed to
Washington, and treat for the cession by the United States to South
Carolina, of all Federal property within the limits of the latter. On
the 24th, Governor Pickens issued a Proclamation announcing the adoption
of the Ordinance of Secession, declaring “that the State of South
Carolina is, as she has a right to be, a separate sovereign, free and
independent State, and as such, has a right to levy war, conclude peace,
negotiate treaties, leagues or covenants, and to do all acts whatsoever
that rightfully appertain to a free and independent State;” the which
proclamation was announced as “Done in the eighty-fifth year of the
Sovereignty and Independence of South Carolina.” On the same day (the
Senators from that State in the United States Senate having long since,
as we have seen, withdrawn from that body) the Representatives of South
Carolina in the United States House of Representatives withdrew.

Serious dissensions in the Cabinet of President Buchanan, were now
rapidly disintegrating the “official family” of the President. Lewis
Cass, the Secretary of State, disgusted with the President’s cowardice
and weakness, and declining to be held responsible for Mr. Buchanan’s
promise not to reinforce the garrisons of the National Forts, under
Major Anderson, in Charleston harbor, retired from the Cabinet December
12th–Howell Cobb having already, “because his duty to Georgia required
it,” resigned the Secretaryship of the Treasury, and left it bankrupt
and the credit of the Nation almost utterly destroyed.

On the 26th of December, Major Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie,
removing all his troops and munitions of war to Fort Sumter–whereupon a
cry went up from Charleston that this was in violation of the
President’s promise to take no step looking to hostilities, provided the
Secessionists committed no overt act of Rebellion, up to the close of
his fast expiring Administration. On the 29th, John B. Floyd, Secretary
of War, having failed to secure the consent of the Administration to an
entire withdrawal of the Federal garrison from the harbor of Charleston,
also resigned, and the next day–he having in the meantime escaped in
safety to Virginia–was indicted by the Grand Jury at Washington, for
malfeasance and conspiracy to defraud the Government in the theft of
$870,000 of Indian Trust Bonds from the Interior Department, and the
substitution therefor of Floyd’s acceptances of worthless army-
transportation drafts on the Treasury Department.

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