The Great Conspiracy

“Now as to territory. I will not yield one inch to Secession; but there
are things that I will yield, and there are things to which I will
yield. It is somewhere told that when Harold of England received a
messenger from a brother with whom he was at variance, to inquire on
what terms reconciliation and peace could be effected between brothers,
he replied in a gallant and generous spirit in a few words, ‘the, terms
I offer are the affection of a brother; and the Earldom of
Northumberland.’ And, said the Envoy, as he marched up the Hall amid
the warriors that graced the state of the King, ‘if Tosti, thy brother,
agree to this, what terms will you allow to his ally and friend,
Hadrada, the giant.’ ‘We will allow,’ said Harold, ‘to Hadrada, the
giant, seven feet of English ground, and if he be, as they say, a giant,
some few inches more!’ and, as he spake, the Hall rang with acclamation.

“Sir, in that spirit I speak. I follow, at a humble distance, the ideas
and the words of Clay, illustrious, to be venerated, and honored, and
remembered, forever. * * * He said–I say: that I will yield no inch,
no word, to the threat of Secession, unconstitutional, revolutionary,
dangerous, unwise, at variance with the heart and the hope of all
mankind save themselves. To that I yield nothing; but if States loyal
to the Constitution, if people magnanimous and just, desiring a return
of fraternal feeling, shall come to us and ask for Peace, for permanent,
enduring peace and affection, and say, ‘What will you grant? I say to
them, ‘Ask all that a gentleman ought to propose, and I will yield all
that a gentleman ought to offer.’ Nay, more: if you are galled because
we claim the right to prohibit Slavery in territory now Free, or in any
Territory which acknowledges our jurisdiction, we will evade–I speak
but for myself–I will aid in evading that question; I will agree to
make it all States, and let the People decide at once. I will agree to
place them in that condition where the prohibition of Slavery will never
be necessary to justify ourselves to our consciences or to our
constituents. I will agree to anything which is not to force upon me
the necessity of protecting Slavery in the name of Freedom. To that I
never can and never will yield.”

The speeches of Seward, of Douglas, of Crittenden, of Andrew Johnson, of
Baker, and others, in behalf of the Union, and those of Benjamin, Davis,
Wigfall, Lane, and others, in behalf of Secession, did much toward
fixing the responsibility for the approaching bloody conflict where it
belonged. The speeches of Andrew Johnson of Tennessee–who, if he at a
subsequent period of the Nation’s history, proved himself not the
worthiest son of the Republic, at this critical time, at all events, did
grand service in the National Senate–especially had great and good
effect on the public mind in the Northern and Border States. They were,
therefore, gall and wormwood to the Secession leaders, who hoped to drag
the Border States into the great Southern Confederacy of States already
in process of formation.

Their irritation was shown in threats of personal violence to Mr.
Johnson, as when Wigfall–replying February 7th, 1861, to the latter’s
speech, said, “Now if the Senator wishes to denounce Secession and
Nullification eo nomine, let him go back and denounce Jefferson; let him
denounce Jackson, if he dare, and go back and look that Tennessee
Democracy in the face, and see whether they will content themselves with
riddling his effigy!”

It would seem also, from another part of Wigfall’s reply, that the
speeches of Union Senators had been so effective that a necessity was
felt on the part of the Southern Conspirators to still further attempt
to justify Secession by shifting the blame to Northern shoulders, for,
while referring to the Presidential canvass of 1860–and the attitude of
the Southern Secession leaders during that exciting period–he said:
“We (Breckinridge-Democrats) gave notice, both North and South, that if
Abraham Lincoln was elected, this Union was dissolved. I never made a
speech during the canvass without asserting that fact. * * * Then, I
say, that our purpose was not to dissolve the Union; but the dire
necessity has been put upon us. The question is, whether we shall live
longer in a Union in which a Party, hostile to us in every respect, has
the power in Congress, in the Executive department, and in the Electoral
Colleges–a Party who will have the power even in the Judiciary. We
think it is not safe. We say that each State has the clear indisputable
right to withdraw if she sees fit; and six of the States have already
withdrawn, and one other State is upon the eve of withdrawing, if she
has not already done so. How far this will spread no man can tell!”

As tending to show the peculiar mixture of brag, cajolery, and threats,
involved in the attitude of the South, as expressed by the same favorite
Southern mouthpiece, toward the Border-States on the one hand, and the
Middle and New England States on the other, a further extract from this
(February 7th) speech of the Texan Senator may be of interest. Said he:

“With exports to the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars, our
imports must be the same. With a lighter Tariff than any people ever
undertook to live under, we could have larger revenue. We would be able
to stand Direct Taxation to a greater extent than any people ever could
before, since the creation of the World. We feel perfectly competent to
meet all issues that may be presented, either by hostility from abroad
or treason at home. So far as the Border-States are concerned, it is a
matter that concerns them alone. Should they confederate with us,
beyond all doubt New England machinery will be worked with the water
power of Tennessee, of Kentucky, of Virginia and of Maryland; the Tariff
laws that now give New England the monopoly in the thirty-three States,
will give to these Border States a monopoly in the Slave-holding States.
Should the non-Slave-holding States choose to side against us in
organizing their Governments, and cling to their New England brethren,
the only result will be, that the meat, the horses, the hemp, and the
grain, which we now buy in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Indiana and
Illinois, will be purchased in Kentucky and in Western Virginia and in
Missouri. Should Pennsylvania stand out, the only result will be, that
the iron which is now dug in Pennsylvania, will be dug in the mountains
of Tennessee and of Virginia and of Kentucky and of North Carolina.
These things we know.

“We feel no anxiety at all, so far as money or men are concerned. We
desire War with nobody; we intend to make no War; but we intend to live
under just such a Government as we see fit. Six States have left this
Union, and others are going to leave it simply because they choose to do
it; that is all. We do not ask your consent; we do not wish it. We
have revoked our ratification of the Treaty commonly known as the
Constitution of the United States; a treaty for common defense and
general welfare; and we shall be perfectly willing to enter into another
Treaty with you, of peace and amity. Reject the olive branch and offer
us the sword, and we accept it; we have not the slightest objection.
Upon that subject we feel as the great William Lowndes felt upon another
important subject, the Presidency, which he said was neither to be
sought nor declined. When you invade our soil, look to your own
borders. You say that you have too many people, too many towns, too
dense a population, for us to invade you. I say to you Senators, that
there is nothing that ever stops the march of an invading force, except
a desert. The more populous a country, the more easy it is to subsist
an army.”

After declaring that–“Not only are our non-Slaveholders loyal, but even
our Negroes are. We have no apprehensions whatever of insurrection–not
the slightest. We can arm our negroes, and leave them at home, when we
are temporarily absent”–Mr. Wigfall proceeded to say: “We may as well
talk plainly about this matter. This is probably the last time I shall
have an opportunity of addressing you. There is another thing that an
invading army cannot do. It cannot burn up plantations. You can pull
down fences, but the Negroes will put them up the next morning. The
worst fuel that ever a man undertook to make fire with, is dirt; it will
not burn. Now I have told you what an invading army cannot do. Suppose
I reverse the picture and tell you what it can do. An invading army in
an enemy’s country, where there is a dense population, can subsist
itself at a very little cost; it does not always pay for what it gets.
An invading army can burn down towns; an invading army can burn down
manufactories; and it can starve operatives. It can do all these
things. But an Invading army, and an army to defend a Country, both
require a military chest. You may bankrupt every man south of North
Carolina, so that his credit is reduced to such a point that he could
not discount a note for thirty dollars, at thirty days; but the next
autumn those Cotton States will have just as much money and as much
credit as they had before. They pick money off the cotton plant. Every
time that a Negro touches a cotton-pod with his hand, he pulls a piece
of silver out of it, and he drops it into the basket in which it is
carried to the gin-house. It is carried to the packing screw. A bale
of cotton rolls out-in other words, five ten-dollar pieces roll out-
covered with canvas. We shall never again make less than five million
bales of cotton. * * * We can produce five million bales of cotton,
every bale worth fifty dollars, which is the lowest market price it has
been for years past. We shall import a bale of something else, for
every bale of cotton that we export, and that bale will be worth fifty
dollars. We shall find no difficulty under a War-Tariff in raising an
abundance of money. We have been at Peace for a very long time, We are
very prosperous. Our planters use their cotton, not to buy the
necessaries of life, but for the superfluities, which they can do
without. The States themselves have a mine of wealth in the loyalty and
the wealth of their citizens. Georgia, Mississippi, any one of those
States can issue its six per cent. bonds tomorrow, and receive cotton in
payment to the extent almost of the entire crop. They can first borrow
from their own citizens; they can tax them to an almost unlimited
extent; and they can raise revenue from a Tariff to an almost unlimited

“How will it be with New England? where will their revenue come from?
From your Custom-houses? what do you export? You have been telling us
here for the last quarter of a century, that you cannot manufacture,
even for the home market, under the Tariffs which we have given you.
When this Tariff ceases to operate in your favor, and you have to pay
for coming into our markets, what will you export? When your machinery
ceases to move, and your operatives are turned out, will you tax your
broken capitalist or your starving operative? When the navigation laws
cease to operate, what will become of your shipping interest? You are
going to blockade our ports, you say. That is a very innocent game; and
you suppose we shall sit quietly down and submit to a blockade. I speak
not of foreign interference, for we look not for it. We are just as
competent to take Queen Victoria and Louis Napoleon under our
protection, as they are to take us; and they are a great deal more
interested to-day in receiving cotton from our ports than we are in
shipping it. You may lock up every bale of cotton within the limits of
the eight Cotton States, and not allow us to export one for three years,
and we shall not feel it further than our military resources are
concerned. Exhaust the supply of cotton in Europe for one week, and all
Europe is in revolution.

“These are facts. You will blockade us! Do you suppose we shall do
nothing, even upon the sea? How many letters of marque and reprisal
would it take to put the whole of your ships up at your wharves to rot?
Will any merchant at Havre, or Liverpool, or any other portion of the
habitable globe, ship a cargo upon a New England, or New York, or
Philadelphia clipper, or other ship, when he knows that the seas are
swarming with letters of marque and reprisal? Why the mere apprehension
of such a thing will cut you out of the Carrying Trade of the civilized
World. * * * I speak not of the absurdity of the position that you can
blockade our ports, admitting at the same time that we are in the Union.
Blockade is a remedy, as all writers on International law say, against a
Foreign Power with whom you are at War. You cannot use a blockade
against your own people. An embargo even, you cannot use. That is a
remedy against a Foreign Nation with whom you expect to be at War. You
must treat us as in the Union, or out of it. We have gone out. We are
willing to live at peace with you; but, as sure as fate, whenever any
flag comes into one of our ports, that has thirty-three stars upon it,
that flag will be fired at. Displaying a flag with stars which we have
plucked from that bright galaxy, is an insult to the State within whose
waters that flag is displayed. You cannot enforce the laws without
Coercion, and you cannot Coerce without War.

“These matters, then, can be settled. How? By withdrawing your troops;
admitting our right to Self-government clearly, unqualifiedly. Do this,
and there is no difficulty about it. You say that you will not do it.
Very well; we have no objection–none whatever. That is Coercion. When
you have attempted it, you will find that you have made War. These,
Senators, are facts. I come here to plead for Peace; but I have seen so
much and felt so much, that I am becoming at last, to tell the plain
truth of the matter, rather indifferent as to which way the thing turns.
If you want War, you can have it. If you want Peace, you can get it;
but I plead not for Peace.”

Meanwhile the Seceding States of the South were strengthening their
attitude by Confederation. On February 4, 1861, the Convention of
Seceding States, called by the South Carolina Convention at the time of
her Secession, met, in pursuance of that call, at Montgomery, Alabama,
and on the 9th adopted a Provisional Constitution and organized a
Provisional Government by the election of Jefferson Davis of
Mississippi, as President, and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, as
Vice-President; to serve until a Presidential election could be held by
the people of the Confederacy.

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