The Great Conspiracy

Allusion is also made to a letter written by Representative Nathan
Appleton, of Boston, December 15, 1860, in which that gentleman said
that when he was in Congress–in 1832-33–he had “made up his mind that
Messrs. Calhoun, Hayne, McDuffie, etc., were desirous of a separation of
the Slave States into a separate Confederacy, as more favorable to the
security of Slave Property.”

After mentioning that “About 1835, some South Carolinians attempted a
Disunion demonstration,” our authority says: It is thus described by ex-
Governor Francis Thomas of Maryland, in his speech in Baltimore, October
29, 1861:

“Full twenty years ago, when occupying my seat in the House of
Representatives, I was surprised one morning, after the assembling of
the House, to observe that all the members from the Slaveholding States
were absent. Whilst reflecting on this strange occurrence, I was asked
why I was not in attendance on the Southern Caucus assembled in the room
of the Committee on Claims. I replied that I had received no

“I then proposed to go to the Committee-room to see what was being done.
When I entered, I found that little cock-sparrow, Governor Pickens, of
South Carolina, addressing the meeting, and strutting about like a
rooster around a barn-yard coop, discussing the following resolution:

“‘ Resolved, That no member of Congress, representing a Southern
constituency, shall again take his seat until a resolution is passed
satisfactory to the South on the subject of Slavery.’

“I listened to his language, and when he had finished, I obtained the
floor, asking to be permitted to take part in the discussion. I
determined at once to kill the Treasonable plot hatched by John C.
Calhoun, the Catiline of America, by asking questions. I said to Mr.
Pickens, ‘What next do you propose we shall do? are we to tell the
People that Republicanism is a failure? If you are for that, I am not.
I came here to sustain and uphold American institutions; to defend the
rights of the North as well as the South; to secure harmony and good
fellowship between all Sections of our common Country.’ They dared not
answer these questions. The Southern temper had not then been gotten
up. As my questions were not answered, I moved an adjournment of the
Caucus /sine die/. Mr. Craig, of Virginia, seconded the motion, and the
company was broken up. We returned to the House, and Mr. Ingersoll, of
Pennsylvania, a glorious patriot then as now, introduced a resolution
which temporarily calmed the excitement.”

The remarks upon this statement, made November 4, 1861, by the National
Intelligencer, were as follows:

“However busy Mr. Pickens may have been in the Caucus after it met, the
most active man in getting it up and pressing the Southern members to go
into it, was Mr. R. B. Rhett, also a member from South Carolina. The
occasion, or alleged cause of this withdrawal from the House into secret
deliberation was an anti-Slavery speech of Mr. Slade, of Vermont, which
Mr. Rhett violently denounced, and proposed to the Southern members to
leave the House and go into Conclave in one of the Committee-rooms,
which they generally did, if not all of them. We are able to state,
however, what may not have been known to Governor Thomas, that at least
three besides himself, of those who did attend it, went there with a
purpose very different from an intention to consent to any Treasonable
measure. These three men were Henry A. Wise, Balie Peyton, and William
Cost Johnson. Neither of them opened his lips in the Caucus; they went
to observe; and we can assure Governor Thomas, that if Mr. Pickens or
Mr. Calhoun, (whom he names) or any one else had presented a distinct
proposition looking to Disunion, or Revolt, or Secession, he would have
witnessed a scene not soon to be forgotten. The three whom we have
mentioned were as brave as they were determined. Fortunately, perhaps,
the man whom they went particularly to watch, remained silent and

Let us, however, pursue the inquiry a little further. On the 14th of
November, 1860, Alexander H. Stephens addressed the Legislature of
Georgia, and in a portion of that address–replying to a speech made
before the same Body the previous evening by Mr. Toombs, in which the
latter had “recounted the evils of this Government”–said:

“The first [of these evils] was the Fishing Bounties, paid mostly to the
sailors of New England. Our friend stated that forty-eight years of our
Government was under the administration of Southern Presidents. Well,
these Fishing Bounties began under the rule of a Southern President, I
believe. No one of them, during the whole forty-eight years, ever set
his Administration against the principle or policy of them. * * *

“The next evil which my friend complained of, was the Tariff. Well, let
us look at that for a moment. About the time I commenced noticing
public matters, this question was agitating the Country almost as
fearfully as the Slave question now is. In 1832, when I was in college,
South Carolina was ready to Nullify or Secede from the Union on this
account. And what have we seen? The Tariff no longer distracts the
public counsels. Reason has triumphed! The present Tariff was voted
for by Massachusetts and South Carolina. The lion and the lamb lay down
together–every man in the Senate and House from Massachusetts and South
Carolina, I think, voted for it, as did my honorable friend himself.
And if it be true, to use the figure of speech of my honorable friend,
that every man in the North that works in iron, and brass and wood, has
his muscle strengthened by the protection of the Government, that
stimulant was given by his vote and I believe (that of) every other
Southern man.

“Mr. TOOMBS–The Tariff lessened the duties.

“Mr. STEPHENS–Yes, and Massachusetts with unanimity voted with the
South to lessen them, and they were made just as low as Southern men
asked them to be, and that is the rate they are now at. If reason and
argument, with experience, produced such changes in the sentiments of
Massachusetts from 1832 to 1857, on the subject of the Tariff, may not
like changes be effected there by the same means–reason and argument,
and appeals to patriotism on the present vexed question? And who can
say that by 1875 or 1890, Massachusetts may not vote with South Carolina
and Georgia upon all those questions that now distract the Country and
threaten its peace and existence.

“Another matter of grievance alluded to by my honorable friend was the
Navigation Laws. This policy was also commenced under the
Administration of one of these Southern Presidents who ruled so well,
and has been continued through all of them since. * * * One of the
objects (of these) was to build up a commercial American marine by
giving American bottoms the exclusive Carrying Trade between our own
ports. This is a great arm of national power. This object was
accomplished. We have now an amount of shipping, not only coastwise,
but to foreign countries, which puts us in the front rank of the Nations
of the World. England can no longer be styled the Mistress of the Seas.
What American is not proud of the result? Whether those laws should be
continued is another question. But one thing is certain; no President,
Northern or Southern, has ever yet recommended their repeal. * * *

“These then were the true main grievances or grounds of complaint
against the general system of our Government and its workings–I mean
the administration of the Federal Government. As to the acts of the
federal States I shall speak presently: but these three were the main
ones used against the common head. Now, suppose it be admitted that all
of these are evils in the system; do they overbalance and outweigh the
advantages and great good which this same Government affords in a
thousand innumerable ways that cannot be estimated? Have we not at the
South, as well as the North, grown great, prosperous, and happy under
its operations? Has any part of the World ever shown such rapid
progress in the development of wealth, and all the material resources of
national power and greatness, as the Southern States have under the
General Government, notwithstanding all its defects?

“Mr. TOOMBS–In spite of it.

“Mr. STEPHENS–My honorable friend says we have, in spite of the General
Government; that without it, I suppose he thinks, we might have done as
well, or perhaps better, than we have done in spite of it. * * *
Whether we of the South would have been better off without the
Government, is, to say the least, problematical. On the one side we can
only put the fact, against speculation and conjecture on the other. * *
* The influence of the Government on us is like that of the atmosphere
around us. Its benefits are so silent and unseen that they are seldom
thought of or appreciated.

“We seldom think of the single element of oxygen in the air we breathe,
and yet let this simple, unseen and unfelt agent be withdrawn, this
life-giving element be taken away from this all-pervading fluid around
us, and what instant and appalling changes would take place in all
organic creation.

“It may be that we are all that we are ‘in spite of the General
Government,’ but it may be that without it we should have been far
different from what we are now. It is true that there is no equal part
of the Earth with natural resources superior perhaps to ours. That
portion of this Country known as the Southern States, stretching from
the Chesapeake to the Rio Grande, is fully equal to the picture drawn by
the honorable and eloquent Senator last night, in all natural
capacities. But how many ages and centuries passed before these
capacities were developed to reach this advanced age of civilization.
There these same hills, rich in ore, same rivers, same valleys and
plains, are as they have been since they came from the hand of the
Creator; uneducated and uncivilized man roamed over them for how long no
history informs us.

“It was only under our institutions that they could be developed. Their
development is the result of the enterprise of our people, under
operations of the Government and institutions under which we have lived.
Even our people, without these, never would have done it. The
organization of society has much to do with the development of the
natural resources of any Country or any Land. The institutions of a
People, political and moral, are the matrix in which the germ of their
organic structure quickens into life–takes root, and develops in form,
nature, and character. Our institutions constitute the basis, the
matrix, from which spring all our characteristics of development and
greatness. Look at Greece. There is the same fertile soil, the same
blue sky, the same inlets and harbors, the same AEgean, the same
Olympus; there is the same land where Homer sung, where Pericles spoke;
it is in nature the same old Greece–but it is living Greece no more.

“Descendants of the same people inhabit the country; yet what is the
reason of this vast difference? In the midst of present degradation we
see the glorious fragments of ancient works of art-temples, with
ornaments and inscriptions that excite wonder and admiration–the
remains of a once high order of civilization, which have outlived the
language they spoke–upon them all, Ichabod is written–their glory has
departed. Why is this so? I answer, their institutions have been
destroyed. These were but the fruits of their forms of government, the
matrix from which their great development sprang; and when once the
institutions of a People have been destroyed, there is no earthly power
that can bring back the Promethean spark to kindle them here again, any
more than in that ancient land of eloquence, poetry and song.

“The same may be said of Italy. Where is Rome, once the mistress of the
World? There are the same seven hills now, the same soil, the same
natural resources; the nature is the same, but what a ruin of human
greatness meets the eye of the traveler throughout the length and
breadth of that most down-trodden land! why have not the People of that
Heaven-favored clime, the spirit that animated their fathers? Why this
sad difference?

“It is the destruction of their institutions that has caused it; and, my
countrymen, if we shall in an evil hour rashly pull down and destroy
those institutions which the patriotic hand of our fathers labored so
long and so hard to build up, and which have done so much for us and the
World, who can venture the prediction that similar results will not
ensue? Let us avoid it if we can. I trust the spirit is among us that
will enable us to do it. Let us not rashly try the experiment, for, if
it fails, as it did in Greece and Italy, and in the South American
Republics, and in every other place wherever liberty is once destroyed,
it may never be restored to us again.

“There are defects in our government, errors in administration, and
short-comings of many kinds; but in spite of these defects and errors,
Georgia has grown to be a great State. Let us pause here a moment.

“When I look around and see our prosperity in everything, agriculture,
commerce, art, science, and every department of education, physical and
mental, as well as moral advancement–and our colleges–I think, in the
face of such an exhibition, if we can, without the loss of power, or any
essential right or interest, remain in the Union, it is our duty to
ourselves and to posterity–let us not too readily yield to this
temptation–to do so. Our first parents, the great progenitors of the
human race, were not without a like temptation, when in the Garden of
Eden. They were led to believe that their condition would be bettered–
that their eyes would be opened–and that they would become as gods.
They in an evil hour yielded–instead of becoming gods they only saw
their own nakedness.

“I look upon this Country, with our institutions, as the Eden of the
World, the Paradise of the Universe. It may be that out of it we may
become greater and more prosperous, but I am candid and sincere in
telling you that I fear if we rashly evince passion, and without
sufficient cause shall take that step, that instead of becoming greater
or more peaceful, prosperous, and happy–instead of becoming gods, we
will become demons, and at no distant day commence cutting one another’s
throats. This is my apprehension.

“Let us, therefore, whatever we do, meet those difficulties, great as
they are, like wise and sensible men, and consider them in the light of
all the consequences which may attend our action. Let us see first
clearly where the path of duty leads, and then we may not fear to tread
Said Senator Wigfall, of Texas, March 4, 1861, in the United States
Senate, only a few hours before Mr. Lincoln’s Inauguration:

“I desire to pour oil on the waters, to produce harmony, peace and quiet
here. It is early in the morning, and I hope I shall not say anything
that may be construed as offensive. I rise merely that we may have an
understanding of this question.

“It is not Slavery in the Territories, it is not expansion, which is the
difficulty. If the resolution which the Senator from Wisconsin
introduced here, denying the right of Secession, had been adopted by
two-thirds of each branch of this department of the Government, and had
been ratified by three-fourths of the States, I have no hesitation in
saying that, so far as the State in which I live and to which I owe my
allegiance is concerned, if she had no other cause for a disruption of
the Union taking place, she would undoubtedly have gone out.

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