The Great Conspiracy

[To insert as an additional article of amendment to the
Constitution, the following: “Under this Constitution, as
originally adopted, and as it now exists, no State has power to
withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United States: but this
Constitution, and all laws passed in pursuance of its delegated
powers, are the Supreme Law of the Land, anything contained in any
constitution, ordinance, or act of any State, to the contrary

“The moment you deny the right of self-government to the free White men
of the South, they will leave the Government. They believe in the
Declaration of Independence. They believe that:

“‘Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government
becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to
alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its
foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as
to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’

“That principle of the Declaration of Independence is the one upon which
the free White men of the South predicated their devotion to the present
Constitution of the United States; and it was the denial of that, as
much as anything else, that has created the dissatisfaction in that
Section of the Country.

“There is no instrument of writing that has ever been written that has
been more misapprehended and misunderstood and misrepresented than this
same unfortunate Declaration of Independence, and no set of gentlemen
have ever been so slandered as the fathers who drew and signed that

“If there was a thing on earth that they did not intend to assert, it
was that a Negro was a White man. As I said here, a short time ago, one
of the greatest charges they made against the British Government was,
that old King George was attempting to establish the fact practically
that all men were created Free and Equal. They charged him in the
Declaration of Independence with inciting their Slaves to insurrection.
That is one of the grounds upon which they threw off their allegiance to
the British Parliament.

“Another great misapprehension is, that the men who drafted that
Declaration of Independence had any peculiar fancy for one form of
government rather than another. They were not fighting to establish a
Democracy in this country; they were not fighting to establish a
Republican form of government in this Country. Nothing was further from
their intention.

“Alexander Hamilton, after he had fought for seven years, declared that
the British form of government was the best that the ingenuity of man
had ever devised; and when John Adams said to him, ‘without its
corruptions;’ ‘Why,’ said he, ‘its corruptions are its greatest
excellence; without the corruptions, it would be nothing.’

“In the Declaration of Independence, they speak of George III., after
this fashion. They say:

“‘A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define
a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.’

“Now, I ask any plain common-sense man what was the meaning of that?
Was it that they were opposed to a Monarchical form of government? Was
it that they believed a Monarchical form of government was incompatible
with civil liberty? No, sir; they entertained no such absurd idea.
None of them entertained it; but they say that George III, was a prince
whose character was ‘marked by every act which may define a tyrant’ and
that therefore he was ‘unfit to be the ruler of a free People.’ Had his
character not been so marked by every quality which would define a
tyrant, he might have been the fit ruler of a free People; ergo, a
monarchical form of Government was not incompatible with civil liberty.

“That was clearly the opinion of those men. I do not advocate it now;
for I have said frequently that we are wiser than our fathers, and our
children will be wiser than we are. One hundred years hence, men will
understand their own affairs much better than we do. We understand our
affairs better than those who preceded us one hundred years. But what I
assert is, that the men of the Revolution did not believe that a
Monarchical form of Government was incompatible with civil liberty.

“What I assert is, that when they spoke of ‘all men being created
equal,’ they were speaking of the White men who then had unsheathed
their swords–for what purpose? To establish the right of self-
government in themselves; and when they had achieved that, they
established, not Democracies, but Republican forms of Government in the
thirteen sovereign, separate and independent Colonies. Yet the
Declaration of Independence is constantly quoted to prove Negro
equality. It proves no such thing; it was intended to prove no such

“The ‘glittering generalities’ which a distinguished former Senator from
Massachusetts (Mr. Choate) spoke of, as contained in the Declaration of
Independence, one of them at least, about all men being created equal–
was not original with Mr. Jefferson. I recollect seeing a pamphlet
called the Principles of the Whigs and Jacobites, published about the
year 1745, when the last of the Stuarts, called ‘the Pretender,’ was
striking a blow that was fatal to himself, but a blow for his crown, in
which pamphlet the very phraseology is used, word for word and letter
for letter. I have not got it here to-night. I sent the other day to
the Library to try and find it, but could not find it; it was burnt, I
believe, with the pamphlets that were burnt some time ago.

“That Mr. Jefferson copied it or plagiarized it, is not true, I suppose,
any more than the charge that the distinguished Senator from New York
plagiarized from the Federalist in preparing his celebrated compromising
speech which was made here a short time ago. It was the cant phrase of
the day in 1745, which was only about thirty years previous to the
Declaration of Independence. This particular pamphlet, which I have
read, was published; others were published at the same time. That sort
of phraseology was used.

“There was a war of classes in England; there were men who were
contending for legitimacy; who were contending for the right of the
Crown being inherent and depending on the will of God, ‘the divine right
of Kings,’ for maintaining an hereditary landed-aristocracy; there was
another Party who were contending against this doctrine of legitimacy,
and the right of primogeniture. These were called the Whigs; they
established this general phraseology in denouncing the divine right and
the doctrine of legitimacy, and it became the common phraseology of the
Country; so that in the obscure county of Mecklenburg, in North
Carolina, a declaration containing the same assertions was found as in
this celebrated Declaration of Independence, written by the immortal

“Which of us, I ask, is there upon this floor who has not read and re-
read whatever was written within the last twenty-five or thirty years by
the distinguished men of this country? But enough of that.

“As I said before, there ought not have been, and there did not
necessarily result from our form of Government, any irrepressible
conflict between the Slaveholding and the non-Slaveholding States.
Nothing of the sort was necessary.

“Strike out a single clause in the Constitution of the United States,
that which secures to each State a Republican form of Government, and
there is no reason why, under precisely such a Constitution as we have,
States that are Monarchical and States that are Republican, could not
live in peace and quiet. They confederate together for common defense
and general welfare, each State regulating its domestic concerns in its
own way; those which preferred a Republican form of Government
maintaining it, and those which preferred a Monarchical form of
Government maintaining it.

“But how long could small States, with different forms of Government,
live together, confederated for common defense and general welfare, if
the people of one Section were to come to the conclusion that their
institutions were better than those of the other, and thereupon
straightway set about subverting the institutions of the other?”
In the reply of the Rebel “Commissioners of the Southern Confederacy”
to Mr. Seward, April 9, 1861, they speak of our Government as being
“persistently wedded to those fatal theories of construction of the
Federal Constitution always rejected by the statesmen of the South, and
adhered to by those of the Administration school, until they have
produced their natural and often-predicted result of the destruction of
the Union, under which we might have continued to live happily and
gloriously together, had the spirit of the ancestry who framed the
common Constitution animated the hearts of all their sons.”

In the “Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in
Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United
States,” by which the attempt was made to justify the passage of the
South Carolina Secession Ordinance of 1860, it is declared that:

“Discontent and contention have moved in the bosom of the Confederacy,
for the last thirty-five years. During this time South Carolina has
twice called her people together in solemn Convention, to take into
consideration, the aggressions and unconstitutional wrongs, perpetrated
by the people of the North on the people of the South. These wrongs
were submitted to by the people of the South, under the hope and
expectation that they would be final. But such hope and expectation
have proved to be vain. Instead of producing forbearance, our
acquiescence has only instigated to new forms of aggressions and
outrage; and South Carolina, having again assembled her people in
Convention, has this day dissolved her connection with the States
constituting the United States.

“The one great evil from which all other evils have flowed, is the
overthrow of the Constitution of the United States. The Government of
the United States, is no longer the Government of Confederated
Republics, but of a consolidated Democracy. It is no longer a free
Government, but a Despotism. It is, in fact, such a Government as Great
Britain attempted to set over our Fathers; and which was resisted and
defeated by a seven years struggle for Independence.

“The Revolution of 1776, turned upon one great principle, self-
government,–and self-taxation, the criterion of self-government.

“The Southern States now stand exactly in the same position towards the
Northern States, that the Colonies did towards Great Britain. The
Northern States, having the majority in Congress, claim the same power
of omnipotence in legislation as the British Parliament. ‘The General
Welfare’ is the only limit to the legislation of either; and the
majority in Congress, as in the British Parliament, are the sole judges
of the expediency of the legislation this ‘General Welfare’ requires.
Thus the Government of the United States has become a consolidated
Government; and the people of the Southern States are compelled to meet
the very despotism their fathers threw off in the Revolution of 1776.

“The consolidation of the Government of Great Britain over the Colonies,
was attempted to be carried out by the taxes. The British Parliament
undertook to tax the Colonies to promote British interests. Our fathers
resisted this pretension. They claimed the right of self-taxation
through their Colonial Legislatures. They were not represented in the
British Parliament, and, therefore, could not rightly be taxed by its
legislation. The British Government, however, offered them a
representation in Parliament; but it was not sufficient to enable them
to protect themselves from the majority, and they refused the offer.
Between taxation without any representation, and taxation without a
representation adequate to protection, there was no difference. In
neither case would the Colonies tax themselves. Hence, they refused to
pay the taxes laid by the British Parliament.

“And so with the Southern States, towards the Northern States, in the
vital matter of taxation. They are in a minority in Congress. Their
representation in Congress is useless to protect them against unjust
taxation; and they are taxed by the people of the North for their
benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in
the British Parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years, the
taxes laid by the Congress of the United States have been laid with a
view of subserving the interests of the North. The people of the South
have been taxed by duties on imports, not for revenue, but for an object
inconsistent with revenue–to promote, by prohibitions, Northern
interests in the productions of their mines and manufactures.

“There is another evil, in the condition of the Southern towards the
Northern States, which our ancestors refused to bear towards Great
Britain. Our ancestors not only taxed themselves, but all the taxes
collected from them were expended amongst them. Had they submitted to
the pretensions of the British Government, the taxes collected from
them, would have been expended in other parts of the British Empire.
They were fully aware of the effect of such a policy in impoverishing
the people from whom taxes are collected, and in enriching those who
receive the benefit of their expenditure.

“To prevent the evils of such a policy, was one of the motives which
drove them on to Revolution, yet this British policy has been fully
realized towards the Southern States, by the Northern States. The
people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the
Northern States, but after the taxes are collected, three fourths of
them are expended at the North. This cause, with others, connected with
the operation of the General Government, has made the cities of the
South provincial. Their growth is paralyzed; they are mere suburbs of
Northern cities. The agricultural productions of the South are the
basis of the foreign commerce of the United States; yet Southern cities
do not carry it on. Our foreign trade is almost annihilated. * * *

“No man can for a moment believe, that our ancestors intended to
establish over their posterity, exactly the same sort of Government they
had overthrown. * * * Yet by gradual and steady encroachments on the
part of the people of the North, and acquiescence on the part of the
South, the limitations in the Constitution have been swept away; and the
Government of the United States has become consolidated, with a claim of
limitless powers in its operations. * * *

“A majority in Congress, according to their interested and perverted
views, is omnipotent. * * * Numbers with them, is the great element of
free Government. A majority is infallible and omnipotent. ‘The right
divine to rule in Kings,’ is only transferred to their majority. The
very object of all Constitutions, in free popular Government, is to
restrain the majority. Constitutions, therefore, according to their
theory, must be most unrighteous inventions, restricting liberty. None
ought to exist; but the body politic ought simply to have a political
organization, to bring out and enforce the will of the majority. This
theory is a remorseless despotism. In resisting it, as applicable to
ourselves, we are vindicating the great cause of free Government, more
important, perhaps, to the World, than the existence of all the United
In his Special Message to the Confederate Congress at Montgomery, April
29, 1861, Mr. Jefferson Davis said:

“From a period as early as 1798, there had existed in all the States a
Party, almost uninterruptedly in the majority, based upon the creed that
each State was, in the last resort, the sole judge, as well of its
wrongs as of the mode and measure of redress. * * * The Democratic
Party of the United States repeated, in its successful canvas of 1836,
the declaration, made in numerous previous political contests, that it
would faithfully abide by and uphold the principles laid down in the
Kentucky and Virginia Legislatures of [1798 and] 1799, and that it
adopts those principles as constituting one of the main foundations of
its political creed.”

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