The Great Conspiracy

The speaker paused. The sudden and intent silence was broken by another
voice: “He would have been hurled from the Tarpeian rock.”

“Sir,” continued the soldier-orator, “a Senator, himself learned far
more than myself in such lore, [Mr. Fessenden,] tells me, in a voice
that I am glad is audible, that he would have been hurled from the
Tarpeian Rock! It is a grand commentary upon the American Constitution
that we permit these words [Senator Breckinridge’s] to be uttered.

“I ask the Senator to recollect, too, what, save to send aid and comfort
to the Enemy, do these predictions of his amount to? Every word thus
uttered falls as a note of inspiration upon every Confederate ear.
Every sound thus uttered is a word, (and, falling from his lips, a
mighty word) of kindling and triumph to a Foe that determines to

“For me, I have no such word as a Senator, to utter. For me”–and here
his eyes flashed again while his martial voice rang like a clarion-call
to battle–“amid temporary defeat, disaster, disgrace, it seems that my
duty calls me to utter another word, and that word is, bold, sudden,
forward, determined, WAR, according to the laws of War, by Armies, by
Military Commanders clothed with full power, advancing with all the past
glories of the Republic urging them on to conquest!

* * * * * *

“I tell the Senator,” continued the inspired Patriot, “that his
predictions, sometimes for the South, sometimes for the Middle States,
sometimes for the North-East, and then wandering away in airy visions
out to the Far Pacific, about the dread of our people, as for loss of
blood and treasure, provoking them to Disloyalty, are false in
sentiment, false in fact, and false in Loyalty. The Senator from
Kentucky is mistaken in them all.

“Five hundred million dollars! What then? Great Britain gave more than
two thousand million in the great Battle for Constitutional Liberty
which she led at one time almost single-handed against the World. Five
hundred thousand men! What then? We have them; they are ours; they are
the children of the Country; they belong to the whole Country; they are
our sons; our kinsmen; and there are many of us who will give them all
up before we will abate one word of our just demand, or will retreat one
inch from the line which divides right from wrong.

“Sir, it is not a question of men or of money in that sense. All the
money, all the men, are, in our judgment, well bestowed in such a cause.
When we give them, we know their value. Knowing their value well, we
give them with the more pride and the, more joy. Sir, how can we
retreat? Sir, how can we make Peace? Who shall treat? What
Commissioners? Who would go? Upon what terms? Where is to be your
boundary line? Where the end of the principles we shall have to give
up? What will become of Constitutional Government? What will become of
public Liberty? What of past glories? What of future hopes?

“Shall we sink into the insignificance of the grave–a degraded,
defeated, emasculated People, frightened by the results of one battle,
and scared at the visions raised by the imagination of the Senator from
Kentucky on this floor? No, Sir! a thousand times, no, Sir! We will
rally–if, indeed, our words be necessary–we will rally the People, the
Loyal People, of the whole Country. They will pour forth their
treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure. The
most peaceable man in this body may stamp his foot upon this Senate
Chamber floor, as of old a warrior and a Senator did, and from that
single tramp there will spring forth armed Legions.

“Shall one battle determine the fate of empire, or a dozen?–the loss of
one thousand men, or twenty thousand? or one hundred million or five
hundred million dollars? In a year’s Peace–in ten years, at most, of
peaceful progress–we can restore them all. There will be some graves
reeking with blood, watered by the tears of affection. There will be
some privation; there will be some loss of luxury; there will be
somewhat more need for labor to procure the necessaries of life. When
that is said, all is said. If we have the Country, the whole Country,
the Union, the Constitution, Free Government–with these there will
return all the blessings of well-ordered civilization; the path of the
Country will be a career of greatness and of glory such as, in the olden
time, our Fathers saw in the dim visions of years yet to come, and such
as would have been ours now, to-day, if it had not been for the Treason
for which the Senator too often seeks to apologize.”

This remarkable speech was the last utterance of that glorious and
courageous soul, in the National Senate. Within three months, his
lifeless body, riddled by Rebel rifle balls, was borne away from the
fatal field of Ball’s Bluff–away, amid the lamentations of a Nation–
away, across land and ocean–to lie beside his brave friend Broderick,
on that Lone Mountain whose solemn front looks out upon the calm

He had not lived in vain. In his great speech at the American Theatre
in San Francisco, after his election by Oregon (1860) to represent her
in the United States Senate, he had aroused the people to a sense of
shame, that, as he said: “Here, in a land of written Constitutional
Liberty it is reserved for us to teach the World that, under the
American Stars and Stripes, Slavery marches in solemn procession; that,
under the American flag, Slavery is protected to the utmost verge of
acquired territory; that under the American banner, the name of Freedom
is to be faintly heard, the songs of Freedom faintly sung; that, while
Garibaldi, Victor Emanuel, every great and good man in the World,
strives, struggles, fights, prays, suffers and dies, sometimes on the
scaffold, sometimes in the dungeon, often on the field of battle,
rendered immortal by his blood and his valor; that, while this triumphal
procession marches on through the arches of Freedom–we, in this land,
of all the World, shrink back trembling when Freedom is but mentioned!”

And never was a shamed people more suddenly lifted up from that shame
into a grand frenzy of patriotic devotion than were his auditors, when,
with the inspiration of his matchless genius, he continued:

“As for me, I dare not, will not, be false to Freedom. Where the feet
of my youth were planted, there, by Freedom, my feet shall ever stand.
I will walk beneath her banner. I will glory in her strength. I have
watched her in history struck down on an hundred chosen fields of
battle. I have seen her friends fly from her; her foes gather around
her. I have seen her bound to the stake; I have seen them give her
ashes to the winds. But when they turned to exult, I have seen her
again meet them face to face, resplendent in complete steel, brandishing
in her strong right hand a flaming sword, red with Insufferable light!
I take courage. The People gather around her. The genius of America
will, at last, lead her sons to Freedom.”

Never were grander utterances delivered by man in all the ages; never
was there exhibited a more sublime faith; never a truer spirit of
prophecy; never a more heroic spirit.

He was then on his way to Washington; on his way to perform the last
acts in the drama of his own career–on his way to death. He knew the
time had come, of which, ten years before, he had prophetically spoken
in the House of Representatives, when he said: “I have only to say that,
if the time should come when Disunion rules the hour, and discord is to
reign supreme, I shall again be ready to give the best blood in my veins
to my Country’s Cause. I shall be prepared to meet all antagonists with
lance in rest, to do battle in every land, in defense of the
Constitution of the Country which I have sworn to support, to the last
extremity, against Disunionists, and all its Enemies, whether of the
South or North; to meet them everywhere, at all times, with speech or
hand, with word or blow, until thought and being shall be no longer
mine.” And right nobly did he fulfil in all respects his promise; so
that at the end–as was afterward well said of him by Mr. Colfax–he had
mounted so high, that, “doubly crowned, as statesman, and as warrior–

‘From the top of Fame’s ladder he stepped to the Sky!'”

[This orator and hero was a naturalized Englishman, and commanded
an American regiment in the Mexican War.] CHAPTER XV.


On the day following Baker’s great reply to Breckinridge, another
notable speech was made, in the House of Representatives–notable,
especially, in that it foreshadowed Emancipation, and, coming so soon
after Bull Run, seemed to accentuate a new departure in political
thought as an outgrowth of that Military reverse. It was upon the
Confiscation Act, and it was Thaddeus Stevens who made it. Said he:

“If we are justified in taking property from the Enemy in War, when you
have rescued an oppressed People from the oppression of that Enemy, by
what principle of the Law of Nations, by what principle of philanthropy,
can you return them to the bondage from which you have delivered them,
and again rivet the chains you have once broken? It is a disgrace to
the Party which advocates it. It is against the principle of the Law of
Nations. It is against every principle of philanthropy. I for one,
shall never shrink from saying when these Slaves are once conquered by
us, ‘Go and be Free.’ God forbid that I should ever agree that they
should be returned again to their masters! I do not say that this War
is made for that purpose. Ask those who made the War, what is its
object. Do not ask us. * * * Our object is to subdue the Rebels.

“But,” continued he, “it is said that if we hold out this thing, they
will never submit–that we cannot conquer them–that they will suffer
themselves to be slaughtered, and their whole country to be laid waste.
Sir, War is a grievous thing at best, and Civil War more than any other;
but if they hold this language, and the means which they have suggested
must be resorted to; if their whole country must be laid waste, and made
a desert, in order to save this Union from destruction, so let it be. I
would rather, Sir, reduce them to a condition where their whole country
is to be re-peopled by a band of freemen than to see them perpetrate the
destruction of this People through our agency. I do not say that it is
time to resort to such means, and I do not know when the time will come;
but I never fear to express my sentiments. It is not a question with me
of policy, but a question of principle.

“If this War is continued long, and is bloody, I do not believe that the
free people of the North will stand by and see their sons and brothers
and neighbors slaughtered by thousands and tens of thousands by Rebels,
with arms in their hands, and forbear to call upon their enemies to be
our friends, and to help us in subduing them; I for one, if it continues
long, and has the consequences mentioned, shall be ready to go for it,
let it horrify the gentleman from New York (Mr. Diven) or anybody else.
That is my doctrine, and that will be the doctrine of the whole free
people of the North before two years roll round, if this War continues.

“As to the end of the War, until the Rebels are subdued, no man in the
North thinks of it. If the Government are equal to the People, and I
believe they are, there will be no bargaining, there will be no
negotiation, there will be no truces with the Rebels, except to bury the
dead, until every man shall have laid down his arms, disbanded his
organization, submitted himself to the Government, and sued for mercy.
And, Sir, if those who have the control of the Government are not fit
for this task and have not the nerve and mind for it, the People will
take care that there are others who are–although, Sir, I have not a bit
of fear of the present Administration, or of the present Executive.

“I have spoken more freely, perhaps, than gentlemen within my hearing
might think politic, but I have spoken just what I felt. I have spoken
what I believe will be the result; and I warn Southern gentlemen, that
if this War is to continue, there will be a time when my friend from New
York (Mr. Diven) will see it declared by this free Nation, that every
bondman in the South–belonging to a Rebel, recollect; I confine it to
them–shall be called upon to aid us in War against their masters, and
to restore this Union.”

The following letter of instruction from Secretary Cameron, touching the
Fugitive Slave question, dated seven days after Thaddeus Stevens’
speech, had also an interesting bearing on the subject:

“WASHINGTON, August 8, 1861.

“GENERAL: The important question of the proper disposition to be made of
Fugitives from Service in States in Insurrection against the Federal
Government, to which you have again directed my attention in your letter
of July 30, has received my most attentive consideration.

“It is the desire of the President that all existing rights, in all the
States, be fully respected and maintained. The War now prosecuted on
the part of the Federal Government is a War for the Union, and for the
preservation of all Constitutional rights of States, and the citizens of
the States, in the Union. Hence, no question can arise as to Fugitives
from Service within the States and Territories in which the authority of
the Union is fully acknowledged. The ordinary forms of Judicial
proceeding, which must be respected by Military and Civil authorities
alike, will suffice for the enforcement of all legal claims.

“But in States wholly or partially under Insurrectionary control, where
the Laws of the United States are so far opposed and resisted that they
cannot be effectually enforced, it is obvious that rights dependent on
the execution of those laws must, temporarily, fail; and it is equally
obvious that rights dependent on the laws of the States within which
Military operations are conducted must be necessarily subordinated to
the Military exigences created by the Insurrection, if not wholly
forfeited by the Treasonable conduct of parties claiming them. To this
general rule, rights to Services can form no exception.

“The Act of Congress, approved August 6, 1861, declares that if Persons
held to Service shall be employed in hostility to the United States, the
right to their services shall be forfeited, and such Persons shall be
discharged therefrom. It follows, of necessity, that no claim can be
recognized by the Military authorities of the Union to the services of
such Persons when fugitives.

“A more difficult question is presented in respect to Persons escaping
from the Service of Loyal masters. It is quite apparent that the laws
of the State, under which only the services of such fugitives can be
claimed, must needs be wholly, or almost wholly, suspended, as to
remedies, by the Insurrection and the Military measures necessitated by
it. And it is equally apparent that the substitution of Military for
Judicial measures for the enforcement of such claims must be attended by
great inconveniences, embarrassments, and injuries.

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