Alexander H. Stephens (1812-1883), although originally opposed to secession, was elected vice-president of the Confederacy. After the war he returned to political service in Georgia and in the House of Representatives. He was elected governor of Georgia in 1882 and died in office.
We are in the midst of one of the greatest epochs in our history. The last ninety days will mark one of the most memorable eras in the history of modern civilization.
… we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world-seven States have, within the last three months, thrown off an old Government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood. [Applause.] This new Constitution, or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited.
In reference to it, I make this first general remark: It amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and privileges. All the great principles of Magna Chartal are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers, under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the old Constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old Constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated…. So, taking the whole new Constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment, that it is decidedly better than the old. [Applause.] Allow me briefly to allude to some of these improvements. The question of building up class interests, or fostering one branch of industry to the prejudice of another, under the exercise of the revenue power, which gave us so much trouble under the old Constitution, is put at rest forever under the new. We allow the imposition of no duty with a view of giving advantage to one class of persons, in any trade or business, over those of another. All, under our system, stand upon the same broad principles of perfect equality. Honest labor and enterprise are left free and unrestricted in whatever pursuit they may be engaged in ….
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other-though last, not least: the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions-African slavery as it exists among us-the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly used against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it-when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”
Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It is so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North who still cling to these errors with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind; from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is, forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics: their conclusions are right if their premises are. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights, with the white man…. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the Northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery; that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle-a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of man. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds we should succeed, and that he and his associates in their crusade against our institutions would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as well as in physics and mechanics, I admitted, but told him it was he and those acting with him who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.
As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are, and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo-it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. g It is the first Government ever instituted upon principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many Governments have been founded upon the principles of certain classes; but the classes thus enslaved, were of the same race, and in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. The negro by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, [note: A reference to Genesis, 9:20-27, which was used as a justification for slavery] is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite-then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is the best, not only for the superior but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances or to question them. For His own purposes He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another in glory.”
The great objects of humanity are best attained, when conformed to his laws and degrees [sic], in the formation of Governments as well as in all things else. Our Confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief stone of the corner” in our new edifice.
Stephens, Alexander. “Cornerstone Address.” Internet History Sourcebooks, Fordham University, July 1998, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1861stephens.asp.
Alexander H. Stephens, “Cornerstone Address, March 21, 1861 ” in The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, etc., vol. 1, ed. Frank Moore (New York: O.P. Putnam, 1862), pp. 44-46.
Lincoln’s correspondence with Alexander Stephens:
To Alexander H. Stephens
For your own eye only.
Dec. 22, 1860
Hon. A. H. Stephens–
My dear Sir
Your obliging answer to my short note is just received, and for which please accept my thanks. I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me.
Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.
The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us. Yours very truly
30th December, 1860.
Dear Sir,—Yours of the 22d instant was received two days ago. I hold it and appreciate it as you intended. Personally, I am not your enemy,—far from it; and however widely we may differ politically, yet I trust we both have an earnest desire to preserve and maintain the Union of the States if it can be done upon the principles and furtherance of the objects for which it was formed. It was with such feelings on my part that I suggested to you in my former note the heavy responsibility now resting upon you, and with the same feelings I will now take the liberty of saying, in all frankness and earnestness, that this great object can never be obtained by force. This is my settled conviction. Consider the opinion, weigh it, and pass upon it for youself. An error on this point may lead to the most disastrous consequences. I will also add, that in my judgment the people of the South do not entertain any fears that a Republican Administratiion, or at least the one about to be inaugurated, would attempt to interfere directly and immediately with slavery in the States. Their apprehension and disquietude do not spring from that source. They do not arise from the fact of the known anti-slavery opinions of the President-elect. Washington, Jefferson, and other Presidents are generally admitted to have been anti-slavery in sentiment. But in those days anti-slavery did not enter as an element into party organizations.
Questions of other kinds, relating to the foreign and domestic policy,—commerce, finance, and other ligitimate objects of the General Government,—were basis of such associations in their day. The private opinions of individuals upon the subject of African slavery, or the status of the negro with us, were not looked to in the choice of Federal officers any more than their views upon matters of religion, or any other subject over which the Government under the Constitution had no control. But now this subject, which is confessedly on all sides outside of the constitutional action of the government, so far as the States are concerned, is made the ‘central idea’ in the platform of principles announced by the triumphant party. The leading object seems to be simply, and wantonly, if, you please, to put the institutions of nearly half the States under the ban of public opinion and national condemnation. This, upon general principles, is quite enough of itself to arouse a spirit not only of general indignation, but of revolt on the part of the proscribed. Let me illustrate. It is generally conceded, by the Republicans even, that Congress cannot interfere with slavery in the States. It is equally conceded that Congress cannot establish any form of religious worship. Now suppose that any one of the present Christian churches or sects prevailed in all of the Southern States, but had no existence in any one of he Northern States,—under such circumstances suppose the people of the Northern States should organize a political party, not upon a foreign of domestic policy, but with one leading idea of condemnation of the doctrines and tenets of that particular church, and with the avowed object of preventing its extension into the common Territories, even after the highest judicial tribunal of the land had decided they had no such constitutional power. And suppose that a party so organized should carry a Presidential election. It is not apparent that a general feeling of resistance to the success, aims, and objects of such a party would necessarily and rightfully ensue? Would it not be the inevitable consequence? And the more so, if possible, from the admitted fact that it was a matter beyond their control, and one that they ought not in the spirit of comity between co-States to attempt to meddle with. I submit these thoughts to you for your calm reflection. We at the South do think African slavery, as it exists with us, both morally and politically right. This opinion is founded upon the inferiority of the black race. You, however, and perhaps a majority of the North, think it wrong. Admit the difference of opinion. The same difference of opinion existed to a more general extent among those who formed the Constitution, and when it was made and adopted. The changes have been mainly to our side. As parties were not formed on this difference of opinion then, why should they be now? The same difference would, of course, exist in the supposed case of religion. When parties or conbinations of men, therefore, so form themselves, must it not be assumed to arise, not from reason or any sense of justice, but from fanaticism? The motive can spring from no other source, and when men come under the influence of fanaticism there is no telling where their impulses or passions may drive them. This is what creates our discontent and apprehension. You will also allow me to say that it is neither unnatural nor unreasonable, especially wnen we see the extent to which this reckless spirit has already gone. Such, for instance,as the avowed disregard and breach of the Constitution in the passage of the statutes in a number of the Northern States against the rendition of fugitives from service, and such exhibitions of madness as the John Brown raid into Virginia, which has received so much sympathy from many, and no open condemnation from any of the leading men of the present dominant party. For a very clear statement of the prevailing sentiment of the most moderate men of the South upon them I refer you to the speech of Senator Nicholson, of Tennessee, which I enclose to you. Upon a review of the whole, who can say that the general discontent and apprehension prevailing is not well founded?
In addressing you thus, I would have you understand me as being not a personal enemy, but as one who would have you do what you can to save our common country. A word ‘fitly spoken’ by you now would indeed be like ‘apples of gold in pictures of silver.’ I entreat you be not deceived as to the nature and extent of the danger, nor as to the remedy. Conciliation and harmony, in my judgement, can never be established by force. Nor can the Union under the Constitution be maintained by force. The Union was formed by the consent of independent sovereign States. Ultimate sovereignty still resides with them separately, which can be resumed, and will be, if their safety, tranquillity, and security, in their judgment, require it. Under our system, as I wiew it, there is no rightful power in the General Government to coerce a State, in case any one of them should throw herself upon her reserved rights and resume the full exercise of her sovereign powers. Force may perpetuate a Union. That depends upon the contingencies of war. But such a Union would not be the Union of the Constitution. It would be nothing short of a consolidated despotism. Excuse me for giving you these views. Excuse the strong language used. Nothing but the deep interest I feel in prospect of the most alarming dangers now threating our common country could induce me to do it. Consider well what I write, and let it have such weight with you as in your judgment, under all the responsibility resting upon you, it merits.
Alexander H. Stephens
Kentucky Governor Magoffin’s Response to Alabama’s S. F. Hale
Hon. S. F. HALE
Commissioner from the State of Alabama:
Your communication of the 27th instant, addressed to me by authority of the State of Alabama, has been attentively read. I concur with you in the opinion that the grave political issues yet pending and undetermined between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States of the Confederacy are of a character to render eminently proper and highly important a full and frank conference on the part of the Southern members, identified, as they undoubtedly are, by a common interest, bound together by mutual sympathies, and with the whole social fabric resting on homogeneous institutions. And coming as you do in a spirit of fraternity, by virtue of a commission from a sister Southern State, to confer with the authorities of this State in reference to the measures necessary to be adopted to protect the interests and maintain the honor and safety of the States and their citizens, I extend you a cordial welcome to Kentucky.
You have not exaggerated the grievous wrongs, injuries, and indignities to which the slave-holding States and their citizens have long submitted with a degree of patience and forbearance justly attributable alone to that elevated patriotism and devotion to the Union which would lead them to sacrifice well-nigh all save honor to recover the Government to its original integrity of administration and perpetuate the Union upon the basis of equality established by the founders of the Republic. I may even add that the people of Kentucky, by reason of their geographical position and nearer proximity to those who seem so madly bent upon the destruction of our constitutional guarantees, realize yet more fully than our friends farther south the intolerable wrongs and menacing dangers you have so elaborately recounted. Nor are you, in my opinion, more keenly alive than are the people of this State to the importance of arresting the insane crusade so long waged against our institutions and our society by measures which shall be certainly effective. The rights of African slavery in the United States and the relations of the Federal Government to it, as an institution in the States and Territories, most assuredly demand at this time explicit definition and final recognition by the North. The slave-holding States are now impelled by the very highest law of self-preservation to demand that this settlement should be concluded upon such a basis as shall not only conserve the institution in localities where it is now recognized, but secure its expansion, under no other restrictions than those which the laws of nature may throw around it. That unnecessary conflict between free labor and slave labor, but recently inaugurated by the Republican party as an element in our political struggles, must end, and the influence of soil, of climate, and local interests left unaided and unrestricted save by constitutional limitations to control the extension of slavery over the public domain. The war upon our social institutions and their guaranteed immunities waged through the Northern press, religious and secular, and now threatened to be conducted by a dominant political organization through the agency of State Legislatures and the Federal Government must be ended. Our safety, our honor, and our self-preservation alike demand that our interests be placed beyond the reach of further assault.
The people of Kentucky may differ variously touching the nature and theory of our complex system of government, but when called upon to pass upon these questions at the polls I think such an expression would develop no material variance of sentiment touching the wrongs you recite and the necessity of their prompt adjustment. They fully realize the fatal result of longer forbearance, and appreciate the peril of submission at this juncture. Kentucky would leave no effort untried to preserve the union of the States upon the basis of the Constitution as we construe it, but Kentucky will never submit to wrong and dishonor, let resistance cost what it may. Unqualified acquiescence in the administration of the Government upon the Chicago platform in view of the movements already inaugurated at the South and the avowed purposes of the representative men of the Republican party, would, I feel assured, receive no favor in this State. Whether her citizens shall, in the last resort, throw themselves upon the right of revolution as the inherent right of a free people never surrendered, or shall assert the doctrine of secession, can be of little practical import. When the time of action comes (and it is now fearfully near at hand) our people will be found rallied as a unit under the flag of resistance to intolerable wrong, and being thus consolidated in feeling and action, I may well forego any discussion of the abstract theories to which one party or another may hold to cover their resistance.
It is true that as sovereign political communities the States must determine, each for itself, the grave issues now presented; and it may be that, when driven to the dire extremity of severing their relations with the Federal Government, formal, independent, separate State action will be proper and necessary. But resting, as do these political communities, upon a common social organization, constituting the sole object of attack and invasion, confronted by a common enemy, encompassed by a common peril — in a word, involved in one common cause, it does seem to me that the mode and manner of defense and redress should be determined in a full and free conference of all the Southern States, and that their mutual safety requires full co-operation in carrying out the measures there agreed upon. The source whence oppression is now to be apprehended is an organized power, a political government in operation, to which resistance, though ultimately successful (and I do not for a moment question the issue), might be costly and destructive. We should look these facts in the face, nor close our eyes to what we may reasonably expect to encounter. I have therefore thought that a due regard to the opinions of all the slave-holding States would require that those measures which concern all alike and must ultimately involve all should be agreed upon in common convention and sustained by united action.
I have before expressed the belief and confidence, and do not now totally yield the hope, that if such a convention of delegates from the slave-holding States be assembled, and, after calm deliberation, present to the political party now holding the dominance of power in the Northern States and soon to assume the reins of national power, the firm alternative of ample guarantees to all our rights and security for future immunity or resistance, our just demands would be conceded and the Union be perpetuated stronger than before. Such an issue, so presented to the Congress of the United States and to the Legislatures and people of the Northern States (and it is practicable, in abundant time before the Government has passed into other hands) would come with a moral force which, if not potent to control the votes of the representative men, might, produce a voice from their constituents which would influence them. But if it fail, our cause would emerge, if possible, stronger fortified by the approbation of the whole conservative sentiment of the country and supported by a host of Northern friends who would prove, in the ultimate issue, most valuable allies. After such an effort every man in the slave-holding States would feel satisfied that all had been done which could be done to preserve the legacy bequeathed us by the patriots of ’76 and the statesmen of ’89, and the South would stand in solid, unbroken phalanx a unit. In the brief time left it seems to me impracticable to effect this object through the agency of commissioners sent to the different States. A convention of authorized delegates is the true mode of bringing about co-operation among the Southern States, and to that movement I would respectfully ask your attention, and through you solicit the co-operation of Alabama.
There is yet another subject upon which the very highest considerations appeal for a united Southern expression. On the 4th of March next the Federal government, unless contingencies now unlooked for occur, will pass into the control of the Republican party. So far as the policy of the incoming administration is foreshadowed in the antecedents of the President elect, in the enunciations of its representative men and the avowals of the press, it will be to ignore the acts of sovereignty thus proclaimed by Southern States, and of coercing the continuance of the Union. Its inevitable result will be civil war of the most fearful and revolting character. Now, however the people of the South may differ as to the mode and measure of redress, I take it that the fifteen slave holding States are united in opposition to such a policy, and would stand in solid column to resist the application of force by the Federal authority to coerce the seceding States. But it is of the utmost importance that before such a policy is attempted to be inaugurated the voice of the South should be heard in potential, official, and united protest. Possibly the incoming Administration, would not be so dead to reason as after such an expression to persist in throwing the country into civil war, and we may therefore avert the calamity. An attempt “to enforce the laws” by blockading two or three Southern States would be regarded as quite a different affair from a declaration of war against 13,000,000 of freemen; and if Mr. Lincoln and his advisers be made to realize that such would be the issue of the “force policy,” it will be abandoned. Should we not realize to our enemies that consequence and avert the disastrous results! But if our enemies be crazed by victory and power and madly persist in their purpose, the South will be better prepared to resist.
You ask the co-operation of the Southern States in order to redress our wrongs. So do we. You have no hope of a redress in the Union. We yet look hopefully to assurances that a powerful reaction is going on at the North. You seek a remedy in secession from the Union. We wish the united action of the slave States, assembled in convention within the Union. You would act separately; we unitedly. If Alabama and the other slave States would meet us in convention, say at Nashville or elsewhere, as early as the 5th day of February, I do not doubt that we would agree in forty-eight hours upon such reasonable guarantees, by way of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as would command at least the approbation of our numerous friends in the free States, and by giving them time to make the question with the people there, such a reaction in public opinion might yet take place as to secure us our rights and save the Government. If the effort failed the South would be united to a man, the North divided, the horrors of civil war would be averted (if anything can avert the calamity). And if that be not possible we would be in a better position to meet the dreadful collision. By such action, too, if it failed to preserve the Government, the basis of another confederacy would have been agreed upon, and the new government would in this mode be launched into operation much more speedily and easily than by the action you propose.
In addition to the foregoing, I have the honor to refer you to my letter of the 16th ultimo to the editor of The Yeoman and to my letter to the Governors of the slave States, dated the 9th of December, herewith transmitted to you, which, together with what I have said in this communication, embodies, with all due deference to the opinions of others, in my judgment, the principles, policy, and position which the slave States ought to maintain. The Legislature of Kentucky will assemble on the l7th of January, when the sentiment of the State will doubtless find official expression. Meantime, if the action of Alabama shall be arrested until the conference she has sought can be concluded by communication with that department of the government, I shall be pleased to transmit to the Legislature your views. I regret to have seen in the recent messages of two or three of our Southern sister States a recommendation of the passage of laws prohibiting the purchase by the citizens of those States of the slaves of the border slave-holding States. Such a course is not only liable to the objection so often urged by us against the abolitionists of the North of an endeavor to prohibit the slave-trade between the States, but it is likewise wanting in that fraternal feeling which should be common to States which are identified in their institutions and interests. It affords me pleasure, however, to add, as an act of justice to your State, that I have seen no indication of such a purpose on the part of Alabama. It would certainly be considered an act of injustice for the border slave-holding States to prohibit, by their legislation, the purchase of the products of the cotton-growing States, even though it be founded upon the mistaken policy of protection to their own interests. I cannot close this correspondence without again expressing to you my gratification in receiving you as the honored commissioner from your proud and chivalrous State, and at your courteous, able, dignified, and manly bearing in discharging the solemn and important duties which have been assigned to you.
I have the honor to be, with sentiments of high consideration, your friend and obedient servant,
Letter from A.A. Echols, Savannah, Georgia, to Emory Washburn, former governor of Massachusetts dated November 12, 1860
Savannah 12th Nov. 1860
Gov. E. Washburn
My visit to Cambridge in Sept. Being entirely of a social character, there was not an opportunity of exchanging political opinions to the extent desired by me. But the information received at Boston that you were identified with the Republican Party, taken in connection with some remarks which passed between you and another gentleman at your house that evening in reference to a political meeting to be held that night in Boston, leads me to presume that I do not assign you a wrong position in supposing you to have cooperated with that party in the late Presidential Elections, and hence the greater willingness on my part now to address you a line in reference to some of the questions of the day. And let not my humble position prevent you from weighing well any thought their[there] may be suggested by what I may say. During my visit North this Summer I was in all the New England states besides spending some time in the State of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Being a lover of the Union, I was anxious to discover some means by which the progress of Northern aggression upon the rights of the South might be arrested and thus save the country from what seemed to me to be impending danger. To arrive at a correct conclusion I thought is important to ascertain the true sentiment of the people of the North, and for this purpose I mingled freely with the various classes—the politicians, professional gentlemen, merchants, mechanics and farmers, attended political meetings and watched closely the pulsations of the popular sentiment; and I was brought unwillingly yet irresistibly to the conclusion that the great body of the people in all the non slaveholding states are honestly and determinedly opposed to the institutions of the South: opposed not only to the extension of slavery into the common territories, but opposed to its existence as now held in the several states. Which many would disclaim any purpose or desire to interfere with it in the present slave states—being instructed as they acknowledged by the constitution of the country, yet their very argument, in opposition to the extension of slavery, were of such a character as to disclose clearly the fact that they regarded the South as holding to a great political, moral and social evil. I focused upon examination and inquiry that this dominant sentiment in opposition to slavery had induced eleven and perhaps more of the Southern or Non-slaveholding states to pass state laws conflicting with the constitution of the United States upon the subject of the rendition of the fugitive slaves. My convictions were that when Massachusetts, by legislative action, subjects the citizen of a Southern state to a fine of Five Thousand dollars, and imprisonment for five years for making an effort to reclaim his property under the guarantees of the Constitution of his country, such must be regarded as an overt act of aggression upon the rights of the South: That when New Hampshire by state action assumed the position that the fugitive slave, found within her limits was free absolutely, she not only committed an overt act of aggression when the rights of the South, in thus violating the constitution of the United States, but by such act placed herself in a position of practical disunion: and that the act, of all the states having a tendency to obstruct the execution of the Fugitive Slave law, are overt acts of aggression, and well calculated to arouse the Southern states to an inquiry in the cause of all this war upon their rights, and to the necessity of a remedy leaving speedily applied. When I found that this general sentiment in opposition to slavery was seized by an element claiming to be conservative; that it had become embodied in the organization of a great political Northern party—holding its Sectional Conventions and nominating its sectional candidates for President an Vice President of these United States; and when I discovered as I believed I did before I left New York the last of September that this same political party would place in the Presidential Chair who was a fit and true representative of the sentiment of opposition to the South, I then and there declared, and proclaimed it immediately upon my arrival in Savannah, that the South in justice ought not to submit, and in my opinion would not submit to Mr. Lincoln’s administration. The 6th of November comes on—a day hereafter to be memorable, in my opinion, as consummating the folly of Southern delusion in starting the death blow to the best government upon Earth; the vote is cast, and the Telegraph tells us that Lincoln is elected. Immediately upon the receipt of this inform-ation in the North, Federal officers resign, public meetings are called, legislation are convened, and a general cry for State conventions to be held to devise means for the redress of our wrongs. The sentiment of Secession from the Northern States prevails with a unanimity that astonishes even the most ardent advisers of that Measure. For do I believe that a proposition for any compromise, come from what quarter it may, will be entertained by any respectable portion of the people of the Cotton States. I have now come to the point to which I desired to invite your attention, and which is the main object of these lines. First assuming the following proposition—that the Cotton States and perhaps all the slave states will secede from the Union; that this Secession will be a peaceful one; that new governmental organizations must be made in the South; that a re-organization to some extent of the government North will most likely take place, and that the various relations which the people North and South [bear?] to each other demand a just and equitable ad-justment of commercial arrangements. Let liberal and satisfactory commercial resolutions be once established between the two sections, and the foundation will have been laid for that comity in all other matters so much to be desired by every true hearted American North and South. Then, in taking such steps in the South, as wisdom and prudence may seem to dictate, in view of the mutual dependence of the two sections of our country, are we to look to those who have of late had the control and management of public affairs in the North, and whose policy has brought ruin upon the country, to take the lead in the inauguration of the practical and satisfactory adjustment of our various relations for the future, or may [be?] hope to [sew?] the organization of a new party to whose wisdom and guidance is to be committed the great work of establishing anew the foundations of peace and happiness for all our people.
I presume that now my purpose in writing has been fully indicated; but lest you should be disposed to question the correctness of my proposition permit me to indulge a word of those features in the [drama?]. Is it the first proposition—the certainty of secession, which you are disposed to regard as unsound? To this I can only answer that I fear you are not well acquainted with the Southern people and Southern sentiment touching this question. Do you point to similar demonstrations heretofore made in the South and the means by which they were quieted as a refutation of my position? I answer that the present is unlike any case that has ever arisen amongst us. The ground of our action does not spring from any position taken in the canvass of questions in the National Councils; it is not in a shape to come within the scope of the Federal legislation—a question to be taken hold of and controled[sic] in the character of a compromise for the pacification of the conflicting interests. It lies deeper, and broader, and comes up in a form more alarming and insulting to Southern interests and Southern honour[sic] than any that has ever preceded it. It assumes its most fearful character in the acts of your Sovereign States; it now proposes to seize the powers of the Federal Government and wield them by one Section of the country upon principles of hostility to the rights and interests of an other Section; and it will be extreme folly and madness in my estimation for any man or party to adopt a course of action upon the supposition that the cotton states will not resist such aggression, even to the [sundering?] of the last ties that bind them to the Federal Union. And I shall be mistaken if any man shall be found at the head of Executive department of the General Government who does not recognize a vast difference between Nullification and peaceful secession. The one finds us in the Union in conflict with Federal Authority; the other places us out of the Union and leaves the Federal Authorities free to act upon all who remain. The one is Revolution, the other is the exercise of the rights of the state sovereignty necessarily reserved to her from the very nature of the original Federal Compact This doctrine I presume will not be seriously questioned after this declaration of Mr. Webster—”I do not hesitate to say and I repeat that if the Southern states refuse willfully and deliberately to carry into effect that part of the constitution which respects the restoration of fugitive slaves, the South would no longer be bound to observe the compact. A bargain broken on one side is a bargain broken on all sides.” My next proposition is that the secession will be a peaceful one. This opinion I think is fully sustained by the argument which has been presented in the justification of our Secession. If the South peacefully withdraws from the Union, and the right of secession is recognized by the General Government, who is to strike the first blow? And for what? I confess that I met several gentlemen in the North who declared to me in conversation that “if the South seceded the North would whip her back again,” and I always found that my first answer to such suggestion was taking the form of a smile of scorn at a proposition to my mind so ridiculous. Suppose South Carolina alone secedes, and that the General Government wages a war upon her and puts her down; she would not then be in the Union; she would be merely a conquered Province; and who that has the least acquaintance with the genius of our people and their notion of Government can suppose that such a state of things as the subjugation of a sovereign state could long exist? If South Carolina then cannot be driven back into the Union unless she choose to do so, how absurd will it be to suppose that several of the Southern states and perhaps a combina-tion of them could be forced back into the Union. I can imagine but one class of persons who would be disposed to address such a course—those upon whom the lights of civilization, the calls of humanity, the heaven-born principles of social ties, the diffusion of political intelligence, and the recognition of the necessi-ties of commerce have all been last in the [full?] purpose and determination that one section of our country shall rule and crush out the [?] and vital rights of the other. And if then exists in the North a class of this character of sufficient strength to grasp and wield the powers of the Government to the subjugation of our rights, it affords the strongest possible evidence that long since we should have set up for counselors and have established a separate and inde-pendent Southern Republic. I take it then that all the great consideration, which can be brought to bear upon this subject are opposed to civil war and the shedding of blood, and that consequently, our secession will be a peaceful one.
These two main propositions having been once established and their purposes fulfilled, all minor ones will follow in their accomplishment as a matter of course, but in order to be accomplished for the greatest good to the greatest numbers, they should be committed to wise heads and patriotic hearts. Having been lead to believe that you are one of those possessing the qualifi-cations and dispostition to take a liberal and comprehensive view of the great questions affecting our common humanity, is the apology of
- A. Echols