Gentlemen of the Convention: Honored by the Government of Mississippi with her commission to invite your co-operation in the measures, she has been compelled to adopt for the vindication of her rights and her honor in the present perilous crisis of the country, I desire to express to you, in the name and behalf of her people, the sentiments of esteem and admiration which they in common with the whole Southern people entertain for the character and fame of this ancient and renowned Commonwealth.
Born under the same confederated government with yourselves, and participating in the common inheritance of Constitutional liberty in the achievement of which your ancestors played so distinguished a part, we take as much of pride and pleasure as you, her native sons, in the great achievements and still greater sacrifices which you have made in the cause of the common government, which has in the past united them to you; and nothing, which concerns your honor and dignity in the future can fail to enlist their deepest sympathies. In recurring to our past history, we recognize the State of Virginia as the leader in the first great struggle for independence; foremost not only in the vindication of her own rights, but in the assertion and defence of the endangered liberties of her sister colonies; and by the eloquence of her orators and statesmen, as well as by the courage of her people arousing the whole American people in resistance to British aggression. And when the common cause had been crowned with victory under her great warrior-statesman, we recognize her also as the leader in that great work by which the emancipated colonies were united under a written Constitution, which for the greater part of a century has been the source of unexampled progress in all that constitutes the greatness and the happiness of nations; nor do we forget that that progress has been due in a preeminent degree to the munificent generosity of Virginia, in donating as a free gift to her country, that vast territory North-West of the Ohio river, which her arms alone had conquered, and which now constitutes the seat of empire, and, alas, too, the seat of that irresistible power, which now erects its haughty crest in defiance and hostility, and threatens the destruction of the honor and the prosperity of this great State.
I desire also to say to you gentlemen, that in being compelled to sever our connexion with the government which has hitherto united us, the hope which lies nearest to our hearts is that, at no distant day, we may be again joined with you in another Union, which shall spring into life under more favorable omens and with happier auspices than that which has passed away; and if, in the uncertain future which lies before us, that hope shall be destined to disappointment, it will be the source of enduring sorrow and regret to us that we can no more hail the glorious soil of Virginia as a part of our common country, nor her brave and generous people as our fellow citizens.
Fully participating in these sentiments myself, it is with pride and pleasure that I accepted the commission of my State for the purpose I have indicated. Though, when I consider the gravity of the occasion, the high interests which are involved, and the enduring influence which your deliberations are to have upon the destinies of present and future generations, I confess my regret that the cause on which I am come has not been entrusted to abler and worthier hands.
In setting forth to you, gentlemen, the action of my State and the causes which have induced it, I shall be compelled to speak in terms of condemnation of a large portion of what has hitherto been our common country; but, in doing so, I wish to be understood as excepting from whatever terms of censure I may employ, that large body of patriotic and conservative men of the Northern section, who have, in all our struggles, manfully defended the constitutional rights of our section. From them, the people of my State, have no cause of complaint, and whatever the future may bring forth, we shall ever remember their, efforts in behalf of the Constitution and Union, as we received them from their ancestors and ours with admiration and gratitude. Our grievances are not from them, but from the dominant faction at the North, which has trampled them under foot and now strikes at us from the elevation it has obtained upon the prostrate bodies of our friends.
I propose, gentlemen, in discharge of my mission to you, briefly to invite your attention to a review of the events which have transpired in Mississippi since the fatal day when that sectional Northern party triumphed over the Constitution and the Union at the recent election, and afterwards to the causes which have induced the action of my State.
On the 29th of November last, the Legislature of Mississippi, by an unanimous vote, called a Convention of her people, to take into consideration the existing relations between the Federal Government and herself, and to take such measures for the vindication of her sovereignty and the protection of her institutions as should appear to be demanded. At the same time, a preamble, setting forth the grievances of the Southern people on the slavery question, and a resolution, declaring that the secession of each aggrieved State, was the proper remedy, was adopted by a vote almost amounting to unanimity. The last clause of the preamble and the resolution, are as follows:
“Whereas, they (the people of the non-slaveholding States) have elected a majority of electors for President and Vice-President, on the ground that there exists an irreconcilable conflict between the two sections of the Confederacy, in reference to their respective systems of labor, and in pursuance of their hostility to us and our institutions, have thus declared to the civilized world that the powers of the government are to be used for the dishonor and overthrow of the Southern section of this great Confederacy. Therefore, be it
“Resolved by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, That in the opinion of those who constitute said Legislature, the secession of each aggrieved State is the proper remedy for these injuries.”
On the day fixed for the meeting of the Convention, that body convened in Jackson, and on the 9th January, 1861, proceeded to the adoption of an ordinance of secession from the Federal Union, by which the State of Mississippi withdrew from the Federal Government the powers theretofore confided to it, and assumed an independent position among the powers of the earth; determined thenceforth to hold the people of the non-slaveholding section of the late confederacy, as she holds the balance of mankind: enemies in war, and in peace friends. But at the same time, and by the same ordinance, it was provided “that the State of Mississippi hereby gives her consent to form a Federal Union with such of the States as may have seceded, or may secede, from the Union of the United States of America, upon the basis of the present Constitution of the United States.”
This action of the Convention of Mississippi, gentlemen of the Convention, was the inevitable result of the position which she, with other slaveholding States, had already taken, in view of the anticipated result of the recent Presidential election, and must have been foreseen by every intelligent observer of the progress of events.
I As early as the 10th of February, 1860, her Legislature had, with the general approbation of her people, adopted the following resolution:
“Resolved, That the election of a President of the United States by the votes of one section of the Union only, on the ground that there exists an irrepressible conflict between the two sections in reference to their respective systems of labor and with an avowed purpose of hostility to the institution of slavery, as it prevails in the Southern States, and as recognized in the compact of Union, would so threaten a destruction of the ends for which the Constitution was formed, as to justify the slaveholding States in taking council together for their separate protection and safety.”
This was the ground taken, gentlemen, not only by Mississippi, but by other slaveholding States, in view of the then threatened purpose, of a party founded upon the idea of unrelenting and eternal hostility to the institution of slavery, to take possession of the power of the Government and use it to our destruction. It cannot, therefore, be pretended that the Northern people did not have ample warning of the disastrous and fatal consequences that would follow the success of that party in the election, and impartial history will emblazon it to future generations, that it was their folly, their recklessness and their ambition, not ours, which shattered into pieces this great confederated Government, and destroyed this great temple of constitutional liberty which their ancestors and ours erected, in the hope that their descendants might together worship beneath its roof as long as time should last.
But, in defiance of the warning thus given and of the evidences accumulated from a thousand other sources, that the Southern people would never submit to the degradation implied in the result of such an election, that sectional party, bounded by a geographical line which excluded it from the possibility of obtaining a single electoral vote in the Southern States, avowing for its sentiment implacable hatred to us, and for its policy the destruction of our institutions, and appealing to Northern prejudice, Northern passion, Northern ambition and Northern hatred of us, for success, thus practically disfranchizing the whole body of the Southern people, proceeded to the nomination of a candidate for the Presidency who, though not the most conspicuous personage in its ranks, was yet the truest representative of its destructive principles.
The steps by which it proposed to effect its purposes, the ultimate extinction of slavery, and the degradation of the Southern people, are too familiar to require more than a passing allusion from me.
Under the false pretence of restoring the government to the original principles of its founders, but in defiance and contempt of those principles, it avowed its purpose to take possession of every department of power, executive, legislative and judicial, to employ them in hostility to our institutions. By a corrupt exercise of the power of appointment to office, they proposed to pervert the judicial power from its true end and purpose, that of defending and preserving the Constitution. to be the willing instrument of its purposes of wrong and oppression. In the meantime it proposed to disregard the decisions of that august tribunal, and by the exertion of bare-faced power, to exclude slavery from the public Territory, the common property of all the States, and to abolish the internal slave trade between the States acknowledging the legality of that institution.
It proposed further to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and in all places within the Territory of the several States, subject under the Constitution to the jurisdiction of Congress, and to refuse hereafter under all circumstances, admission into the Union of any State with a Constitution recognizing the institution of slavery.
Having thus placed the institution of slavery, upon which rests not only the whole wealth of the Southern people, but their very social and political existence, under the condemnation of a government established for the common benefit, it proposed in the future, to encourage immigration into the public Territory, by giving the public land to immigrant settlers, so as, within a brief time, to bring into the Union free States enough to enable it to abolish slavery within the States themselves.
I have but stated generally the outline and the general programme of the party to which I allude without entering into particular details or endeavoring to specify the various forms of attack, which have been devised and suggested by the leaders of that party upon our institutions.
That this general statement of its purposes is a truthful one, no intelligent observer of events will for a moment deny; but the general view and purpose of the party has been sufficiently developed by the President elect.
“It is my opinion,” says Mr. Lincoln, “that the slavery agitation will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the house to fall, but I expect it to cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all another. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest its further spread and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the States-old as well as new, North as well as South.”
The party thus organized on the principle of hostility to our fundamental institutions, and upon the avowed policy of their destruction, with a candidate thus representing that principle and policy, has succeeded in the Presidential election, by obtaining a large majority of the votes of the people of the non-slaveholding States, and on the 4th of March next, would, unless prevented, have taken possession of the power and patronage of our common government to wield them to our destruction. In contemptuous disregard of the principle on which that government was founded, and received our assent, to insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and, within the limit of its constitutional power, to exercise a fostering and paternal care over every interest of every section, it was to become our foe and our oppressor, and never to pause in its career of hostility and oppression until our dearest rights, as well as our honor, were crushed beneath its iron heel.
We, the descendants of the leaders of that illustrious race of men who achieved our independence and established our institutions, were to become a degraded and a subject class, under that government which our fathers created to secure the equality of all the States-to bend our necks to the yoke which a false fanaticism had prepared for them, and to hold our rights and our property at the sufferance of our foes, and to accept whatever they might choose to leave us as a free gift at the hands of an irresponsible power, and not as the measure of our constitutional rights.
All this, gentlemen, we were expected to submit to, under the fond illusion that at some future day, when our enemies had us in their power, they would relent in their hostility; that fanaticism would pause in its career without having accomplished its purpose; that the spirit o oppression would be exercised, and, in the hour of its triumph, would drop its weapons from its bands, and cease to wound its victim. W were expected, in the language of your own inspired orator, to “indulge in the fond illusions of hope; to shut our eyes to the painful truth and listen to the song of that syren until it transformed us into beasts.’ But we in Mississippi, gentlemen, are no longer under that illusion. Hope has died in bur hearts. It received its death-knell at the fatal ballot-box in November last, and the song of the syren no longer sounds in our ears. We have thought long and maturely upon this subject, and we have made up our minds as to the course we should adopt. We ask no compromise and we want n one. We know that we should not get it if we were base enough to desire it, and we have made the irrevocable resolve to take our interests into our own keeping.
I have already said that twelve months since the State of Mississippi, in company with other slaveholding States, had taken a position, in anticipation of the result of the recent Presidential election, from which they could not recede if they were base enough to desire it. I shall be pardoned by you, I trust, for adding that an event, of then recent occurrence, which deeply concerned the honor and the dignity of Virginia, exercised a controlling influence in consolidating the Southern mind on this subject. When the exasperation was at the highest, which had been caused by the long and weary struggle which the Southern people had been compelled to make in defence of their institutions, the daring outrage on your soil, to which I allude, was perpetrated.
This State, relying on the faith of constitutional obligations and of those friendly relations which they were created to uphold and maintain, unconscious herself of any sentiment less noble than that of unwavering loyalty to her constitutional obligations, and, therefore, wholly unsuspicious of any treasonable design against her own peace and welfare, was, in a moment of fancied repose, in a time of profound peace, was, to her own amazement and that of the whole Southern people, made the scene of a foray by a band of conspirators and traitors from the Northern States, whose purpose was to light up the fires of a servile insurrection, and to give your dwellings to the torch of the incendiary and your wives and children to the knives of assassins. The disgraceful attempt, it is true, ended in ignominious failure. True that your slaves proved loyal, and by a prompt execution of your laws you vindicated your dignity and exacted from the wretched criminals the just forfeiture of their lives. But the event had, nevertheless, a terrible significance in the minds of Southern people. It was justly considered as the necessary and logical result of the principles, boldly and recklessly avowed by the sectional party which was then grasping at the reins of government and which is now about to be inaugurated into power.
Let it not be supposed that I refer to this disgraceful event with a desire to stir up a spirit of hostility and revenge, or to re-awaken those sentiments of just indignation which the fact is so well calculated to excite. I refer to it as a necessary and legitimate result of the irrepressible conflict which has been proclaimed, of which the President elect gave a true exposition when he said “There is a judgment and a conscience at the North against slavery, which must find an outlet either through the peaceful channel of the ballot box or in the multiplication of John Brown raids.” I refer to it as a warning to the people of the Southern States, and to you the people of Virginia, of what they and you are to expect in the future when that party, whose principles thus give encouragement, aid and comfort to felons and traitors, shall have firmly established its dominion over you.
These are some of the causes, gentlemen, which have at last convinced the people of Mississippi that the hour has arrived when if the South would maintain her honor, she must take her own destiny into her own hands; but let it not be supposed that they have not always felt a strong attachment to the union of the Constitution, provided that instrument could be administered in the spirit in which it was created. That form of Government, on the contrary, is dear to their hearts and its necessity to them and their posterity has received the sanction of their judgments. Loving it not wisely, but too well, they have clung to it long after its obligations were abandoned by those who were the chief recipients of its benefits, under the fond illusion that a returning sense of justice and a restoration of fraternal relations formerly existing, would secure to them their rights. They long and vainly hoped that the time would again return, when each and every section of the Confederacy would recognize the rights and interests of all, and that we might in harmony with each other have continued to rejoice over what had been achieved of glory and prosperity in the past, and to look forward with united hope to the bright and glorious prospect which an observance of the principles of the Constitution promised in the future.
Alas, how has that hope been disappointed; how has that illusion been dispelled!
Could we think that the, crisis which is now upon us was but a temporary ebullition of temper in one section of the country, which would in brief time subside, we might even yet believe that all was not lost, and that we might yet rest securely under the shadow of the Constitution. But the stern truth of history, if we accept its teachings, forbids us such reflections. It is not to be denied that the sentiment of hatred to our institutions in the Northern section of the Confederacy is the slow and mature growth of many years of false teaching, and that as we receded further and further from the earlier and purer days of the Republic, and from the memory of associated toils and perils in a common cause which once united us, that sentiment of hatred has been fanned from a small spark into a mighty conflagration, whose unextinguishable and devouring flames are reducing our empire into ashes.
Ere yet that generation which achieved our liberty had passed entirely from the scene of action, it manifested itself in the Missouri controversy. Then were heard the first sounds of that fatal strife which has raged, with occasional intermissions, down to this hour. And so ominous was it of future disaster, even in its origin, that it filled even the seclate soul of Mr. Jefferson with alarm; he did not hesitate to pronounce it, even then, as the death-knell of the Union, and in mournful and memorable words to congratulate himself that he should not survive to witness the calamities he predicted. Said he:
“This momentous question, like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the present, but that is only a reprieve, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concurred in and held up to the passions of men, will never be obliterated, and every new irritation ‘ will mark it deeper and deeper, until it will kindle such mutual and mortal hatred as to render separation preferable to eternal discord. I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness for their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it.”
But, so far were the Northern people from being warned bv these sad prophetic words, that at each renewal of the struggle the sentiment of hostility has acquired additional strength and intensity. The passions enlisted in it have become more bitter, the disregard of constitutional obligations more marked, and the purpose to destroy our institutions more fixed and definite.
An infidel fanaticism, crying out for a higher law than that of the Constitution and a holier Bible than that of the Christian, has been enlisted in the strife, and in every form in which the opinions of a people can be fixed and their sentiments perverted. In the schoolroom, the pulpit, on the rostrum, in the lecture-room and in the halls of legislation, hatred and contempt of us and our institutions, and of the Constitution which protects them, have been .,inculcated upon the present generation of Northern people. Above all, they have been taught to believe that we are a race inferior to them in morality and civilization, and that they are engaged in a holy crusade for our benefit in seeking the destruction of that institution which they consider the chief impediment to our advance, but which we, relying on sacred and profane history for our belief in its morality, believe lies at the very foundation of our social and political fabric and constitutes their surest support.
This, gentlemen, is indeed an irrepressible conflict which we cannot shrink from if we would; and though the President elect may congratulate himself that the crisis is at hand which he predicted, we, if we are true to ourselves, will make it fruitful of good by ending forever the ‘fatal struggle and placing our institutions beyond the reach of further hostility.
I know not, gentlemen, what may be your views of the subject, nor what you purpose in this crisis; but I have already told you what the people of Mississippi have resolved on, and to that determination, you may rely upon it, they will adhere through every extremity of prosperous or adverse fortune. They, like you, are the descendants of a revolutionary race, which for far less cause raised the banner of resistance against a far mightier power, and never lowered it until that victory which the god of battles gives to brave men in a just cause, had crowned their efforts and established their independence; and they have, like them, decided that the time has arrived to trust for the safety of their honor and rights only to their own strong arms and stout hearts, rather than submit to placing those priceless blessings in the keeping of their inveterate foes.
I shall enter, gentlemen, into no discussion of the right of secession, whether it be peaceful and constitutional or violent and revolutionary. If declared that the question must, in the nature of things, be decided first by those who would force us back into a Union with them, which we have repudiated, and when they shall have made up their minds on that subject, it will remain for us to join the issue and accept the consequences, be they peaceful or bloody. We shall do all in our power to avoid a hostile collision with those who were once our brothers, though now divided from us by an impassable gulph; we wish them no harm, and could our prayers avail them, we would freely offer them, that in their future destiny they may have that prosperity, liberty and peace which we intend to seek for ourselves under a new organization. All good men too will pray that that Providence which presides over the destinies of nations and shapes their ends, rough-hew them as they will, will so ordain that the friends of liberty throughout the world may not have cause to mourn over the folly and madness and wickedness of an effort by arms on this continent, to subject a whole people, united in the vindication of their rights, and resolved to die in their defence.
But if it must be so, and we are compelled to take up arms, we trust we shall knew how to bear ourselves as freemen engaged in a struggle. for their dearest rights. We have learned the lesson how to do so from the history of your own noble Commonwealth, and we shall attempt, at least, to profit by the glorious example.
The conviction of the justice of their cause will be a tower of strength in the hour of battle, and inspire the hearts of the Southern people like the sounds of that divine music, which, in the words of Milton,
“Cheered the hearts of heroes old,
Arming to battle; and instead of rage
Deliberate valor breathed firm and unmoved
By dread of death to flight or foul retreat.”
And when that hour comes, we know, too, where Virginia will stand. Her banner will float proudly “over the perilous edge of battle” wherever it rages, and the blood of her sons will enrich every field where Southern men strike for their rights and their honors.
Having thus stated the action of my State, and the causes which induced it, I should probably best consult the proprieties of the occasion, by adding nothing to what I have said. I trust, however, I shall be pardoned for offering one or two suggestions for your consideration. The fundamental idea which has influenced the action of the seceding States, is the demonstrated necessity that the Southern people should take their interest and their honor into their own keeping, and thus rescue them from the power of an avowedly hostile government. It is not that they are opposed to an union of the Confederated States. Such a form of government is not only dear to their hearts, but its value and necessity to them, and their posterity receives the recognition and approval of their judgments. It is no fault of theirs that the Union, as it recently existed, has ceased to be practicable or desirable. The Southern people may well recur with pride to the history of their connexion with that government. Well may they ask when have they, as States or individuals, proved faithless to the obligations it imposed? In what point have they fallen short of the full measure of duty and comity to their sister States? What indulgence have they not showed to the insulting prejudices and unreasoning fanaticism of the other section? What sacrifices of blood and treasure have they not made in the common cause, and’what efforts, to bring back the harmony (halcyon days) which in the language of one of her most eloquent sons, reigned in those days when Massachusetts summoned Washington to lead the armies of New England, and when Virginia and Carolina sent supplies of corn and rice to their famishing brethren in Boston?
But such a form of government being demonstrated to be impracticable with the Northern people, all that is left us is the creation of a great and powerful Southern Union, composed of States inhabited bv homogeneous populations, and having a common interest, common sympathies, common hopes, and a common destiny.
This is the inevitable destiny of the Southern people, and this destiny Virginia holds in her hands. By uniting herself to her sisters of the South who are already in the field, she will make that a peaceful revolution which may otherwise be violent and bloody. At the sound of her trumpet in the ranks of the Southern States, “grim-visaged war will smooth his wrinkled front,” peace and prosperity will again smile upon the country, and we shall hear no more threats of coercion against sovereign States asserting their independence. The Southern people, under your lead, will again be united, and liberty, prosperity and power, in happy union, will take up their abode in the great Southern Republic, to which we may safely entrust our destinies. These are the noble gifts which Virginia can again confer on the country, by prompt and decided action at the present.
In conclusion, gentlemen, let me renew to you the invitation of my State and people, to unite and co-operate with your Southern sisters who are already in the field, in defence of their rights. We invite you to come out from the house of your enemies, and take a proud position in that of your friends and kindred. Come and be received as an elder brother whose counsels will guide our action and whose leadership we will willingly follow. Come and give us the aid of your advice in counsel and your arm in battle, and be assured that when you do come, as we know you will do at no distant day, the signal of your move will send a thrill of joy vibrating through every Southern heart, from the Rio Grande to the Atlantic, and a shout of joyous congratulation will go up which will shake the continent from its centre to its circumference.