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Chapter LXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

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Impelled by such motives as these, the people of South Carolina, which of all the States in the Union had for years been known to be the most restive under the Federal obligation, met in convention at Columbia, and on the 20th of December, 1860, voted the State out of the Union. The Declaration of Secession concluded as follows: -

" We, therefore, the people of South Carolina, by our delegates in convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America is dissolved; and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State, with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do."

The South Carolina politicians had rightly calculated that the example thus set would soon be followed by other Slave States. Between this date and May, 1861, the following States adopted ordinances of secession, voting themselves out of the Union: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The last four States seceded unwillingly from the Union, and only because, hostilities having broken out, it was practically impossible for them to remain neutral, and community of interest attracted them to the Slave States that had already seceded.

In the face of these astounding events the attitude of the Federal executive was for some time singularly weak and irresolute. Mr. Buchanan expressed his grave doubts whether the Constitution gave the President any power to coerce into submission any State attempting to withdraw, or which had actually withdrawn, from the confederacy. His Attorney-General, Mr. Black, held similar language. The Democratic party at the North were prepared to bewail the disruption of the Union as an accomplished fact. Mr. Buchanan's acts, however, were less complying than his words. He instructed the officer in command of the Federal fortress in Charleston harbour, Fort Sumter, to hold the post firmly, to maintain to the utmost of his power the status quo, but if attacked by the troops of South Carolina, to resist.

The first shot fired in anger in this civil war was aimed from a battery on Morris Island, on the 9th of January, 1861, at a vessel bringing reinforcements to Fort Sumter. South Carolina sent commissioners to Washington to negotiate with the President for the peaceful surrender to her of Federal forts and property within the limits of the State. Mr. Buchanan declined to recognise them in any other capacity but that of private citizens of South Carolina; however, a sort of informal understanding was arrived at, that so long as each side remained passive force should not be resorted to.

On the 18th of February the leading men in the seven States which had then seceded having by this time arranged the terms of a new Federation, to be called "The Confederate States of America" - Mr. Jefferson Davis and Mr. Stephens were inaugurated at Montgomery, Alabama, as President and Vice-President of the new confederacy. A Constitution was adopted nearly resembling that of the United States, the main difference being that the President was to be elected for six years instead of four, and could not be re-elected during his term of office. In his inaugural address, Mr. Jefferson Davis said, employing many of the very words of the original Declaration of Independence: "Our present condition.... illustrates the American idea that governments rest upon the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter and abolish governments whenever they become destructive to the ends for which they were established."

On the day prescribed by the Constitution, March 4th, 1861, Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated President, and sent to Congress the usual inaugural address. In it he declared his intention, in accordance with the unvarying tenor of all his public utterances, to uphold slavery in those States where it existed. The Fugitive Slave Law was part of the Constitution; it was the law of the land; let none presume to violate it. Abiding by the law, all, whether at the North or the South, would be kept in the right way. The Union was perpetual, not temporary; perpetuity was implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of every national government. The minority must consent to be controlled by the majority. " It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances." A noble strain of simple natural eloquence characterised the conclusion of the address.

It may be worth while here briefly to inquire, while we have these two opposing manifestoes before us, what was the weak point (for nearly all Englishmen are now agreed that there was a weak point) in the political reasoning by which Mr. Jefferson Davis justified secession. That the theory of government and allegiance contained in the Declaration of Independence put forth by the founders of the Republic in 1776, contains anything in it which would condemn the action of the secessionists, it appears difficult to maintain. That instrument has much to say about the rights of peoples, but not one word about their duties. Whenever, it says, any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends which all men are entitled to enjoy - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - " it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it." By " the people " the framers of the Declaration of Independence could not have meant the majority of free citizens living under the particular form of government objected to; for, so understood, the clause would have condemned their own conduct, since the majority of free citizens living in 1776 under the British crown were decidedly opposed to the independence of the American colonies. They must have meant, therefore, by "people," the same thing that Jefferson Davis meant, namely, a mass of population, so far geographically and politically distinct from the remaining inhabitants of the State to which they belonged as to have, conceivably, different interests, and possessed of territory and other resources in a degree sufficient for the requirements of a new nation. Such a people, according to the Declaration of Independence, may " alter or abolish" the form of government under which it lives, if it deems it prejudicial to these fundamental rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This, then, is the cardinal principle of American politics; and it is evident that the action of the Southern States, in seceding, was no violation of it. The continuance of the Federal form of government was, for them, inconsistent with the "pursuit of happiness;" of that they were the sole judges. What harm, then, in " abolishing " that government, so far as they were concerned, and inaugurating a new one?

Tried, however, by reference to a sounder and older theory of political justice, the conduct of the South admitted of no adequate defence. Suppose we lay down the following formula: "It is the duty of every citizen to obey, and not attempt to subvert, the government of the State to which he belongs, so long as the interests of justice, freedom, and security are reasonably well upheld by that government." No such principle is contained, or even implied, in the Declaration of Independence; yet it is true; conscience approves it, Nature dictates it, history ratifies it; and, if accepted, it condemns the acts of the seceding States. Even a Southerner could not have seriously maintained that under the Federal Government at the time of secession justice was not administered between man and man, freedom of acting, speaking, and writing maintained, and security of person and property provided for, as fully and adequately as, in the chequered conditions of human life, man is entitled to expect. The South was, therefore not justified in subverting the government under which it lived; and that government, backed as it was by a great majority of the people subject to it, was justified in using its utmost efforts to maintain its authority unbroken. But the condemnation of the South and the justification of the North must be sought for in those principles of political morality which were known and upheld long before America became important - in the reasonings of Hooker, or Grotius, or Locke - not in the Declaration of Independence, or the writings of American publicists.

Mr. Lincoln, in his sincere anxiety to avoid bloodshed, did not attempt to reinforce the garrison of Fort Sumter; but he declared that he must re-provision it, and would use any force that might be required for the purpose. This was rendered necessary by the conduct of the South Carolinians, who had stopped the supply of provisions to the fort from the shore. A fleet was accordingly prepared and dispatched to Charleston. About the same time Major Anderson, the Federal commandant, removing his men from all the other posts and batteries which he had hitherto held in the harbour, concentrated his force in the island fort of Sumter. These measures were declared by the Carolinians a breach of the understanding which had hitherto subsisted, and their general was ordered to summon the fort. General Beauregard accordingly summoned Major Anderson to surrender; upon his refusal, fire was opened from batteries, the positions of which had been carefully selected so as to surround the fort with a girdle of fire; the Federals made what resistance they could; but after the barracks had been burned, and they were in imminent peril of the explosion of the magazine, they capitulated on honourable terms. In this the first conflict of the war, singular to relate, not a man was killed or mortally wounded on either side. Fort Sumter fell on the 13th of April, 1861.

The news fell like a thunder-clap on the feverishly expectant people of the North. The suspense of the last three months had seriously interfered with trade, and painfully affected all classes with a sense of uncertainty and insecurity. Now there must be no more parleying or coaxing; the flag of the Union had been fired at - had been lowered - it must be raised again at all hazards. Mr. Lincoln, justly interpreting the general sentiment, issued on the 15th of April a proclamation calling out the militia in all the loyal states of the Union, to the number of 75,000 men, in order to put down certain " combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings," which were obstructing the execution of the laws in the seven seceded States. The men of the Free States hastened to obey the call, and to send regiments of militia to Washington to defend the national capital. But upon the Slave States which had not yet seceded the effect of Mr. Lincoln's appeal was very different. The Governors of these States - Maryland, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky - flatly, and in most cases indignantly, refused to call out troops for any such purpose as that indicated by Mr. Lincoln's proclamation. And, since neutrality for communities situated between the North and the seceded States became every day more difficult, and the common interest of slaveholding strongly impelled the leading men in the border States to throw in their lot with their seceded brethren, it was not long before all the States above-named, with the exception of Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky, adopted ordinances of secession, and voted themselves out of the Union. To this consummation the Virginians in particular were forcibly impelled by the passing of a law by the Confederate Congress, prohibiting the importation of persons of colour into the seceded States from any State which had not joined their confederacy. The great slave-breeding interest of Virginia, already hampered by pecuniary obligations to the North, thus found itself menaced with the loss of its market at the South; and the final result was that Virginia, though there was a large loyal minority, and though the German population of Western Virginia were firmly attached to the Union, joined herself, with all her historic prestige, her vast resources, and her gallant population, to the Confederate league. Maryland, not daring openly to join the Confederates, declared herself neutral. Missouri at a later period voted for secession, but in an irregular and informal manner, and by one of those " bogus " procedures with which her citizens were so conversant. The men of Kentucky were greatly divided in sentiment, but the military preponderance which the Federal forces obtained in the north-west at an early period of the war prevented the promoters of secession from ever succeeding in their attempt to take this fine State out of the Union.

Besides calling out 75,000 of the militia, Mr. Lincoln, by his proclamation of the 19th of April, declared the ports of all the seceding States to be in a state of blockade, and that any vessel attempting, after being once warned, to violate such blockade, would be captured, and sent into a Federal port for adjudication before a prize court. By a supplementary proclamation of the 27th of April, the blockade was extended to the ports of Northern Virginia.

On the 29th of April Mr. Jefferson Davis sent down a lengthy message to the Confederate Congress, in reply to Mr. Lincoln's proclamations. After much specious argument, the object of which was to show that the slave- holding confederacy was the truest friend of freedom in the world, and was about to be sacrificed to the despotic impulses of a "tyrant majority," he informed Congress that he had called out volunteers, and had issued letters of marque and reprisal.

These proceedings, as soon as they became known in Europe, formed the subject of anxious consideration with the English Government. It was evident that a state of war existed; the term " domestic insurrection" was no longer applicable to the movement of opinions and forces which was rapidly arraying one-half of the Union against the other half. It is true that Mr. Lincoln declared that any persons capturing any Federal merchant ship by virtue of letters of marque issued by the Confederate Government would be deemed guilty of piracy, thus withholding from the Confederacy the character of a belligerent power. But, on the other hand, to proclaim that neutral ships attempting to enter a Southern port were liable to capture and confiscation, was deemed to be tantamount to the admission that the Confederates were beingerents; for if the ports to which these vessels sailed still belonged to the Union, and if the persons to whom they brought supplies were still citizens of the Union, where was the offence for which they should be justly condemned? It might be replied, the offence consisted in aiding and abetting those who were merely rebels against their lawful Government. And here we touch the real ground of difference between England and America, which caused the famous proclamation of neutrality, presently to be described, to be so diversely regarded on the two sides of the Atlantic. The Federal Government and people, as may be seen by reference to the arguments of the American case prepared for the Geneva Court of Arbitration, in 1872, thought that they had a right to expect that England should be, not only neutral, but friendly. In law and equity, they argued, our system of Government is still unbroken; though insurrection is rife, that system is still loyally supported by the vast majority of American citizens; why, instead of coldly looking on, should you not heartily sympathise with the efforts that we are making to preserve our national integrity? When mutiny and revolt spread over India in 1857, did we hasten to give to the insurgents the character of belligerents? did we not rather sorrow with you for the victims of Cawnpore, and rejoice with you at the avenging slaughter of Lucknow? If indeed, as time went on, our ability to suppress the rebellion became doubtful to all reasonable men, if we made no progress after having put forth all our strength, then you could not be blamed for interposing, whether to recognise the rebels as belligerents, or to tender your friendly offices as mediators. But the struggle is but just beginning; we are your old friends; why should you not treat us in a friendly spirit, and regard, at least provisionally, those as rebels and insurgents whom we so regard?

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Pictures for Chapter LXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

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