Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Motives and Objects of the Disunion Movement
By Henry Jarvis Raymond (18201869)
[Born in Lima, N. Y., 1820. Died in New York, N. Y., 1869. Disunion and Slavery. A Series of Letters to Hon. W. L. Yancey, of Alabama. 1860.]
THE GREAT mass of the people in the cotton-growing States are imbued with the general conviction that their separation from the Union is desirable: and the same thing is true, though to a much less extent, of the people in the other slaveholding States. If we were to ask them what are the reasons for such a conviction,what are the precise wrongs which they have suffered under the Union, and what the advantages they expect to secure for themselves by leaving it,we should receive very different answers from different States. The motives which influence Disunionists in Alabama and South Carolina are not the motives which influence Disunionists in Maryland and Virginia. All would agree that their common institutionSlaveryis in some way menaced by the Government as it now exists, and especially as it will exist after it passes into the hands of the Republican party; but they would differ as to the shape which its perils assume .
This brings me to what I regard as the real motive of the disunion movement. That motive has taken precise and definite form, probably, in the minds of a comparatively small number of those who are most active in the movement itself. The great mass of those who sympathize with it and give it their aid are governed by the vague but powerful feeling that the South, as a section, having peculiar institutions and peculiar necessities, is gradually growing politically weaker and weaker in the Union; that the North is rapidly gaining a preponderance in the Federal councils; and that there is no hope that the South can ever regain the ascendency, or even a political equality, under the Constitution and within the Union. The election of Lincoln is regarded as conclusive proof that Northern supremacy is a fixed fact; and it is on this account that it has so concentrated and intensified the resentment of the Southern States. No community ever sinks down willingly into a position of inferiority. Its instinct is to struggle against it, and the struggle will be violent in proportion to the magnitude of the evils which inferiority is believed to involve. All the sectional excitements and political paroxysms of the last twenty years have been but the strenuous resistance of the South to what she has felt to be the inevitable tendency of events. The annexation of Texas, the claim to California, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the fight for Kansas, the fillibustering in Central America, the clamor for Cuba, have been only the straws at which the slaveholding section has clutched, in the hope to save itself from being engulfed in the rising tide of Northern power. To them it was not the steady and silent rising of a peaceful sea. Its roar came to their ears upon the stormy blasts of anti-slavery fanaticism, and sounded to them like the knell of destinythe precursor of degradation and ruin to their homes and their hopes.
I do not wonder at this alarm. I cannot blame it, or deny that it has its origin in just and patriotic sentiments. I do think that the leading intellects of the Southern Statesthose to whom as in every community the great mass of the people look for guidance, and by whom they are guided, whether they know it or notought to have foreseen this result and made up their minds long ago to act with the laws of Nature, rather than against them,to yield to the spirit of the age, the tendencies of civilization and Christianity, instead of resisting them,to make allies instead of enemies of those great moral principles which are proving too powerful for the mightiest monarchies of the earth, and before which it is idle to hope that despotism can make a permanent stand upon this continent. The fathers of our Republic did so. They framed the Constitution upon such a basis, and in the belief that it would be administered in such a spirit. They gave the Government they created power over the slave-trade, not doubting that, after a few years, that power would be exercised with the general assent of all the States, and that all would feel, as they felt, the necessity of providing for the gradual disappearance of slavery itself. And for a series of years the event justified this expectation. The prohibition of the slave-trade in 1807, recommended by Jefferson, was enacted with the unanimous consent of all the States, North and South, and down to 1830 there was a constant and hopeful tendency towards emancipation in nearly all the slaveholding States. But since that time the leading intellects of the South have turned back the whole current of Southern sentiment upon this subject. In your own words, an entirely new idea has sprung up, and is now universal in the South, upon the great question of slavery, in its operation upon mankind and labor. Mr. Calhoun taught the South that slavery was, and must always be, the sole basis of its prosperity, and that the leading aim of the South must be to fortify, to increase, and to make it perpetual. You and others have inherited his opinions, and devoted yourselves to their propagation. And in due process of time you have come into direct collision on this subject with the spirit and the letter of the Constitution which our fathers framed; and you now find that you cannot reach the object at which you aim, without destroying that Constitution and breaking up the Union which it created.
The people of the South sympathize with the disunion movement from a keen sense of the growing superiority of the North. How that superiority can be overcome within the Union they do not perceive, nor have they any definite idea of any policy by which it can be contested after the South shall have seceded. You, on the contrary, have very definite ideas on both points. You trace the growing inequality of the two sections, in material development and consequent political power, to the discrimination of the Federal Government against the South in regard to the supply of labor, which is in every community the great element of growth and of wealth. The North is permitted to increase indefinitely its supply of labor by immigration, by inviting labor from abroad, while the South is forbidden to seek a similar increase by importations of the peculiar kind of labor on which, most unwisely, it has come entirely to rely. When the price of labor rises in the North it invites and secures an additional supply from abroad; and when the supply is excessive, it overflows into the new Territories, and, planting there new and free States, swells the political power of the North. At the South the enactments of Congress have arrested this natural operation of the law of supply and demand. When the price of labor rises at the South, there is no such resource for increasing the supply; there is no way of lowering the price, and of securing a surplus to send into the new Territories. And this is the reason, in your opinion, why the South falls behind the North in material development and in political power. These laws forbidding the slave-trade operate upon the South precisely as laws forbidding emigration would operate upon the North. And the remedy you propose is to be sought in the repeal of those lawsin permitting every State to import such labor as it requires .
At present it is your policy to accumulate arguments for disunion, rather than to sift and define them. You can command far more support for that measure by declaiming on the growing power and preponderance of the North, and the steadily waning influence of the South in the Federal councils, than by tracing them to their cause and fixing public attention upon the remedy you propose to apply. But the time will come when specific measures must be proposed, and then foremost among them will be the restoration of the African slave-trade.
I think you are quite right in believing that the Federal Government will never consent to the reopening of that traffic. The North will never concede that point, nor lay the foundation for its concession, directly or indirectly, under any circumstances, nor for any consideration which you can offer as an equivalent. They will meet you on this issue upon any field you may select. They will accept the hazard of disunion a thousand times, rather than that as its alternative.