Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction

By John B. Edmunds Jr. | Go to book overview

9. A Fire-Eater Down to the Ground

N o Black Republican President . . . should ever execute any law within our borders unless at the point of a bayonet and over the dead bodies of our slain sons."1 These words spoken by James L. Orr, who had a reputation as one of the most conservative South Carolina nationalists, indicated that the Palmetto State was on the verge of acts that were to change the nation's destiny. William Porcher Miles, who had served his state in Congress, wrote that he was "sick and disgusted with all the bluster and threats and manifestos and resolutions . . . let us act if we mean to act without talking."2 R. S. Holt wrote his brother, Buchanan's postmaster general, that southern leaders were in no position to stop secession. "It is a movement," he explained, "not of leaders, but of the masses . . . the conviction is strong and universal, and I share it fully, that submission by the South is now death . . . she must resist or perish miserable, ignobly and speedily."3

The scene was set, and secessionist talk filled the air. Radical South Carolina looked to Mississippi and Alabama to inaugurate disunion, but these states were more cautious. By the middle of November several members of the South Carolina congressional delegation had resigned, and federal district judge Andrew G. Magrath had dramatically showed his hostility to the Union by ripping off his judicial robes in his courtroom.4 The General Assembly decided not to wait for the other southern states to move, but determined to call for an election to be held on 6 December to choose delegates to a state convention scheduled for 17 December 1860.5

In the midst of this furor Pickens returned home. On his way to Edgefield he stopped in Washington, where he had a lengthy meeting with President Buchanan. In early September, before departing from Russia, Pickens had written to the president, praising him and deploring the vile persecution being heaped on him by those who "were bound to you by ties of obligation and friendship." He informed the president that he was deeply in his debt and that he desired to meet with him when he arrived in Washington.6 Buchanan asked Pickens to use his influence on behalf of moderation. Initially Pickens proposed that South Carolina work in concert with other southern states and that secession be delayed until Buchanan left office.7 However, as Pickens comprehended the massive scope of the secession movement he more readily accommodated himself to the majority sentiment.

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Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1. Young Radical 3
  • 2. a Provocative Course 21
  • 3. a Vile Association 47
  • 4. Harbinger of Doom 71
  • 5. a Litany of Destruction 95
  • 6. an Insolvable Dilemma 112
  • 7. a Mere Office-Seeker 120
  • 8. the Rose of Texas 137
  • 9. a Fire-Eater Down to the Ground 150
  • 10. Governor and Council 167
  • 11- "There Can Lay No Peace for Me" 173
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 223
  • Index 241
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