The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

1
Disunion Movements

Thomas Hart Benton

When the future historian shall address himself to the task of portraying the rise, progress, and decline of the American Union, the year 1850will arrest his attention, as denoting and presenting the first marshalling and arraying of those hostile forces and opposing elements which resulted in dissolution; and the world will have another illustration of the great truth, that forms and modes of government, however correct in theory, are only valuable as they conduce to the great ends of all government-the peace, quiet, and conscious security of the governed.

So wrote a leading South Carolina paper on the first day of January, 1850 -and not without a knowledge of what it was saying. All that was said was attempted, and the catastrophe alone was wanting to complete the task assigned to the future historian.

The manifesto of the forty-two members from the slave States, issued in 1849, was not a brutum fulmen, nor intended to be so. It was intended for action, and was the commencement of action; and regular steps for the separation of the slave from the free States immediately began under it. An organ of disunion, entitled "The Southern Press," was set up at Washington, established upon a contribution of $30,000 from the signers of the Southern manifesto and their ardent adherents-its daily occupation to inculcate the advantages of disunion, to promote it by inflaming the South against the North, and to prepare it by organizing a Southern concert of action. Southern cities were to recover their colonial superiority in a state of sectional independence; the ships of all nations were to crowd their ports, to carry off their rich staples and bring back ample returns; Great Britain was to be the ally of the new "United States South"; all the slave States were expected to join, but the new confederacy to begin with the South Atlantic States, or even a part of them; and military preparation was to be made to maintain by force what a Southern convention should decree. That convention was called-the same which had been designated in the first manifesto, entitled "The Crisis," published in the CharlestonMercury in 1835;

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