The Illustrated London News 05/18/1861


THE SECESSION OF VIRGINIA, AND THE
AMERICAN CIVIL WAR.


The new secession movement in the Border Slave States, which
may be called the second chapter of the American Revolution
of 1861, has been followed so instantaneously by the commence-
ment of a civil war, the destruction of arsenals and navy-yards,
and the mustering of hosts on a scale unprecedented in the
history of the New World, as to blur to the eyes of the casual
reader the logical sequence of events, and completely to over-
slough some important aspects of the crisis. We saw the revo-
lution break out in December, rage triumphantly during January,
and carry off the seven Cotton-growing States of the Union;
then, during February and March, subside; and, lastly, in April
break out afresh in the very States which had just overcome it.
At first sight this seems anomalous, but the anomaly yields to a
close scrutiny of the transactions of the last three months. That
scrutiny will bring into relife the governing fact that the im-
mediate cause of the revolutionary movement in the Border
Slave States in April is quite distinct from the occasion
which led to the secession of the seven Confederate
States in December and January last. South Carolina
and her six sisters exercised their alleged constitutional right
of secession because the executive department of the Federal
Government was about to fall into the hands of a party which
professed a carefully-limited and very moderate hostility to the
extension of slavery. The Border States, on the other hand, bore
Mr. Lincoln's election meekly, but the march of events immedi-
ately thereafter subjected their loyalty to a succession of new and
unlooked-for tests. The withdrawal from Washington of the
senators and representatives of the seceding States created a
state of things which had not been contemplated by the adhering
Slave States. It gave the majority in both Houses of the Federal
Legislature to the party which represented the prevailing ideas
and interests of the Northern people. Nor was that majority
over scrupulous in taking advantage of its unexpected ascendancy
in Congress. The enactment of the Morrill Tariff against
the united opposition of all the Southern senators and repre-
sentatives remaining in the Capitol was certainly the very reverse
of conciliatory. The “Crittenden Compromise” and the other
propositions favoured by the Union men of the eight adhering
Slave States were rejected by the Republicans, who, indeed,
could not assent to them without abandoning the very principles
which called their party into existence, which animated them
under defeat, and finally led them to victory. All this while
the Secession leaders of the Border States, among who were
most of the well-known and long-trusted Coryphæi of Southern
opinion—Mason and Hunter, Breckinridge and Clingman, Pryor
and Floyd—were indefatigable in inflaming the public mind of
their States, so as to precipitate it into a policy of secession and
revolution. Circumstances favoured their undertaking, they
were able to point to the rejection of all offers of compromise,
to the injustice of the Morrill Tariff, and to the permanent
alteration of the equilibrium in Congress in consequence of the
withdrawal of the representatives of the seceding States.


Nevertheless, their efforts were at first signally frustrated.
The people were more conservative, more “submissive,” than
their leaders. In Delaware and Maryland the Union party were
so strong that it was not thought necessary to take a plebis-
citum on the subject; in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky,
Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas the people voted secession
down by large majorities. But, although they repudiated
secession as a policy, they did not repudiate it as a principle.
The Legislatures and extraordinary Conventions of these States
laid it down that a sovereign State had a right to secede when-
ever it saw fit, and, consequently, that any attempt on the part
of the Federal Government to levy war on the seceded States
would be a tyrannical and unconstitutional abuse of power.
Such was the position of things in the adhering Slave States
when Mr. Lincoln came into office on the 4th of March, and
such it continued for another month. The United and Confe-
derate States maintained a sort of armed truce; Mr. Lincoln's
and Mr. Seward's well-known aversion to bloodshed favoured its
prolongation; the Cabinet threw out the idea of the evacuation
of Fort Sumter as a “feeler,” gilding the pill with the assurance
of the “strategic necessity” of the act. How long the Unionists
of the eight adhering Slave States could have maintained their
ascendancy over the Secessionists, had the truce been pro-
longed and broadened into a peaceful recognition of the
independence of the Confederate States, it is bootless now to
inquire, for two new elements were destined to enter into the
combination which immediately broke up the tacit understand-
ing which existed between Mr. Lincoln, the Unionists of the
Border States, and Mr. Jefferson Davis. Those elements were
the Morrill Tariff and the public opinion of the Northern
States. The former ill-timed piece of legislation came into
operation on April 1, and the Northern importers, on paying
the higher scale of duties, lost no time in complaining that the
lower rate was still in force at Savannah, Mobile, and New
Orleans. “Either,” said they, “enforce your tariff impartially,
South as well as North, or recognise the independence of the
Confederate States and plant your custom-houses along the new
Southern frontier line of the United States.” The justice of this
claim was not to be gainsaid, but the manifestations of public
opinion at the North were still more influential in forcing Mr.
Lincoln (probably against his own desire) to pursue a more
energetic course towards the Seceders. The Northerners revolted
at the idea of abandoning Fort Sumter; they began to ask
wherein Mr. Lincoln was an improvement on Mr. Buchanan. They
demanded that the garrisons of Forts Sumter and Pickens should
be relieved at any cost. Before this imperious demonstration
of popular feeling the Cabinet of Washington gave way. On the 8th
of April it become known that a squadron had left New York
with sealed orders. The bombardment and capitulation of Fort
Sumter ensued on the 12th and 13th. Mr. Lincoln's proclama-
ion calling for 75,000 men “to suppress illegal combinations,
and to cause the laws to be duly executed,” was issued on the
15th. The response which the Northern people gave to this
proclamation is one of the many very remarkable politica
events of this century. Before the week was over Massachusetts
troops were fighting their way through Baltimore to the Federal
capital, and a blockade of the Southern ports had been pro-
claimed. Now, if ever, was the time for the Border Slave States
to enforce their views of constitutional law, or to submit without
reserve to the construction put upon the Constitution by the
Northerners. The choice of Virginia was soon made. She
seceded; but it is important to remember that the occasion for
this act was not, as in the case of the seven original seceders,
the election of Mr. Lincoln, but the, in her view, unconsti-
tutional action of the President in making war on his own
authority, and without the consent of Congress, on the seceded
States. The secession ordinance of Virginia has not yet been
published; but when the injunction of secrecy is withdrawn
the world will see that the revolution in Virginia stands on better
constitutional and legal grounds than revolutions generally do.
In Europe a legal and constitutional revolution is a paradox. It
has been reserved for the ambitious and innovating politicians
of the New World to make such a novel contribution to political
science.


Maryland is now the chief theatre of the war; and it is a
singular instance of the conspicuous injustice of revolutions
that she, the most conservative, humane, and loyal of the Slave
States, should have to bear the brunt of this great struggle
between the two sections of the late Union. She suffers for
sins not her own. For the last twenty years she has held
herself aloof from the aggressive policy of the Southern
nltras, and has steadily advocated the cause of peace and
quietness. One of her senators voted against the repeal
of the Missouri compromise; and, by casting her suffrage
for Mr. Fillmore, in 1856, when all her Southern sisters
voted for Mr. Buchanan, she declared her neutrality in the
most emphatic manner. Unlike all the other Slave States,
she has permitted the growth of a large free-coloured population in
her midst. This class of her inhabitants, which in 1790 numbered
only 8000, had grown to 90,000 in 1860; while her slaves,
which were 103,000 in 1790, had fallen to 87,000 in 1860. Her
aggregate population is 687,000, so that her slave element only
amounts to one in eight of her people. While the other Southern
States have of late years passed measures proscribing free
people of colour, the white men of Maryland, who, if free blacks
are a nuisance, had more reason to complain than the people
of any other Southern State, always refused to pass any Acts
limiting their right to settle or hold property in that State.
Recurring to recent political events, we observe that the
loyalty of her present Governor (Mr. Hicks), in refusing to call a
special Session of the Legislature when requested to do so by
the Secessionists of his State, received the unbounded praise of
Northern Governors, Legislatures, and Journals. When President
Lincoln recently called for 75,000 troops the Governors of
Delaware and Maryland were the only two Southern Governors
who responded favourably to the demand. Unifortunately for
the peace of this Conservative State, she lay on the highway
between the Northern States and the city of Washington. The
sight of Massachusetts soldiers passing through the streets of
Baltimore, the chief city of Maryland, aroused the resentments
of a mob of road-paviors, and the first blood of the revolution
was shed in this city. The people of Baltimore and the
Governor of the State then demanded that no more Federal
troops should pass through Maryland. This was equivalent to a
request that Washington should be evacuated, as that city can
only be approached through Virginia or Maryland. President
Lincoln, actuated by a feeling of humanity, which certainly has
not increased his popularity in the North, consented to bring the
troops to Washington viâ Annapolis, so as to avoid Baltimore,
but, to the reiterated complaint that this modified order
too was in derogation of the rights of Maryland as a
Sovereign State after her Governor had forbidden the pas-
sage of any more Federal troops through her borders, the
President made the following characteristic reply :—“They
(the troops) can't come under the earth, and they can't
fly over it, and, mathematically, they must come across it. Why,
Sir, those Carolinians are now crossing Virginia, and, hang me,
what can I do?” The good sense of this dictum is very
apparent, but its constitutionality is extremely doubtful.
Furthermore, Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is now
garrisoned by Federal troops, and a Federal army of occupation
keeps open the line of communication between that city and
Washington. The Maryland Legislature, which assembled on
the 26th ult., was summoned to meet at Frederick City, as
Annapolis is under the control of New York and Massachusetts
volunteers. A late arrival brings the intelligence that that
body, notwithstanding the irritating circumstances under which
it met, declared in favour of the Union by a majority of fifty-
three against thirteen. It is to be hoped that this decision will
turn aside the wrath of the Northerners, and that the war-cloud
will discharge its lightning elsewhere than on Maryland.


Inter arman leges silent! Amid the passions roused by the
first scenes of civil war the United States` Constitution falls to
the ground. But if the restraints of constitutional law are
infringed in one instance, why not in others? This is how the
Northerners are now arguing. They are complaining of the
“imbecility” of President Lincoln, as they complained of
the “imbecility” of his predecessor. “Let the troops be sent
through Baltimore, and by no other route. If resistance
be made let Baltimore be laid in ashes. Why not
seize or disperse the members of the Maryland Legislature?
Why not invade Virginia, seize Richmond, and hang a
hundred of the notorious traitors who nestle there? Why not
send a flotilla down the Mississippi and chastise New Orleans
herself?” Schemes yet more extreme and revolutionary are
openly canvassed by journals like the New York Times, which a
few weeks ago prided themselves on being conservative on the
question of slavery. It is intimated that the love of the Union
is so strong with the Northern masses that, rather than see it
destroyed, in their desperation they will make the war against the
Seceders a war of liberation to the African race. Will Mr.
Lincoln retract all his solemn pledges, and enlarge the objects
and strategy of the war, in obedience to the vindictive clamour
of Northern public opinion? The humane and upright character
of the man—a man little prone to follow the multitude to do
what, in his opinion, was evil—warrants us in believing that
he will confine the war within the limits admittedly imposed
upon him by the Constitution of the Federal Government. But
if he does take such a stand, and hold to it firmly, we may expect
to hear him denounced by his supporters as bitterly as was Mr.
Buchanan, who denied that the Constitution gave the President
any power whatever to act against a seceding State.


We propose to continue from time to time, in another
part of this Journal, the discussion of those questions of per-
manent interest to the jurist, the historian, and the politician
which are brought forward by this remarkable revolution.
Among other topics which will receive consideration are the
State right of secession, and the influence of physical geography
in determining the extent of the disintegration which the late
United States are destined to suffer in consequence of the events
which began to operate last winter, and are still passing before
our eyes.



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