MR. JEFFERSON DAVIS AND SECESSION.*
Ii these ponderous volumes Mr. Davis claims to have vindicated the action of the Southern politicians in connection with the American Civil War. His fundamental argument is intended to prove from historical data that the Southern States, as sovereign communities, bad a perfect right to secede from the Union, and that the war was waged upon them by the Federal Government in disregard of the limitations of the Constitution. As for slavery, it was recognised in the provisions of the Con- stitution ; and the anti-slavery agitation, carried on by " pseudo- philanthropists and fanatics, most zealous where least in- formed," was a contemptible and harmless movement, " until political demagogues seized upon it as a means to acquire power." "To preserve a sectional equilibrium and to maintain the equality of the States was the effort on one aide," and Mr. Davis gives his readers to understand that this was the Southern side; "to acquire empire was the manifest purpose of the other." The course of the war is traced in detail, the author never missing an opportunity to laud the chivalrous valour, honour, and humanity of the Southern leaders, whose numerous por- traits and plans of battle relieve the tedium of the narrative. Mr. Davis has compiled and set forth an elaborate constitutional argument, and a fairly complete and authoritative statement of the Confederate view of the history of the war. To be sure, it is an immense and undigested mass, full of unneces- sary speeches and documents, and encumbered with ob- jectionable repetitions, but the material is nearly all there somehow. It may seem somewhat inappreciative to express ourselves utterly unconvinced by all this laborious marshalling of fact and argument ; but we hold steadfastly by the position we maintained twenty years ago, when we fought a long fight on the side of the North, amidst heavy discouragement, but with clear conviction of right.
Mr. Davis grounds his vindication of the Confederate cause on the declaration, by the original thirteen States, of their " un- alienable" right to individual sovereignty and independent jurisdiction. The sharp recoil from tyrannical oppression con- tinued to manifest its disturbing presence, even when the States associated themselves under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The jealousy of individual independence, care- fully embodied in the Articles, in a very few years virtually split the Confederation in pieces, and cast ridicule upon the declaration of " Perpetual" Union. The lesson was smart. The advantages of continued union, however, were obvious, and not to be lightly foregone. On the ruins of the Articles of Confederation rose the Articles of Union. Thus the Confederation waa virtually dissolved, and Mr. Davis hastens to point out that neither did a majority think of coercing a small minority to join the new Union, nor did the temporarily outstanding small minority attempt to coerce the majority to remain in the old Confedera- tion ! Provision was made, he thinks, in the seventh article, for the secession of any nine out of the thirteen States. As if, indeed, the collapse of the Confederation were not unanimously acknowledged ; as if, indeed, the un- questioned " secession " of a majority were on all fours with the " secession " of the South under vastly different political conditions. True, Mr. Davis regards the right of the individual State as the strongest argument; and to this we shall come presently. To return to the point of perpetuity
so tender on this matter were the separate States, and such a warning had they just received, that the Union could never have been established, had the declaration of " perpetual " union been definitely insisted on. Some of the States ratified their adherence to the Constitution without a word; but some of them satisfied their sovereign jealousy by a special clause of
• The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. By Jefferson Davie. 2 vols. London : Longman, Green, and Co. 1891.
reservation of the right of withdrawal in the event of contin- gencies. Mr. Lincoln contended that " in the contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the union of these States is perpetual." Mr. Davis also admits • that the founders of the Union " undoubtedly desired and hoped that it would be perpetual." Placing, then, on one side, the special reservation of some of the States, and the desire and hope of them all, and on the other side the Constitution, we seem to have, in the difference between the two, the basis of Mr. Davis's contention.
Now there is no use in discussing the matter in vacua. The reservations were in the background, as it were ; and so were the hopes and desires. The Union, on the other hand, was a prominent fact, an active political force, daily tending, by " the natural law of aggregation," towards the de facto consolidation of the United States into a "nation." Mr. Davis, in his frantic clinging to the doctrine of individual sovereignty, has nothing more than a side glance, more of neglect than of re- cognition, for this very important factor in the case. We cannot wrangle with him over the meaning of the " sovereignty " of the separate States after they individually acceded to the Union ; we refer him to Austin, who has discussed the point once for all. It is enough for our present purpose that Mr. Davis ac- knowledges the abstract right of secession to be subject to two obligations. These are, first, the existence of good and sufficient cause; and second, the making an equitable settlement with former associates, and the avoidance of unnecessary loss or damage to them. We cannot admit that these are merely " moral " obligations, as Mr. Davis assumes. However, let us take the second first. How is it possible for an equitable settlement to be made by one of the parties P For it might easily turn out that the other party might see obstacles not seen by the intending seceder, and might even refuse to entertain so much as the idea of separation at the time on any terms whatever. It is utterly impracticable ttpaigAtellsat secession conk' be thus- completed; on the mere motion of one of the parties. Take, for example, the case of a State that had been bought with Federal moneys ; or imagine the proposed establishment of an independent State or two in the very heart of the Union, or in a position commanding im- portant forts, harbours, or water-ways. Any State that should propose an " equitable settlement " under such conditions, even if armed with ancient reservations, could hardly claim much respect for its judgment in practical politics. What, then, was
the " good and sufficient cause ? " Mr. Davis shall speak for himself:— "It was not the passage of the personal liberty laws,' it was not the circulation of incendiary documents, it was not the operation of unjust and unequal tariff laws, nor all combined, that constituted the intolerable grievance, but it was the systematic and persistent struggle to deprive the Southern States of equality in the Union, generally to discriminate in legislation against the interests of their people, culminating in their exclusion from the territories, the com- mon property of the States, as well as by the infraction of their compact to promote domestic tranquillity."
Translated into plain language, this means simply that, in the straggle for equality in the Union, the North had gradu- ally and steadily got the better of the South, which now angrily flew to the fatal resolution not to tolerate or find patience to counteract by constitutional means the very grievance that the North bad borne for many long years, and had by constitutional means at last overcome. The rest of " the intolerable grievance " arises, one way or another, out of slavery. Elsewhere, Mr. Davis pronounces the Territorial question vital-; but, apart from his over-statement of the case, the administration of the territories was, in the first instance, wholly in the hands of Congress, and slavery was the bone of contention. Let us hear President Buchanan :—
" The immediate peril arises, not so much from these causes, as from the fact that the slavery question throughout the North for the last quarter of a century has at length produced its malign influence on the slaves, and inspired them with vague notions of freedom."
No doubt the agitation was marked by violent outbursts, but that agitation was clearly no breach of the Constitution. As to the "malign influence," opinions will differ ; at -any rate, here is the explanation of the alleged failure " to promote domestic tran- quillity." Mr. Davis tells us often enough that slavery was not the cause, but a mere incident, of the conflict ; the real cause was sectional rivalry and political ambition. Of course, it was rivalry. But what was the end and purpose of that rivalry Slavery or no slavery, undoubtedly. It is the merest trifling to tell people that "no moral nor sentimental considera- tions were really involved in either the earlier or later contro- versies," and that "it was a question of the distribution or dis-
persion of the slaves, rather than an extension of slavery ;' removal is not extension." Well, yes, removal is not extension ! But we must remark that the recognition of slavery in the constitution of the Union is veiled, and its gradual and early extinction anticipated, while in the Confederate Constitution, it was flaunted in the most shameless fashion " Slavery," said Mr. Bright, "is blasphemously declared -to be its chief corner-stone." Mr. Davis takes much credit for his moderation, and for his devotion to the Union. Why did he not, then, adopt Mr. Buchanan's suggestion, to apply the fifth article of the Constitution, and wait for some overt act of the new Government P If less forward to secede than others of his associates, still he was with them, and apologises for them. He knows that the hottest-beaded of -the Southerners had declared that the election of Mr. Lincoln should be the signal of their secession. To what purpose does be cavil at the minority of personal votes cast for Mr. Lincoln ? On his own showing, he would have been in no better case, had Mr. Lincoln obtained the greatest majority ever returned. Mr. Lincoln was elected constitutionally, and there is an end of the matter. But, further, the true question is this : How many States supported union ? How many disunion ? Mr. Davis knows that the Free States went all but solid for Mr. Lincoln ; while the North was for him, the South itself was divided on Breckinridge, the Middle States declaring for Bell and for Union (though not for Lincoln, yet against Breckinridge), ignoring also the " vital " territorial question, and taking from the pure. South the four States possessing the highest votes. Besides, if Douglas had retired, the Northern Democrats would have passed over bodily, not to Breckinridge, but to Lincoln. Except in the cotton States proper, the majority of the supporters of Breckinridge were opposed to disunion, unless effected by the united South. The voice of the country was overwhelmingly for Union. For the South, therefore, remained the alternative of submis- sion and constitutional action, or separation. It is wholly absurd to allege that the election of Lincoln was a de, aeration of the perpetuation of oppression to the South. Lincoln's Cabinet was in a minority in both Houses, and must obviously walk warily, while (pace Mr. Davis) Liu, coin's personal moderation and forbearance were signally conspicuous. Without anything approaching to " good and sufficient cause," the South proceeded to a course of action that left the Executive no alternative but the application of force, under the Articles of the Constitution.
It may be doubted, perhaps, whether anything but earlier concessions could have saved the South. The Constitution did not receive fair-play. Passion was aroused. Legal considera- tions, which ought to have been modified peaceably, were over- whelmed in a foolishly provoked storm of moral indignation ; and behind all was the primal instinct of self-preservation. We do not care to enter further into discussion with Mr. Davis. The unexpected happens too frequently. The habitual attitude of his mind seems to favour the unanticipated representation of events. He has a strongly pronounced faculty of seeing things upside-down. The South is always right, and just, and honour- able, and admirable ; the North is the reverse. We content ourselves with his main doctrines. We are satisfied that were he to write upon the multiplication-table, he could adduce the most ingenious argamentations to prove to a benighted world that every figure of it is miserably wrong.