Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/February/Maury's Vindication of the South

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1 Number 2  (1871)  by Matthew Fontaine Maury
Maury's Vindication of the South
February 1876

SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS,



Vol. I.
No. 2.
Richmond, Va., February, 1876.


A Vindication of Virginia and the South.

By Commodore M. F. Maury.

[Note.—The following paper is not the production of a partisan or a politician, but of a great scientist, whose fame is world-wide, and whose utterances will have weight among the Nations and in ages to come.

This able vindication will derive additional interest and value from the statement that it was not written amid the storms of the war, but in his quiet mountain home, in May, 1871, not long before the world was deprived of his priceless services. It was, in fact, the last thing he ever prepared for the press (the MS. bears the marks of his final revision), and should go on the record as the dying testimony of one whose character was above reproach, and whose conspicuous services to the cause of science and humanity entitle him to a hearing.]

One hundred years ago we were thirteen British Colonies, remonstrating and disputing with the mother country in discontent. After some years spent in fruitless complaints against the policy of the British Government towards us, the Colonies resolved to sever their connection with Great Britain, that they might be first independent, and then proceed to govern themselves in their own way. At the same time they took counsel together and made common cause. They declared certain truths to be self evident, and proclaimed the right of every people to alter or amend their forms of government as to them may seem fit. They pronounced this right an inalienable right, and declared "that when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design on the part of the Government to reduce a people to absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government." In support of these declarations, the people of that day, in the persons of their representatives, pledging themselves, their fortunes and their sacred honor, went to war, and in the support of their cause appealed to Divine Providence for protection. Under these doctrines we and our fathers grew up, and we were taught to regard them with a reverence almost holy and to believe in them with quite a religious belief.

In the war that ensued, the Colonies triumphed; and in the treaty of peace, Great Britain acknowledged each one of her devolted Colonies to be a nation, endowed with all the attributes of sovereignty, independent of her, of each other, and of all other temporal powers whatsoever. These new-born nations were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia—thirteen in all.

At that time all the country west of the Alleghany mountains was a wilderness. All that part of it which lies north of the Ohio river and east of the Mississippi, called the Northwest Territory, and out of which the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a part of Minnesota have since been carved, belonged to Virginia. She exercised dominion over it, and in her resided the rights of undisputed sovereignty. These thirteen powers, which were then as independent of each other as France is of Spain, or Brazil is of Peru, or as any other nation can be of another, concluded to unite and form a compact, called the Constitution, the main objects of which were to establish justice, secure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, and promote the general welfare. To this end they established a vicarious government, and named it the United States. This instrument had for its corner-stone the aforementioned inalienable rights. With the assertion of these precious rights—which are so dear to the hearts of all true Virginians—fresh upon their lips, each one of these thirteen States, signataries to this compact, delegated to this new Government so much of her own sovereign powers as were deemed necessary for the accomplishment of its objects, reserving to herself all the powers, prerogatives and attributes not specifically granted or specially enumerated. Nevertheless, Virginia, through abundant caution, when she fixed her seal to this Constitution, did so with the express declaration, in behalf of her people, that the powers granted under it might be resumed by them whenever the same should be perverted to their injury or oppression; that "no right, of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives, acting in any capacity, by the President, or any department, or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes." With this agreement, with a solemn appeal to the "Searcher of all hearts" for the purity of their intentions, our delegates, in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, proceeded to accept and to ratify the Constitution for the Government of the United States.[1] Thus the Government at Washington was created.

But it did not go into operation until the other States—parties to the contract—had accepted by their act of signature and tacit agreement the conditions which Virginia required to be understood as the terms on which she accepted the Constitution and agreed to become one of the United States. Thus these conditions became, to all intents and purposes, a part of that instrument itself; for it is a rule of law and a principle of right laid down, well understood and universally acknowledged, that if, in a compact between several parties, any one of them be permitted to enter into it on a condition, that condition enures alike to the benefit of all.

Notwithstanding the purity of motive and singleness of purpose which moved Virginia to become one of the United States, sectional interests were developed, and the seeds of faction, strife and discord appeared in the very convention which adopted the Constitution. At that time African negroes were bought and sold, and held in slavery in all the States. They had been brought here by the Crown and forced upon Virginia when she was in the colonial state, in spite of her oft-repeated petitions and remonstrances against it; and now since she, with others, were independent and masters of themselves, they desired to put an end forthwith to this traffic. To this the North objected, on the ground that her people were extensively engaged in kidnapping in Africa and transporting slaves thence for sale to Southern planters. They had, it was added, such interests at stake in this business that twenty years would be required to wind it up. At that time the political balance between the sections was equal; and the South, to pacify the North, agreed that the new Government should have no power, until after twenty years should have elapsed, to restrict their traffic; and thus the North gained a lease and a right to fetch slaves from Africa into the South till 1808. That year, one of Virginia's own sons being President of the United States, an act was passed forbidding a continuance of the traffic, and declaring the further prosecution of it piracy.

Virginia was the leader in the war of the Revolution, and her sons were the master-spirits of it, both in the field and in the cabinet. For an entire generation after the establishment of the Government under the Constitution, four of her sons—with an interregnum of only four years—were called, one after the other, to preside, each for a period of eight years, over the affairs of the young Republic and to shape its policy. In the meantime Virginia gave to the new Government the whole of her northwest territory, to be held by it in trust for the benefit of all the States alike. Under the wise rule of her illustrious sons in the Presidential chair, the Republic grew and its citizens nourished and prospered as no people had ever done.

During this time, the African slave-trade having ceased, the price of negroes rose in the South; then the Northern people discovered that it would be better to sell their slaves to the South than to hold them, whereupon acts of so-called emancipation were passed in the North. They were prospective, and were to come in force after the lapse, generally, of twenty years,[2] which allowed the slave-holders among them ample time to fetch their negroes down and sell them to our people. This many of them did, and the North got rid of her slaves, not so much by emancipation or any sympathy for the blacks as by sale, and in consequence of her greed.

About this time also Missouri—into which the earlier settlers had carried their slaves—applied for admission into the Union as a State. The North opposed it, on the ground that slavery existed there. The South appealed to the Constitution, called for the charter which created the Federal Government, and asked for the clause which gave Congress the power to interfere with the domestic institutions of any State, or with any of her affairs, further than to see that her organic law insured a republican form of Government to her people. Nay, she appealed to the force of treaty obligations; and reminded the North that in the treaty with France for the acquisition of Louisiana, of which Missouri was a part, the public faith was pledged to protect the French settlers there, and their descendants, in their rights of property, which includes slaves. The public mind became excited, sectional feelings ran high, and the Union was in danger of being broken up through Northern aggression and Congressional usurpations at that early day. To quiet the storm, a son of Virginia came forward as peace-maker, and carried through Congress a bill that is known as "The Missouri Compromise." So the danger was averted. This bill, however, was a concession, simple and pure, to the North on the part of the South, with no equivalent whatever, except the gratification of a patriotic desire to live in harmony with her sister States and preserve the Union. This compromise was to the effect that the Southern people should thereafter waive their right to go with their slaves into any part of the common territory north of the parellel of 36° 30'. Thus was surrendered up to the North for settlement, at her own time and in her own way, more than two-thirds of the entire public domain, with equal rights with the South in the remainder.

That posterity may fairly appreciate the extent of this exaction by the North, with the sacrifice made by the South to satisfy it, maintain the public faith and preserve the Union, it is necessary to refer to a map of the country, and to remember that at that time neither Texas, New Mexico, California nor Arizona belonged to the United States; that the country west of the Mississippi which fell under that compromise is that which was acquired from France in the purchase of Louisiana, and which includes West Minnesota, the whole of Iowa, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, Kansas, Nebraska, and Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, embracing an area of 1,360,000 square miles. Of this the South had the privilege of settling Arkansas alone, or less than four per cent. of the whole. The sacrifice thus made by the South, for the sake of the Union, will be more fully appreciated when we reflect that under the Constitution Southern gentlemen had as much right, and the same right to go into the Territories with their slaves, that the men of the North had to carry with them there their apprentices and servants. Though this arrangement was so prejudicial to the South, though the Supreme Court decided it to be unconstitutional, null and void, the Southern people were still willing to stand by it; but the North would not. Backed by majorities in Congress, she only became more and more aggressive. Furthermore, the magnificent country given by Virginia to the Union came to be managed in the political interests of the North. It was used for the encouragement of European emigration, and its settlement on her side of that parallel, while the idea was sought to be impressed abroad by false representations that South of 36° 30" in this country out-door labor is death to the white man, and that throughout the South generally labor was considered degrading. Such was the rush of settlers from abroad to the polar side of 36° 30" and for the cheap and rich lands of the northwest territory, that the population of the North was rapidly and vastly increased—so vastly that when the war of 1861 commenced, the immigrants and the decendants of immigrants which the two sections had received from the Old World since this grant was made, amounted to not less than 7,000,000 souls more for the North than for the South. This increase destroyed the balance of power between the sections in Congress, placed the South hopelessly in the minority, and gave the reins of the Government over into the hands of the Northern factions. Thus the two hundred and seventy millions of acres of the finest land on the continent which Virginia gave to the Government to hold in trust as a common fund, was so managed as greatly to benefit one section and do the other harm. Nor was this all. Large grants of land, amounting to many millions of acres, were made from this domain to certain Northern States, for their railways and other works of internal improvement, for their schools and corporations; but not an acre to Virginia.

In consequence of the Berlin and Milan Decrees, the Orders in Council, the Embargo and the war which followed in 1812, the people of the whole country suffered greatly for the want of manufactured articles, many of which bad become necessaries of life. Moreover, it was at that time against the laws of England for any artisan or piece of machinery used in her workshops to be sent to this country. Under these circumstances it was thought wise to encourage manufacturing in New England, until American labor could be educated for it, and the requisite skill acquired, and Southern statesmen took the lead in the passage of a tariff to encourage and protect our manufacturing industries. But in course of time these restrictive laws in England were repealed, and it then became easier to import than to educate labor and skill. Nevertheless the protection continued, and was so effectual that the manufacturers of New England began to compete in foreign markets with the manufacturers of Old England. Whereupon the South said, "Enough: the North has free trade with us; the Atlantic ocean rolls between this country and Europe; the expense of freight and transportation across it, with moderate duties for revenue alone, ought to be protection enough for these Northern industries. Therefore let us do way with tariffs for protection. They have not, by reason of geographical law, turned a wheel in the South; moreover, they have proved a greivous burden to our people." Northern statesmen did not see the case in that light; but fairness, right and the Constitution were on the side of the South. She pointed to the unfair distribution of the public lands, the unequal dispensation among the States of the Government favor and patronage, and to the fact that the New England manufacturers had gained a firm footing and were flourishing. Moreover, peace, progress and development had, since the end of the French wars, dictated free trade as the true policy of all nations. Our Senators proceeded to demonstrate by example the hardships of submitting any longer to tariffs for protection. The example was to this effect:—The Northern farmer clips his hundred bales of wool, and the Southern planter picks his hundred bales of cotton. So far they are equal, for the Government affords to each equal protection in person and property. That's fair, and there is no complaint. But the Government would not stop here. It went further—protected this industry of one section and taxed that of the other; for though it suited the farmer's interest and convenience to send his wool to a New England mill to have it made into cloth, it also suited in a like degree the Southern planter to send his cotton to Old England to have it made into calico. And now came the injustice and the grievance. They both prefer the Charleston market, and they both, the illustration assumed, arrived by sea the same day and proceeded together, each with his invoice of one hundred bales, to the custom-house. There the Northern man is told that he may land his one hundred bales duty free; but the Southern man is required to leave forty of his in the custom-house for the privilege of landing the remaining sixty.[3] It was in vain for the Southerner to protest or to urge, "You make us pay bounties to Northern fishermen under the plea that it is a nursery for seamen. Is not the fetching and carrying of Southern cotton across the sea in Southern ships as much a nursery for seaman as the catching of codfish in Yankee smacks? But instead of allowing us a bounty for this, you exact taxes and require protection for our Northern fellow-citizens at the expense of Southern industry and enterprise." The complaints against the tariff were, at the end of ten or twelve years, followed by another compromise in the shape of a modified tariff, by which the South again gained nothing and the North everything. The effect was simply to lessen, not to abolish, the tribute money exacted for the benefit of Northern industries.

Fifteen years before the war it was stated officially from the Treasury Department in Washington, that under the tariff then in force the self-sustaining industry of the country was taxed in this indirect way in the sum of $80,000,000 annually, none of which went into the coffers of the Government, but all into the pocket of the protected manufacturer. The South, moreover, complained of the unequal distribution of the public expenditures; of unfairness in protecting, buoying, lighting and surveying the coasts, and laid her complaints on grounds like these: for every mile of sea-front in the North there are four in the South, yet there were four well-equipped dockyards in the North to one in the South; large sums of money had been expended for Northern, small for Southern defences; navigation of the Southern coast was far more difficult and dangerous than that of the Northern, yet the latter was better lighted; and the Southern coast was not surveyed by the Government until it had first furnished Northern ship-owners with good charts for navigating their waters and entering their harbors.

Thus dealt by, there was cumulative dissatisfaction in the Southern mind towards the Federal Government, and Southern men began to ask each other, "Should we not be better off out of the Union than we are in it?"—nay, the public discontent rose to such a pitch in consequence of the tariff, that nullification was threatened, and the existence of the Union was again seriously imperilled, and dissolution might have ensued had not Virginia stepped in with her wise counsels. She poured oil upon the festering sores in the Southern mind, and did what she could in the interests of peace; but the wound could not be entirely healed; Northern archers had hit too deep.

The Washington Government was fast drifting towards centralization, and the result of all this Federal partiality, of this unequal protection and encouragement, was that New England and the North flourished and prospered as no people have ever done in modern times. Scenes enacted in the Old World, twenty-eight hundred years ago, seemed now on the eve of repetition in the new. About the year 915 B. C., the twelve tribes conceived the idea of making themselves a great nation by centralization. They established a government which, in three generations, by reason of similar burdens upon the people, ended in permanent separation. Solomon taxed heavily to build the temple and dazzle the nation with the splendor of his capital; his expenditures were profuse, and he made his name and kingdom fill the world with their renown. He died one hundred years after Saul was anointed, and then Jerusalem and the temple being finished, the ten tribes—supposing the necessity of further taxation had ceased—petitioned Rehoboam for a reduction of taxes, a repeal of the tariff. Their petition was scorned, and the world knows the result. The ten tribe seceded in a body, and there was war; so thus there remained to the house of David only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. They, like the North, had received the benefit of this taxation. The chief part of the enormous expenditures was made within their borders, and they, like New England, flourished and prospered at the expense of their brethren.

By the Constitution, a citizen of the South had a right to pursue his fugitive slave into any of the States, apprehend and bring him back; but so unfriendly had the North become towards the South, and so regardless of her duties under the Constitution, that Southern citizens, in pursuing and attempting to apprehend runaway negroes in the North, were thrown into jail, maltreated and insulted despite of their rights. Northern people loaded the mails for the South with inflammatory publications inciting the negroes to revolt, and encouraging them to rise up, in servile insurrection, and murder their owners. Like tampering with the negroes was one among the causes which led Virginia into her original proposition to the other colonists, that they should all, for the common good and common safety, separate themselves from Great Britain and strike for independent existence. In a resolution, unanimously adopted in convention for a declaration of such independence, it is urged that the King's representative in Virginia was "tempting our slaves by every artifice to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters."[4] To counteract this attempt by the New England people to do the like, the Legislatures of Virginia and other Southern States felt themselves constrained to curtail the privileges of the slave, to increase the patrols, and for the public safety to enact severe laws against the black man. This grated upon the generous feelings of our people the more, because they were thus compelled in self-defence to spread hateful laws upon the statute-book of their State, and subject her fair fame to invidious criticisms by posterity, and this in consequence of the repeated attempt of the Northern people to tamper with the negroes and interfere with our domestic affairs. It was a shaft which sank deep and rankled long; it brought to mind colonial times, and put into Southern heads the idea of another separation. But this was not all. Societies were formed in the North to encourage our negroes to escape and to harbor the runaways; emissaries came down to inveigle them away; and while they were engaged at this, the Northern States aided and abetted by passing acts prohibiting their officers to assist the Southern citizen in the capture of runaways, and hindering him from doing it himself. At length things came to such a pass that a Southern gentleman, notwithstanding his right, dared not when he went to the North, either on business or pleasure, to carry with him, as he formerly did, a body servant. More harsh still—delicate mothers and emaciated invalids with their nurses, though driven from their Southern homes, as they often are, by pestilence or plague, dared not seek refuge in the more bracing climates of the North; they were liable to be mobbed and to see their servants taken away by force, and when that was done, they found that Northern laws afforded no protection. In short, our people had no longer equal rights in a common country.

Finally, the aggressive and fanatical spirit of the North ran to such a pitch against us, that just before the Southern people began to feel that patience and forbearance were both exhausted, a band of raiders, fitted out and equipped in the North, came down upon Virginia with sword and spear in hand. They commenced in the dead of night to murder our citizens, to arm the slaves, encouraging them to rise up, burn and rob, kill and slay throughout the South. The ringleader was caught, tried and hung. Northern people regarded him as a martyr in a righteous cause. His body was carried to the North; they paid homage to his remains, sang pæans to his memory, and amidst jeers and taunts for Virginia, which to this day are reverberated through the halls of Congress, enrolled his name as one who had deserved well of his country.

These acts were highly calculated to keep the Southern mind in a faverish state and in an unfriendly mood; and there were other influences at work to excite sectional feelings and begat just indignation among the Southern people. The North was commercial, the South agricultural. Through their fast-sailing packets and steamers, Northern people were in constant communication with foreign nations; the South, rarely, except through the North. Northern men and Northern society took advantage of this circumstance to our prejudice. They defamed the South and abused the European mind with libels and slanders and evil reports against us of a heinous character. They represented Southern people as a lawless and violent set, where men and women were without shame. They asserted, with all the effrontery of impudent falsehood, that the chief occupation of the gentlemen of Virginia was the breeding of slaves like cattle for the more Southern markets. To this day the whole south is suffering under this defamation of character; for it is well known that emigrants from Europe now refuse to come and settle in Virginia and the South on account of their belief in the stories against us with which their minds have been poisoned.

This long list of grievances does not end here. The population of the North had, by reason of the vast numbers of foreigners that had been induced to settle there, become so great that the balance of power in Congress was completely destroyed. The Northern people became more tyrannical in their disposition, Congress more aggressive in their policy. In every branch of the Government the South was in a hopeless minority, and completely at the mercy of an unscrupulous majority for their rights in the Union. Emboldened by their popular majorities on the hustings, the master-spirits of the North now proclaimed the approach of an "irrepressible conflict" with the South, and their representative men in Congress preached the doctrine of a "higher law," confessing that the policy about to be pursued in relation to Southern affairs was dictated by a rule of conduct unknown to the Constitution, not contained in the Bible, but sanctioned, as they said, by some higher law than the Bible itself. Thus finding ourselves at the mercy of faction and fanaticism, the Presidential election for 1860 drew nigh. The time for putting candidates in the field was at hand. The North brought out their candidate, and by their platform pledged him to acts of unfriendly legislation against us. The South warned the North and protested, the political leaders in some of the Southern States publicly declaring that if Mr. Lincoln, their nominee, were elected, the States would not remain in the Union. He was truly a sectional candidate. He received no vote in the South, but was, under the provisions of the Constitution, duly elected nevertheless; for now the poll of the North was large enough to elect whom she pleased.

When the result of this election was announced, South Carolina and the Gulf States each proceeded to call a convention of her people; and they, in the exercise of their inalienable right to alter and abolish the form of government and to institute a new one, resolved to withdraw from the Union peaceably, if they could. They felt themselves clear as to their right, and thrice-armed; for they remembered that they were sovereign people, and called to mind those precious rights that had been solemnly proclaimed, and in which and for which we and our fathers before us had the most abiding faith, reverence and belief. Prominent among these was, as we have seen, the right of each one of these States to consult her own welfare and withdraw or remain in the Union in obedience to its dictates and the judgment of her own people. So they sent commissioners to Washington to propose a settlement, the Confederate States offering to assume their quota of the debt of the United States, and asking for their share of the common property. This was refused.

In the meantime Virginia assembled her people in grand council too; but she refused to come near the Confederate States in their councils. She had laid the corner-stone of the Union, her sons were its chief architects; and though she felt that she and her sister States had been wronged without cause, and had reason, good and sufficient, for withdrawing from a political association which no longer afforded domestic tranquility, or promoted the general welfare, or answered its purposes, yet her love for the Union and the Constitution was strong, and the idea of pulling down, without having first exhausted all her persuasives, and tried all means to save what had cost her so much, was intolerable. She thought the time for separation had not come, and waited first to try her own "mode and measure of redress"; she considered that it should not be such as the Confederate States had adopted. Moreover, by standing firm she hoped to heal the breach, as she had done on several occasions before. She asked all the States to meet her in a peace congress. They did so, and the North being largely in the majority, threw out Southern propositions and rejected all the efforts of Virginia at conciliation. North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas all remained in the Union, awaiting the action of our State, who urged the Washington Government not to attempt to coerce the seceded States, or force them with sword and bayonet back into the Union—a thing, she held, which the charter that created the Government gave it no authority to do.

Regardless of these wise counsels and of all her rightful powers, the North mustered an army to come against the South; whereupon, seeing the time had come, and claiming the right which she had especially reserved not only for herself, but for all the States, to withdraw from the Union, the grand old Commonwealth did not hesitate to use it. She prepared to meet the emergency. Her people had already been assembled in convention, and they, in the persons of their representatives, passed the Ordinance of Secession, which separated her from the North and South, and left her alone, again a free, sovereign and independent State. This done, she sounded the notes of warlike preparation. She called upon her sons who were in the service of the Washington Government to confess their allegiance to her, resign their places, and rally around her standard. The true men among them came. In a few days she had an army of 60,000 men in the field; but her policy was still peace, armed peace, not war. Assuming the attitude of defence, she said to the powers of the North, "Let no hostile foot cross my borders." Nevertheless they came with fire and sword; battle was joined; victory crowned her banners on many a well-fought field; but she and her sister States, cut off from the outside world by the navy which they had helped to establish for the common defence, battled together against fearful odds at home for four long years, but were at last overpowered by mere numbers, and then came disaster. Her sons who fell died in defence of their country, their homes, their rights, and all that makes native land dear to the hearts of men.

  1. Proceeding of the Virginia Convention, 1788, p. 28. Code of Virginia, 1860.
  2. Slavery did not cease in New York till 1827.
  3. The tariff at that time was forty per cent.
  4. Resolutions of Virginia for a Declaration of Independence, unanimously adopted 15th May, 1776.—Page 1, Code of Virginia, 1860.