Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/January/The Botetourt Resolutions of Judge John J. Allen
Preamble and Resolution
Offered in a large mass meeting of the people of Botetourt County, December 10th, 1860, by the Hon. John J. Allen, President of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and adopted with but two dissenting voices.
The people of Botetourt county, in general meeting assembled, believe it to be the duty of all the citizens of the Commonwealth, in the present alarming condition of our country, to give some expression of their opinion upon the threatening aspect of public affairs. They deem it unnecessary and out of place to avow sentiments of loyalty to the constitution and devotion to the Union of these States. A brief reference to the part the State has acted in the past will furnish the best evidence of the feelings of her sons in regard to the Union of the States and the constitution, which is the sole bond which binds them together.
In the controversies with the mother country, growing out of the efforts of the latter to tax the colonies without their consent, it was Virginia who, by the resolutions against the stamp act, gave the example of the first authoritative resistance by a legislative body to the British Government, and so imparted the first impulse to the Revolution.
Virginia declared her independence before any of the colonies, and gave the first written constitution to mankind.
By her instructions her representatives in the General Congress introduced a resolution to declare the colonies independent States, and the declaration itself was written by one of her sons.
She furnished to the Confederate States the father of his country, under whose guidance independence was achieved, and the rights and liberties of each State, it was hoped, perpetually established.
She stood undismayed through the long night of the Revolution, breasting the storm of war and pouring out the blood of her sons like water on almost every battle-field, from the ramparts of Quebec to the sands of Georgia.
By her own unaided efforts the northwestern territory was conquered, whereby the Mississippi, instead of the Ohio river, was recognized as the boundary of the United States by the treaty of peace.
To secure harmony, and as an evidence of her estimate of the value of the Union of the States, she ceded to all for their common benefit this magnificent region—an empire in itself.
When the articles of confederation were shown to be inadequate to secure peace and tranquility at home and respect abroad, Virginia first moved to bring about a more perfect Union.
At herthe first assemblage of commissioners took place at Annapolis, which ultimately led to the meeting of the convention which formed the present constitution.
This instrument itself was in a great measure the production of one of her sons, who has been justly styled the father of the constitution.
The government created by it was put into operation with her Washington, the father of his country, at its head; her Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, in his cabinet; her Madison, the great advocate of the constitution, in the legislative hall.
Under the leading of Virginia statesmen the Revolution of 1798 was brought about, Louisiana was acquired, and the second war of independence was waged.
Throughout the whole progress of the Republic she has never infringed on the rights of any State, or asked or received an exclusive benefit.
On the contrary, she has been the first to vindicate the equality of all the States, the smallest as well as the greatest.
But claiming no exclusive benefit for her efforts and sacrifices in the common cause, she had a right to look for feelings of fraternity and kindness for her citizens from the citizens of other States, and equality of rights for her citizens with all others; that those for whom she had done so much would abstain from actual aggressions upon her soil, or if they could not be prevented, would show themselves ready and prompt in punishing the aggressors; and that the common government, to the promotion of which she contributed so largely for the purpose of "establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility," would not, whilst the forms of the constitution were observed, be so perverted in spirit as to inflict wrong and injustice and produce universal insecurity.
These reasonable expectations have been grievously disappointed.
Owing to a spirit of pharasaical fanaticism prevailing in the North in reference to the institution of slavery, incited by foreign emissaries and fostered by corrupt political demagogues in search of power and place, a feeling has been aroused between the people of the two sections, of what was once a common country, which of itself would almost preclude the administration of a united government in harmony.
For the kindly feelings of a kindred people we find substituted distrust, suspicion and mutual aversion.
For a common pride in the name of American, we find one section even in foreign lands pursuing the other with revilings and reproach.
For the religion of a Divine Redeemer of all, we find a religion of hate against a part; and in all the private relations of life, instead of fraternal regard, a "consuming hate," which has but seldom characterized warring nations.
This feeling has prompted a hostile incursion upon our own soil and an apotheosis of the murderers, who were justly condemned and executed.
It has shown itself in the legislative halls by the passage of laws to obstruct a law of Congress passed in pursuance of a plainof the constitution.
It has been manifested by the industrious circulation of incendiary publications, sanctioned by leading men, occupying the highest stations in the gift of the people, to produce discord and division in our midst, and incite to midnight murder and every imaginable atrocity against an unoffending community.
It has displayed itself in a persistent denial of the equal rights of the citizens of each State to settle with their property in the common territory acquired by the blood and treasure of all.
It is shown in their openly avowed determination to circumscribe the institution of slavery within the territory of the States now recognizing it, the inevitable effect of which would be to fill the present slaveholding States with an ever increasing negro population, resulting in the banishment of our own non-slaveholding population in the first instance, and the eventual surrender of our country to a barbarous race, or, what seems to be desired, an amalgamation with the African.
And it has at last culminated in the election, by a sectional majority of the free States alone, to the first office in the republic, of the author of the sentiment that there is an "irrepressible conflict" between free and slave labor, and that there must be universal freedom or universal slavery; a sentiment which inculcates, as a necessity of our situation, warfare between the two sections of our country without cessation oruntil the weaker is reduced to subjection.
In view of this state of things, we are not inclined to rebuke or censure the people of any of our sister States in the South, suffering from injury, goaded by insults, and threatened with such outrages and wrongs, for their bold determination to relieve themselves from such injustice and oppression, by resorting to their ultimate and sovereign right to dissolve the compact which they had formed and to provide new guards for their future security.
Nor have we any doubt of the right of any State, there being no common umpire between coequal sovereign States, to judge for itself on its own responsibility, as to the mode and measure of redress.
The States, each for itself, exercised this sovereign power when they dissolved their connection with the British Empire.
They exercised the same power when nine of the States seceded from the confederation and adopted the present constitution, though two States at first rejected it.
The articles of confederation stipulated that those articles should be inviolably observed by every State, and that the Union should be perpetual, and that no alteration should be made unless agreed to by Congress and confirmed by every State.
Notwithstanding this solemn compact, a portion of the States did, without the consent of the others, form a new compact; and there is nothing to show, or by which it can be shown, that this right has been, or can be, diminished so long as the States continue sovereign.
The confederation was assented to by the Legislature for each State; the constitution by the people of each State of such State alone. One is as binding as the other, and no more so.
The constitution, it is true, established a government, and it operates directly on the individual; the confederation was a league operating primarily on the States. But each was adopted by the State for itself; in the one case by the Legislature acting for the State; in the other "by the people not as individuals composing one nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong."
The foundation, therefore, on which it was established was federal, and the State, in the exercise of the same sovereign authority by which she ratified for herself, may for herself abrogate and annul.
The operation of its powers, whilst the State remains in the Confederacy, is national; and consequently a State remaining in the Confederacy and enjoying its benefits cannot, by any mode of procedure, withdraw its citizens from the obligation to obey the constitution and the laws passed in pursuance thereof.
But when a State does secede, the constitution and laws of the United States cease to operate therein. No power is conferred on Congress to enforce them. Such authority was denied to the Congress in the convention which framed the constitution, because it would be an act of war of nation against nation—not the exercise of the legitimate power of a government to enforce its laws on those subject to its jurisdiction.
The assumption of such a power would be the assertion of a prerogative claimed by the British Government to legislate for the colonies in all cases whatever; it would constitute of itself a dangerous attack on the rights of the States, and should be promptly repelled.
These principles, resulting from the nature of our system of confederate States, cannot admit of question in Virginia.
Our people in convention, by their act of ratification, declared and made known that the powers granted under the constitution being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whenever they shall be perverted to their injury and oppression.
From what people were these powers derived? Confessedly from the people of each State, acting for themselves. By whom were they to be resumed or taken back? By the people of the State who were then granting them away. Who were to determine whether the powers granted had been perverted to their injury or oppression? Not the whole people of the United States, for there could be no oppression of the whole with their own consent; and it could not have entered into the conception of the convention that the powers granted could not be resumed until the oppressor himself united in such resumption.
They asserted the right to resume in order to guard the people of Virginia, for whom alone the convention could act, against the oppression of an irresponsible and sectional majority, the worst form of oppression with which an angry Providence has ever afflicted humanity.
Whilst, therefore, we regret that any State should, in a matter of common grievance, have determined to act for herself without consulting with her sister States equally aggrieved, we are nevertheless constrained to say that the occasion justifies and loudly calls for action of some kind.
The election of a President, by a sectional majority, as the representative of the principles referred to, clothed with the patronage and power incident to the office, including the authority to appoint all the postmasters and other officers charged with the execution of the laws of the United States, is itself a standing menace to the South—a direct assault upon her institutions—an incentive to robbery and insurrection, requiring from our own immediate local government, in its sovereign character, prompt action to obtain additional guarantees for equality and security in the Union, or to take measures for protection and security without it.
In view, therefore, of the present condition of our country, and the causes of it, we declare almost in the words of our fathers, contained in an address of the freeholders of Botetourt, in February, 1775, to the delegates from Virginia to the Continental Congress, "That we desire no change in our government whilst left to the free enjoyment of our equal privileges secured by the constitution; but that should a wicked and tyrannical sectional majority, under the sanction of the forms of the constitution, persist in acts of injustice and violence towards us, they only must be answerable for the consequences."
"That liberty is so strongly impressed upon our hearts that we cannot think of parting with it but with our lives; that our duty to God, our country, ourselves and our posterity forbid it; we stand, therefore, prepared for every contingency."
Resolved therefore, That in view of the facts set out in the foregoing preamble, it is the opinion of this meeting that a convention of the people should be called forthwith; that the State, in its sovereign character, should consult with the other Southern States, and agree upon such guarantees as in their opinion will secure their equality, tranquility and rights within the Union; and in the event of a failure to obtain such guarantees, to adopt in concert with the other Southern States, or alone, such measures as may seem most expedient to protect the rights and insure the safety of the people of Virginia.
And in the event of a change in our relations to the other States being rendered necessary, that the convention so elected should recommend to the people, for their adoption, such alterations in our State constitution as may adapt it to the altered condition of the State and country.