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RISE AND FALL OF THE SLAVE POWER
Election of a Republican President. ·Disingenuousness of secession leaders. Successful appeals. - South Carolina. - Meeting of conspirators. - Governor's recommendation to the legislature. - Public meeting and its disloyal utterEdmund Ruffin. - Northern incredulity. — Undeceived. - Revolutionary proceedings. — Policy of co-operation discarded. — Convention called. -Georgia. - Governor's message. - Speeches of Toombs, Stephens. Convention called.—Mississippi. — Alabama. Florida. - Louisiana. Similar movements in other States. - Immediate success not obtained.
On the 6th of November, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Though he lacked nearly a million of a majority on the popular vote, yet by the desperate strategy of the secessionists which had divided the Democratic party, with the nomination of Mr. Bell, he, of the four candidates in the field, was regularly chosen according to the provisions of the Constitution. This was not only admitted but claimed by those who had adopted this violent mode of uniting the South in support of their long-sought and fiercely threatened policy of rebellion and disunion. Though
this purpose had not been concealed, but openly and defiantly avowed, yet, with an audacious and brazen disingenuousness, no sooner had it become probable that Mr. Lincoln would be chosen, than these secession leaders boldly affirmed that he was a sectional candidate, and that his election was the success of a party committed to warfare upon the rights and interests of the South. Appealing to local interests, pandering to prejudices, painting in glowing colors the advantages of
separation, in the large increase of wealth, power, and social consideration independence would bring, pleading the Staterights theory that it was one of their reserved powers to withdraw at will from the Union, largely aided, too, by both pulpit and press, they did not find it difficult to persuade the class of large slaveholders to make the rash experiment, and enter upon the perilous venture of revolution. Small slaveholders,
too, and non-slaveholders even, confused by the blinding counsels and dominating influence of leaders they had been accustomed to follow, could not withstand the current, and were rapidly drifting into rebellion.
In this revolutionary movement South Carolina took the lead. A few days before the election, there was a meeting of leading politicians at the residence of Senator Hammond, at which it was unanimously resolved that in the event of Mr. Lincoln's election, of which they had little doubt, their State should at once secede. Governor Gist, who was at that meeting, immediately called the legislature together for the 5th proximo, for the purpose of choosing presidential electors. In his message, however, he expressed the desire that South Carolina should immediately withdraw, recommended that a convention should at once be called, and avowed the opinion that the secession of the State would be immediately followed by that of other Southern States, and ultimately by that of the whole South. He also avowed the opinion that, should the general government attempt to prevent such secession by coercion, it would be their duty to meet force by force. He recommended, too, that ten thousand volunteers should be called for and accepted, that every man between the ages of eighteen and forty-five should be armed, and that the State should be put on a war-footing and in readiness for any emergency. These recommendations were received with the greatest favor by both the legislature and the people.
On the evening of that day a public meeting was held, and speeches were made by leading men. Accepting Mr. Lincoln's election as a foregone conclusion, and breathing defiance against the general government, they expressed their determination not to acquiesce in the expected result. Mr. Chest
nut, one of her Senators in Congress, expressed no doubt of Mr. Lincoln's election the next day, and declared that the people of that State must choose whether they would be governed by their enemies or govern themselves. "For myself," he said, "I would unfurl the Palmetto flag, fling it to the breeze, and with the spirit of a brave man determine to live and die as becomes our glorious ancestors, and ring the clarion notes of defiance in the ears of an insolent foe." Asserting the right of South Carolina to secede, he recommended immediate action; and he predicted that "the other Southern States will flock to our standard."
These treasonable utterances of a Senator of the United States were enthusiastically applauded. The next evening William W. Boyce, a Representative in Congress, responding to a serenade, defiantly declared that "the South ought not to submit," and that "the way to enact revolution is to stare it in the face." "When an ancient philosopher," he said, "wished to inaugurate a revolution his motto was: To dare! to dare!"
Edmund Ruffin of Virginia, an old gentleman, for many years the editor of an influential agricultural paper, a fanatic upon the subject of slavery, who afterwards achieved the dubious distinction of firing the first shot on Fort Sumter, and died a suicide, hastened to South Carolina to influence, as far as he could, that State to take immediate action. He expressed the opinion that, if she remained alone, she would be able to defend herself against any power that would assail her. But he contended she would not remain alone and would soon be followed by other States. "The first drop of blood," he said, "spilled on the soil of South Carolina will bring Virginia and every Southern State with her."
But notwithstanding this free and fierce enunciation of a purpose not to submit to the election of what was denominated a sectional President, and of a determination to redress what was proclaimed to be a palpable infringement of Southern rights through the violent remedy of revolution, large numbers at the North remained incredulous, and refused to believe that their Southern brethren would be guilty of such folly and resort to measures so perilous and suicidal. They preferred,
or rather persuaded themselves, to regard these menaces as only a part of the usual policy of intimidation, which had for so long a time been pursued with only too great success in wresting from Northern fears what neither the claims of justice nor the strength of numbers would command or justify. They thought, too, that even if a few were prepared to proceed to such extremities, the majority would refuse to follow, and that the sober second thought of the people would interpose effectual opposition to a scheme so wild and indefensible. But the election of Mr. Lincoln and its immediate consequences undeceived them, and they speedily woke up to the fearful reality that what they had regarded but gasconade, the vaporing of a few noisy extremists, only too faithfully reflected the wishes and purposes of large numbers, if not of the majority, of the Southern people.
This was shown by the noisy and defiant demonstrations in South Carolina, where Mr. Lincoln's election was received with boundless enthusiasm. They who had been for so many years preaching disunion and plotting treason against the country hailed it as the opportunity long sought for, to break up the Union and found a confederacy based upon slavery. While the people of Charleston were congratulating each other on the morning of the 7th of November, the United States District Court assembled. The grand jury declined "to proceed with their presentments," and Judge Magrath declared that an event had happened "of ominous import to fifteen slaveholding States." He then resigned his office, affirming that "the temple of Justice, raised under the Constitution of the United States, is now closed." Other officers of the national government announced their resignations. The people of Charleston were wild with excitement, Palmetto flags were unfurled, speeches were made, cannon were fired, and the city illuminated. The governor of the State, at Columbia, received, during the day and evening, by telegraph, messages of encouragement and approval. A despatch received from the national capital gave the cheering assurance that some Southern men in office there had "donned the Palmetto cockade" and declared themselves ready to "march South"; that the "Presi