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NEWS OF 150 YEARS AGO
March and April of 1859
From The Missouri Democrat, Thursday, May 19, 1859.
THE VICKSBURG CONVENTION-PIRACY, DISUNION AND FILIBUSTERISM ENDORSED.
By an inspection of the columns of the Vicksburg Sun, we have made ourselves somewhat acquainted with the animus and purposes of the late "Southern Commercial Convention." As an organ for the expression of Southern feeling, this assembly may justly claim the notice of the press. The States of Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee were represented in it. The delegations, we presume, were all appointed by the Governors of these States. The Convention was, therefore, a regularly constituted representative body, and its sayings and doings are entitled to some attention. We cannot characterize the spirit by which it was animated in soberer terms than to say it was lawless and revolutionary in the extreme. The editor of the Sun, who revered and admired the Convention as the hierarchy and witenagemote [witenagemot: Anglo-Saxon, literally "meeting of wise men", an English assembly of nobles which advised the King before the Norman Conquest] of the South, describes it in true solsticial style: "Since the days that Danton, Robespierre and Marat [leaders of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution] figured in the French Assembly, the world has never witnessed a more tumultuous assemblage than that of yesterday in Apollo Hall." We have no recollection of the characters named having figured in the French Assembly, but nevertheless they are no historic myths. There is novelty at least, and perhaps propriety, in representing them as the models of the members of the Commercial Convention instead of Brutus, Cassius and Leonidas, and the rest of the classical crowd who, to tell the truth, are used up by the South Carolina rhetoricians. Truly, the ethics and projects developed by our Southern conventionalists are most justly placed under the auspices of the mild and humane chiefs of the terrorists. It was unjust, though, to have omitted Couthon and Anacharsis Cloots, and others of the worthy brotherhood, who are nearly as illustrious.
The platform adopted may be briefly summed up in three propositions: The abrogation of all laws prohibiting the African slave trade; the annexation of Cuba and Central America; and the secession of the slave States should a Republican President be elected in 1860. There were other resolutions, relating to direct trade with Europe, the Southern Pacific Railroad, and the deepening of the mouth of the Mississippi, but they were merely introduced for the purpose of keeping up the sham commercial character of the Convention. There are, it seems, four plans proposed for the revival of the slave trade, each supported by a distinct party. The nullification of the laws of Congress by the States-a plan which has been for some time in operation-is the first one. The party which advocates this are called the Nullifiers. The Repealers is the name of the second party, and their plan is the repeal of the United States slave trade acts. The third party are called the Readjudicators, and their programme is to agitate and intrigue until they procure from the Supreme Court a reconsideration or readjudication, or in other words, an affirmation of the unconstitutionality, of the laws which the Repealers want to have abrogated by Congress. The fourth party, desirous of eluding all the difficulties which beset the project, demand the inauguration of the apprentice system, based on a term of twenty, thirty or fifty years. The last are called the Progressive State's Rights Men. Practical fellows, they are!
The meaning of the whole plot in all its ramifications is, that whilst the sea-board States are smuggling in Africans, the Southern party in Congress shall labor to procure the legalization of the traffic, or more correctly speaking, the theft. It is notorious that cargoes of Africans are landed along the shores of the Gulf as regularly as any other foreign importations. The main thing to be done is to keep up such an agitation on the impropriety of preventing it as to compel the National Democracy to assent to it tacitly. The verdicts in the cases of the Echo and Wanderer [two ships reported to have landed slave cargoes at Gulf coast ports in late 1858] demonstrate that the slave trade laws cannot be enforced in the South, and consequently that the trade can be carried on with impunity. There can be no doubt it will flourish as long as a National Democrat occupies the White House. Possibly a slaver may be captured from time to time, but no punishment will be inflicted on the guilty, and as the gains of the traffic are enormous, no serious interruption of the business will ensue. Hundreds of Cuban slavers have been taken and destroyed, but still importation to that island is continued. The invisibility of the American flag on the high seas which was justly demanded by the national sentiment, turns out practically to be an encouragement to the slave trade, for no English ship will now dare to visit the most notorious slaver that hoists that flag. Indeed we are not sure that the recent dispute with England was not purposely fomented to this end-to give the South a chance of getting their hands at three hundred instead of fifteen hundred dollars each.
We can discover no safe or immediate remedy for this, and the other outrageous schemes which Southern fanatics are hatching, but the triumph of the Republican party in 1860. Few navigators would be bold enough to charter their vessels for the coast of Congo when they knew that the United States Navy was lying in wait for them, and that Northern, and not Southern, juries would be the tribunals before which they would have to stand. What, but the relaxation of Federal authority, whether through imbecility or connivance, permits the repetition and extension of this accursed traffic, which our laws define as piracy? The efforts of an earnest and vigorous Executive would put a stop to it by a single volition.
This seems to have been the opinion of the Southern Convention also, for they resolved on preventing the inauguration of a Republican President or dissolving the Union! The threat, it is true, is better calculated to provoke laughter than to excite apprehension. They did not well in proclaiming such a challenge, for, as the sun shines, the event will come to pass, on which their pledge is contingent. Aye, a Black Republican President will be elected, and, although the Gulf States are now reeking with treason throughout their borders, it will be seen whether all the forms of the constitution are to be overthrown by the traitors. They did not well to make such a pledge, for, by doing so, they have sealed themselves braggarts and demagogues as well as traitors. Why, if they should be insane enough to attempt to put the threat into execution, they would never cross the dividing line. The frontier Slave States by themselves, without the aid of a single Northern State, without the aid of a single Federal bayonet, would hurl them into utter and hopeless confusion. And they know but little of the spirit which is abroad in this nation if they suppose the dismemberment of the Union is practicable on any issue into which politics have yet shaped themselves. The great protector of the union is the unity of will that distinguishes the large majority of the States, and which is no more affected by political agitations than the fixed laws of nature. The United States are a nation, a living organism, and not an aggregation of atoms which chance or design may separate. They are like every other nationality, subject to mutation, but not to dismemberment or disintegration. The latent powers of self-preservation which they possess can only be dimly conjectured, because no occasion has yet arisen to evoke those powers; but we can well believe that the world never saw a more sublime and formidable uprising than would be seen if the barbaric bands who are retrograding by choice into the worst usages of the past should strike out at the foundations of the American Republic. Nor can they alarm conservative feeling at the next Presidential election, as they have done so often before. The Union were no Union at all if they could dissolve it on any pretext.
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