This Week in Georgia Civil War History
This Week in Georgia Civil War History
December 16, 1860: The Daily Federal Union published Howell Cobb's letter of December 6, calling for immediate secession. Cobb had served as Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan, but resigned that position on December 8 to join in the secession, and later the war, effort.
December 17, 1860: William Harris was a commissioner to Georgia from the state of Mississippi. He had been born in Georgia and educated at the University of Georgia, before moving to Mississippi and becoming a judge. He was appointed as commissioner to Georgia in 1858, and in that capacity delivered a speech before the Georgia General Assembly on this date. Excerpts from the speech follow:
Mr. President, and gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia:
I am profoundly sensible of the delicate and important duty imposed upon me, by the courtesy of this public reception.
Under different circumstances, it would have afforded me great pleasure, as a native Georgian --- reared and educated on her soil --- to express to you fully, the views which prevail in my native State, in relation to the great measures of deliverance and relief from the principles and policy of the new Administration, which are there in progress.
I cannot consent, however, upon the very heel of your arduous and exciting session, to avail myself of your respectful courtesy to the State I have the honor to represent, as well as your personal kindness to her humble representative, to prolong the discussion of a subject which, however, important and absorbing, has, doubtless, been already exhausted in your hearing, by some of the first intellects of your State, if not of the nation.
I beg, therefore, to refer you to the action of Mississippi --- already submitted to your Executive --- to ask for her the sympathy and cooperation she seeks for the common good, and briefly to suggest to you some of the motives which influence her conduct.
I am instructed by the resolution from which I derive my mission, to inform the State of Georgia, that Mississippi has passed an act calling a convention of her people, "to consider the present threatening relations of the Northern and Southern sections of the Confederacy --- aggravated by the recent election of a President, upon principles of hostility to the States of the South; and to express the earnest hope of Mississippi, that this State will co-operate with her in the adoption of efficient measures for their common defence and safety."...
Mississippi seeks no delay --- the issue is not new to her people. They have long and anxiously watched its approach they think it too late, now, to negotiate more compromises with bankrupts in political integrity whose recreancy to justice, good faith and constitutional obligations is the most cherished feature of their political organization.
She has exhausted her rights in sacrificial offerings to save the Union, until nearly all is lost but her honor and the courage to defend it. She has tried conventions until they have become the ridicule of both our friends and our enemies --- mere instruments of fraudulent evasion and delay, to wear out the spirit of our people and encourage the hopes of our common enemy. In short, she is sick and tired of the North, and pants for some respite from eternal disturbance and disquiet.
She comes now to you, --- our glorious old mother, --- the land of Baldwin, who first defiantly asserted and preserved your rights as to slavery, in the federal convention, in opposition to Messrs. Madison, Mason, and Randolph, and the whole Union except the two Carolinas, --- the land of Jackson, who immortalized himself by his bold exposure and successful overthrow of a legislative fraud and usurpation upon the rights of the people, --- the land of Troup, the sternest Roman of them all, who, single-handed and alone, without cooperation, without consultation, but with truth and justice, and the courage of freemen at home on his side, defied this National Government in its usurpations on the rights of Georgia, and executed your laws in spite of the threats of Federal coercion. It is to you we come, --- the brightest exemplar among the advocates and defenders of State rights and State remedies, --- to take counsel and solicit sympathy in this hour of our common trial. ...
I need not remind your great State, that thousands and thousands of her sons and daughters, who have sought and found happy homes and prosperous fortunes in the distant forests of her old colonial domain, though now adopted children of Mississippi, still cling with the fond embrace of filial love to this old mother of States and of statesmen, from whom both they and their adopted State derive their origin. It will be difficult for such to conceive, that they are not still the objects of your kind solicitude and maternal sympathy.
Mississippi indulges the most confident expectation and belief, founded on sources of information she cannot doubt, as well as on the existence of causes, operating upon them, alike as upon her, that every other Gulf State will stand by her side in defence of the position she is about to assume; and she would reproach herself, and every Georgia son within her limits, would swell with indignation, if she hesitated to believe that Georgia too, would blend her fate with her natural friends; her sons and daughters --- her neighboring sisters in the impending struggle. ...
Click here for the full text of Harris' speech.
December 18, 1860: This day's issue of the Columbus Enquirer clearly showed that Georgia seceding from the Union was far from a foregone conclusion. The front page carried stories of meetings in Walton, Pike, Wilkes, Polk, Chattooga, Cobb, and Hancock Counties. The meetings were to select delegates to the secession convention, and to give them instructions - and the results of the meetings showed that the feeling (at least in those counties) was roughly 50-50 in favor of immediate secession and resistance within the Union.
Meanwhile on the national level, Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden proposed a series of amendments to the Constitution, aimed at averting the secession crisis. The Crittenden Compromise offered the prohibition of slavery in the territories north the 36 degrees, 30 minute latitude line (from the Missouri Compromise), but allowing it in areas south of the line. It also called for obedience to and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law. Read the entire text of the proposed Crittenden Compromise here.
John J. Crittenden
December 19, 1860: Largely in response to William Harris's speech two days earlier, the Georgia General Assembly passed a Resolution listing the grievances the South had against the North (particularly the abolitionists), and calling for action in resisting the new administration. It also mentioned the secession convention and called for a Confederacy of any Southern states deciding to leave the Union, with a Constitution based on the U.S. Constitution. Excerpts follow:
WHEREAS, A large portion of the people of the non-slaveholding States, have for many years past, shown in many ways, a fanatical spirit bitterly hostile to the Southern States, and have, through the instrumentality of incendiary publications, the pulpit, and the newspaper press, finally organized a political party for the avowed purpose of destroying the institution of slavery, and consequently spreading ruin and desolation among the people in every portion of the country where it exists, And,
Whereas, This spirit of fanaticism has allied itself with a design, long entertained by leading politicians of the North, to wield the taxing power of the Government for the purpose of protecting and fostering the interests of that section of the Union, and also to appropriate the common Territories of the United States to the exclusive use of Northern emigration, for the purpose of extending, consolidating, and rendering that power irreversible. And,
Whereas, These designs and movements have attained such ascendency [sic], as to combine a large majority of the Northern people in this sectional party, which has elected to the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of the United States, candidates who are pledge in the most solemn form, and by the plainest, repeated declarations, to wield all the influence and power of the Federal Government to accomplish the objects and purposes of the party by which they have been elected. And,
Whereas, Many of the slaveholding States are about to assemble in Conventions for the purpose of adopting measures for the protection of their rights and the security of their institutions. And, ...
Resolved 2d. That, believing as we do that the present crisis in our national affairs demands resistance, this General Assembly, at its present session, has with great unanimity passed an Act providing for the call of a convention of the people of Georgia, to assemble on the 16th day of January, 1861, for the purpose of determining on the mode, measure and time of that resistance. ...
Resolved 4th. That, should any or all of the Southern States determine in the present emergency to withdraw from the Union and resume their sovereignty, it is the sense of this General Assembly that such seceding States should form a confederacy under a republican form of government; and to that end they should adopt the Constitution of the United States, so altered and amended as to suit the new state of affairs. ...
Read the full text of the Resolution here.
The Southern Watchman of Athens continued to call for attempted cooperation to resolve grievances within the Union, as opposed to immediate secession.
December 20, 1860: All eyes were directly to the east of Georgia on this day as South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Read the text of the Ordinance of Secession here. Back in Georgia, the Weekly Georgia Telegraph in Macon published one letter strongly stating the writer's wish that Georgia would do the same, and one urging that the South still should try to address its grievances in the Union. First the pro-secesiion letter.
December 21, 1860: The Richmond Times Dispatch mentioned Georgia twice - the first time in printing a speech given in Maryland on the secession crisis, and the second an example of how at least one slave owner was giving his slaves something special during the holidays - this was an attempt to disprove accusations of cruelty towards slaves.
"...To return to this Congressional Committee, it is all trickery and subterfuge. They don't mean to do anything, and, they can't do anything — for they haven't started right; they haven't begun at the beginning. They are perfecting points of detail, when the vital principle of concession has not been touched. I was in Washington a few days, and spoke with gentlemen on that Committee, to whom I took the liberty of suggesting a resolution similar to that since proposed by Mr. Crawford, of Georgia, recognizing the institution of slavery as it is recognized in the Constitution and in the decisions of the Supreme Court. Well, let them attempt to press that resolution, and that moment the Committee will explode.--The men from the North will never cede that right. They'll try to delay action till January or May, but they will never yield the right of slavery, which they deny upon their consciences, and which we, on our consciences, --a right which we will never agree to surrender. Never. [Applause]..."
Shocking treatment of Southern slaves.
We clip the following from the Charleston (S. C.) Mercury:
Annual Christmas Exclusion.--It will be seen by reference to our shipping advertisements, that the steamer St. Mary's, E. Lafitte & Co., agents, will leave Savannah Packet wharf on Sunday afternoon, the 23d inst., for Wilmington, N. C., and return the afternoon following. For many seasons one of the Messrs. Lafitte & Co.'s steamers has been chartered, a few days previous to Christmas, to convey a large gang of negroes, who are employed in the constructions of railroads, &c., in Georgia and Florida, to their old homes in old "Norf Kerlina" to spend the Christmas holidays, and the St. Mary's has been chartered for this purpose on this occasion. When the holidays are over the St. Mary's will return to Wilmington for the negroes, whose hearts will be gladdened and made light by this annual courtesy and kindness of their owners and employers.
December 22, 1860: President-elect Abraham Lincoln wrote a brief letter to his friend (at the time) Alexander Stephens, insisting that slavery where it then existed was in no danger from his administration:
Hon. A. H. Stephens--
My dear Sir
Your obliging answer to my short note is just received, and for which please accept my thanks. I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me.
Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.
The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us. Yours very truly
Read the full text of the letter here.
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