In 1861, Americans were faced with serious challenges of a possible civil war and slavery. During this period, America was no longer a homogenous society but rather as a divided nation on the verge of a civil war. States with different values and different outlooks on politics and economy were evident. The Souths economy revolved around agriculture with benefits from slave labor. In contrast, the North was more industrialized and more dependent on free labor. It was during this period that the abolitionist movement took a different course in the North. More activist joined the movement and led public protests against slavery. The movements became powerful; the South began to view the North as a threat to their slave-dependent economy. While both sides were opposed in many ways, the perception that the North was imposing its values and views on the South worsened the situation.
After the Union admitted Kansas as a Slave-free State in the same year, many Southern States saw the move as the beginning of the abolishment of Slavery and destruction of their economy. It was during this time that American presidential elections took place. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican candidate, won the elections. However, the party gained very little support from the South. Many Republicans opposed slavery and supported the ideology of slave-free States. Following this, the South Carolina State decide to nullify all its agreement with the Union. South Carolina sent representatives to the neighboring Southern States to push for secession. The Southern Carolina convention appointed John Preston as a commissioner to Virginia. His role as a commissioner was to highlight the need for secession in Virginia. His speech revolved around legality behind secession of Southern States and actions of the Northern States towards the South. His speech convinced not only the Virginia convention but many other Southern States to break ties with the Union. Following this, Abraham Lincoln made an essential statement during his first inauguration address. His speech pointed out his role as the president, his views towards the south and why the states could not break ties with the union.
John Preston Smiths Speech
Addressing the Virginia convection, John Preston began his speech by submitting his credentials as a commissioner appointed by the government of South Carolina. He briefly stated the instruction bestowed upon him by his government to highlight the causes of secession by South Carolina. After a brief introduction, John noted that the South States had a constitutional right to push for secession. According to historical facts, the only community of Government that the current colonies ever had was the East Indies colonies. They later unified after the invasion by Great Britain which remitted each Colony its independence after the dissolution of the Union. According to John, the initial alliances were formed to solve common grievances, but each States independent powers remained acknowledged. In their quest for independence and sovereignty, the colonies united under Articles of Confederation. Under this union, the independence and freedom of each member were still recognized. They later united under a contract called the Constitution of the United States formed after the collapse of Articles of Confederation.
It was under this constitution that the sovereignty and independence of American colonies were impaired. He argued that in the constitution, there is an express, pervading, and emphatic reservation of all powers not expressly granted (Preston 5). He further argued that each state agreed to the terms of the contract independently and individually and with varying reservations. It, therefore, follows that the interests of each State were independent and could not be harmonized under the same constitution. A colony had the right to exercise its own higher purpose that would guarantee their liberty, safety, and happiness. As such, it is upon the parties allied to the contract to choose the right to exercise self-governance because it does not amount to breaking the constitutional laws.
In his quest to justify secession, the commissioner pointed out that the actions of the North were an imminent danger to the livelihood of the Southern communities. He argued that the attempt by the General Government to abolish slave trade would negatively impact the Southern communities. Abolishing slave trade meant less production and higher burden to cater for revenue duties on imported products. According to John, burden of the revenue duties upon imports purchased by these products must fall upon the producer, who happens, in this case, also to be the consumer of the imports (Preston 6). He further argued that industrialization in the North prompted the government to impose massive tax revenues upon the South to meet the increased government expenditures. He attributed this to lack of self-sufficiency by Northern people who embraced commerce and industry rather than agriculture.
Also, John blamed the North for the current political inequity by imposing laws that violate their interests as slave-holding states. He accused the non-slaveholding of associating slave labor to murder, racism, and arson in their attempt to abolish slavery. According to him, the North had violently infiltrated the South and falsely accused them of endangering social institutions through slavery.
Abraham Lincolns Speech
In his inauguration speech, Abraham Lincoln began by assuring peace, personal security and property protection to all American. Abraham Lincoln made it clear that States cannot break ties with the union. In his view, the Union of American States was perpetual and expressed as a fundamental law in a national government. He stated that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its termination (Lincoln 12). According to him, the endurance of the Union depended on the execution of all provision expressed in the National Constitution. The only means to disrupt the Federal Union were unconstitutional. Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy (Lincoln 25). It was from every state to hold allegiance to the constitution that unified the States. He argued that no single State had the right to violate the law and that any constitutional changes must hold the interests of all States. Lincoln stated that but if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is not perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity (Lincoln 15). In this view, the president stated that it was unlawful for any State to exit from the Union based on its motion.
Abraham Lincoln viewed the South as minorities who opted secession rather than accepting the majority principle. He stated that a majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing with deliberate changes of popular opinions, is the only true sovereign of a free people (Lincoln 25). In his view, it was a permanent arrangement that a minority rule is collectively inadmissible.
Abraham Lincoln had several duties as the president of the United States. His first task was to ensure that all the States execute the union laws faithfully as provided for by the constitution. His second mission was to collect duties and to possess, occupy and hold all property and places that belonged to the government. It was his duty to ensure that all Federal offices across the States remained in operation. His third duty was to ensure that the American colonies remained united despite the increased pressure from the South States to break ties with the Union. According to him, the duty to unite the union was bestowed to him by the Americans who were his rightful masters. It was his wish that unity of the States was achieved peacefully. In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority (Lincoln 18). His most significant challenge was resolving the dispute on slave trade that created a deep division between the Northern States and the Southern States. It was evident that solving the slave trade dispute was the only solution to avoid a civil war.
Lincoln, Abraham. "First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861." (1861).
Preston, John Smith. Address of Hon. John S. Preston, Commissioner from South Carolina: To the Convention of Virginia, February 19, 1861. Academic Affairs Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2000.
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