Preview from What Lincoln Killed: The Timothy Pickering Story of Northern Secession
Mandeville, LA – We have all heard enough perfunctory incriminations hurled at anyone using “the S word” these days: secession. Say it in the wrong company, which unfortunately is most company and you may get a face-full of spittle asserting “the Right of secession”. “Why” they confidently bellow “we had a war over that and settled it”. Or witness the listless “everyone knows that secession was illegal for the racists confederacy then and still illegal and racist today”. As I have painstakingly detailed in my docudromedy “What Lincoln Killed”, that is simply not true regardless of how many times the opportunist demagogues at Southern Poverty Law Center & “Hardball” insist that it is.
Now comes more incontravertible proof from John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States, possibly the youngest founding father (he began his career at 14 while traveling with his father in Europe). As President James Buchanan recalls, it was Northerners who animated toward secession long before their southern “bretheren”.
The heresy of Secession—Originated in New England—Maintained by Josiah Quincy and the Hartford Convention, by Mr. Rawle and Mr. John Quincy Adams, but opposed by the South—Southern Secession dates from South Carolina Nullification—Its character and history—The Compromise Tariff of 1833—The Nullifiers agitate for Secession—Mr. Calhoun—Mr. Cobb against it—Warnings of the Democratic party—They are treated with contempt—Secession encouraged by the Republicans—The Cotton States led to believe they would be allowed to depart in peace—President Buchanan warned them against this delusion.
The alleged right of secession, or the right of one or more States to withdraw from the Union, is not a plant of Southern origin. On the contrary, it first sprung up in the North. At an early period after the formation of the Constitution, many influential individuals of New England became dissatisfied with the union between the Northern and Southern States, and were anxious to dissolve it. “The design,” according to Mr. John Quincy Adams, ” had been formed in the winter of 18o3-*4, immediately after and as a consequence of the acquisition of Louisiana.” 1 This he disclosed to Mr. Jefferson, in the year 1809. About the same time, to the confidential friends of Mr. Jefferson he ” urged that a continuance of the embargo much longer would certainly be met by forcible resistance, supported by the Legislature and probably by the judiciary of the State [Massachusetts]. That to quell that resistance, if force should be resorted to by the Government, it would produce a civil war; and that, in that event, he had no doubt the leaders of the party would secure the cooperation with them of Great Britain. That their object was, and had been for several years, a dissolution of the Union, and the establishment of a separate Confederation, he knew from unequivocal evidence, although not provable in a court of law; and that in case of a civil war, the aid of Great Britain to effect that purpose would be assuredly resorted to, as it would be indispensably necessary to the design.”
“Thus stands the RIGHT. But the indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right, but in the heart.”
Afterwards, in 1828, whilst President of the United States, he reaffirmed the statement made to Mr. Jefferson, and said: “That project, I repeat, had gone to the length of fixing upon a military leader for its execution; and although the circumstances of the times never admitted of its execution, nor even of its full development, I had yet no doubt in 1808 and 1809, and have no doubt at this time, that it is the key of all the great movements of these leaders of the Federal party in New England, from that time forward till its final catastrophe in the Hartford Convention.” It is but fair to observe that these statements were denied by the parties implicated, but were still adhered to and again reaffirmed by Mr. Adams.
In this connection we may cite the speech delivered by Mr. Josiah Quincy, a leading and influential Representative from Massachusetts, on the I4th January, 18n.1 In this he boldly avows and defends both the right and the duty of States to separate from the Union, should Congress pass the bill then pending before them, “to enable the people of the Territory of Orleans to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the admission of such State [Louisiana] into the Union on an equal footing with the original States.”
He alleges “that the principle of this bill materially affects the liberties and rights of the whole people of the United States. To me it appears that it would justify a revolution in this country, and that in no great length of time may produce it.” He then proceeds to declare as follows: ” If this bill passes, it is my deliberate opinion that it is virtually a dissolution of the Union; that it will free the States from their moral obligation, and, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, definitely to prepare for a separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must.” Upon being called to order for the utterance of this sentiment, he repeated it and committed it to writing with his own hand.
The violation of the Constitution involved in this bill was, according to Mr. Quincy, the admission into the Union of a State composed of foreign territory, which had been outside of the limits of the United States when the Constitution was adopted. This, he contended, would result in a serious diminution of the power and influence in the Federal Government, to which Massachusetts and the other old States were justly entitled.
It is curious to observe that he justified a dissolution of the Union by the very same fallacy afterwards employed by the Southern secessionists, in applying to our Government a rule of construction applicable to mere private contracts. “Is there,” said he, “a moral principle of public law better settled, or more conformable to the plainest suggestions of reason, than that the violation of a contract by one of the parties may be considered as exempting the other from its obligations?” 1
Thirty-five members united with Mr. Quincy in voting against this bill, but it passed the House by a vote of 77 to 36.
We shall not refer specially to the proceedings of the Hartford Convention, which assembled in December, 1814, during the existence of our last war with Great Britain. We may observe generally, that this body manifested their purpose to dissolve the Union, should Congress refuse to redress the grievances of which they complained. The peace, however, with Great Britain, terminated their action, and consigned them to lasting and well merited reproach. During this entire period the Southern people opposed and denounced all threats and efforts to dissolve the Union as treasonable, and during the war as giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy.
The right of secession found advocates afterwards in men of distinguished abilities and unquestioned patriotism. In 1825 it was maintained by Mr. William Rawle, of Philadelphia, an eminent and universally respected lawyer, in the 23d chapter of his “View of the Constitution of the United States.” In speaking of him his biographer says, that “in 1791 he was appointed District Attorney of the United States, by the Father of his country;” and “the situation of Attorney General was more than once tendered to him by Washington, but as often declined,” for domestic reasons.2 But to quote a still higher authority, that of Mr. John Quincy Adams. This learned and profound statesman, in 1839, admitted the right of the people of a State to secede from the Union, whilst deprecating its exercise. We copy entire the three paragraphs relating to this subject from his “Discourse delivered before the New York Historical Society,”3 on the fiftieth anniversary of General Washington’s Inauguration as President of the United States:
“In the calm hours of self-possession, the right of a State to nullify an act of Congress, is too absurd for argument, and too odious for discussion. The right of a State to secede from the Union, is equally disowned by the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Nations acknowledge no judge between them upon earth; and their Governments, from necessity, must in their intercourse with each other decide when the failure of one party to a contract to perform its obligations, absolves the other from the reciprocal fulfilment of his own. But this last of earthly powers is not necessary to the freedom or independence of States, connected together by the immediate action of the people of whom they consist. To the people alone is there reserved as well the dissolving as the constituent power, and that power can be exercised by them only under the tie of conscience, binding them to the retributive justice of Heaven.
“With these qualifications, we may admit the same right as vested in the people of every State in the Union, with reference to the General Government, which was exercised by the people of the United Colonies, with reference to the supreme head of the British empire, of which they formed a part; and under these limitations have the people of each State in the Union a right to secede from the confederated Union itself.
“Thus stands the RIGHT. But the indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right, but in the heart. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interest shall fester into hatred, the bands of political association will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the disunited States to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect union, by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the centre.”
‘Letter of Dec. 30, 1828, in reply to Harrison Gray Otis and others. Appendix to Randall’s Life of Jefferson, vol. iii., p. 635. Vide also vol. iii., P. 295.