Henry L. Benning
Confederate Army general
Speech to the Virginia Convention (1861)Edit
- I have been appointed by the Convention of the State of Georgia, to present to this Convention, the ordinance of secession of Georgia, and further, to invite Virginia, through this Convention to join Georgia and the other seceded States in the formation of a Southern Confederacy. This, sir, is the whole extent of my mission. 1 have no power to make promises, none to receive promises; no power to bind at all in any respect. But still, sir, it has seemed to me that a proper respect for this Convention requires that I should with some fulness and particularity, exhibit before the Convention the reasons which have induced Georgia to take that important step of secession, and then to lay before the Convention some facts and considerations in favor of the acceptance of the invitation by Virginia. With your permission then, sit, I will pursue this course.
- What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North-was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. This conviction, sir, was the main cause. It is true, sir, that the effect of this conviction was strengthened by a further conviction that such a separation would be the best remedy for the fugitive slave evil, and also the best, if not the only remedy, for the territorial evil. But, doubtless, if it had not been for the first conviction this step would never have been taken. It therefore becomes important to inquire whether this conviction was well founded.
- Is it true, then, that unless there had been a separation from the North, slavery would be abolished in Georgia? I address myself to the proofs of that case.
- In the first place, I say that the North hates slavery, and, in using that expression I speak wittingly. In saying that the Black Republican party of the North hates slavery, I speak intentionally. If there is a doubt upon that question in the mind of any one who listens to me, a few of the multitude of proofs which could fill this room, would, I think, be sufficient to satisfy him. I beg to refer to a few of the proofs that are so abundant; and the first that I shall adduce consists in two extracts from a speech of Lincoln's, made in October 1858. They are as follows: 'I have always hated slavery as much as any abolitionist; I have always been an old line Whig; I have always hated it and I always believed it in the course of ultimate extinction, and if I were in Congress and a vote should come up on the question, whether slavery should be excluded from the territory, in spite of the Dred Scott decision, I would vote that it should.'
- These are pregnant statements; they avow a sentiment, a political principle of action, a sentiment of hatred to slavery as extreme as hatred can exist. The political principle here avowed is, that his action against slavery is not to be restrained by the Constitution of the United States, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States. I say, if you can find any degree of hatred greater than that, I should like to see it. This is the sentiment of the chosen leader of the Black Republican party; and can you doubt that it is not entertained by every solitary member of that same party? You cannot, I think. He is a representative man; his sentiments are the sentiments of his party; his principles of political action are the principles of political action of his party. I say, then; it is true, at least, that the Republican party of the North hates slavery.
- The Republican party is the permanent, dominant party at the North, and it is vain to think that you can put it down. It is true that the Republican party hates slavery, and that it is to be the permanent, dominant party at the North; and the majority being equivalent to the whole, as I have already stated, we cannot doubt the result.
- Is it true that the North hates slavery? My next proposition is that in the past the North has invariably exerted against slavery, all the power which it had at the time. The question merely was what was the amount of power it had to exert against it. They abolished slavery in that magnificent empire which you presented to the North; they abolished slavery in every Northern State, one after another; they abolished slavery in all the territory above the line of 36 30, which comprised about one million square miles. They have endeavored to put the Wilmot Proviso upon all the other territories of the Union, and they succeeded in putting it upon the territories of Oregon and Washington. They have taken from slavery all the conquests of the Mexican war, and appropriated it all to anti-slavery purposes; and if one of our fugitives escapes into the territories, they do all they can to make a free man of him; they maltreat his pursuers, and sometimes murder them. They make raids into your territory with a view to raise insurrection, with a view to destroy and murder indiscriminately all classes, ages and sexes, and when the base perpetrators are caught and brought to punishment, condign punishment, half the north go into mourning. If some of the perpetrators escape, they are shielded by the authorities of these Northern States-not by an irresponsible mob, but ,by the regularly organized authorities of the States.
- My next proposition is, that we have a right to argue from the past to the future and to say, that if in the past the North has done this, in the future, if it shall acquire the power to abolish slavery, it will do it.
- My next proposition is that the North is in the course of acquiring this power to abolish slavery. Is that true? I say, gentlemen, the North is acquiring that power by two processes, one of which is operating with great rapidity-that is by the admission of new States. The public territory is capable of forming from twenty to thirty States of larger size than the average of the States now in the Union. The public territory is peculiarly Northern territory, and every State that comes into the Union will be a free State. We may rest assured, sit, that that is a fixed fact. The events in Kansas should satisfy every one of the truth of that. If causes now in operation are allowed to continue, the admission of new States will go on until a sufficient number shall have been secured to give the necessary preponderance to change the Constitution. There is a process going on by which some of our own slave States are becoming free States already. It is true, that in some of the slave States the slave population is actually on the decrease, and, I believe it is true of all of them that it is relatively to the white population on the decrease. The census shows that slaves are decreasing in Delaware and Maryland; and it shows that in the other States in the same parallel, the relative state of the decrease and increase is against the slave population. It is not wonderful that this should be so. The anti-slavery feeling has got to be so great at the North that the owners of slave property in these States have a presentiment that it is a doomed institution, and the instincts of self-interest impels them to get rid of that property which is doomed. The consequence is, that it will go down lower and. lower, until it all gets to the Cotton States-until it gets to the bottom. There is the weight of a continent upon it forcing it down. Now, I say, sir, that under this weight it is bound to go down unto the Cotton States, one of which I have the honor to represent here. When that time comes, sir, the free States in consequence of the manifest decrease, will urge the process with additional vigor, and I fear that the day is not distant when the Cotton States, as they are called, will be the only slave States. When that time comes, the time will have arrived when the North will have the power to amend the Constitution, and say that slavery shall be abolished, and if the master refuses to yield to this policy, he shall doubtless be hung for his disobedience.
- If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished except in Georgia and the other cotton States, and I doubt, ultimately in these States also. By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that? It is not a supposable case. War will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth. We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa or Saint Domingo. Join the north and what will become of you? They will hate you and your institutions as much as they do now, and treat you accordingly. Suppose they elevated Charles Sumner to the presidency? Suppose they elevated Fred Douglass, your escaped slave, to the presidency? What would be your position in such an event? I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.
- The majority according to the Northern idea, which will then be the all-pervading, all powerful one, have the right to control. It will be in keeping particularly with the principles of the abolitionists that the majority, no matter of what, shall rule. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand that? It is not a supposable case. Although not half so numerous, we may readily assume that war will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth, and it is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back. They will then call upon the authorities at Washington, to aid them in putting down servile insurrection, and they will send a standing army down upon us, and the volunteers and Wide-Awakes will come in thousands, and we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which Abolition will bring upon the white race.
- We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back into a wilderness and become another Africa or St. Domingo.