Monday, March 7, 2011

1861 March 7 Richmond, Virginia

Speech of John S. Carlile of Harrison in the Virginia State Convention

Mr. President, in this the hour of our country's peril, when the strength of our system of government is being severely tested, I should be slow to believe that any but patriotic emotions could influence the members of this body. Candor and frankness, therefore, should characterize our discussions, and a love of country alone should influence our deliberations. In this spirit I enter upon this discussion.

The resolutions before the Convention are designed, and if adopted will have the effect, to place Virginia in hostility to the Federal Government, which Federal Government is Virginia's government. In other words, to commit Virginia to a war against herself, and to connect her with the Cotton States, so as to share with them the disastrous consequences that may flow from the rebellious attitude assumed for them and in their name, by the men who for the time have the control of their respective State Governments.

...The people that I have the honor in part to represent, have not been seized with this frenzied madness which has seized our friends in other parts of the Commonwealth, to induce adopt a cowardly course, to run away and give up all their inheritance in this great country....Sir, we know we have the protection of our common Constitution; we know that that flag is ours, we know that the army is ours; we know that the navy is ours; we know that in any battle in defence or our rights, fifteen hundred thousand gallant voters in the non-slaveholding States will rush to our assistance, and under the stars and stripes will hurl from power any and all who dare to take advantage of the position they have obtained to our injury or oppression. We cannot reconcile secession with our notions of Virginia's chivalry and Virginia's courage. But we know, Mr. President....that this Government we are called upon to destroy has never brought us anything but good....

But Mr. President, we have heard a great deal here about equal rights--that's the expression, I believe. I never heard it specified what the rights were. We have heard a great deal about "rights," but very little about "duties." "Rights" are in every man's mouth--"duties" are never alluded to.....

I have been a slaveholder from the time I have been able to buy a slave. I have been a slaveholder, not by inheritance, but by purchase and I believe that slavery is a social, political and religious blessing....

How long, if you were to dissolve this Union--if you were to separate the slaveholding from the non slaveholding States--would African slavery have a foothold in this portion of the land? I venture the assertion that it would not exist in Virginia five years after the separation...How could it maintain itself, with the whole civilized world, backed by what they call their international law, arrayed for its ultimate extinction...Think you that ever another square mile of territory can be acquired by a purely slaveholding Republic? You would have not only the North to prevent you, but England, France and Spain....

What right has ever been denied? Haven't you equal rights in the Territories? Has not this very Government, that you are going to overthrow, declared that you have? Haven't you equal rights, as States, in the Federal Government?...then what has been denied you? Put your finger upon the right that has been taken away from you. What right has been denied in this Government? Wherein does this inequality consist? May it not be, gentlemen--and I ask it with all kindness--may it not be that you have mistaken party platforms for the Constitution of the United States, and the action of individual parties for the action of the Federal Government?...

Sir, can any man believe that in case of a dissolution of the Union, we would enjoy anything like the freedom, the liberty and equality which we now enjoy under this General Government of ours? Could we maintain ourselves without a strong military force kept up at an enormous and exhausting expense? We are now under the Union, and in the Union, the freest, the most independent, and the happiest people on earth. Dissolve the Union, and a military despotism, the licentiousness of the camp and ragged poverty will be substituted in its place.

And now, Mr. President, in the name of our own illustrious dead, in the name of all the living, in the name of millions yet unborn, I protest against this wicked effort to destroy the fairest and the freest Government on the earth. And I denouce all attempts to involve Virginia to commit her to self-murder as an insult to all reasonable living humanity, and a crime against God. With the dissolution of this Union, I hesitate not to say, the sun of our liberties will have set forever.

The slave holding John Snyder Carlile (1817-1878) voted against the Ordinance of Secession which he called a "crime against God." He later served as one of the first U. S. Senators from West Virginia.

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