November 30, 1860: Secession news

John Letcher
John Letcher, Governor of Virginia 1860-1864

Editorial from the November 30, 1860 New York Times:


We have nothing new of importance regarding the secession movement to report this morning. Attention is now being concentrated principally at the Federal Capital, and speculation is busy with the probable action of Congress at the opening of the session, and the effect, which it will have upon the present agitation. We also have a variety of surmises as to the composition of Mr. LINCOLN’s Cabinet. Gov. LETCHER, of Virginia, has written another letter to an inquiring Pennsylvanian, in which he gives his views somewhat at length on the topics of the day. It is supposed to foreshadow the tone of his message to the Virginia Legislature, at the coming extra session of that body. The principal topic discussed by him is the Fugitive Slave law, and the nullifying statutes passed by the Legislatures of Northern States. From South Carolina, we learn, that another meeting of the Bank Directors of Charleston has been held, at which it was unanimously resolved to suspend specie payments. Gov. HAMMOND, in a letter to a Georgia Secession meeting, has expressed the opinion that South Carolina will be out of the Union forever by the 18th of December.

Religious services were held in most of the Churches yesterday, and the sermons delivered, generally touched upon the question which is now agitating the country. We devote a large portion of our space, this morning, to the effusions of the occasion. The subject of disunion, it will be seen, is treated generally in a calm and eminently conservative spirit.

The Times reported numerous Thanksgiving sermons in the November 30 issue; as stated, they uniformly urged caution and compromise in the North, in contrast to sermons like Rev. Palmer’s of New Orleans.

Once again, the South’s primary grievance, as stated by Gov. Letcher, seems to be the state laws passed “nullifying” the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. These laws varied considerably; originally, many directly contravened the federal law, and probably article 4, clause 3 of the Constitution as well.

The Prigg vs Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling of 1842 found that federal law superseded state law, and invalidated Pennsylvania’s personal liberty law. Most Northern states then amended their laws to simply prohibit use of state resources, or action by state officials, to aid slave-catchers. These would have been the laws Letcher was protesting. I don’t know if their constitutionality was ever tested.

It still appears to me that the Southern states didn’t approve of the “state’s right” of nullification when it was applied by the Northern states.

This entry was posted in Causes of the war, Fugitive Slave Act, Nullification, States' Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

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