February 28, 1861: Jeremiah Morton on the Republican plot

Jeremiah Morton, a prominent Whig politician and planter, was a member of the Virginia Secession Convention and gave one of the first speeches advocating secession. In it he lays out what he sees as the Republican strategy. The party in power gets to distribute political spoils (this was before the Civil Service Act), so they’ll spend a lot of money bestowing positions on Southerners — postmasterships, etc. This will build up a core of Republican support in the South, and within a few election cycles, horror of horrors, you’ll have Republicans winning elections in the South. This would lead to the destruction of slavery in the South. Clearly the only recourse is secession. Oh, and if they do secede, Norfolk will be bigger than New York in fifty years.

Mr. President: I feel deeply impressed by…the vast importance of… this assembly… In the history of the world,…[no]fanaticism, striking into the vitals of a proud nation, has progressed with the same rapidity as this abolition fanaticism has…Our soil has been invaded; our rights have been violated; principles hostile to our institutions have been inculcated in the Northern mind and ingrained in the Northern heart, so that you may make any compromise you please, and still, until you can unlearn and unteach the people, we shall find no peace.

… [In] the Northern states the youth are instructed in the nursery, in the schoolhouse, in the church, by the press, to regard slavery as a sin and a crime, and those who cherish it as … unworthy of recognition upon a footing of social equality with the people of the North, and fit objects of the scorn and contempt of the world– I ask you what is the hope, what is the chance of effecting a change?

…They will administer the Government for the strengthening of the party; they will make capital out of every appointment; and , Mr. President, with a Government, every Department of which shall be in the hands of the Black Republicans, administered upon the principles which William H. Seward and Abraham Lincoln will administer it, how long would our institutions be safe? … Whenever it comes to the administration of the spoils with a view to the advancement of party — and that for many years has been the general type of all administrations — what are the number that will be purchased up by the patronage of the Government? I do not mean corruptly, Mr. President, corruptly. But when there is a fat office which is tendered, and the aspirant for that office knows how important it may be that his opinions should be identical and should assimilate with the powers that be, how natural it is for a man under circumstances like these to satisfy himself that he once was a little wrong, and that the sober, second thought, is the best position.

And I tell you Mr. President, that Abraham Lincoln will seek to hold a power over all the Southern States… If you stay [in the Union] for the next twelve months there will be more beneficent showers of public patronage upon Virginia and Maryland and Tennessee– I think he would hardly go to North Carolina — but he will go to Kentucky and Missouri, sooner than to any other States…

And, Mr. President, when a man gets a rich office, how many friends circle around him to congratulate him… The donee of a fat office — be it a Judgeship, be it a Collectorship, be it a Postmaster of this city — has much power, and each one will form a nucleus of sympathizing friends with the powers that be… Let us acquiesce, and I tell you that in the next Presidential canvass– if not in the next, in the second; certainly in the third — you will find Black Republicans upon every stump, and organizing in every county; and that is the peace that we shall have from this “glorious Union.”

I would not have been in favor of an exclusive slaveholding Confederacy. No! Whilst I would have required all the guarantees necessary for our protection, I would have had those border States associated with us, whose interests in trade would have led them to the South — I mean New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. We would always have had the preponderance, and we would not let them in until they had purified themselves in some degree of Abolitionism, and I would have a provision to this effect: that, whenever they agitated this question of slavery again, and whenever they proclaimed that they were holier than ourselves and we were not worthy to sit at the communion table with them, we should say to them, “Leave us.”

Slavery is considered a festering sore by the fanatics of the North. They believe that they are responsible before God and the world, for the sin of African slavery, and that although it is within our borders, they must use all the means in their power to destroy it in the States, and never permit another slave State to be admitted into this Union. That is the platform upon which Wm. H. Seward has been standing for years, until at last he has become Premier of the President — a “power behind the throne, greater than the throne itself.” …

If you will go out, as I trust in God you will, you will not be deliberating with my friend from Rockbridge [Mr. Moore] or my friend from Bedford [Mr. Goggin] in a Central Confederacy. If you go at all you will go with your Southern brethren. If they give us the post of danger, they will also give us the post of honor. They want our statesmen; they want our military; they want the material arm of Virginia to sustain ourselves and them in the great struggles.

It will be for the interest of Virginia — her material interests — to unite with the South and not with the North; that her agricultural, her manufacturing and her shipping interests will be promoted by it. I tell you if the folly of the North compels Virginia to take her stand with the South — and we shall be fifteen slave States — that the material prosperity of the city of Richmond in 10 years, will be beyond what it will be in 30 years in this Union. I tell you that in 50 years the city of Norfolk will be a larger city than the city of New York; so that if we were to look to the material interests of Virginia, they would be promoted by going with the South and leaving the North by itself.

Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the UnionFreehling, W.W. and C.M. Simpson, pp. 3-10.

This entry was posted in Abolitionism, Abraham Lincoln, Secession, Virginia, William H. Seward. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to February 28, 1861: Jeremiah Morton on the Republican plot

  1. Pingback: March 4, 1861: Waitman Willey responds to Morton | Seven Score and Ten

  2. Pingback: March 7, 1861: John Carlile against secession | Seven Score and Ten

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