January 26, 1861: Alabama convention encounters some backlash.

William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama
William Lowndes Yancey

The Alabama Convention, having passed an ordinance of secession on January 11, remained in session dealing with constitutional matters — or, as the New York Times’ correspondent suggests, maintaining their grip on power.

From the New York Times, February 5, 1861.

MONTGOMERY, Friday, Jan. 26, 1861.

A good deal of curiosity, to call it by no higher name, was felt during the debate on the ordinance of secession to know the cause of the delay and the nature of the discussion. It was thought by many that the people, who are so profoundly and personally interested in the result of the discussions should be permitted to be present. A day or two ago, however, this privacy which has so vexed the curiosity of the anxious, was laid aside, and the doors were opened to the public. A visitor sitting quietly in the gallery of the Senate-room — for this body have vacated in favor of the Convention, holding their own sessions in the court-room below — begins to discover an unsuspected wisdom in the precaution which has so long concealed behind closed doors the kind of proceedings he sees going on below. The Convention is in session. Instead of the earnest and thoughtful attention which, spite of all precedent, we have been inclined to concede to a body which has under consideration questions of such importance as those involved in the formation of a new government, we find here a degree of interest which compares unfavorably with the Legislative Assembly which is in session in the opposite wing.

Members are collected round the fires reading, talking, dozing, while through the thick smoke of cigars comes up the amendments to the Constitution, which are being read off and discussed by a few listeners; many of these amendments run, “strike out the words ‘United States,’ and insert, ‘State of Alabama,’” though many, to be sure, are more radical. The amendments to the Constitution are completed; the gentlemen around the fires continue to read, smoke, and chat, while within the little circle all the great questions of argument are being quickly decided, questions of judicial organization, of the Slave-trade, of naturalization and citizenship. In front, the centre of all observation from the gallery, and with an air of conscious importance, attentive and participating frequently in the debate, though always in a tone of mild conciliation, the idol of the extremists and special hatred of the members from Northern Alabama, sits Mr. YANCEY.

The question before the Convention is, whether foreigners shall be entitled to the rights of citizenship after serving in the army for the term of six months. A delegate arises to say that he hopes in the new Republic no length of residence or service will entitle a foreigner to the right of suffrage. Another fears that the last speaker is touched with the old principles of the Know-Nothing Party; he hopes that any foreigner who is willing to fight our battles against the North shall be entitled to citizenship. A third declares that two things are necessary for a foreigner to be entitled to citizenship, that he should have lived here long enough to understand the value of a vote, and the value of a white man over a nigger.

Mr. YANCEY begs the attention of the body for a moment. He wishes to announce that he has just received a dispatch from Baton Rouge, stating that the Convention of Louisiana had passed the ordinance of secession by an overwhelming majority. There is some enthusiasm in the House and the business proceeds. The Convention will adjourn on Tuesday, the 29th, to meet again on the 4th of March. You will see by this that the body has already learned one of the first arts of successful legislation — i. e., how to keep in power. In concluding the plans for a Provisional Government, the question arose whether a new convention ought not to be called by the people with this special end in view. Mr. YANCEY answered this by showing that such an arrangement would invite a reconsideration of the action of this body on the question of secession, and that, too, under the necessary pressure of deranged finance, scarcity of provisions and dread of war.

Thus the people are not to leave the handling of this question again until all the ships are burned behind, and reconstruction is impossible. In signing the ordinance some difficulties have occurred; it is said that forty-five members refuse to sign. These say that they must make this protest in behalf of their constituents, and many complain that the position into which they are already drawn will probably destroy all their future political prospects — a kind of argument which has its weight, it would seem, even in the new Republic. Great efforts are being made by them to bring their constituents into sympathy with the present state of things, and they will undoubtedly exert a strong influence in disaffected portions of the State.

A very pretty display took place yesterday, in the shape of a review by the Legislature of the students of the University of Alabama, who are receiving, in connection with their college course, a military training. An appropriation is expected from the Legislature, which will give to this institution still more of a military character. One of the cares which rests on the minds of all is to provide for the suffering which is anticipated from the short crops of next year. Newspapers circulate the advice to plant one-third less cotton, and one-half more corn, and the appropriations made by the Legislature show that the danger is not merely in imagination.

The Collector of the port of Mobile has been up to see to the passage of an act for retaining the same laws of revenue which belonged to the Federal Government. He affirms that the great obstacle to the exportation of cotton from Mobile now is, that New-York bill brokers do not empower their agents to buy bills of cotton without a Federal clearance. The “stay law,” which is still under consideration by the Legislature, causes the merchants a good deal of solicitude, but, as it has an eye to the benefit of the planters, it is very probable that it will be passed. Persons having friends in the forts at Pensacola have been a good deal disturbed by the closing of the post-office at that point, and this evening a meeting is held to make arrangements to send letters by express. It is the rumor again to-day, however, that the troops are to be recalled within a few days. These neophyte troops complain bitterly of the wet blankets and spare rations of actual service. Expectation is now clearing the floor for the Southern Convention which is to be held here in nine days.

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