February 1861. With seven States having left the Union, Americans saw new political ideologies growing. Northerners saw Southerners as traitors to the Union interested only in establishing a slave republic and protecting the institution of slavery. Some Southerners saw secession as a necessary step to protect their freedoms and rights after Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to coerce the seceded States back into the Union, like the State of Tennessee. The State of Georgia claimed, in its secession ordinance, fraud from the general government, in taking revenue collected at Southern ports to improve the internal infrastructure of the Northern States, instead of their own. Other Southerners believed an abolitionist-controlled political party, the Republicans, had overthrown the ‘general government’ whose goal was to restrict ‘the people’s’ Constitutional rights to property and change the “Rule of Representation” and seize more political power in Congress. In PART 1 of OLIGARCHY: AN AMERICAN FEAR DURING SECESSION WINTER, I examined a legislative effort known as the “Crittenden Compromise” to preserve the people’s “Rule of Representation” to prevent, or the perceived fear, of an oligarchy developing. Lastly, another group of Southerners loyal to the Union, called Cooperationists, felt their seceding State governments were taking them in a direction they did not want to go and tried to do something about it.
In PART TWO of OLIGARCHY: AN AMERICAN FEAR DURING SECESSION WINTER, we look at two prominent Southern politicians who fit into the Cooperationist camp – Andrew Johnson and William Boyce.
First, let’s look at then-United States Senator Andrew Johnson’s feelings on the subject during this time. On February 6, 1861, Senator Johnson, of Tennessee, on the floor of the Senate, painted an image of an oligarchy in the Deep South as ‘the people’ of the seceding States were denied the decision to leave the Union.
WHAT IS AN OLIGARCHY?
Power in the hands of a few, but not necessarily elected.
CONSULT ‘THE PEOPLE’
As examples, Johnson pointed to ‘the people’ in the States of South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana as not being ‘consulted’. In the first place, let’s look at what Johnson says about ‘the people’ of South Carolina on their State’s secession:
WHO WAS WILLIAM BOYCE?
Johnson in his speech brings up ‘Boyce’. Who is he referring to in this context? Representing the citizens of York, Chester, Fairfield, Richland, Sumter, and Kershaw Districts, William Boyce was a Representative from South Carolina in the United States House of Representatives in 1860 and an advocate of slavery.
But, in 1851, Boyce was a former State Representative who opposed the secessionists plan to take South Carolina out of the Union. 2
BOYCE’S THOUGHTS ON THE SECESSION CRISIS OF 1851
In the late 1840s, the escalating controversy over the expansion of slavery into the territories, acquired from the Mexican War, set in motion South Carolina’s secession crisis in 1851. During this time, Boyce voiced his thoughts against Secession:
Because of statements like these and others, Boyce was viewed as ‘cooperationist’ in 1851 by secessionists.
WHO WERE COOPERATIONISTS?
Cooperationists favored staying in the Union and politically stalled any efforts by the secessionists as the popular vote would reflect.
WHY DID BOYCE WANT SOUTH CAROLINA TO REMAIN IN THE UNION?
In a letter to ‘the people’ of Edgefield, South Carolina in October 1851, Boyce outlines his thoughts.
First. Leaving would make South Carolina vulnerable to incursions from other States or nations, like the United States. Boyce probably remembered the days under the Articles of Confederation when the States engaged each other in border disputes. Therefore, he didn’t want South Carolina to secede without the support of other States for protection.
In the second place, the people’s rights could not be protected for the reasons addressed in the first point.
Thirdly. Leaving the Union seemed like quitting any effort to redress the Southern States’ grievances with the federal agent and the northern States.
In the fourth place, leaving the Union assisted the abolitionists and Northern sectionalists in restricting the westward expansion of slavery into the territories of the United States. How? South Carolina’s representatives would be recalled from Congress as a consequence of leaving the Union. As a result, the political power of the remaining Southern States in Congress would be diminished to protect the institution of slavery legislatively at the federal level, leaving the abolitionists to exploit the weakness.
Fifth. ‘The people‘ would experience overwhelming taxation in order to support the new government. New Taxation? Yes. In order to build the infrastructure for a new country, South Carolina would need to collect more revenue from its citizens, such as an army and navy.
Sixth. As a result of being overly taxed, ‘the people’, who couldn’t absorb the new taxes, would be forced to leave South Carolina to make way for those who could.
Seventh and lastly, the potential for Internal civil disobedience by those against secession.
But. Boyce issued a warning.
And that warning came true in 1861 with the formation of the Confederacy. 3
THE COOPERATIONISTS IN 1851
Boyce wasn’t alone in 1851 in keeping South Carolina in the Union. Local communities throughout the State favored ‘the people’ approving any decision on the State’s federal relations.
On May 31st, pursuant to a call of over four hundred citizens, a public meeting was held in Edgefield, South Carolina to determine their position. One of the resolutions passed in the meeting reflected the ‘the people’s’ requirement to approve any decision made in a State convention:
“That the final determination of this question by the State Convention .. should be submitted to the people of this State for approval or disapproval at the ballot box” 4
Again in October, ‘the people’ of Edgefield gave their delegates specific instructions in regards how to vote in any State convention:
“Resolved, That the delegates to the State Convention, from Edgefield, be, and are hereby instructed, that prior to the first day of January, 1853, they give no vote for, or countenance to, any ordinance or measure, which has for its object the separate secession of the State of South Carolina from the American Confederacy.” 5
But, the majority of ‘the people’ in South Carolina during this time were not ready to leave the Union.
‘The people’ turned down the measure to elect delegates to decide the question in a State Convention by a popular vote of 58.8 percent in October 1851. 6
1854: ENTER THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
Everything changed for Boyce with the birth of the Republican Party in March 1854. Under the influence of abolitionists, the Republican party represented a danger to the future legality of slavery, if it took control of the Federal government. Boyce worked tirelessly never to see it happen and in the summer of 1860 advocated for South Carolina’s secession, alone even, if Lincoln won the White House. 7
After Lincoln won the Chief Executive’s sit, Boyce resigned from the federal House of Representatives, on December 1st, as ‘the people’ of South Carolina held public meetings in support of secession. Local groups organized militia companies and offered their services to the Governor of the State. 8
In fact, support for secession by ‘the people’ was so large at the time, it moved Boyce to say in 1865:
In other words, Boyce wasn’t willing to go against the current public sentiment. No politician can without potentially losing their job. It’s interesting to note, the will of ‘the people’ changed in favor of the secessionists in just under 10 years. Boyce addressed the reason why he changed his mind on secession in 1860:
WHAT WAS THE NULLIFICATION CRISIS?
In 1832, South Carolina disagreed with a new national tariff the general government created. South Carolina “nullified” the new tariff and threatened secession. The general government countered and threatened to use force to coerce South Carolina to enact the new law. A compromise was reached and a less impactful tariff was enacted. Was it a fair deal? You tell me. The general government got what it wanted and the States had to pay for it. No. Not in this writer’s opinion. The compromise pushed South Carolina’s secession back 30 years.
In December 1860, while Boyce publicly supported secession, he used the threat of secession as an opportunity to undermine it and “obtain a good settlement” on the slavery question. How? Secretly, Boyce met with Congressional officials, including then-Senator Andrew Johnson, and pitched his ‘settlement’ to preserve the institution of slavery and keep the South in the Union.
What was Boyce’s Compromise? Firstly, the South should give up the expansion of slavery in United States territories. Secondly, by an amendment to the Constitution, the North should leave the question of the legality of slavery to each State. By the way, the States already had this function as a reserved Constitutional power under the 10th Amendment. Third and lastly. The South should be given a ‘balance of power’ principle to be inserted in the Constitution.
Some of Boyce’s ideas were used in the Corwin Amendment such as bottling up slavery in the States where it was already legal to practice. The Corwin Amendment will be addressed in a future article. Not only was Boyce trying to preserve the institution of slavery in the States where it was legal to practice, but he also tried to prevent secession by offering a solution to preserve the Union. Boyce played each side while maintaining his position on secession politically. Boyce was still a cooperationist at heart in 1861 but Fort Sumter ended all his efforts to save the Union and obtain ‘a good settlement’ on slavery. 9
The South Carolina Legislature called for a State convention to determine the State’s relations with its federal agent. On December 20, 1860, ‘the people’s’ representatives took South Carolina out of the Union by a unanimous vote of 169-0.
‘THE PEOPLE’ OF SOUTH CAROLINA CONSULTED
What gave the delegates to South Carolina’s secession convention the power to decide the State’s federal relations? Its legislature. The legislature passed a law for the convention’s creation and intent. What gave the legislature the power to create such a law? South Carolina’s constitution, the compact of ‘the people’; An instrument designed to perform civic tasks on behalf of ‘the people’ by powers delegated from ‘the people‘. South Carolina’s 1790 Constitution contained no language requiring the General Assembly to put a popular vote before ‘the people’ on any subject. 10
Furthermore, where was the outrage among ‘the people’ for not being able to ratify the convention’s result? There was none. Opposition to secession was non-existent in South Carolina according to Boyce. 11 The State’s unanimous vote of 169-0 supports Boyce’s statement. To summarize, ‘the people’ of South Carolina choose secession. I will discuss the process in detail in a future article.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE SECEDING STATES THAT DIDN’T HAVE UNANIMOUS VOTES?
Johnson used the secessionist’s popular vote victory as a brush stroke in his political canvass to paint a picture of an oligarchy in the South. Before Johnson’s speech, South Carolina’s convention played out in six more States – Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Mississippi voted 83-15 in favor of secession. Alabama voted 61-39 in favor of secession. Florida voted 62-7 in favor of secession and the cooperationists lost more than 8:1. Georgia voted 208-89 in favor of secession. Louisiana voted 113-7 where the cooperationists lost more than 16:1. Lastly, Texas voted 166-8 where the cooperationists lost more than 20:1. The cooperationist’s voice was strongest in Alabama and Georgia. The secessionists voice was the largest in the Lone Star State. For every winner, there is a loser, especially in a popular vote.
WHERE THE COOPERATIONISTS FAILED
If it was anyone’s fault the States seceded from the Union, it was the Cooperationists. They failed to address the Constitutional infidelity committed by the Northern States since the 1850 secession crisis. I will address the topic of Constitutional infidelity in a future article.
STEPHENS STEPS INTO THE P.R. FIGHT
The fight for the public relations narrative was as just as important in 1861 as it is today. Anti-secessionist comments, like Johnson’s, caused Confederate leadership to defend the new government before the public. Americans, suspicious of the secessionist leadership intent, feared it intended to create an oligarchy, like a monarchy. What was their intentions ‘the people‘ thought? Did they intend to burden ‘the people’ with taxes to maintain and grow the new government? Would the ‘Rule of Representation’ or the Three-Fifths Clause of the United States Constitution be maintained or if kept, in the new character of the Southern government, altered to give slaves full representation and change how ‘the people’ were represented?
On March 11th, 1861, the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States ratified its new Constitution. The new Confederate government modeled the “Constitution of the United States” based on the idea of federalism with three branches, Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. The existing ‘Rule of Representation’ from the Old Constitution is preserved in the new and the status of ‘persons’ is maintained with no changes.
On his way to Richmond, VA from Montgomery to promote the new government, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens stops off in Savannah, Georgia, and addresses ‘the people’. ‘The people’ needed reassurance of the character of their new government. During his speech, Stephens allegedly describes slavery as the cornerstone of the new government. Modern-day socialists view Stephens’s comments as racist when in fact they were nothing of the kind.
Stephens ‘alleged’ comments did nothing more than describe how other ‘persons’ would be factored in calculating the Ratio of Representation. While held at Fort Warren after the war, Stephens affirmed this in his personal diary. 12 Slavery was legal, and the day’s belief viewed the slave as unequal to a freeman, white or black. Regardless of the language used, Stephens did nothing more than to reassure ‘the people’ that the character of the Confederate government was no different from the one they just left: a federal republic and the ‘Rule of Representation’ maintained.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON BOYCE
Why would Johnson bring up Boyce’s comments from almost 10 years prior and more than two months after Boyce had resigned from Congress? Here is an even more interesting question. Whose voice are we really hearing here on the floor of the US Senate? Are we hearing Johnson’s opinion or Boyce’s through Johnson? Based on the letter to his constituents in December 1865, I believe it’s Boyce’s voice. Take Boyce’s letter away and Johnson’s comment looks like a political attack on Boyce for not standing up to his principles from almost 10 years prior. In 1860, Boyce needed a cheerleader in Congress while he kept an eye on the situation in South Carolina. Johnson played the part of Boyce’s marionette well.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON JOHNSON’S STATEMENT
Johnson’s comment was a brush stroke on Boyce’s canvas to paint a picture of an oligarchy in South Carolina and in the other seceding Southern States. It was a political smokescreen to hold the Union together and protect slavery perpetually. This conclusion is based on Boyce’s 1865 letter to his constituents in South Carolina. Boyce met with Senator Johnson shortly before his ‘The People have not been consulted’ Speech on February 6, 1861. Furthermore, there is no language in the Constitutions of seceding States requiring any action by their legislatures to be ratified by ‘the people’ in a popular vote. In conclusion, contrary to Johnson’s comments, ‘the people’, of the seceding States, had been consulted.
WHY INCLUDE STEPHENS IN THIS DISCUSSION?
Stephens figures into the defense that ‘the people’s’ desires were followed. Take away his alleged modern-day racist comments during his stops in 1861 and all you are left with is INTENT. What was Stephen’s intent during his stops on the way to Richmond from Montgomery? To reassure the ‘people’ governed by the new Confederate government the character of the government would be no different from the one they just left. With a newly ratified Constitution based on federalism in hand, Stephens assured ‘the people’, Johnson’s oligarchy claims, and others like them, were not true. The ‘Rule of Representation’ would be maintained and the new ‘general government’ would be restricted to ‘State’s Right to Decide’ issues like the institution of slavery. Citizens in Confederacy could still engage in the institution as long as the State they practiced in had a Slave Code to regulate its practice.
You probably noticed the phrase, ‘the people’ highlighted in this article. I used it intentionally to counter Johnson’s argument to show you the reader, there are two sides to every story. Johnson uses the phrase as a fear tactic. Was Johnson’s statement factual? Answer: Yes and No. No in that no direct vote had been put to the people of the six of the seven seceding States, and Yes – except for Texas which did put the vote before the people directly – up to the time of Johnson’s speech. In all the seceding States, including Texas, the question of deciding the Federal relations question was left up to each States Convention by its legislature, the elected representatives of ‘the people’, which authorized its creation and intent. Each legislature authorized the people to elect others among them as delegates to the secession convention. So, the vote was put before the ‘the people’. Just in a different way, by individuals, ‘the people’ voted in at the local level or canvassed in to represent their interests at each convention. Once the decision to leave the Union had been reached by the convention as in the case of Texas, ‘the people’ by popular vote ratified the results of their secession convention.
THE RULE OF REPRESENTATION
What is “The Rule of Representation”? The Rule of Representation is laid down by the Constitution of the United States of 1789, to ascertain the number of Congressmen to which each State is entitled in the Federal House of Representatives.
The Rule is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3, of the Constitution of the United States of 1787, in the following language: “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included in the Union, according to their respective members, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.” The “three-fifths of all other persons” mentioned in the rule, means three-fifths of slaves, and in fixing the number of Congressmen, Congress counts all free inhabitants and three out of fives slaves. The “Three-Fifths Clause” or Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 will be discussed in another article. 13
With the end of the War of 1861, the ‘Rule’ was changed by the United States Congress to reflect all people.
Read on in PART 3 of OLIGARCHY: AN AMERICAN FEAR DURING SECESSION WINTER
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN MEMORY OF DORIS NEEDHAM
Doris Benefield Needham, 86, of Wadley, Alabama passed away on Sunday, December 26, 2021 in Huntsville, Alabama.
Pictured in 1996, me and my Mama.
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