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Full text of "Speech of Charles Francis Adams, of Massachusetts, December 22, 1902, at the banquet of the New England society, of Charleston, South Carolina"

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DECEMBER 22, 1902 








DECEMBER 22. 1902 







" ANAfKH " 

Mr. President, and Ladies and Gentlemen of the New England 
Society of Charleston : — 

Though this is a Yule-tide festival, being, by descent at least, a 
Puritan, I shall, after the fashion ot the Puritans, open with a text, 
thence proceeding to " improve the occasion." If you will turn to 
the twelfth chapter of Exodus, you will there find it written : — 

" And this day shall be unto you for a memorial ; and ye shall 
keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations ; ye shall 
keep it a feast by an ordinance forever. 

" And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto 
you, What mean ye by this service? 

'• That ye shall say. It is the sacrifice of the Lord's passover, 
who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, 
when he smote the Egyptians. 

" Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in 
Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. 

" And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty 
years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of 
the Lord went out from the land of Egypt." 

As it was of old with the children of Israel, even so is it now 
with us of New England ; and, when our children say unto us, 
what mean you by this service, we say unto them, it is the feast of 
the passover, when our fathers, having passed over the ocean, set 
foot in the promised land. A day of retrospection, it is a day also 
of reckoning, — a day meet for reflection. I propose so to utilize 
it this evening. Discussing grave topics gravely, I crave patience. 

Two hundred and sixty-four years ago a schism, since become 
historic, occurred in the infant colony of Massachusetts Bay. It 
was rent in twain ; and so, as the Father of Massachusetts has 

recorded, " finding, upon consultation that two so opposite parties 
could not continue in the same body without apparent hazard to 
the ruin of the whole, [those in the majority] agreed to send away 
some of the principal." And again, " by the example of Lot in 
Abraham's family, and after Hagar and Ishmael, he [Gov. John 
Winthrop] saw they must be sent away." Those thus proscribed 
went accordingly into banishment ; and so, by another passover, 
Rhode Island came into existence. This was in 1638; and, in 
1640, the chief of those thus thrust into exile having occasion to 
write to the magistrate who had enforced the order of banishment, 
said, with a pathos reached only by words of simplicity, "what 
myself and wife and family did endure in that removal, I wish 
neither you nor yours may ever be put unto " ; but again, and at 
almost the same time, writing from his new home in Newport, 
Gov. William Coddington expressed to Gov. John Winthrop the 
approval he felt "of a speech of one of note amongst yoa, that we 
were in a heate and chafed, and were all of us to blame; in our 
strife we had forgotten that we were brethren." 

The expression is apt ; the admission appropriate. More, much 
more than two years ago, — longer ago than the lifetime of a gen- 
eration, — Massachusetts and South Carolina got in " a heate and 
chafed " one with the other, and fell into bitter strife. Forgetting 
that we were brethren, were we also " all of us to blame "? 

Not long since, circumstances led me into a dispassionate re-ex- 
amination of the great issues over which the country divided in 
the mid-years of the last century. As a result thereof, I said in a 
certain Phi Beta Kappa Society address delivered in June, at 
Chicago, copies of which some of you may have seen, — " legally 
and technically, — not morally, again let me say, and wholly irre- 
spective of humanitarian considerations, — to which side did the 
weight of argument incline during the great debate which culmi- 
nated in our Civil War? * * * If we accept the judgment of some 
of the more modern students and investigators of history, — either 
wholly unprejudiced or with a distinct Union bias, — it would seem 
as if the weight of argument falls into what I will term the Con- 

federate scale." And I then referred to some recent utterances of 
Prof. Goldwin Smith and Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge. Incited by 
those utterances to yet further inquiry of my own, the result 
thereof was, to me at least, curious ; — suggestive of moralizing, 
and moralizing, too, of a sort highly appropriate for the Passover 

The question is now one purely historic ; but on that question 
of the weight of authority and argument as respects the right of 
secession, I found a divergence of opinion existing to-day so great 
as hardly to admit of reconciliation. On the one side it was — I 
am told still is — taught as an article of political faith that not 
only was the right of peaceable secession at will plain, manifest, 
and expressly reserved, but that, until a comparatively recent 
period, it had never been even disputed. In the words of one 
writer of authority — "through a period of many years, the right 
of secession was not seriously questioned in any quarter except 
under the exigencies of party politics." On the other hand, in the 
section of the country where my lot has been cast, this alleged 
heresy is sternly denounced, and those propounding it are chal- 
lenged to their proofs. With equal positiveness it is claimed 
that, from the time of the adoption of the Constitution down to a 
comparatively recent day, " there was not a man in the country 
who thought or claimed that the new system was anything but a 
perpetual Union." 

Which contention, I asked, is right? And separating myself 
from my present environment, I tried to go back to the past, and to 
see things, not as they now are, but as they were ; as they appeared 
to those of three generations gone, — to the fathers, in short, of 
our grandfathers. It was a groping after forgotten facts and con- 
ditions in places dark and unfamiliar. The results reached, also, 
were, I confess, very open to question. But, while more or less 
curious, as well as unexpected, they were such as a Massachusetts 
man, forty years ago at this time in arms for the Union, need not 
hesitate to set forth in South Carolina, where the right of secession, 
no longer proclaimed as a theory, was first resorted to as a fact. 

It was Alexander Pope, hard on two centuries ago (1733), who- 
wrote : — 

' " Manners with fortunes, humors turn with climes, 
Tenets with books, and principles with times." 

And, again, Tennyson in our day has said : — 

" The drift of the Maker is dark, an Isis hid by the veil. 
Who knows the ways of the world, how God will bring them about ? 
Our planet is one, the suns are many, the world is wide. 
We are puppets, Man in his pride, and Beauty fair in her flower; 
Do we move ourselves, or are moved by an unseen hand at a game 
That pushes us off from the board, and others ever succeed ? " 

As I delved into the record, I concluded that humors turned 
quite as much with climes in the nineteenth century as they did in 
the eighteenth ; and that, in the later as in the earlier period, 
principles, so called, bore a very close relation to times. We, too, 
had also been " puppets " moved by " an unseen hand at a game." 
As, in short, I pursued my inquiries, the individual became more 
and more minimized; chance and predestination cut larger figures ; 
and, at last, it all assumed the form of a great fatalistic process, 
from which the unexpected alone was sure to result. 

But to come to the record. For more than a century, lawyers, 
jurists and publicists, — journalists, politicians and statesmen, — 
have been arguing over the Federal Constitution. Sovereignty 
carries with it allegiance. Wherein rested sovereignty? Was it in 
the State or in the Nation? Was the United States a unit, — " an 
indissoluble Union of imperishable States," — or was it a mere 
confederacy of nations, held together solely by a compact upon 
possible infringements of which each one, so far as it was concerned, 
was a final judge? Each postulate has been maintained from the 
beginning; for that matter, is maintained still. Each has been 
argued out with great legal acumen and much metaphysical skill 
to results wholly satisfactory to those that way inclined ; and yet 
absolutely illogical and absurd to the faithful of the other side. It 
was the old case of the shield of the silver and golden sides. That 
the two sides were irreconcilable made no difference. Be it silver 

or gold, the thing to him who had eyes to see was in his sight 
silver or gold, as the case might be. And yet, as I pursued my 
inquiries, I gradually felt assured, not that the thing was in this 
case either silver or gold, but that it was both silver and gold. 
Everybody, in short, was right ; no one wrong. Conditions 
changed, and with them not only appearances but principles, and 
even facts. The inevitable and unexpected had occurred. 

This I propose for mj- thesis. 

In dealing with these questions the lawyers, I find, start always 
with the assumption that, at a given time in the past, to wit, at 
or about 1788, there was in the thirteen States, then soon to 
become the present United States, a definite consensus of public 
opinion, which found expression in a written compact, since known 
as the Federal Constitution. But was this really the case? 
Public opinion, so called, is a very elusive and uncertain some- 
thing, signifying things different at different times and in different 
places. Especially was this the case in the States of the old 
Federation. So far as I can ascertain, every State of the Federa- 
tion became a member of the Union with mental reservations, 
often unexpressed, growing out of local traditions and interests, in 
the full and correct understanding of which the action of each 
must be studied. Dissatisfied with the past and doubtful of the 
future, jealous of liberties, to the last degree provincial and sus- 
picious of all external rule, intensely common-sensed, but illogical 
and alive with local prejudice, the one thing our ancestry united in 
most apprehending was a centralized government. From New 
Hampshire to Georgia such a government was associated with the 
idea of a foreign regime. The people clung to the local autonomy, 
— the Sovereignty of the State. With this fundamental fact the 
framers of the Constitution had to deal. And they did so, in my 
opinion, with consummate skill. Accepting things as they were, 
they went as far as they could, leaving the outcome to time and 
the process of natural growth. The immediate result was a nation 
founded on a metaphysical abstraction, — a condition of unstable 
equilibrium. It could not endure. But the great mass of people 


composing a community — Lincoln's "plain people" — are not 
metaphysicians, and do not philosophize. Loving to argue, in 
argument they are not logical. Even in Virginia they were not 
then all abstractionists ; and, while, in a vague way, the Virgin- 
ians wanted to become part of one people, they never proposed to 
cease to be Virginians, or to permit Virginia to become other than 
a Sovereign State. It was so with the others. 

Confronted with this fact, what did the framers of the Constitu- 
tion propose? Taking refuge in metaphysics, they proposed a 
contradiction in terms — a divided sovereignty. Sovereignty, it 
was argued, was in the People. But who are the People? The 
People of the United States, it was replied, are the aggregate of 
those inhabiting the particular States. Then they began to appor- 
tion sovereignty, oblivious of the fact that sovereignty does not 
admit of apportionment. Pursuing some vague analogy of the 
solar system, and conceiving of States as planets in their orbits, 
the People of the particular States assigned to the Nation a 
modicum of sovereignty, conferred another modicum on the State 
governments, and reserved whatever remained to themselves. 
Now it is written, " No man can serve two masters : for either 
he will hate the one and love the other ; or else he will hold to the 
one, and despise the other." The everlasting truth of this precept 
in the fulness of time held good in our case. From the moment 
the fathers sought to divide the indivisible, the result was written 
on the wall. It was a mere question of years and of might. 
Sovereignty had to be somewhere, and accepted as being there. 

Thus, intentionally by some of the most far-seeing, unintention- 
ally by others anxious to effect only a more perfect union, a pious 
fraud was in 1788 perpetrated on the average American, and his 
feet were directed into a path which inevitably led him to the goal 
he least designed for his journey's end. * 

* " The convention framed a constitution by the adoption of which thirteen peoples 
imagining themselves still independent and sovereign, really acknowledged themselves 
to be but parts of a single political whole. But they made this acknowledgment uncon- 
sciously. They continued to think of themselves as sovereigns who indeed permitted an 
agent to exercise some of their functions for them, but who had not abdicated their 

" Through the Valley of Love I went, 
In the lovingest spot to abide, 
And just on the verge where I pitched my tent, 
I found Hate dwelling beside." 

The bond was deceptive ; for, on this vital point of ultimate 
sovereignty, — To whom was allegiance due in cases of direct issue 
and last resort? — on this crucial point of points the Constitution 
was not self-explanatory, — explicit. Nor was it meant to be. 
The framers — that is, the more astute, practical and far-seeing — 
went as far as they dared. The difficulty — the contradiction in- 
volved — was explicitly, and again and again, pointed out. It is 
impossible to believe that a man so intellectually acute as Hamil- 
ton failed to see the inherent weakness of the plan proposed. He 
did see it; but, under existing conditions, it was, from his point 
of view, the best attainable. Madison, though a man of distinctly 
constructive mind, was also an abstractionist. He seems really to 
have had faith in the principle of an unstable political equilibrium. 
At a later day, that faith was put to a rude test; and, in 1814, 
while the Hartford Convention was in session, the scales fell from 
his eyes. He had all he wanted of a divided sovereignty in practi- 
cal operation. Lawyers, meanwhile, have since argued on this 
point; philosophers and publicists have refined over it; historians 
have analyzed the so-called original materials of history ; and men 
with arms in their hands have fought the thing to a final result. 
Nevertheless, the real facts in the case seem quite clear, and alto- 
gether otherwise than they are usually assumed to have been. 

When the Federal Constitution was framed and adopted, — " an 
indestructible Union of imperishable States," — what was the law 
of treason, — to what or to whom, in case of final issue, did the 
average citizen owe allegiance? Was it to the Union, or to his 
State? As a practical question, seeing things as they then were, 

thrones. If the constitution had contained a definite statement of the actual fact; if it 
had said that to adopt it was to acknowledge the sovereignty of the one American 
people, no part of which could sever its connections from the rest without the consent of 
the whole, it would probably have been rejected by every State in the Union." J. P. 
Gordy, Political Parties in the United States (Edition 1900), vol. i, p. 79. 


- sweeping aside all incontrovertible legal arguments and meta- 
physical disquisitions, -I do not think the answer admits of doubt. 
If put in 1788, or indeed at any time anterior to 1825, the imme- 
diate reply of nine men out of ten in the Northern States, and of 
ninetv-nine out of a hundred in the Southern States, would have 
been'that, as between the Union and the State, ultimate allegiance 

was due to the State. 

A recurrence to the elementary principles of human nature tells 
us that this would have been so, and could have been no otherwise. 
We have all heard of a famous, much-quoted remark of Mr. Glad- 
stone to the effect that the Constitution of the United States was 
the most wonderful piece of constructive work ever wrought by man 
at a single effort. This may or may not be so. I do not propose to 
controvert it here and now ; but, however wonderful, it would have 
been more than wonderful, it would have been distinctly miracu- 
lous, had it on the instant so wrought on men as at once to 
transfer the allegiance and affection of those composing thirteen 
distinct communities from their old traditional governments to 
one newly improvised. The thing hardly admits of discussion. 
The change was political and far-reaching; but it produced 
no immediate effect on the feelings of the people. As well 
say that the union of the crowns of Scotland and England 
immediately broke up Scotch clanship. It did break it up; but 
the process was continuous through one hundred and fifty years. 
The union was a fact ; but its consequences no Campbell nor Cam- 
eron foresaw. So with us in 1788. allegiance to State had only a 
few years before proved stronger than allegiance to the Crown or 
to the Confederation, and no one then was " foolish enough to 
suppose that" the executive of the Union "would dare enforce a 
law against the wishes of a sovereign and independent State " ; the 
very idea was deemed " preposterous." " That this new govern- 
ment, this upstart of yesterday, had the power to impose its edicts 
on unwilling States was a political solecism to which they could in 
no wise assent." * 

♦ Gordy, Political Parties in the United States, vol. i, pp. 203, 34I. 

I f 

I am sure that all this was so in 1788. I am very confident it 
remained so until 181 5. I fully believe it was so, though in less 
degree, until at least 1830. A generation of men born in the 
Union had then grown up, supplanting the generations born and 
brought up in the States. Steam and electricity had not yet 
begun to exert their cementing influence ; but time, sentiment, 
tradition, — more, and most of all, the intense feeling excited 
North and South by our naval successes under the national flag 
in the war of 1812, — had in 18 15 in large part done their work. 
The sense of ultimate allegiance was surely, though slowly as 
insensibly, shifting from the particular and gravitating to the 
general, — from the State to the Union. It was not a question of 
law, or of the intent of the fathers, or the true construction of a 
written instrument ; for, on that vital point, the Constitution was 
silent, — wisely, and, as I hold it, intentionally silent. In studying 
the history of that period, we are again confronted by a condition 
and not a theory; but, as I read the record and understand the 
real facts of that now-forgotten social and political existence, in 
case of direct and insoluble issue between sovereign State and 
sovereign Nation between 1788 to 1861, every man was not only, 
free to decide, but had to decide for himself; and, whichever way 
he decided, he was right. The Constitution gave him two masters. 
Both he could not serve ; and the average man decided which to 
serve in the light of sentiment, tradition and environment. Of this 
I feel as historically confident as I can feel of any fact not matter 
of absolute record or susceptible of demonstration. 

I have already referred to the academic address I some months 
ago had occasion to deliver. In response to it I received quite a 
number of letters, one of which, bearing on this point, seemed 
very notable. It was from the president of an historic Virginia 
college, who himself bears an historic Virginia name. In the 
address alluded to I had said that, " however it may have been in 
1788, in i860 a nation had grown into existence." This I take 
to be indisputable. In no way denying the fact, my correspond 
ent, quoting the words I have given, thus wrote: " But is it not 


true that this nationahty was after all a Northern nationality? Did 
the South share in it to any extent? On the contrary, the Con- 
federate character of the Union was more strongly impressed 
upon the South in i86i than in 1788. So that it may be more 
truly said that the Secessionists' recourse in 1861 was to peaceable 
separation, and not to the sword. If the North was really the 
only national part of the Union, and its national character 
reached out after the South, must not the responsibility for the 
use of the sword be visited upon the North, and not on the 
South? Both North and South started out from the same consti- 
tutional standpoint of secession ; but, while the South adhered to 
the same idea, the North fused into a nation, which, in 1861, 
determined to conquer the other and conservative part. That the 
South had ever suffered nationalization in spirit or in fact, pre- 
vious to 1 86 1, I think your address clearly disproves." 

Again, Tennyson's "unseen hand at a game"! — a game in 
which we are " puppets." But, after all, what is that " unseen 
hand"? And how did it manifest itself in our national life during 
the three-fourths of a century, between 1788 and 1861? That 
'■ unseen hand," theologically known as an " inscrutable provi- 
dence," I take to be nothing more nor less than those material^ 
social, industrial and political conditions, domestic and public, 
which, making up our environment, mould our destiny with no 
very great regard for our plans, our hopes, our traditions or our 
aspirations. All of which is merely our nineteenth century agnos- 
tical way of putting the fifteenth century aphorism that " Man 
proposes, but God disposes." With a political instinct which now 
seems marvellous, Madison, in the course of debate in the consti- 
tutional convention of 1788, casting a prophetic glance into 
futurity, said : " The great danger to our general government is,^ 
that the Southern and Northern interests of the continent are 
opposed to each other, not from their difference of size, but from 
climate, and principally from the effects of their having or not 
having slaves. Defensive power ought to be given, not between 
the large and small states, but between the Northern and South- 


ern." And again, " The greatest danger is disunion of the 
States " ; and, " It seems now well understood that the real dif- 
ference of interests lies, not between the large and small, but between 
the Northern and Southern States." Based on this line of broad 
difference, the contest was " between the fear of the centripetal and 
the fear of the centrifugal force in the system." On the other side 
of the Atlantic, a shrewd observer and pioneer economist, profoundly 
opposed to the British policy during our War of Independence, 
had thus, shortly before, cast a horoscope of the American people, 
" The mutual antipathies and clashing interests of the Americans, 
their difference of governments, habitudes and manners, indicate 
that they will have no centre of union and no common interest. 
They never can be united into one common empire under any 
species of government whatever ; a disunited people to the end 
of time, suspicious and distrustful of each other, they will be 
divided and sub-divided into little commonwealths or princi- 
palities, according to the natural boundaries, by great bays of the 
seas and by vast rivers, lakes, and ridges of mountains." * 

Into the details of the conflict over sovereignty which dragged 
along for seventy years, it is needless for me here to enter. A 
twice-told tale, I certainly have no new light to cast upon it ; but 
in reviewing it recently, that aspect of it which has impressed me 
was its resemblance to the classic. Throughout Fate, the inevi- 
table, " the unseen hand," are everywhere now apparent, — destiny 
had to be fulfilled. In connection with the history of those 
momentous years, we read much of men ; and, indeed, it is a 
galaxy of great names, — Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, 
Marshall, Madison, Webster, Calhoun: — but, as I went back to 
the deeper underlying influences, — the profound currents of 
thought and action which in the end worked results, — one and 
all those bearing even these names became Tennyson's " puppets " 
moved by the " unseen hand at the game." In this respect our 

* Josiah Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, quoted by Bancroft, History of the formation of 
the Constitution, i, 65. 


story is suggestive of some cosmic theory, — the process by 
which suns and planets and satellites are evolved ; — and gradu- 
ally it seems as if the individual man were able to affect the 
course of events and final results as respects the outcome of the 
one as much as he does of the other. The elaborate legal argu- 
ments, the metaphysical theories and historical disquisitions, — 
even the rights and wrongs of the case, — became quite imma- 
terial, and altogether insignificant. In obedience to underlying 
influences, and in conformity with natural laws, a system is crystal- 
lizing. Discordant elements blend ; assimilation, willing or 
reluctant, goes on. 

See how the sides change — how rapidly "humors turn with 
climes"; while, as to the principles involved, the mutation is only 
less complete than sincere. Nationality, as we see it to-day, had 
its birth in Virginia ; and the Sovereignty of the Union assumed 
shape through the agency of Washington and was slowly per- 
fected by Marshall, both more or less consciously responding to a 
natural movement, and working in harmony with it. Next, 
Virginia, and her offspring Kentucky, are passing the resolutions of 
1798, and arraying themselves under the standard of decentral- 
ization. The government then passes into the hands of the 
protestants ; and, almost at once, again in response to an under- 
lying, unseen influence too strong to resist, the process of a more 
complete crystallization enters on a new phase; and, as it does 
so, catholic suddenly becomes protestant, and while Federalist 
New England formally pronounces the Union at an end, Jeffer- 
sonian Virginia supplies fresh aliment to nationality. 

Meanwhile, the " unseen hand " is again at work, and the 
*' puppets " duly respond. They thought, and we once thought, 
they were free agents. Not at all. In the light of development 
it is clear to us now that they merely went through their motions 
in obedience to influences of the mere existence of which they 
were at most but vaguely conscious. The drama was drawing 
insensibly to a crisis ; the forces were arraying themselves in 
opposing ranks on the lines forecast by Madison in 1788. With 


much confidence I assert, in its fundamentals there was no right 
or wrong about it ; it was an inevitable, irrepressible conflict, — 
the question of sovereignty was to be decided, and either side 
could offer good ground, historical and legal, for any attitude 
taken in regard to it. That shield did actually have a silver as 
well as a golden side. 

Historically speaking, from the close of our second War of 
Independence, — commonly known as that of 1812, — the ebb 
and flow of the great currents of influence had set in new and 
definite channels. Gradually they assumed irresistible force 
therein. Side by side two civilizations — a Chang and Eng — 
were developing. North of the Potomac and the Ohio a com- 
munity was taking shape the whole tendency of which was 
national. Very fluid in its elements, commercial and manufactur- 
ing in its diversified industries, it was largely composed of 
Europeans or their descendants, who, knowing little of States, 
cared nothing for State Sovereignty, which, indeed, like the 
unknown God to the Greeks, was to them foolishness. This vast 
discordant migration the railroad, the common school and the 
newspaper were rapidly merging, coalescing and fusing into a 
harmonious whole. Naturally it found a mouthpiece ; and that 
mouthpiece preached Union. It was not exactly a consistent 
utterance ; for, less than a score of years before, the same voice 
had been loud and emphatic in behalf of State Sovereignty. But 
manners change with fortunes, and principles with times. 

So much for Chang, north of the Potomac and the Ohio ; but 
with Eng, south of those streams, it was altogether otherwise. 
Under the influence of climate, soil, and a system of forced African 
labor the Southern States irresistibly reverted to the patriarchal 
conditions, becoming more and more agricultural ; and, as is 
always the case with agricultural races and patriarchal communi- 
ties, they clung ever more closely to their traditions and local 
institutions. Then it was that Calhoun, the most rigid of logicians, 
in obedience to an irresistible influence of the presence and power 
of which he was unconscious, — Calhoun, the unionist of the War 


of 1812 and protectionist of 18 16, turned to the Constitution; he 
began that " more diligent and careful scrutiny into its provisions* 
in order to ascertain fully the nature and character of our political 
system." Needless to say, he there found what he was in search 
of. But a similar scrutiny was at the same time going on in New 
England. As a result of the two scrutinies, Chang and Eng both 
changed sides. Before, Chang's side of the shield was gold, while 
that of Eng was silver ; now, Chang saw quite clearly that it was 
silver after all, while Eng recognized it as burnished gold of the 
purest stamp. Both were honest, and both fully convinced. Both 
also were right ; the simple truth being that no man can serve 
two masters, and two masters the fundamental law prescribed. 
The inevitable ensued. 

But what was the inevitable? That again, as I read the story of 
our development, was purely a matter of circumstance and time. 
Fate, — the Greek necessity, — intervened in those lists and 
decided the issue of battle. To my mind, the record is from 
its commencement absolutely clear on one point. After the 25th 
of July, 1788, when the last of the nine States necessary to the 
adoption of the Federal Constitution acted favorably thereon, a 
withdrawal from the Union, all theories to the contrary notwith- 
standing, became practically an issue of might. Into the abstract 
question of right I will not enter, — least of all here and now. 
But, conceding everything that may be asked on the point of 
abstract right, — looking only on imperfect and illogical man as he 
is, and as he acts in this world's occasions and exigencies, — I 
adhere on this point to my own belief. In 1790 Rhode Island 
was spared from being " coerced " into the Union only by a vol- 
untary, though very reluctant, acceptance of it ; and from that 
day to 1 86 1 any attempted withdrawal from the Union would, after 
long argument over the question of right, have ultimately resolved 
itself into an issue of might. 

Here again the elements of the Greek drama once more confront 
us — the Fates, necessity. What at different epochs would have 
been the probable outcome of any attempt at withdrawal? That 


ever, at any period of our history since 1790, a single State, — no 
matter how sovereign, even Virginia, — could alone have made good, 
peaceably or otherwise, a withdrawal in face of her unitedly dis- 
approving sister States, I do not believe. Naturally, or as a result 
of force applied, the attempt would have resulted in ignominious 
failure. But how would it have been at any given time with a 
combination of States, acting in sympathy — a combination pro- 
portionately as considerable when measured with the whole as was 
the Confederacy in 186 1? I hold that, here again, it was merely 
a question of time, and that such a withdrawal as then took place 
would never have failed of success at any anterior period in our 
national history. It was steam and electricity which then settled 
the issue of sovereignty ; not argument, not military skill, not 
wealth, courage, or endurance ; not even men in arms. Before 
1 86 1 steam and electricity, neither on land nor water, had been 
rendered so subservient to man as to make him equal to the pro- 
digious, the unprecedented, task then undertaken and finally 
accomplished. In that case, might in the end made right; but 
the end was in no degree a foregone conclusion. 

In my own family records I find a curious bit of contemporary 
evidence of this, and of the line of thought and reasoning then 
resulting therefrom. Following the foresight of Madison, J. Q. 
Adams, noting the set of the currents in 1820, became instinctively 
persuaded that the North and the South would be swept into 
collision by the forces of inherent development. Again and 
again did he put this belief of his on record. Contemplating such 
an eventuality, he, in 1839, thus expressed himself in a public 
utterance, in words which I have of late more than once seen 
quoted in support of the abstract constitutional right of secession. 
Speaking in New York on what was called the jubilee of the 
Constitution, or the fiftieth anniversary of its adoption, he said : 
" If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it!) when the 
afTections of the people of these States shall be alienated from 
each other, when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold 
indifference, or collisions of interest shall fester into hatred, the 


bands of political association will not long hold together parties 
no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and 
kindly sympathies ; and far better will it be for the people of the 
disunited States to part in friendship from each other than to be 
held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting 
to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption 
of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect union by dis- 
solving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the 
separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation 
to the centre." * 

In other words, forecasting strife, and measuring the coercive 
force available at a time when steam on land and water was in its 
stages of earlier development, J. Q. Adams regarded the attempt 
at an assertion of national sovereignty as so futile that, though 
he most potently and powerfully believed in that sovereignty, he 
looked upon its exercise as quixotic, and, consequently, not to be 
justified. A dissolution of the Union, at least temporarily, he 
believed to be inevitable. So strongly was he convinced of the 
power of the disintegrating influence as contrasted with the 
cohesive force, that the late Robert C. Winthrop, then a young 
man of twenty-seven, writing in 1836, described him as saying, in 
the course of dinner-table talk, that " he despaired of the Union, 
believing we are destined soon to overrun not merely Texas, but 
Mexico, and that the mevitable result will be a break-up into two, 
three, four, or more confederacies." " Inevitable " ! The unex- 
pected alone is inevitable. These two utterances were, the one in 
1836, the other in 1839. In 1839 there were not five hundred 
miles of constructed railroad in the United States ; steam had not 
been applied to naval construction ; electricity was a toy. So far 
as he could look into the future, Mr. Adams was right; only — 
the unexpected was to occur ! It did occur ; and it settled the 
question. In 1788 the preponderance of popular feeling and 
affection was wholly in the scale of State Sovereignty as opposed 

* J. Q. Adams, Jubilee of the Constitution (April 30, 1839), p. 69. 



to Nationality; in 1800 the Union was, in all probability, saved 
by being taken from the hands of its friends, and, so to speak, put 
out to nurse with its enemies, who from that time were converted 
to unity; in 181 5 the final war of independence gave a great 
impetus to Nationality, and the scales hung even; in 1831 the 
irrepressible conflict began to assert itself, and now they inclined 
slightly but distinctly to Nationality, the younger of the two 
sovereigns asserting a supremacy; between 1831 and 1861 
science threw steam and electricity into his scale, and, in 1865^ 
they made the other kick the beam. But, when all is said, merely 
a fresh illustration had been furnished of the truth of that scrip- 
tural adage in regard to a divided service. 

Such are the conclusions reached from a renewed and some- 
what careful review of a record frequently scanned by others. They 
found in it the outcome of great orations, labored arguments, and 
the teaching of individuals. I cannot so see it. It is, as I read it, 
one long majestic Greek tragedy. 

" Like to the Pontic sea. 
Whose icy current and compulsive course 
Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on 
To the Propontic and the Hellespont," — 

so that great drama swept on to its inevitable catastrophe; — Fate 
and Necessity ever the refrain of its chorus, — until, at the end, 
the resounding clash of arms. 

For better, for worse, a new era then opened. In what I have 
this evening said I have dealt with a past in which, as I see it, the 
forces of nature — " the unseen hand at the game " — decided the 
issues involved. But there are times also when men have their 
turn, both asserting and establishing their superiority over fate, — 
shaping destiny to their desires, — triumphing amid the slings and 
arrows of outrageous fortune. In closing, were I to look for such 
a spectacle, I fancy it would not be in vain, nor would my search 
be far or long. I should find it here in the South, and not least in 
Charleston, in a manly adaption to iinsought-for conditions, in the 


resiliency of a vigorous race casting calamity lightly aside, — "a 
dew-drop from the lion's mane." To what extent the issues of the 
past are bygone, my being here this night, and discussing them in 
this presence, bear conclusive evidence. And indeed, coming from 
Massachusetts to South Carolina, it glads my heart here to see, if 
I may in closing use the great language of Milton, " a noble and 
puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and 
shaking her invincible locks; an eagle mewing her mighty youth, 
and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam." 

Library of Congress 
Branch Bindery, 1903