The Staunton Spectator, January 22, 1861, p. 1, c. 5
For the Spectator.
Mr. Editor:--The North and the South are two different populations, presenting at present a mutual antagonism. The great problem for statesmen, is not to give them unity, but concord. The Union cannot be saved. It may possibly be reconstructed. A reconstruction must henceforth be the aim of the patriot. One drop of blood will blot out that hope forever.-- How may bloodshed be prevented? The first condition is Southern unanimity. Discord among us is folly, madness, wickedness. The general policy of the South will depend upon that of Virginia, and the influence of Virginia will depend upon the consolidation of her sentiments. Division in Virginia on so vital a question would be fatal to herself, to the South, to the entire country. We must lay aside all party prejudices, all preconceived opinions, forget what we have said of one another, in the heat of party strife, and with one mind and heart resolve to preserve the integrity of the Commonwealth and the peace of the nation.
What should Virginia do? That question a Convention must determine. If coercion is abandoned by the aggressive party of the North, we may consult self respect by declining to follow South Carolina, and even adhere to the present confederacy, in the hope of seeing the Constitution remodeled, with permanent guarantees, on a basis equal and acceptable to all the States. These guarantees must be given. Now is the time for a final settlement of the slavery question. The time for legislation or geographical compromise has passed. The North must agree, by a permanent compact, to recognize property in slaves, and to protect it whenever our common soil extends within the limits of the Constitution. She must abandon the claim she has asserted, to exclude Southern property from the common soil, simply because Northern sentiment disapproves of that property. She must agree to act just as she would if that sentiment did not prevail. Allowing Northern men to emigrate to the common territories without forfeiting their possessions, she must consent that Southern men shall do the same. She must execute her solemn engagements for the rendition of fugitive slaves, and give us security for the future that the anti-slavery agitation should not interfere with the rights of the Southern people. If she will thus engage, it may be the glory of Virginia, by timely mediation, to procure a reconstruction of the Union, and a restoration of every star to its place in the grand galaxy of States.
If, on the other hand, a drop of Southern blood should be shed by a Northern Administration in the effort to force back seceding States into the Union, then be it called secession, or revolution, let her people, as one man determine to make common cause with the oppressed. No man should call himself a Virginian who would distract the councils of the State on such an occasion. No false pride should cause us to hesitate, because our advice has been rejected and our delicate interests disregarded by a sister State. The flattering suggestions of those who should seek to embarrass our course by such appeals should not be heeded, or heeded only as the voice of treason.
In such a crisis, a great gulf would divide us from the North. Common interests and a common necessity would bind us to the South. To hesitate on the plea of wounded pride, would be the extreme of folly. One campaign together in arms would obliterate every impression of our differences. Reproach and ridicule would be forgotten amid the anguish of our common distress, or the exultation of a common triumph.--Hush, then, every distracting suggestion. Away with every thought of dividing this glorious Commonwealth directly through the heart!
It has been suggested that Virginia may be divided, to accommodate the varied interests of her people. The author of such a suggestion ought to be rebuked by an indignant people. If dissolution were to be followed by disintegration and anarchy, the alternative would be worse than tyranny itself. There is no hope for the fallen temple, if its ruins be reduced to powder. Their integrity must be preserved, if ever they are to take their place in a noble structure.
No! No! Virginia will not go to pieces at the word of a traitor. She will maintain her integrity, her liberty, and glory, and power, we trust, the guiding star through this night of storm.
When our common dangers are over, it will be time enough to discuss the geographical boundaries of new confederacies; time enough to talk of union with Ohio rather than with Georgia; time enough to plan a campaign against Florida for the purpose of wresting from her Pensacola; time enough to set up Norfolk as a rival to New York and Charleston. My soul! Shall sensible men engage in these petty discussions, when the horrors of a barbaric invasion are already gathered on our northern border, and the warning thunder reverberates from State to State, calling us to measures of immediate defence! Is this statesmanship! Is this patriotism!
In sixty days, according to all human foresight, every Southern man will be compelled by circumstances to take a decided stand for or against the South. The middle ground will then be untenable. We must abandon it then forever. It would be more graceful, more becoming, more manly to abandon it now. We do not advocate extreme opinions, but prompt and decided action--the Union of the South for the sake of the Union!
The prompt decision of our Legislature ought to be sustained by a harmonious public sentiment. Let Whigs and Democrats, gathered around the altar of our country, forgive and forget all past differences, and pledge themselves to deathless fidelity in defence of our common soil. A solid front presented now will make bloodshed improbable, and our ruin impossible. Discord among the Southern States will inevitably plunge us into a gulf from which millions will never rise again. May Heaven interpose!