Newspapers Letters and Documents Maps Images Teaching Home

The Staunton Spectator, January 22, 1861, p. 2, c. 3

To the People of Augusta County.

Fellow Citizens:--Ten days of the session of the General Assembly have passed away, and little has yet been done toward the adjustment of the controversies which unhappily distract our country. Knowing the anxiety which all true patriots must feel in regard to the condition of public affairs, I am impelled by a sense of representative duty, to give you such information, and such words of counsel, as seem to me appropriate to the occasion.

Since the first day of the session, Richmond has been the scene of unexampled excitement.--The disunionists from all parts of the State have been here full force, and have sought to bring every influence to bear to precipitate Virginia into secession and civil war. It will be for the people to determine, whether their efforts shall be crowned with success. It behooves them to be vigilant, if they value the peace of the country, and desire to escape the burthens of Military service and grinding taxation. If secession takes place, in my judgment, civil war is inevitable, and the people must expect their taxes to be doubled, if not quadrupled. State bonds are now selling, in New York, at a discount of twenty-five per cent, and it is idle to talk of borrowing money. It must be raised, and raised in millions of dollars, by taxation. The newspapers inform us, that in South Carolina, negroes are, at this early stage of their struggle, taxed sixteen dollars per head, and that the government has resorted to forced loans from the Banks and property holders. One case is mentioned, in which a merchant, with a capital of $40,000, was compelled to loan to the State $8,000.

Sooner or later, the burthen must fall on the landholders. Slaves, stocks, bonds and other personal property, may be sold and removed, but the land must remain, to bear the brunt of taxation. It is proper that you should understand this, that you may vote intelligently on the questions which will soon be submitted for your decision at the polls.

I do not propose, in this brief letter, to enter into any elaborate discussion of the doctrine of secession, or to point out all the disastrous consequences that would flow from it. It will suffice to say, that it is a doctrine of New England origin. It had its birth among the Federalists of that section of the Union, during the war of 1812, and was nurtured in the celebrated Hartford Convention. In 1814, it was denounced by such Republicans as Spencer Roane, and Thos. Ritchie, as treason. While I do not endorse this strong language to its full extent, in my judgement, it is at war with the whole theory of our institutions, and is subversive of every principle of popular government.

The favorite scheme of many of the leading politicians is, to break up the Union, with a view to re-construct it. Their plan is, to form a Southern Confederacy. I am unalterably opposed to both of these propositions; I believe that either would be the source of incalculable evil. In my opinion, there is no natural antagonism between the Northern and Southern States. On the contrary, each is necessary to the other. They are the complements of each other, and together constitute the most perfect social, industrial and political systems, that the world has ever seen. Each is indispensable to the welfare of the other. They minister to each others' interests and necessities. The South produces what the North wants, but cannot produce; and the North furnishes what the South needs, but cannot supply for itself. The diversity of productions, and systems of labor, should therefore be a bond of Union instead of a source of Discord. The present condition of antagonism and alienation is unnatural. It is not the legitimate result of any conflict of the social and industrial systems of the two sections, but is the work of those "DESIGNING MEN," both North and South, against whom Washington so impressively warned us in his farewell address.

It is true that the Northern States, under the lead of such men, have been guilty of gross outrages on the rights of the South--outrages which would justify the most energetic measures of retaliation, but I have not been able to persuade myself that a dissolution of the Union furnishes the appropriate means of redress. I believe that all our rights can be secured, and all our wrongs most effectually redressed in the Union, and under the Constitution. Secession, instead of being a remedy, would be an aggravation of them all. I have not been able to perceive how we could add to the security of our slave property by surrendering the guarantees of the Constitution, and substantially bringing down the Canada frontier to the borders of Virginia. It would lead to emancipation and probably to emancipation in blood. Nor can I see how we would secure our rights in the territories by abandoning them. I am equally at a loss to understand how we will establish any of our demands against the Northern States on a firmer basis, by severing our connection with them, and thereby from us, the million and a half of friends we had in those States at the last election.

My view of the true policy of Virginia is, that she should remain in the Union until all Constitutional means of obtaining redress for the past and security for the future, shall have proved fruitless. I do not think the time has come for an appeal to the arbitrament of arms.

Should the Union be dissolved peaceably, and a Southern Confederacy be formed, it is clear that the policy of the new government will be shaped by the Cotton States. Free trade and direct taxation for the support of the Federal Government, will be the cardinal features of that policy, on your interests.

The expense of sustaining the present government of the U. S., ranges from sixty to eighty millions of dollars per annum. This amount is raised by duties on foreign goods, imported into the country. Those persons who purchase foreign goods, pay the tax, as an element in the price of the goods, while those who buy no foreign goods, pay none of the tax. The tax is therefore voluntary, if paid. But under the system of free trade and direct taxation, the tax would be involuntary. No election would be left to the people to pay it or not, as they might think proper. It would be levied, like the State tax, by assessment on the property of the country. Assuming that the cost of maintaining the Southern Confederated Government would be but one half the amount expended by the present government of the U. S., the contributive portion of Virginia would approximate five millions of dollars. You will readily comprehend how heavily it would bear upon the people to pay this large amount, in addition to the present State taxes, out of their hard earnings.

The postal system in Virginia now costs the general government $263,389 more than all the receipts from it. The cost of carrying and distributing the mails, in the Southern States, exceeds the revenues derived from postages in those States, by $3,510,648. If the Union is dissolved this expense must be provided for by direct taxation, or the people must dispense with the facilities afforded by their mails.

Should war follow the dissolution, the consequences must be of the most frightful character. Brother would be arrayed against brother, and the whole land would be drenched with blood. The border country would be ravaged and laid waste with fire and sword. Firesides and fields would be desolated by invading armies, and the wail of the widow and the orphan would be heard in all our valleys! Real estate would be depreciated more than 50 per cent; business in all its departments would be paralyzed; credit destroyed; personal property of all kinds impressed for public use; our slaves incited to insurrection; and ruin and desolation would overwhelm the whole country.

Passing from the contemplation of this mournful picture, I proceed to invite your attention to the subject in its financial aspect.

If civil war should ensue, it would be impossible to estimate the amount of additional taxes that would be required. That would depend upon contingencies which no human sagacity can clearly foresee. But when we look to the extent of our sea coast, and inland frontier, to be guarded, it is evident that the pecuniary cost must be enormous, to say nothing of the withdrawal of large bodies of our population from the productive labor of the country, and the loss resulting from capital, in the form of lands and machinery, lying idle.

The people should weigh these matters well before they decide to embark on the unknown and tempestuous sea of convulsion and revolution.

You will perceive from the report of the proceedings of the General Assembly, that Virginia has been pledged, so far as that body had the power to pledge her, to make common cause with South Carolina, and to resist every attempt by the Federal Government to coerce her "into submission or obedience." This language is ambiguous, and I sought, in vain, to obtain a satisfactory explanation of its meaning. If it contemplated resistance to any effort to subjugate the State, it would be comparatively harmless, because it is hardly to be supposed that any such effort will be made; but if it was intended to indicate the purpose of Virginia to resist, by force, all efforts of the Federal Government to coerce the citizens of South Carolina to obey the laws of the U. S., I would regard it as in a high degree mischievous.

This resolution of the General Assembly did not meet my approbation, nor receive my vote. In the first place, I thought the Legislature, by that act, was anticipating one of the appropriate functions of the Convention about to be called; and, in the next place, I did not feel warranted in assuming the quarrel of South Carolina. She had chosen to act for herself without the co- operation of the other Southern States, and I could see no good reason why we should espouse her quarrel. I stated, on the floor of the Senate, that I had but little sympathy with her extreme position. Her causes of dissatisfaction were not the same with ours and her aims were entirely different from ours. She was dissatisfied with the financial policy of the Government, whilst we were seeking redress for wrongs of a very different character.

Her object, as avowed by her leading men, was to break up the Union, whilst ours was to preserve it, if it could be done consistently with our rights and honor. Moreover, I expressed the fear that our inconsiderate pledge might encourage South Carolina to acts of rashness, whilst, in the North, it might be construed as a menace, and tend to defeat a speedy and peaceful settlement of our difficulties. In these views I may have been mistaken, but honestly entertaining them, I felt bound to follow the dictates of my judgement, and withhold my assent from the resolution.

The bill providing for the call of a Convention has been passed, and the election for members of that body will take place on the 4th of Feb. The proposition originally submitted, was to call a Convention, with unlimited powers, and to let its action be final. Under this scheme, the Convention might have overturned the present State government, and established a military Dictatorship in its stead, and the people would have had no redress, except by forcible revolution. But after an arduous struggle the bill was amended so as to allow the people to decide at the polls whether the action of the Convention shall be final or not.

It is to be hoped that every voter of Virginia will be at the polls, and vote to RETAIN THE SOVEREIGN POWER OF THE PEOPLE IN THE HANDS OF THE PEOPLE. If they properly appreciate their rights and liberties, they will never trust them in the hands of any set of men, without reserving an efficient control over them. Who would entrust his private fortune to any one without some guarantee for its security? And is it not more important to reserve the right of ultimate judgement, in a matter which involves not only the prosperity, but also the lives and liberty of the people?

Strong intimations have been thrown out through the public press, that a treasonable scheme has been concocted at Washington to overthrow the Federal Government. It is charged that Senators, and others, who have sworn to support the Constitution, have conspired to subvert it. Information which I have received from other sources, which I believe to be reliable, tend to confirm these intimations, and induce the belief that a provisional government for the South, has already been agreed on, and that its great seal has been provided, a name adopted, and every arrangement made to put it into operation, on or before the 4th of March. The servants of the people have thus assumed to be their masters, and usurped the power which, occording to our bill of rights, resides only with the people.

I repeat, then, let the people be jealous of their rights. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. No election ever held in Virginia was half so important as that to be held on the 4th of February. Let every voter be at the polls. Let no business, however urgent, and no obstacle, however formidable, prevent any from attending. The voice of Augusta will be potential, and may control the result. Select men who will faithfully represent your deliberate sentiments. Especially, let every man vote that the action of the Convention shall be submitted to the people for their ratification or rejection.

The usage in Virginia heretofore, has been to allow the people to vote whether they would have a Convention or not. If the voice of the people was pronounced in favor of a Convention, it was called, and its action was submitted to the people for their approval or disapproval.--The Legislature has now departed from ancient usages, and it is for the people to determine whether they will blindly sanction, in advance, whatever the Convention may do, or require the result of its deliberations to be submitted to them for final ratification or rejection. Let the people hold the power in their own hands! Let them never surrender their liberty into the hands of any body of irresponsible men. It is too precious an inheritance to be dealt with thus lightly and inconsiderately.

Fellow Citizens! the issue is in your hands! A heavy responsibility rests on you!

May the Great Disposer of events so guide your conduct that peace and happiness may be restored to our distracted country, and that the Union which we have been taught to regard as the Palladium of our liberties, shall be established on a firm foundation and rendered perpetual.

Very respectfully,
Your fellow citizen,

P. S. Since the above was written, the House of Delegates have passed two important bills; one for the establishment of an Ordinance Bureau, and the other appropriating one million of dollars for military defence. This is but the beginning of the end!
A. H. H. S.