Webster’s March 7th Speech Secession(韦布斯

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Webster's March 7th
Herbert Darling Foster
Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
It is very curious that much of the history of the United States in the
Forties and Fifties of the last century has vanished from the general
memory. When a skilled historian reopens the study of Webster's "Seventh
of March speech" it is more than likely that nine out of ten Americans will
have to cudgel their wits endeavoring to make quite sure just where among
our political adventures that famous oration fits in. How many of us could
pass a satisfactory examination on the antecedent train of events--the
introduction in Congress of that Wilmot Proviso designed to make free
soil of all the territory to be acquired in the Mexican War; the instant and
bitter reaction of the South; the various demands for some sort of partition
of the conquered area between the sections, between slave labor and free
labor; the unforeseen intrusion of the gold seekers of California in 1849,
and their unauthorized formation of a new state based on free labor; the
flaming up of Southern alarm, due not to one cause but to many, chiefly to
the obvious fact that the free states were acquiring preponderance in
Congress; the southern threats of secession; the fury of the Abolitionists
demanding no concessions to the South, come what might; and then, just
when a rupture seemed inevitable, when Northern extremists and Southern
extremists seemed about to snatch control of their sections, Webster's bold
play to the moderates on both sides, his scheme of compromise,
announced in that famous speech on the seventh of March, 1850?
Most people are still aware that Webster was harshly criticized for
making that speech. It is dimly remembered that the Abolitionists called
him "Traitor", refusing to attribute to him any motive except the gaining of
Southern support which might land him in the Presidency. At the time--so
bitter was factional suspicion!--this view gained many adherents. It has
not lost them all, even now.
This false interpretation of Webster turns on two questions--was there
a real danger of secession in 1850? Was Webster sincere in deriving his
policy from a sense of national peril, not from self-interest? In the study
which follows Professor Foster makes an adequate case for Webster,
answering the latter question. The former he deals with in a general way

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
establishing two things, the fact of Southern readiness to secede, the
attendant fact that the South changed its attitude after the Seventh of
March. His limits prevent his going on to weigh and appraise the sincerity
of those fanatics who so furiously maligned Webster, who created the
tradition that he had cynically sold out to the Southerners. Did they
believe their own fiction? The question is a large one and involves this
other, did they know what was going on in the South? Did they realize that
the Union on March 6, 1850, was actually at a parting of the ways,--that
destruction or Civil War formed an imminent issue?
Many of those who condemned compromise may be absolved from the
charge of insincerity on the ground that they did not care whether the
Union was preserved or riot. Your true blue Abolitionist was very little of
a materialist. Nor did he have primarily a crusading interest in the
condition of the blacks. He was introspective. He wanted the responsibility
for slavery taken off his own soul. As later events were to prove, he was
also pretty nearly a pacifist; war for the Union, pure and simple, made no
appeal to him. It was part of Webster's insight that he divined this, that he
saw there was more pacifism than natural ardor in the North of 1850, saw
that the precipitation of a war issue might spell the end of the United
Republic. Therefore, it was to circumvent the Northern pacifists quite as
much as to undermine the Southern expansionists that he offered
compromise and avoided war.
But what of those other detractors of Webster, those who were for the
Union and yet believed he had sold out? Their one slim defense is the
conviction that the South did not mean what it said, that Webster, had he
dared offend the South, could have saved the day--from their point of
view--without making concessions. Professor Foster, always ready to do
scrupulous justice, points out the dense ignorance in each section of the
other, and there lets the matter rest. But what shall we say of a frame of
mind, which in that moment of crisis, either did not read the Southern
newspapers, or reading them and finding that the whole South was netted
over by a systematically organized secession propaganda made no attempt
to gauge its strength, scoffed at it all as buncombe! Even later historians
have done the same thing. In too many cases they have assumed that

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
because the compromise was followed by an apparent collapse of the
secession propaganda, the propaganda all along was without reality. We
know today that the propaganda did not collapse. For strategic reasons it
changed its policy. But it went on steadily growing and gaining ground
until it triumphed in 1861. Webster, not his foolish opponents, gauged its
strength correctly in 1850.
The clew to what actually happened in 1850 lies in the course of such
an ardent Southerner as, for example, Langdon Cheeves. Early in the year,
he was a leading secessionist, but at the close of the year a leading antisecessionist. His change of front, forced upon him by his own thinking
about the situation was a bitter disappointment to himself. What animated
him was a deep desire to take the whole South out of the Union. When, at
the opening of the year, the North seemed unwilling to compromise, he,
and many another, thought their time had come. At the first Nashville
Convention he advised a general secession, assuming that Virginia, "our
premier state," would lead the movement and when Virginia later in the
year swung over from secession to anti-secession, Cheeves reluctantly
changed his policy. The compromise had not altered his views--broadly
speaking it had not satisfied the Lower South--but it had done something
still more eventful, it had so affected the Upper South that a united
secession became for a while impossible. Therefore, Cheeves and all like
him--and they were the determining factor of the hour--resolved to bide
their time, to wait until their propaganda had done its work, until the entire
South should agree to go out together. Their argument, all preserved in
print, but ignored by historians for sixty years thereafter, was perfectly
frank. As one of them put it, in the face of the changed attitude of Virginia,
"to secede now would be to secede from the South."
Here is the aspect of Webster's great stroke that was so long ignored.
He did not satisfy the whole South. He did not make friends for himself of
Southerners generally. What he did do was to drive a wedge into the South,
to divide it temporarily against itself. He arrayed the Upper South against
the Lower and thus because of the ultimate purposes of men like Cheeves,
with their ambition to weld the South into a genuine unit, he forced them
all to stand still, and thus to give Northern pacifism a chance to ebb,

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Northern nationalism a chance to develop. A comprehensive brief for the
defense on this crucial point in the interpretation of American history, is
Professor Foster's contribution.
The moral earnestness and literary skill of Whittier, Lowell, Garrison,
Phillips, and Parker, have fixed in many minds the antislavery doctrine
that Webster's 7th of March speech was "scandalous, treachery", and
Webster a man of little or no "moral sense", courage, or statesmanship.
That bitter atmosphere, reproduced by Parton and von Holst, was
perpetuated a generation later by Lodge.[1]
[1] Cf. Parton with Lodge on intellect, morals, indolence, drinking, 7th
of March speech, Webster's favorite things in England; references, note 63,
Since 1900, over fifty publications throwing light on Webster and the
Secession movement of 1850 have appeared, nearly a score containing
fresh contemporary evidence. These twentieth-century historians--
Garrison of Texas, Smith of Williams, Stephenson of Charleston and Yale,
Van Tyne, Phillips, Fisher in his True Daniel Webster, or Ames, Hearon,
and Cole in their monographs on Southern conditions--many of them born
in one section and educated in another, brought into broadening relations
with Northern and Southern investigators, trained in the modern historical
spirit and freed by the mere lapse of time from much of the passion of
slavery and civil war, have written with less emotion and more knowledge
than the abolitionists, secessionists, or their disciples who preceded
Under the auspices of the American Historical Association have
appeared the correspondence of Calhoun, of Chase, of Toombs, Stephens,
and Cobb, and of Hunter of Virginia. Van Tyne's Letters of Webster (1902),
including hundreds hitherto unpublished, was further supplemented in the
sixteenth volume of the "National Edition" of Webster's Writings and
Speeches (1903). These two editions contain, for 1850 alone, 57 inedited

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Manuscript collections and newspapers, comparatively unknown to
earlier writers, have been utilized in monographs dealing with the situation
in 1850 in South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina,
Louisiana, and Tennessee, published by. universities or historical societies.
The cooler and matured judgments of men who knew Webster
personally--Foote, Stephens, Wilson, Seward, and Whittier, in the last
century; Hoar, Hale, Fisher, Hosmer, and Wheeler in recent years-modify
their partizan political judgments of 1850. The new printed evidence is
confirmed by manuscript material: 2,500 letters of the Greenough
Collection available since the publication of the recent editions of
Webster's letters and apparently unused by Webster's biographers; and
Hundreds of still inedited Webster Papers in the New Hampshire
Historical Society, and scattered in minor collections.[2] This mass of new
material makes possible and desirable a re-examination of the evidence as
to (1) the danger from the secession movement in 1850; (2) Webster's
change in attitude toward the disunion danger in February, 1850; (3) the
purpose and character of his 7th of March speech; (4) the effects of his
speech and attitude upon the secession movement.
[2] In the preparation of this article, manuscripts have been used from
the following collections: the Greenough, Hammond, and Clayton
(Library of Congress); Winthrop and Appleton (Mass. Hist. Soc.);
Garrison (Boston Public Library); N.H. Hist. Soc.; Dartmouth College;
Middletown (Conn.) Hist. Soc.; Mrs. Alfred E. Wyman.

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
During the session of Congress of 1849-1850, the peace of the Union
was threatened by problems centering around slavery and the territory
acquired as a result of the Mexican War: California's demand for
admission with a constitution prohibiting slavery; the Wilmot Proviso
excluding slavery from the rest of the Mexican acquisitions (Utah and
New Mexico); the boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico; the
abolition of slave trade in the District of Columbia; and an effective
fugitive slave law to replace that of 1793.
The evidence for the steadily growing danger of secession until March,
1850, is no longer to be sought in Congressional speeches, but rather in
the private letters of those men, Northern and Southern, who were the
shrewdest political advisers of the South, and in the official acts of
representative bodies of Southerners in local or state meetings, state
legislatures, and the Nashville Convention. Even after the compromise
was accepted in the South and the secessionists defeated in 1850-1851, the
Southern states generally adopted the Georgia platform or its equivalent
declaring that the Wilmot Proviso or the repeal of the fugitive- slave law
would lead the South to "resist even (as a last resort) to a disruption of
every tie which binds her to the Union". Southern disunion sentiment was
not sporadic or a party matter; it was endemic.
The disunion sentiment in the North was not general; but Garrison,
publicly proclaiming "I am an abolitionist and therefore for the dissolution
of the Union", and his followers who pronounced "the Constitution a
covenant with death and an agreement with hell", exercised a twofold
effect far in excess of their numbers. In the North, abolitionists aroused
bitter antagonism to slavery; in the South they strengthened the conviction
of the lawfulness of slavery and the desirability of secession in preference
to abolition. "The abolition question must soon divide us", a South
Carolinian wrote his former principal in Vermont. "We are beginning to
look upon it [disunion] as a relief from incessant insult. I have been myself
surprised at the unusual prevalence and depth of this feeling."[3] "The
abolition movement", as Houston has pointed out, "prevented any

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
considerable abatement of feeling, and added volume to the current which
was to sweep the State out of the Union in 1860." South Carolina's exgovernor, Hammond, wrote Calhoun in December, 1849, "the conduct of
the abolitionists in congress is daily giving it [disunion] powerful aid".
"The sooner we can get rid of it [the union] the better."[5] The conclusion
of both Blair of Kentucky and Winthrop[6] of Massachusetts, that
"Calhoun and his instruments are really solicitous to break up the Union",
was warranted by Calhoun's own statement.
[3] Bennett, Dec. 1, 1848, to Partridge, Norwich University. MS.
[4] Houston, Nullification in South Carolina, p. 141. Further evidence
of Webster's thesis that abolitionists had developed Southern reaction in
Phillips, South in the Building of the Nation, IV, 401-403; and
unpublished letters approving Webster's speech.
[5] Calhoun, Corr., Amer. Hist. Assoc., Annual Report (1899, vol 11.),
pp. 1193-1194.
[6] To Crittenden, Dec. 20, 1849, Smith, polit. Hist. Slavery, I. 122;
Winthrop MSS., Jan. 6, 1850.
Calhoun, desiring to save the Union if he could, but at all events to
save the South, and convinced that there was "no time to lose", hoped "a
decisive issue will be made with the North". In February, 1850, he wrote,
"Disunion is the only alternative that is left us."[7] At last supported by
some sort of action in thirteen Southern states, and in nine states by
appointment of delegates to his Southern Convention, he declared in the
Senate, March 4, "the South, is united against the Wilmot proviso, and has
committed itself, by solemn resolutions, to resist should it be adopted".
"The South will be forced to choose between abolition and secession."
"The Southern States . . . cannot remain, as things now are, consistently
with honor and safety, in the Union."[8]
[7] Calhoun, Corr., p. 781; cf. 764-766, 778, 780, 783-784.
[8] Cong. Globe, XXI. 451-455, 463; Corr., p. 784. On Calhoun's
attitude, Ames, Calhoun, pp. 6-7; Stephenson, in Yale Review, 1919, p.
216; Newbury in South Atlantic Quarterly, XI. 259; Hamer, Secession
Movement in South Carolina, 1847-1852, pp. 49-54.

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
That Beverley Tucker rightly judged that this speech of Calhoun
expressed what was "in the mind of every man in the State" is confirmed
by the.approval of Hammond and other observers; by their judgment that
"everyone was ripe for disunion and no one ready to make a speech in
favor of the union"; by the testimony of the governor, that South Carolina
"is ready and anxious for an immediate separation"; and by the concurrent
testimony of even the few "Unionists" like Petigru and Lieber, who wrote
Webster, "almost everyone is for southern separation", "disunion is the . . .
predominant sentiment". "For arming the state $350,000 has been put at
the disposal of the governor." "Had I convened the legislature two or three
weeks before the regular meeting," adds the governor, "such was the
excited state of the public mind at that time, I am convinced South
Carolina would not now have been a member of the Union. The people are
very far ahead of their leaders." Ample first-hand evidence of South
Carolina's determination to secede in 1850 may be found in the
Correspondence of Calhoun, in Claiborne's Quitman, in the acts of the
assembly, in the newspapers, in the legislature's vote "to resist at any and
all hazards", and in the choice of resistance-men to the Nashville
Convention and the state convention. This has been so convincingly set
forth in Ames's Calhoun and the Secession Movement of 1850, and in
Hamer's Secession Movement in South Carolina, 1847-1852, that there is
need of very few further illustrations.[9]
[9] Calhoun, Corr., Amer. Hist. Assoc., Annual Report (1899, vol. II),
pp. 1210-1212; Toombs, Corr., (id., 1911, vol. II), pp. 188, 217; Coleman,
Crittenden, I. 363; Hamer, pp. 55-56, 46-48, 54, 82-83; Ames, Calhoun, pp.
21-22, 29; Claiborne, Quitman, H. 36-39.
That South Carolina postponed secession for ten years was due to the
Compromise. Alabama and Virginia adopted resolutions accepting the
compromise in 1850-1851; and the Virginia legislature tactfully urged
South Carolina to abandon secession. The 1851 elections in Alabama,
Georgia, and Mississippi showed the South ready to accept the
Compromise, the crucial test being in Mississippi, where the voters
followed Webster's supporter, Foote.[10] That Petigru was right in
maintaining that South, Carolina merely abandoned immediate and

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
separate secession is shown by the almost unanimous vote of the South
Carolina State Convention of 1852,[11] that the state was amply justified
"in dissolving at once all political connection with her co-States", but
refrained from this "manifest right of self-government from considerations
of expediency only".[12]
[10] Hearon, Miss. and the Compromise of 1850, p. 209.
[11] A letter to Webster, Oct. 22, 1851, Greenough MSS., shows the
strength of Calhoun's secession ideas. Hamer, p. 125, quotes part.
[12] Hamer, p. 142; Hearon, p. 220.
In Mississippi, a preliminary convention, instigated by Calhoun,
recommended the holding of a Southern convention at Nashville in June,
1850, to "adopt some mode of resistance". The "Resolutions" declared the
Wilmot Proviso "such a breach of the federal compact as . . . will make it
the duty . . . of the slave-holding states to treat the non-slave-holding states
as enemies". The "Address" recommended "all the assailed states to
provide in the last resort for their separate welfare by the formation of a
compact and a Union". "The object of this [Nashville Convention] is to
familiarize the public mind with the idea of dissolution", rightly judged
the Richmond Whig and the Lynchburg Virginian.
Radical resistance men controlled the legislature and "cordially
approved" the disunion resolution and address, chose delegates to the
Nashville Convention, appropriated $20,000 for their expenses and
$200,000 for "necessary measures for protecting the state . . . in the event
of the passage of the Wilmot Proviso", etc.[13] These actions of
Mississippi's legislature one day before Webster's 7th of March speech
mark approximately the peak of the secession movement.
[13] Mar. 6, 1850. Laws (Miss.), pp. 521-526.
Governor Quitman, in response to public demand, called the
legislature and proposed "to recommend the calling of a regular
convention . . . with full power to annul the federal compact". "Having no
hope of an effectual remedy . . . but in separation from the Northern States,
my views of state action will look to secession."[14] The legislature
supported Quitman's and Jefferson Davis's plans for resistance, censured
Foote's support of the Compromise, and provided for a state convention of

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
[14] Claiborne, Quitman, IL 37; Hearon, p. 161 n.
[15] Hearon, pp. 180-181; Claiborne, Quitman, II. 51-52.
Even the Mississippi "Unionists" adopted the six standard points
generally accepted in the South which would justify resistance. "And this
is the Union party", was the significant comment of the New York Tribune.
This Union Convention, however, believed that Quitman's message was
treasonable and that there was ample evidence of a plot to dissolve the
Union and form a Southern confederacy. Their programme was adopted by
the State Convention the following year."[16] The radical Mississippians
reiterated Calhoun's constitutional guarantees of sectional equality and
non-interference with slavery, and declared for a Southern convention with
power to recommend "secession from the Union and the formation of a
Southern confederacy".[17]
[16] Nov. 10, 1850, Hearon, pp. 178-180; 1851, pp. 209-212.
[17] Dec. 10, Southern Rights Assoc. Hearon, pp. 183-187.
"The people of Mississippi seemed . . . determined to defend their
equality in the Union, or to retire from it by peaceful secession. Had the
issue been pressed at the moment when the excitement was at its highest
point, an isolated and very serious movement might have occurred, which
South Carolina, without doubt, would have promptly responded to."[18]
[18] Claiborne, Quitman, II. 52.
In Georgia, evidence as to "which way the wind blows" was received
by the Congressional trio, Alexander Stephens, Toombs, and Cobb, from
trusted observers at home. "The only safety of the South from abolition
universal is to be found in an early dissolution of the Union." Only one
democrat was found justifying Cobb's opposition to Calhoun and the
Southern Convention.[19]
[19] July 1, 1849. Corr., p. 170 (Amer. Hist. Assoc., Annual Report,
1911, vol. II.).
Stephens himself, anxious to "stick to the Constitutional Union"
reveals in confidential letters to Southern Unionists the rapidly growing
danger of disunion. "The feeling among the Southern members for a
dissolution of the Union . . . is becoming much more general." "Men are

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
now [December, 1849] beginning to talk of it seriously who twelve
months ago hardly permitted themselves to think of it." "Civil war in this
country better be prevented if it can be." After a month's "farther and
broader view", he concluded, "the crisis is not far ahead . . . a
dismemberment of this Republic I now consider inevitable."[20]
[20] Johnston, Stephens, pp. 238-239, 244; Smith, Political History of
Slavery, 1. 121.
On February 8, 1850, the Georgia legislature appropriated $30,000
for a state convention to consider measures of redress, and gave warning
that anti-slavery aggressions would "induce us to contemplate the
possibility of a dissolution".[21] "I see no prospect of a continuance of this
Union long", wrote Stephens two days later.[22]
[21] Laws (Ga.), 1850, pp. 122, 405-410.
[22] Johnston, Stephens, p. 247.
Speaker Cobb's advisers warned him that "the predominant feeling of
Georgia" was "equality or disunion", and that "the destructives" were
trying to drive the South into disunion. "But for your influence, Georgia
would have been more rampant for dissolution than South Carolina ever
was." "S. Carolina will secede, but we can and must put a stop to it in
[23] Corr., pp. 184,193-195, 206-208, July 21. Newspapers, see
Brooks, in Miss. Valley Hist. Review, IX. 289.
Public opinion in Georgia, which had been "almost ready for
immediate secession", was reversed only after the passage of the
Compromise and by means of a strenuous campaign against the
Secessionists which Stephens, Toombs, and Cobb were obliged to return
to Georgia to conduct to a Successful issue.[24] Yet even the Unionist
Convention of Georgia, elected by this campaign, voted almost
unanimously "the Georgia platform" already described, of resistance, even
to disruption, against the Wilmot Proviso, the repeal of the fugitive slave
law, and the other measures generally selected for reprobation in the
South.[25] "Even the existence of the Union depended upon the
settlement"; "we would have resisted by our arms if the wrong [Wilmot
Proviso] had been perpetuated", were Stephens's later judgments.[26] It is

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
to be remembered that the Union victory in Georgia was based upon the
Compromise and that Webster's share in "strengthening the friends of the
Union" was recognized by Stephens.
[24] Phillips, Georgia and State Rights, pp. 163-166.
[25] Ames, Documents, pp. 271-272; Hearon, p. 190.
[26] 1854, Amer. Hist. Review, VIII. 92-97; 1857, Johnston, Stephens,
pp. 321-322; infra, pp. 267, 268.
The disunion movement manifested also dangerous strength in
Virginia and Alabama, and showed possibilities of great danger in
Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Texas,
and Arkansas. The majority of the people may not have favored secession
in 1850 any more than in 1860; but the leaders could and did carry most of
the Southern legislatures in favor of uniting for resistance.
The "ultras" in Virginia, under the lead of Tucker, and in Alabama
under Yancey, frankly avowed their desire to stimulate impossible
demands so that disunion would be inevitable. Tucker at Nashville
"ridiculed Webster's assertion that the Union could not be dissolved
without bloodshed". On the eve of Webster's speech, Garnett of Virginia
published a frank advocacy of a Southern Confederacy, repeatedly
reprinted, which Clay declared "the most dangerous pamphlet he had ever
read".[27] Virginia, in providing for delegates to the Nashville Convention,
announced her readiness to join her "sister slave states" for "mutual
defence". She later acquiesced in the Compromise, but reasserted that antislavery aggressions would "defeat restoration of peaceful sentiments".[28]
[27] Hammond MSS., Jan. 27, Feb. 8; Virginia Resolves, Feb. 12;
Ambler, Sectionalism in Virginia, p. 246; N. Y. Tribune, June 14; M. R. H.
Garnett, Union Past and Future, published between Jan. 24 and Mar. 7.
Alabama: Hodgson, Cradle of the Confederacy, p. 281; Dubose, Yancey,
pp. 247-249, 481; Fleming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama, p.
13; Cobb, Corr., pp. 193-195, 207. President Tyler of the College of
William and Mary kindly furnished evidence of Garnett's authorship; see J.
M. Garnett, in Southern Literary Messenger, I. 255.
[28] Resolutions, Feb. 12, 1850; Acts, 1850, pp. 223-224; 1851, p.

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
In Texas there was acute danger of collision over the New Mexico
boundary with Federal troops which President Taylor was preparing to
send. Stephens frankly repeated Quitman's threats of Southern armed
support of Texas.[29] Cobb, Henderson of Texas, Duval of Kentucky,
Anderson of Tennessee, and Goode of Virginia expressed similar views as
to the "imminent cause of danger to the Union from Texas". The collision
was avoided because the more statesmanlike attitude of Webster prevailed
rather than the "soldier's" policy of Taylor.
[29] Stephens, Corr., p. 192; Globe, XXII. II. 1208.
The border states held a critical position in 1850, as they did in 1860.
"If they go for the Southern movement we shall have disunion."
"Everything is to depend from this day on the course of Kentucky,
Tennessee and Missouri."[30] Webster's conciliatory Union policy, in
harmony with that of border state leaders, like Bell of Tennessee, Benton
of Missouri, Clay and Crittenden of Kentucky, enabled Maryland,
Kentucky, and Missouri to stand by the Union and refuse to send delegates
to the Nashville Convention.
[30] Boston Daily Advertiser, Feb. 23.
The attitude of the Southern states toward disunion may be followed
closely in their action as to the Nashville Convention. Nine Southern states
approved the Convention and appointed delegates before June, 1850, six
during the critical month preceding Webster's speech: Georgia, February 6,
8; Texas and Tennessee, February 11; Virginia, February 12; Alabama, just
before the adjournment of the legislature, February 13; Mississippi, March
5, 6.[31] Every one of the nine seceded in 1860-1861; the border states
(Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri) which kept out of the Convention in 1850
likewise kept out of secession in 1861; and only two states which seceded
in 1861 failed to join the Southern movement in 1850 (North Carolina and
Louisiana). This significant parallel between the action of the Southern
states in 1850 and in 1860 suggests the permanent strength of the
secession movement of 1850. Moreover, the alignment of leaders was
strikingly the same in 1850 and 1860. Those who headed the secession
movement in 1850 in their respective states were among the leaders of
secession in 1860 and 1861: Rhett in South Carolina; Yancey in Alabama;

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Jefferson Davis and Brown in Mississippi Garnett, Goode, and Hunter in
Virginia; Johnston in Arkansas; Clingman in North Carolina. On the other
hand, nearly all the men who in 1850 favored the Compromise, in 1860
either remained Union men, like Crittenden, Houston of Texas, Sharkey,
Lieber, Petigru, and Provost Kennedy of Baltimore, or, like Stephens,
Morehead, and Foote, vainly tried to restrain secession.
[31] South Carolina, Acts, 1849, p, 240, and the following Laws or
Acts, all 1850: Georgia, pp. 418, 405-410, 122; Texas, pp. 93-94, 171;
Tennessee, p. 572 (Globe, XXI. I. 417. Cole, Whig Party in the South, p.
161) ; Mississippi, pp. 526-528; Virginia, p. 233; Alabama, Weekly
Tribune, Feb. 23, Daily, Feb. 25.
In the states unrepresented at the Nashville Convention-Missouri,
Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, and Louisiana--there was much
sympathy with the Southern movement. In Louisiana, the governor's
proposal to send delegates was blocked by the Whigs.[32] "Missouri", in
case of the Wilmot Proviso, "will be found in hearty co-operation with the
slave-holding states for mutual protection against . . . Northern fanaticism",
her legislature resolved.[33] Missouri's instructions to her senators were
denounced as "disunion in their object" by her own Senator Benton. The
Maryland legislature resolved, February 26: "Maryland will take her
position with her Southern sister states in the maintenance of the
constitution with all its compromises." The Whig senate, however,
prevented sanctioning of the convention and sending of delegates.
Florida's governor wrote the governor of South Carolina that Florida
would co-operate with Virginia and South Carolina "in any measure in
defense of our common Constitution and sovereign dignity". "Florida has
resolved to resist to the extent of revolution", declared her representative
in Congress, March 5. Though the Whigs did not support the movement,
five delegates came from Florida to the Nashville Convention. [34]
[32] White, Miss. Valley Hist. Assoc., III. 283.
[33] Senate Miscellaneous, 1849-1850, no. 24.
[34] Hamer, p. 40; cf. Cole, Whig Party in the South, p. 162; Cong.
Globe, Mar. 5.
In Kentucky, Crittenden's repeated messages against "disunion" and

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
"entangling engagements" reveal the danger seen by a Southern Union
governor.[35] Crittenden's changing attitude reveals the growing peril, and
the growing reliance on Webster's and Clay's plans. By April, Crittenden
recognized that "the Union is endangered", "the case . . . rises above
ordinary rules", "circumstances have rather changed". He reluctantly
swung from Taylor's plan of dealing with California alone, to the Clay and
Webster idea of settling the "whole controversy".[36] Representative
Morehead wrote Crittenden, "The extreme Southern gentlemen would
secretly deplore the settlement of this question. The magnificence of a
Southern Confederacy . . . is a dazzling allurement." Clay like Webster,
saw "the alternative, civil war".[37]
[35] Coleman, Crittenden, I. 333, 350.
[36] Clayton MSS., Apr. 6; cf. Coleman, Crittenden, I. 369.
[37] Smith, History of Slavery, 1. 121; Clay, Oct., 1851, letter, in
Curtis, Webster, II, 584-585.
In North Carolina, the majority appear to have been loyal to the
Union; but the extremists--typified by Clingman, the public meeting at
Wilmington, and the newspapers like the Wilmington Courier--reveal the
presence of a dangerously aggressive body "with a settled determination to
dissolve the Union" and frankly "calculating the advantages of a Southern
Confederacy." Southern observers in this state reported that "the repeal of
the Fugitive Slave Law or the abolition of slavery in the District will
dissolve the Union". The North Carolina legislature acquiesced in the
Compromise but counselled retaliation in case of anti-slavery
aggressions.[38] Before the assembling of the Southern convention in June,
every one of the Southern states, save Kentucky, had given some
encouragement to the Southern movement, and Kentucky had given
warning and proposed a compromise through Clay.[39]
[38] Clingman, and Wilmington Resolutions, Globe, XXI. I. 200-205,
311; National Intelligencer, Feb. 25; Cobb, Corr., pp. 217-218; Boyd,
"North Carolina on the Eve of Secession," in Amer. Hist. Assoc., Annual
Report (1910), pp. 167-177.
[39] Hearndon, Nashville Convention, p. 283.
Nine Southern states-Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee sent about 176
delegates to the Nashville Convention. The comparatively harmless
outcome of this convention, in June, led earlier historians to underestimate
the danger of the resistance movement in February and March when
backed by legislatures, newspapers, and public opinion, before the effect
was felt of the death of Calhoun and Taylor, and of Webster's support of
conciliation. Stephens and the Southern Unionists rightly recognized that
the Nashville Convention "will be the nucleus of another sectional
assembly". "A fixed alienation of feeling will be the result." "The game of
the destructives is to use the Missouri Compromise principle [as
demanded by the Nashville Convention] as a medium of defeating all
adjustments and then to . . . infuriate the South and drive her into measures
that must end in disunion." "All who go to the Nashville Convention are
ultimately to fall into that position." This view is confirmed by Judge
Warner and other observers in Georgia and by the unpublished letters of
Tucker.[40] "Let the Nashville Convention be held", said the Columbus,
Georgia, Sentinel, "and let the undivided voice of the South go forth . . .
declaring our determination to resist even to civil war."[41] The speech of
Rhett of South Carolina, author of the convention's "Address", "frankly
and boldly unfurled the flag of disunion". "If every Southern State should
quail . . . South Carolina alone should make the issue." "The opinion of the
[Nashville] address is, and I believe the opinion of a large portion of the
Southern people is, that the Union cannot be made to endure", was
delegate Barnwell's admission to Webster.[42]
[40] Johnston, Stephens, p. 247; Corr., pp. 186, 193, 194, 206-207;
Hammond MSS., Jan. 27, Feb. 8.
[41] Ames, Calhoun, p. 26.
[42] Webster, Writings and Speeches, X. 161-162.
The influence of the Compromise is brought out in the striking
change in the attitude of Senator Foote, and of judge Sharkey of
Mississippi, the author of the radical "Address" of the preliminary
Mississippi Convention, and chairman of both this and the Nashville
Convention. After the Compromise measures were reported in May by
Clay and Webster's committee, Sharkey became convinced that the

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Compromise should be accepted and so advised Foote. Sharkey also
visited Washington and helped to pacify the rising storm by "suggestions
to individual Congressmen".[43] In the Nashville Convention, Sharkey
therefore exercised a moderating influence as chairman and refused to sign
its disunion address. Convinced that the Compromise met essential
Southern demands, Sharkey urged that "to resist it would be to dismember
the Union". He therefore refused to call a second meeting of the Nashville
Convention. For this change in position he was bitterly criticized by
Jefferson Davis.[44] Foote recognized the "emergency" at the same time
that Webster did, and on February 25, proposed his committee of thirteen
to report some "scheme of compromise". Parting company with Calhoun,
March 5, on the thesis that the South could not safely remain without new
"constitutional guarantees", Foote regarded Webster's speech as
"unanswerable", and in April came to an understanding with him as to
Foote's committee and their common desire for prompt consideration of
California. The importance of Foote's influence in turning the tide in
Mississippi, through his pugnacious election campaign, and the
significance of his judgment of the influence of Webster and his speech
have been somewhat overlooked, partly perhaps because of Foote's
swashbuckling characteristics.[45]
[43] Cyclopedia Miss. Hist., art. "Sharkey."
[44] Hearon, pp. 124, 171-174. Davis to Clayton (Clayton MSS.), Nov.
22, 1851.
[45] Globe, XXI. I. 418, 124, 712; infra, p. 268.
That the Southern convention movement proved comparatively
innocuous in June is due in part to confidence inspired by the conciliatory
policy of one outstanding Northerner, Webster. "Webster's speech", said
Winthrop, "has knocked the Nashville Convention into a cocked hat."[46]
The Nashville Convention has been blown by your giant effort to the four
winds."[47] "Had you spoken out before this, I verily believe the
Nashville Convention had not been thought of. Your speech has disarmed
and quieted the South."[48] Webster's speech caused hesitation in the
South. "This has given courage to all who wavered in their resolution or
who were secretly opposed to the measure [Nashville Convention]."[49]

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
[46] MSS., Mar. 10. AM. HIST. REV., voL. xxvii.--18.
[47] Anstell, Bethlehem, May 21, Greenough Collection.
[48] Anderson, Tenn., Apr. 8, ibid.
[49] Goode, Hunter Corr., Amer. Hist. Assoc., Annual Report (1916,
vol. II.), p. 111.
Ames cites nearly a store of issues of newspapers in Mississippi,
South Carolina, Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia
reflecting the change in public opinion in March. Even some of the radical
papers referred to the favorable effect of Webster's speech and "spirit" in
checking excitement. "The Jackson (Mississippi) Southron had at first
supported the movement [for a Southern Convention], but by March it had
grown lukewarm and before the Convention assembled, decidedly
opposed it. The last of May it said, 'not a Whig paper in the State
approves'." In the latter part of March, not more than a quarter of sixty
papers from ten slave-holding states took decided ground for a Southern
Convention.[50] The Mississippi Free Trader tried to check the growing
support of the Compromise, by claiming that Webster's speech lacked
Northern backing. A South Carolina pamphlet cited the Massachusetts
opposition to Webster as proof of the political strength of abolition."[51]
[50] Ames, Calhoun, pp. 24-27.
[51] Hearon, pp. 120-123; Anonymous, Letter on Southern Wrongs . . .
in Reply to Grayson (Charleston, 1850).
The newer, day by day, first-hand evidence, in print and manuscript,
shows the Union in serious danger, with the culmination during the three
weeks preceding Webster's speech; with a moderation during March; a
growing readiness during the summer to await Congressional action; and
slow, acquiescence in the Compromise measures of September, but with
frank assertion on the part of various Southern states of the right and duty
of resistance if the compromise measures were violated. Even in
December, 1850, Dr. Alexander of Princeton found sober Virginians
fearful that repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act would throw Virginia info the
Southern movement and that South Carolina "by some rash act" would
precipitate "the crisis". "All seem to regard bloodshed as the inevitable

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
[52] Letters, II. 111, 121, 127.
To the judgments and legislative acts of Southerners already quoted,
may be added some of the opinions of men from the North. Erving, the
diplomat, wrote from New York, "The real danger is in the fanatics and
disunionists of the North". "I see no salvation but in the total abandonment
of the Wilmot Proviso." Edward Everett, on the contrary, felt that "unless
some southern men of influence have courage enough to take grounds
against the extension of slavery and in favor of abolition . . . we shall
infallibly separate".[53]
[53] Winthrop MSS., Jan. 16, Feb. 7.
A Philadelphia editor who went to Washington to learn the real
sentinments of the Southern members, reported February 1, that if the
Wilmot Proviso were not given up, ample provision made for fugitive
slaves and avoidance of interference with slavery in the District of
Columbia, the South would secede, though this was not generally believed
in the North. "The North must decide whether she would have the Wilmot
Proviso without the Union or the Union without the Wilmot Proviso."[54]
[54] Philadelphia Bulletin, in McMaster, VIII. 15.
In answer to inquiries from the Massachusetts legislature as to
whether the Southern attitude was "bluster" or "firm Resolve", Winthrop
wrote, "the country has never been in more serious exigency than at
present". "The South is angry, mad." "The Union must be saved . . . by
prudence and forbearance." "Most sober men here are apprehensive that
the end of the Union is nearer than they have ever before imagined."
Winthrop's own view on February 19 had been corroborated by General
Scott, who wrote him four days earlier, "God preserve the Union is my
daily prayer, in and out of church".[55]
[55] Winthrop MSS., Feb. 10, 6.
Webster however, as late as February 14, believed that there was no
"serious danger". February 16, he still felt that "if, on our side, we keep
cool, things will come to no dangerous pass".[56] But within the next
week, three acts in Washington modified Webster's optimism: the filibuster
of Southern members, February 18; their triumph in conference, February
19; their interview with Taylor about February 23.

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
[56] Writings and Speeches, XVI. 533; XVIII. 355.
On February 18, under the leadership of Stephens, the Southern
representatives mustered two-thirds of the Southern Whigs and a majority
from every Southern state save Maryland for a successful series of over
thirty filibustering votes against the admission of California without
consideration of the question of slavery in New Mexico and Utah. So
indisputable was the demonstration of Southern power to block not only
the President's plan but all Congressional legislation, that the Northern
leaders next day in conference with. Southern representatives agreed that
California should be admitted with her free constitution, but that in New
Mexico and Utah government should be organized with no prohibition of
slavery and with power to form, in respect to slavery, such constitutions as
the people pleased--agreements practically enacted in the
[57] Stephens, War between the States, II. 201-205, 232; Cong. Globe,
XXI. I. 375-384.
The filibuster of the 18th of February, Mann described as "a
revolutionary proceeding". Its alarming effect on the members of the
Cabinet was commented upon by the Boston Advertiser, February 19. The
New York Tribune, February 20, recognized the determination of the
South to secede unless the Missouri Compromise line were extended to
the Pacific. February 22, the Springfield Republican declared that "if the
Union cannot be preserved" without the extension of slavery, "we allow
the tie of Union to be severed". It was on this day, that Webster decided
"to make a Union speech and discharge a clear conscience".
That same week (apparently February 23) occurred the famous
interview of Stephens and Toombs with Taylor which convinced the
President that the Southern movement "means disunion". This was
Taylor's judgment expressed to Weed and Hamlin, "ten minutes after the
interview". A week later the President seemed to Horace Mann to be
talking like a child about his plans to levy an embargo and blockade the
Southern harbors and "save the Union". Taylor was ready to appeal to
arms against "these Southern men in Congress [who] are trying to bring on
civil war" in connection with the critical Texas boundary question.[58]

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
[58] Thurlow Weed, Life, II. 177-178, 180-181 (Gen. Pleasanton's
confirmatory letter). Wilson, Slave Power, II. 249. Both corroborated by
Hamline letter Rhodes, I. 134. Stephens's letters, N. Y. Herald, July 13,
Aug, 8, 1876, denying threatening language used by Taylor "in my
presence," do not nullify evidence of Taylor's attitude. Mann, Life, p. 292.
Private Washington letter, Feb. 23, reporting interview, N. Y. Tribune, Feb.
On this 23d of February, Greeley, converted from his earlier and
characteristic optimism, wrote in his leading editorial: "instead of scouting
or ridiculing as chimerical the idea of a Dissolution of the Union, we
firmly believe that there are sixty members of Congress who this day
desire it and are plotting to effect it. We have no doubt the Nashville
Convention will be held and that the leading purpose of its authors is the
separation of the slave states . . . with the formation of an independent
Confederacy." "This plot . . . is formidable." He warned against "needless
provocation" which would lisupply weapons to the Disunionists". A
private letter to Greeley from Washington, the same day, says: "H-- is
alarmed and confident that blood will be spilt on the floor of the House.
Many members go to the House armed every day. W-- is confident that
Disunionism is now inevitable. He knows intimately nearly all the
Southern members, is familiar with their views and sees the letters that
reach them from their constituents. He says the most ultra are well backed
up in their advices from home."[59]
[59] Weekly Tribune, Mar. 2, reprinted from Daily, Feb. 27. Cf.
Washington National Intelligencer, Feb. 21, quoting: Richmond Enquirer;
Wilmington Commercial; Columbia Telegraph.
The same February 23, the Boston Advertiser quoted the Washington
correspondence of the Journal of Commerce: "excitement pervades the
whole South, and Southern members say that it has gone beyond their
control, that their tone is moderate in comparison with that of their people".
"Persons who condemn Mr. Clay's resolutions now trust to some vague
idea that Mr. Webster can do something better." "If Mr. Webster has any
charm by the magic influence of which he can control the ultraism, of the
North and of the South, he cannot too soon try its effects." "If Kentucky,

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
Tennessee, Missouri go for the Southern movement, we shall have
disunion and as much of war as may answer the purposes either of
Northern or Southern fanaticism." On this Saturday, February 23, also,
"several Southern members of Congress had a long and interesting
interview with Mr. Webster". "The whole subject was discussed and the
result is, that the limitations of a compromise have been examined, which
are satisfactory to our Southern brethren. This is good news, and will
surround Mr. Webster's position with an uncommon interest."[60]
[60] New York Herald, Feb. 25; Boston Daily Advertiser, Feb. 26.
"Webster is the only man in the Senate who has a position which
would enable him to present a plan which would be carried", said Pratt of
Maryland.[61] The National Intelligencer, which had hitherto maintained
the safety of the Union, confessed by February 21 that "the integrity of the
Union is at some hazard", quoting Southern evidence of this. On February
25, Foote, in proposing to the Senate a committee of thirteen to report
some scheme of compromise, gave it as his conclusion from consultation
with both houses, that unless something were done at once, power would
pass from Congress.
[61] Tribune, Feb. 25.

Webster's March 7th Speech/Secession
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