"A Noble Confession," Charleston (SC) Mercury, February 27, 1858, p. 2.
Charleston (SC) Mercury
A Noble Confession
Zak Rosenberg, Dickinson College
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
A Noble Confession
At a late State Rights meeting, held in Aberdeen, Mississippi, on the subject of Kansas, Col. BRADFORD, a most influential union man in 1851, addressed the meeting. In the course of his remarks, alluding to the eventful struggle of that time, when California was admitted into the Union, he used the following language:
"He hoped, at that time, that the future would develope a harmonious interchange of thought and action between two sections of the nation. But that hope vanished into thin air. The North was gradually aggressing upon the rights of the South. the time had come when the Southern people should say, 'Thus far, and no further.' He must confess the error of his position in '51. Then, the South should have planted herself upon the breastwork, and defied the storm."
It is a rare thing, even in private life, to find one who, on any grave matter, will frankly confess his error and strive to atone for it. But, in public affairs, where a whole country is involved, and the publicity of errors is commensurate with its extent, nothing but great magnanimity can induce a man, as a public counsellor, to acknowledge them. The great bulk of men, when their counsels prove disastrous, either take refuge in silence, or resort to sophistries, to justify them. They strive to hide the truth of things as they exist, or cast on others blame for the failure of their anticipations and advice. Frankly to acknowledge a misapprehension of the true state of things, and that they counselled unwisely for the State, is an exhibition of moral firmness and integrity not to be expected, and that only such men as Col. BRADFORD are capable of making. Undoubtedly the great body of those who, in 1851, denounced and opposed the State Rights Party, when it advocated Secession as necessary for the protection of the rights of the South, in the Union or out of the Union, acted conscientiously. They did not duly appreciate the antagonism existing between the two sections of the Union on the subject of slavery. They did not comprehend the deep popular bias on this subject, which rendered fidelity to the Constitution, on the part of the North, an impossibility. A high but mistaken generosity may have led them. once more, to cast their confidence at the feet of the North, although repeatedly before it had been scorned and trampled on. Five years have passed away. Time, the greatest test of wisdom in human affairs, has shed its light on past and present events. Where now are the anticipations of the Union men of 1851? Where is the finality to the agitation of the subject of slavery, which they then thought they had secured? Where is the peace, the concord, the love, the confidence, between the two sections of the Union, they boasted that they had established by their retrocession? And these whom they opposed-perhaps denounced-the Secessionists, were they hot-headed fools, or traitors, or were they the truly wise patriots in the South, who rightly comprehended her perilous condition, and bravely and sensibly counselled the enforcement of her own protection? Col. BRADFORD, at least, now does justice to the wisdom and patriotism of their policy.
But, it may be asked, why refer back to these things? We answer, because the past, a part of the present, has produced it. We cannot know how to act wisely in present emergencies, without knowing the causes which have brought them about, and the experiences which their past history gives forth. A man who would ignore the past in public affairs, would be like a mariner who should put to sea without a chart or compass-for charts and compasses are mere experiences in past navigation. True statesmanship consists in nothing more or less than this-to govern in the present by the lights of the past. Mere abstractions, without proof by actual experience of their practical operation, or of the capacity of a people to put them in force, are not sufficient for practical statesmanship. Fully and justly to comprehend the policy now to be pursued by the South, every event bearing on her destinies, which the past thirty years have brought forth, ought to be carefully remembered, studied and kept before the people. The position of the South is the result of these events; and they must teach her on what she can and must rely for self-protection. If the whole South would speak out as Col. BRADFORD has done, this alone would save the South.