"Alabama," The American Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1865 ... (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1869), 14-15.
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Mr. Coleman, of Choctaw County, contended that on our action depended the right of the property of the people. The proclamation of the President and the act of Congress had destroyed slavery, but to make it complete required our ratification, and, before doing so, the validity and constitutionality of the proclamation and act of Congress should be tested before the Supreme Court of the United States. He recognized the right of the United States to pass laws for the punishment of crime, but as a State could not commit treason—the commission of that offence being confined to individuals, who were alone responsible—and they could not be deprived of their property except on trial and conviction, those who had not been guilty of treason, could not be deprived of their property, although in slaves. Congress had no right to seize the property of an offender, after death, when it should revert to his heirs. He believed that the acts of some men in their haste to get back into the Union, would cause us to lose the respect of the conservative men of the North. To admit the right of the Federal head by proclamation to nullify the Constitution of a State, was to concede the loss of a republic and the sovereignty of the States. The present course proposed by the majority report was one of expediency, and he was not prepared to sacrifice rights, honor, and property to it, although there was a great anxiety to get members elected to Congress. He denied that the President's Proclamation demanded of the State the abolition of slavery as a test of loyalty, although the bayonet had done its work; that a State could not forfeit its rights, but citizens might. This was the loyal State of Alabama, and must be so regarded, yet were it not through force no member would vote to abolish slavery. We had no guarantee that the sacrifice would be accepted or that our members of Congress would be admitted; nothing would satisfy the Radicals of the North. He contended that on this great principle of State rights the North was as deeply interested as the South, and that the precedent of yielding as proposed by the majority report was too dangerous. We should accept the freeing of the slaves by the act of the Federal Executive and the bayonet, and it was not the free and voluntary act of the people of Alabama. He believed that when the country returned to its reason, those who had lost their property and who had not participated in the rebellion, would be compensated, but the ordinauce proposed put an estoppel on all reclamations.
Judge Foster, of Calhoun County, replied as follows:
The war had settled two questions forever, one that of secession, the other of slavery. They had been settled by a power whose decision was binding and final and from which there was no appeal—the power of the sword. Disputes between individuals could be settled by events, but they have no power to adjust differences between States and nations. They must be adjusted by compromise and negotiation or submitted to the arbitrament of the sword. The decisions of the Supreme Court were not respected or obeyed even by political parties. In McEndrick's case the court decided the United States Bank to be constitutional, yet the United States Bank was destroyed mainly on the ground of its unconstitutionality. The decision had no power to preserve the Constitution. So in the Dred Scott case, the decision gave the South all they claimed on the slavery question. It had no practical effect, only to exasperate the Republican party. The State of Georgia at an earlier period, set at defiance the mandate of the Supreme Court.
The substitute offered by Mr. White proposed to await the action of the Supreme Court. It was immaterial what that action was, so far as it secured us any practical benefit. If we went no further than this substitute proposed, the convention have assembled prematurely, and we ought to adjourn.
The first ordinance reported by the committee asserted a fact, apparent to every one, that the institution of slavery had been destroyed, not deciding when or how, whether constitutionally or unconstitutionally. Gentlemen could select their own ground. First, the act of Congress and the President's Proclamation; second, by the military power of the Government of the United States—the occupation of our country by armed soldiers—the estabishment of the Freedmen's Bureau, and the practical severing of the tie between master and slave. The ordinance also asserted the proposition that we would not revive slavery. This was an impossibility. The Government of the United States in every department was unalterably determined that slavery should no longer exist. The edict had gone forth, and we were powerless to resist it. We were a subjugated people, and our conquerors could dictate their own terms. We could not resist the power of the Government. The overpowering force of public opinion at the North, backed by a million of bayonets, and the universal sentiments of the civilized world, were against us. We had tried this in the way of our strength and failed.
We could not reduce the negroes to slavery if the United States would withdraw their forces and stand aloof. We were exhausted, and the attempt would lead to a recnactment of the bloody scenes of St. Domingo. The Assembly of France abolished Slavery in that island—no insurrection followed. Afterwards the Assembly repealed the law, the planters attempted to subject the negro again to slavery, and then the insurrection broke out in all its force. Such would be the case now, and after scenes of horror, and carnage, and blood, one race or the other would be exterminated and Alabama a desert.
The country needed repose. The people had made up their minds that slavery was gone, and were accommodating themselves to the new order of things. It was wrong to awaken delusive hopes that could never be satisfied. Our wisest course was in good faith to accept the situation and restore our relations with the Federal Union—reorganize our State Government, that law and order might again prevail in the land. By industry and energy our national prosperity may be restored, our fields ripen again with the richest harvest, commerce and manufactures revive: our cities rebuilt and schools crowded with scholars; peace, and order, and happiness over our land, and Alabama again become a great State in this great nation.