Address of the Southern Convention

    Source citation
    "Address of the Southern Convention," Charleston (SC) Mercury, June 20, 1850, p. 2. 
    Original source
    Nashville (TN) Banner
    Newspaper: Publication
    Charleston (SC) Mercury
    Newspaper: Headline
    Address of the Southern Convention
    Newspaper: Page(s)
    Date Certainty
    Stephen Acker
    Transcription date
    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.

    From the Nashville Banner, June 15

    Address of the Southern Convention.

    To the People of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas


    In obedience to the commands of those we represent, we have assembled together to confer with each other concerning your relation with the General Government and the non-slaveholding States of the Union, on the subject of the institution of slavery. We deem it proper to lay before you as briefly as the subject will permit, the result of our deliberations and councils.

    In order that your condition may be understood, and the conclusions at which we have arrived be justly appreciated, it is necessary briefly to refer to a few past transactions.

    It is now sixteen years since the institution of slavery in the South began to be agitated in Congress and assailed by our sister States. Up to that time, the people of the Northern States seemed to have respected the rights reserved to the Southern States by the Constitution, and to have acted under the conviction, that the subject of slavery being beyond the legislation of Congress, all agitation with respect to it on the part of Congress, was equally forbidden by the Constitution. But at this time, a portion of the people of the North began to assail, in Congress, the institution of slavery, and to accomplish their object of dragging it to the vortex of congressional agitation, they claimed the right of petitioning Congress upon all subjects whatsoever. As a petition is only the first step in legislation, it was clear that a right to petition a legislative body, must be limited by its powers of legislation. No one can have a right to ask of another to do that which he has no moral or legal right to do. Nor can any tribunal have the power to receive and consider any matter beyond its jurisdiction. The claim therefore to present petitions to Congress on the subjects of slavery, was considered by the Southern Representatives generally, as an attempt indirectly to assume jurisdiction over the subject itself, in all parts of the Union. The object, without disguise, was the overthrow of slavery in the States;

     but our assailants framed the petitions presented chiefly against the slavery in the District of Columbia and our Territories, and against what they call the internal slave trade—that is, the transmission of slaves from one Southern State to another. Conscious of the fatal tendency of the agitation of slavery in congress, to destroy the peace and stability of the Union, an effort was made, supported by a large portion of the Northern Representatives, to suppress it by a rule in the House of Representatives, which provided that all petitions on the subject of slavery, should be neither considered, printed or referred. This rule was assailed by the people of the northern States, as violating that clause of the Constitution which prohibits Congress from passing laws to prevent the people from peaceably assembling and petitioning for a redress of grievances. In December, 1844, this rule fell before the almost unanimous vote of the North; and thus the unlimited power of introducing and considering the subject of slavery in Congress, was asserted. In the mean time, the course of the Northern people showed clearly, that the agitation of slavery in Congress was only one of the means they relied on to overthrow this institution throughout the Union. Newspapers were set up amongst them, and lecturers were hired to go abroad to excite them against slavery in the Southern States. Organizations were formed to carry off slaves form the South, and to protect them by violence from recapture. Although the Constitution requires that fugitive slaves, like fugitives from justice, should be rendered up by the States to which they may have fled, the Legislatures of almost every Northern State, faithless to this treaty stipulation between the States, passed laws designed and calculated entirely to defeat this provision of the Constitution, without which the Union would have never existed, and by these laws virtually nullified the act of 1794, passed by Congress to its enforcement. Not content with the agitation of slavery in political circles, the Northern people forced it also into the religious associations extending over the Union, and produced a separation of the Methodist and Baptist churches. The results of all these various methods of assailing slavery in the Southern States, was, that it became the grand topic of interest and discussion in Congress and out of Congress, and one of the most important elements of politics in the Union. Thus an institution, belonging to the Southern States exclusively, was wrested from their exclusive control; and instead of that protection which is the great object of all governments, and which the Constitution of the United States guaranties to all the States and their institutions, the Northern States, and Congress under their control, combined together, to assail and destroy slavery in the South. The Southern States did nothing to vindicate their rights and arrest this course of things. The Mexican War broke out; and instead of that patriotic co-operation of all sections of the union, which would have taken place in the better days of the Republic, to bring it to a just and honorable conclusion, in the very first appropriation bill to carry it on, the North endeavored to thrust in the subject of slavery. Throughout the war, they kept up the agitation; thus clearly manifesting their determination that the General Government in none of its operations, internal or external, shall be exempted from the introduction of this dangerous subject. The war closed with honor; and an immense territory was added to the United States. Their previous threats were realized; and the non-slaveholding States immediately claimed the right to exclude the people of the Southern States from all the territory acquired, and to appropriate it to themselves. If this pretension arose from a mere lust of power, it would be hard to bear the superiority and mastery it implies. It would degrade the Southern States from being the equals of the Northern States, to a position of colonial inferiority. But when your exclusion is not from a mere lust of power, but is only a further step in the progress of things, aiming at the abolition of slavery in the States, by the extension and multiplication of non-slaveholding States in the Union, the pretension is seen to be as alarming as it is insulting. The Southern States, in their Legislatures, set forth with great unanimity, the rights in our territories belonging to them in common with the Northern States, and declared their determination to maintain them: and finding in the Northern States no disposition to abate their demands, the Convention in which we are assembled, has been brought together to take counsel as to the course the Southern States should pursue, for the maintenance of their rights, liberty and honor.

    Such is a brief, but imperfect statement of past transactions; and they force upon us the question, in what condition do they place the Southern States? And first what is their condition in Congress? The time was when your Representatives in Congress were neither offered, nor would they endure reproach in your behalf. But for many years past, they have heard you in Congress habitually reviled by the most opprobrious epithets on account of the institution of slavery. If their spirits are yet unbroken, they must be chilled by a sense of humiliation at the insults they daily receive as your representatives. You are arraigned as criminals. Slavery is dragged into every debate, and Congress has become little else, than a grand instrument in the hands of abolitionists to degrade and ruin the South. Instead of peace and protection, aggression and insult on the South characterize its proceedings and councils. And what is your condition, with respect your sister States? Where is that respect and comity, which (due from all nations towards each other) is more especially due from States bound together in a confederacy, and which was once displayed in all their intercourse; instead of respect and sympathy –denunciation and hospitality, on account of your institution of slavery, have for years past characterized the communications addressed to you by the Northern States. And what is your condition in the Union? The non-slaveholding States stand combined, not only to wrest from you your common property, but to place upon your front, the brand of inferiority. You are the power by two thirds in Congress and three fourths of the States, to amend the Constitution, and then have its express sanction to consummate their policy. Your condition is progressive.

    If from the past transactions we have narrated, we learn our condition in the Union, they teach us also that our past policy of non-action and submission to aggression cannot bring us peace and safety. When the doors of Congress were thrown open to agitation on the subject of slavery, if the Southern States had moved with energy to avert a state of things unconstitutional itself, and surely tending to bring the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States into collision, although late, it might not have been too late to stop subsequent encroachments upon our rights. But the Southern States were passive; and their forbearance has had the effect of inspiring the Northern people with the belief that either we value a union with them more than we value the institution of slavery, or that we dare not move from a conscious inability to protect ourselves. You have ungenerously stood still whilst your supporters and the defenders of the Constitution of the Northern States, in their efforts to protect you from the agitations of slavery in Congress, have been politically annihilated, or have turned your foes. You have tamely acquiesced, until to hate and persecute the South, has become a high passport to honor and power in the Union. You have unwisely stood still, whilst year after year the volume of anti-slavery policy and sympathy has swollen into unanimity throughout all the non-slaveholding States, and the sections of the Union now face each other in stern collision. You have waited until the Constitution of the United States is in danger of being virtually abolished, or of becoming what the majority of Congress think proper to make it. That great principle on which our system of free government rests, of so dividing the power of Government, that to a common Government only those powers should be granted which must affect all the people composing it equally in their operation, whilst all powers over all interests, local or sectional, should be reserved to local or sectional Governments, it is in danger of being uprooted from their Constitution. Local and sectional interests absorb the time and business of Congress, and thus a sectional despotism, totally irresponsible to the people of the South, constituted of the Representatives in Congress from the non-slaveholding States, ignorant of our feelings, condition and institutions reigns at Washington. These are the fruits of your past forbearance and submission.

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