Jan 12, 1857 - Thomas W. Thomas to Alexander Hamilton Stephens

    Source citation
    Thomas, Thomas W., Elberton, GA, to Alexander H. Stephens, 12 January 1857. As printed in The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb, Vol. 2, ed. Ulrich Bonnel Philips. Washington D.C.: American Historical Association Annual Report, 1911, p. 389-393.
    Author (from)
    Thomas W. Thomas
    Recipient (to)
    Stephens, Alexander Hamilton
    Date Certainty
    Meghan Allen
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible.

    ELBERTON [GA.], 12 January, 1857.


    I wrote you by the last mail in reply to yours of the 29th of December and closed with a promise to write again in a few days. My suggestions in relation to the course proposed by you of publishing your Lexington Speech were hastily penned and I have carefully considered the matter since. This more mature consideration has strengthened the conviction that you ought not for any reason to open or give a pretext for opening the controversy in the newspapers. If a false impression has been made by Hill in regard to that meetings, it must remain—there is not help for it. But I have not the remotest idea that anything he has said can hurt you or that anything he may say or do can help him. His plea of conscience and religion is ridiculous, and there is not a man in the world so much a fool as not to see it. The whole matter has convinced me not only that he is without courage but also that he is destitute of good judgment and sense. If he had any judgment he would have foreseen from your first letter that you intended to make a point on him, I mean a fighting point, and knowing he would not fight (for certainly he knew it at the start) he ought either to have given the necessary denial unaccompanied with a fresh provocation or else begun then his character of Christian and played it consistently from the beginning. As it is, there is not consistency in his professions, and every body can and do understand that he is merely a gasconading coward who puts on the livery of heaven to save his bacon. In this land of Bibles all know it is as much against God’s law to revile even when you have been reviled or to call one a liar as it is to kill. This is obliged to be the judgment of every man of sense, and yet I have no idea it has ever occurred to him that such will be the opinion even of his friends who have the faculty of reasoning. I am well satisfied there is a screw loose somewhere in his intellectual machinery. In your next race for Congress there will be some talk about voting for a duelist and all that but the result will not vary five votes against you on account of recent transactions, and upon the whole I think you will gain, for out of the two or three thousand Know Nothings in the 8th dist. There must be some two or three hundred who are men of courage and in their hearts despise a coward.

    I fully subscribe to all you say about having done what you felt to be your duty in the matter and not caring what outsiders may say or think. No gentleman will fail to do anything for his own vindication because popular clamor may arise. So to fail would be the meanest cowardice. But I would regard public opinion this much—it is frequently a weapon to annoy or destroy your enemy, it is the very breath of a coward’s nostrils and I would hurl it upon him with all the force I could give it. I was about to say I regarded it just as a solider does his gun but this would be too respectable a figure—I would rather compare it to a Yankee wire trap, it is a capital think to catch and choke vermin to death. One loses nothing by having public opinion on his side and it may greatly annoy one’s enemy—if he is a weak man and a coward it will destroy. A coward alone it cannot destroy, witness Cone’s case; he is not weak in the upper story and has no screw loose. Upon the whole I don’t think it a very valuable weapon, but worth taking along. There were the considerations which induced me to urge the publication of the correspondence; that your card might have the justification in the opinion of the public which the whole truth is entitled to. The card had my full approbation, and in view of the insulting and bullying tone of his second letter it would have been weakness in you to have spared him. I can say to you now that if he had met you on the field I saw no way of stopping the combat short of bloodshed or an unconditional apology from him for writing it. If he had been game, that letter could only have been written to make the meeting bloody; and knowing that no man in sense would do that on the case between you prior to that, I was able to come to the conclusion that he would not fight and so told Linton when he brought me your challenge. Linton thought he was going to fight but I never did, either before or after your card. To tell you the truth I rather expected he would have me arrested for carrying him the challenge and I got Linton to go along to Atlanta for the purpose of giving him for security if he did. Indeed I shall not consider myself safe until after the next term of Troup court—he may yet procure an indictment from the grand jury. If he does I shall plead guilty and not trust an infernal Know Nothing jury in the county on the point of a recommendation to put me in the penitentiary, for the scamps might do it. But enough of him—one good has resulted at least: he is killed off I think so far as the next race for Governor is concerned, which he probably would have made on his side but for this quarrel and its consequences.

    Our county elections went here to our entire satisfaction, so I understand they did Oglethrope. The Know Nothings were turned out there I heard. We agreed upon a ticket in this county for judges, taking three and giving them two. For Receiver two antis ran, so also for Collector, and no Know Nothing. For Ordinary our friend Buck Edwards beat his opponet 130 votes out of six hundred polled—no elected held at two decided Democratic precincts. Buck was beat one year ago for Clerk of the Superior Court. They are entirely dispirited in this county and we shall gain on them rapidly and surely. I think we may count on 250 in this county, perhaps three hundred. Heretofore they have always controlled the two groceries in this county and through that means caught every floater. I am laying plans to break into that arrangement hereafter and if I fail I shall see to it that a new Buchanan grocery out and out is established and well stocked before the next election.

    I am strongly solicited to run for the Senate next summer, and believe I would have no opposition; but I have no ideas of doing it. My future connexion with politics (if any) must pay or I am ruined, and I don’t intend that shall take place. In truth I am tired and sick of the whole matte, too much so ever to get into harness for the love of the thing. We are making a great to do about the rights of our section, when the fact is there are results in our state government which would induce me a thousand times quicker to resistance by arms than anything Fremont’s party ever did or threatened. I say this, and I will stand by it and maintain it against all controvertors. If my state were to call on me tomorrow to take arms in her defence I would do it and adjourn my grievances; but so help me God, I for one would be for never laying them down until some matters were settled at home. The blood and humours of the body politic have become so vitiated and corrupted that it needs a thorough shaking and purging to be purified, and I am getting to be willing to give it this shaking and purging even at the risk of the death of the patient.
    I see many rumors and letters in the paper about Buchanan’s intended course in relation to Kansas. I have some fear that all will not be well. Kansas must come in as a slave state or the cause of southern rights is dead. And I don’t refer here to any balance of the federal system of any fool idea of that sort. I care nothing how her Senators and Representatives may vote. It has been predicted by the enemies of Southern rights at home that the plan of her organization would lead to free soil. We have led the people to believe otherwise; if their prediction is fulfilled and history should write the verdict against us, we go down, and such knaves as Ben Jill & Co. will rule during the present generation. Mark this prediction. I am here away from the steam and smoke of the boiling cauldron and in many respect better able to judge than those who surround it. We can’t afford to lose the point. We must have it our way or we are ruined. To stop to cavil and dispute about this or that course being in accordance with the act of organization or not is as great folly as to open moot courts to argue constitutional questions when the citadel of our liberties and existence is surrounded and assaulted. If Buchanan should secretly favor the free-state men of Kansas, as I see it charged he will, and succeed in bringing it in as a free-State, he will richly deserve death, and I hope some patriotic hand will inflict it. In such an event there will be no hope for the South but a bloody revolution, and the stake will be worth the contest. Pierce, notwithstanding his fine writing, has been paltering with us all the time, keeping the promise to the ear and breaking it to the hope. He has all along done everything in his power to bring it in as a free state and but for his natural deficiency of intellectual calibre on this and all other matters he would have succeeded. Hence he never would appoint any but a Northern man Governor there. If he had been with us he would after Reeder’s treachery have appointed Atchison or Whitfield. In the late case when the Judge bailed one of our friends and Geary committed perjury, a breach of his official oath, when he violated and disregarded it, and Pierce did the same thing when he made the act his own by approving it and discharging Lecompte. This thing has been done and avowed, and no one opens his mouth, yet we are the sons of the sires of ’76. We be dammed—we are a disgrace to our lineage. Such executive interference with the independence of the judiciary would have set England in a blaze and discharged any ministry in ten days, and yet we Constitution-governed and Constitution-loving Americans submit without a murmur. An impeachment neither of the President nor Geary has been hinted at. As gross an infraction of the Constitution occurred in Polk’s time and nothing was said about it. It was the Mexican insurrection near Santa Fé after General Kearny had conquered the country and left Col. Sterling Price of Missouri in command. He hung one of the parties for treason. Polk said the Del Norte was our boundary and on this along he placed his justification for beginning the war. He could place it on not other; if the Del Norte was our boundary the Mexican whom Col. Price hung was guilty of murder if he killed and treason if he levied war. In the account of the transaction we read of a clerk of the court, a sheriff, district attorney and all the usual machinery for executive civil justice, and yet the offender was hung by sentence of a drum-head court martial. Polk instead of having him, Price, tried and hung for this act of usurpation and murder, promoted him to a Brigadier. Benton pretends to write a history for the purpose, he says, of “showing the workings of our system.” This transaction he dispatches with these words: “many were killed in action and others hung for high treason—being tried by some sort of a court which had no jurisdiction of treason.” He occupies forty pages with the mutiny on board the brig Somers, commanded by Slidell McKenzie. He is a humbug—he does not understand our system nor constitutional principles and does not know the truth by sight—McKenzie committed a murder prompted by his cowardly fears but he violated no principle of the constitution. The great principle of civil government which lies at the foundation of all liberty, that the military shall be subordinate to the civil power and which limits the power of a military commander to his muster roll, was here disregarded and trampled under foot and Polk rewarded the usurper and criminal—the Senate who ought to have judged and condemned him confirmed his deed and gave their sanction to the reward. Benton does not see and does not tell it. I called public attention to it in a communication at the time in the Constitutionalist signed Taos but those sleepless guardians of the public weal, as they style themselves, called editors, took no notice and could not understand what was as plain as the nose on one’s face.

    But I must close—it is late and I am tired and have written this by snatches as I had leisure.

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