William Wilkins to James Watson Webb, March 26, 1860

    Source citation
    William Wilkins to James Watson Webb, March 26, 1860, Homewood, PA, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.
    Date Certainty
    Leni Petrov, Dickinson College
    Adapted by Don Sailer, Dickinson College
    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.

    Homewood, Mar. 26, 1860.

    My dear General Webb,

    Notwithstanding it was heartily welcome, and gave the high pleasure, your letter dated March the 9th. has remained without acknowledgement until this Monday morning of cold March snow and winds—filling and covering one with those horrible chills, which some of you, the descendants of Knickerbocker and Rip Van Winkle, of warm african blood, will so sensibly feel and be overwhelmed by, about the ides of next November—unless you very speedily open your eyes and see the errors of your ways.
    In addition to what I derived from your recollection of me and all your kind sentiments, much was given to me by [illegible] description of your home and your beautiful rural residence upon the Hudson—some where in the neighborhood, I presume, of the scenes where your revolutionary and patriotic Father, the companion and associate of Washington, displayed his courage and faced perils for the White race, never dreaming he was fighting for kidnapped Africans of the Lowest order of human beings upon the present political and newly discovered doctrines (republican) outrageously forced and technical; that all men are born equally free—that the Revolution was convinced and gained for, and the Constitution of ’87 made for, the Blacks as well as the Whites—that the general phrase “we the people of the U. States includes the African as well as the American &c. to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves do includes the African as well as the American--ordain &c. &c.—that negroes can be made citizens of the U. States—and should have secured to them all the political and social rights of the white population. This very liberal social condition might do very well somewhere “down-east” where the two colors are by legislative enactments encouraged to join together in the holy bonds of matrimony for the production of a motley race of mules; and, more particularly, in that select region where “bundling” is one of their most delightful social enjoyments! What says a gentleman of your taste, refinement and proclivities to the kind of union and social converse to which many wild fanatics now a days are rapidly advancing?

    Whatever may have been, for a while, my impressions, and, I might say some alarm, upon the wild madness of Brown’s treason, I never could have dreamed of including yourself and such men as Mr. Seward, and others to whom I might allude, in any wicked and treasonable scheme for the dissolution of the Union—That is beyond the reach of the power of men—save by violence, bloodshed and civil and servile war. There can be no peaceful constitutional infraction of the confederacy—no withdrawal, or secession, without pulling down the entire wonderfully and wildly constructed fabric. In my mind, take away a fractional part, the whole must come down and you must begin de novo. You may call my native state the “Keystone of the arch”; but, with me, each state is a “Keystone”-

    Beware! In whatever I may say—for I am past the day of action—you must not suppose I include you and your immediate friends in certain mad, fanatical category as full of political wickedness as was John Brown—but destitute of his courage—if, wild madness can be called courage. I refer to such men as Giddings, Mrs. Abby Kelley, Greeley and Lucy Stone, Smith, Phillips and Mrs. Childs.&c. &c.

    I have read your speech—your “campaign document” with much care—every syllable of it. Like a son of your Father, you adhere to the constitution; you view it above all price. Then there is no danger from you. In its administrations the People, your Masters, (you don’t like that word) will keep you all right. Give me the integrity of the Constitution, and then all his safe. A fig for your fanatics, and damn my aging! In fact—a fig for every thing unless mixed up with a goodly portion of that elixir of political health, what you and I call “old federal blood.” How often do my friends hereabouts say to me in our little good natured political discussions—“Now Judge, that is the old federal blood oozing out of you!”

    In your very excellent campaign speech—well and adroitly analyzed, you escape from the essential and vital question. The point is—that whither Congress or, its ephemeral creation, its territorial legislature, has the constitutional right to touch the question of slavery. Where is the power granted? If Congress cannot exercise the power of admission, or interdiction of slavery in the territory, how can that mere creature—its agent—held under and pinched by its forefinger and thumb—the inbred territorial Legislature—undertake to go beyond the power of the Body that created it? When the Territory acquires age and population and is about to emerge from its “cocoon” and appear in its condition of a sovereign state, then let it exercise that great organic authority and regulate the mighty question of slavery. It is merely a question of time. Shame on you, for your loss of every drop of federal blood! Where is the great right of migration? You would have a system, as in Europe, of passports into every territorial wilderness! Let me cite a case—as my profession often says. In the late Mexican war, the South Carolina rgt. was cut to pieces. Its gallant Colonel lost his life. Those men and that Colonel gave their lives to acquire Mexican Territory to be connected into U.S. Territory. The widow and the orphan children of that Colonel, after the shock of their loss passes off, May look about for a new home and attempt, with but a single infant slave, to pass into one of those new territories, where, possibly, the grave of the Father is to be found; and on the border they meet such crazy fanatics as Greeley and Mrs. Childs, claiming the right to scrutinize this South Carolina afflicted family, and they discover in the cradle the poor little negro—their madness is reared and the family are interdicted and driven back! Yet, yankee clock pedlers and Yankee tin cart pedlers and Massachusetts shoemakers upon an unlawful mobish “strike”, complaining that they are “slaves” at home, that their masters whether feed or clothe them, can freely migrate to a new territory from which southern families are excluded! To you, more particularly, this discrimination must be peculiarly odious, unjust and unconstitutional. For, in your “campaign document” you frankly admit that the African race is far better cared for in bondage than they could be in the condition of freedom. Emancipation you condemn. What ruin and human misery would follow such an act! It is becoming more impracticable and distant every day.

    In the wild fanaticism of the day—I apply not this language to you—Friendship forbid it! I mean in the context of the day, what becomes of the objects of the constitution to “insure domestic tranquility and to “promote the general welfare”? Upon this attempted inhibition to migrate by southern men and their families with their domestic establishments, their appendages and their property, what becomes of the great principle of Equality guaranteed to States as well as to individual citizens?

    But, whither am I running? I am running into a territorial wilderness of discussion. When I sat down I only thought of warm friendship undated and of good old social times. I intended to have told you something of myself, of my home and my ways. But, that pamphlet has driven all such things out of my head and set if off a “a wool gathering.” I would still say something a little more personal, but, it is now too late, for I have no hope you will reach as far as this line. Wait for another snow storm in March—or a Tornado in November.

    One gentleman never writes a hasty, or blotted, letter to another. Excuse me, for I have violated this rule of good breeding.

    Still another word before I bid you farewell. Since the early days of those distinguished statesmen whose sentiments you quote in your speech, the condition of the blacks has vastly changed, and the question of slavery now presents a different phase. The great increase in the slave population and in the high value of their labor—the extension of the cotton lands, their vast products and the high price of the staple and its almost unlimited demand in Europe; its national importance in the payment of our commercial indebtedness; the immense amount of capital invested by our fellow citizens of nearly one half the states of the Union in slave interests and property – all combine to press us to hold fast by the Union and to sustain the institutions for which the great Revolution was achieved and the Constitution formed. What’s the matter with you? What ails you? Under the influence of a mawkish, sickening and diseased philanthropy, charity, benevolence and mistaken humanity you would overturn and involve in strife, blood, and, really, an “irrepressible contest” the fairest land, the best people and the wisest institutions upon the face of the earth; and all for a race of beings—themselves the only authors of slavery, and where the members of the same family kidnap one another, bind and sell into slavery—the father the child and the child the parent to a northern captain and a northern built slaver!

    Now, the last word “by particular desire.” I predict—this mean and dirty work carried on by the British Government in Canada in recovering, harboring and protecting “Fugitives from labor”—in truth “receiving stolen property,” should be, and will be, corrected. It will before long gravely engage the Diplomacy of the Country.

    Mrs. W. has just looked over this horrible letter, and tells me to burn it and begin again. I will not do it. for, I don’t obey in all tings.

    Good bye—and believe me ever
    Yr. friend.

    Wm Wilkins

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