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Fifth Congressional District.—Letter to Judge Stone.—Is nominated for Congress.-Know Nothing l’arty.—The Canvass.-Letters.— IIis Position in Congress.-Great Speech on the Neutrality Laws. —Its Effect.—Letter from James K. Paulding.—Col. E. G. W. Butler.—Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright.
1855. ON the 23d of July the democracy of the fifth congressional district (so long and so ably represented by a distinguished senator from Mississippi that it is still called Brown's district) assembled in convention at Monticello. Several prominent gentlemen were spoken of as candidates. It being announced that one of the delegates had a letter from Gen. Quitman, the reading was called for.
“Monmouth, July 19th, 1855.
“DEAR SIR,--I was prevented by some pressing cares from replying promptly to your letter of the 27th ult, and I now have the pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of that of the 15th inst... I feel grateful to you and my friends in the east for this kind consideration, and, without troubling you with the detail of my own reflections upon the subject of this unexpected proposal, I will frankly and briefly state the conclusions to which I have arrived.
“As to my own personal inclinations, I am not solicitous of a nomination to Congress; and, at any time when the danger to Southern rights and institutions was less imminent, I would decline it, but I feel that when the enemies of our domestic institutions are marshaling their forces for a deadly assault upon us, no Southern man has a right to decline any post of duty to which the public voice may assign him.
“If, therefore, the convention assembled to nominate a candidate for Congress in this district shall see fit to select me, such as I am, with the opinions and positions which I hold, and upon which I have ever boldly acted, I would accept the nomination, and, if elected, endeavor to represent the people of this district faithfully, truly, and scarlessly.
“My political opinions and positions are so well known that I need not refer to them. To avoid misconception on some points, however, I will remark that they remain / unchanged, as when you and I acted together in o/ A State-rights Democrat of the strictest school, I hav / no political connection or assinity with any othor party; More devoted to principles than party, I would support no measures emanating from any source that conflicted with these cherished principles. --- - ,
“I believe that the institution of negro slavery is not only right and proper, but the natural and normal condition of the superior and inferior races when in contact; that, as the chief element of our country's prosperity, it constitutes a great interest, which is entitled, like other great interests, to the fostering care and protection of the federal government, within the sphere of its powers; that legislation or action directly or indirectly hostile to this interest, is at war with our compact of union, and should be resisted by the states and the people affected by it at all hazards; that the preservation of the institution of slavery in Cuba, which can only be effected by her independence and separation from the malign influence of European governments is essential to the safety and preservation of our own system; that our government ought not to thwart, but rather encourage, by all proper means, the dislusion of American republican institutions on this continent; that it is consistent with the designs of Providence, and our right and duty not to restrain, but to encourage the Caucasian white race to carry humanity, civilization, and progress to the rich and fertile countries south of us, which now, in the occupation of inferior and mixed races, lic undeveloped and useless, furnishing only a theatre of operations for British intrigue to annoy us; that the policy of our government, in regard to these momentous questions, has been
too much influenced by the prevalent spirit of hostility to negro slavery, and the determination not to permit its extension; that, upon all matters connected with our peculiar domestic institution, the South must look to herself; that no national party organization will fully protect us; that, while honestly differing on other subjects, the patriot should seek to keep our people united on this, and that, therefore, it is highly impolitic and injurious, in our party contests about issues less vital, to indulge in violent denunciation of those who differ from us politically. I should, therefore, in a canvass principally discuss these momentous issues, and, while freely criticising erroneous or false doctrine, endeavor to calm, not to excite high party feeling on other subjects less vital and important. “If left free to urge these views in connection with the great and permanent principles of democracy, I should not feel at liberty to decline the nomination if it should be tendered to me. “While this letter is private, in answer to your suggestions, you are at liberty to make such use of it as you think proper. “Appreciating sincerely the kindness which prompted your communications, I remain, very respectfully, your friend and obedient servant, J. A. QUITMAN. “To Hon. W. A. Stone, Monticello.”
These sentiments were received with acclamations. The names of all the other gentlemen were voluntarily withdrawn, and John A. Quitman was declared the nominee of the Convention.
The Know Nothing organization—the strangest infatuation of our times—was then sweeping over the country like a tornado, obliterating the ancient and wholesome landmarks of parties, and setting up a new idol in the temples where our fathers had worshiped. Concealing its illegal tests, its oaths, and its ambitious designs under the disguise of Americanism, it appealed to a national sentiment which, for the time, was irresistible, and which never could have been resisted but for the fearful evils that lurked beneath, and had been concealed from the masses of its neophytes. It practically repudiated the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, rejected the right of free discussion and freedom of conscience, required the sacrifice of personal independence, threatened the subversion of the rights of the states as sovereign members of the confederacy, and, in the assertion of the inexorable sway of the majority, would, in time, have reversed the character and terms of our government, substituting the decrees of its clubs for the reserved rights of the states and the covenants of the Union.
The whole tendency of the organization was to centralization, like the clubs of Paris, that commenced with philosophical declamations against political evils, and endcd in the most fearful and bloody tyranny that ever afflicted mankind. Regarding it in this light, as hostile to his long-cherished principles of conservative and constitutionnal guarantees, Quitman accepted a nomination when it was claimed that over two thirds of the voters of the district had been inducted into the order. He had, however, no apprehension. IIo considered its tenure of short duration, and that its greatest present practical evil was to divert the public mind in the South from great issues and principles that should not be lost sight of, and which were at that moment subjected to the crucible in Kansas. Indeed, he believed that this was the real motive of the Northern politicians who organized the order. IIe therefore paid but little attention to it in his canvass, considering it as but a nightmare which would be dispelled when the sleeper awoke, but usually confined himself, and thus compelled his adroit and talented opponent, to the discussion of the vital principles that control the relations of the states to the federal government.
The following notes of his opening speech will show the character of the whole:
“1. My position: since 1851 have not mingled in party strifes: devoted to Southern rights, and to the cause of liberty: I am no mere party man: have little faith in national organization to secure our national rights.
“2. Nominated by the Democratic Convention with a full knowledge of my peculiar views: nomination generously conferred without solicitation or intrigue: demanded no pledges: knew that the temptations of national popularity would not seduce me, nor menaces deter me, nor party zeal decoy me from defending Southern rights: that I would never sacrifice principle to support men: with a toleration that distinguishes the Democracy, they exacted no pledges, but found them in my ast life. p “3. Thus I enter the canvass; and I shall not, if it can be avoided, permit myself to be drawn from great and vital issues to mere party discussion: such discussions are for place-hunters, not for statesmen or the
le. 2: The great overshadowing question of our time is the question of races, philosophically, as connected with society, and politically, as recognized and defined in the Constitution of the to. States. “5. Influence of the institution of slavery on morals, national wealth, production, progress, war, and peace. “6. Effect of its abolition. “7. Political abolition: its growth and power: effects in California, Ransas, and in the North and East: now violently aggressive: threatens to control our foreign policy: to discriminate against our production: to change our judicial system: to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law: to abolish slavery in the district: to refuse admittance to any slave state: to exclude it from the territories: to encourage abolition in Cuba: to circumscribe it with free territory: to foment and aid domestic insurrection. “8. The resources of the anti-slavery organization. “0. Duty of the South: their means of resistance: the necessity of resistance.”
These views he elaborated with great vigor and earnestness. He had been long represented as a disunionist among a people proverbial for their attachment to