Sunday, November 3, 2019

Howell Cobb to A Committee of Citizens in Charleston, S. C.,* November 4, 1848

Athens [ga.], November [4?], 1848.

Gentlemen: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your circular, accompanied by the proceedings of the “Democratic Taylor Party” of Charleston on the first instant.

Flattered with this evidence of your confidence I cannot hesitate to express to you the feelings which the reception of your communication under the circumstances by which we are now surrounded has excited.

My attention having been called in your circular to the proceedings of your meeting, I have been induced to give it a somewhat critical examination. Whilst I find in that paper much to admire and approve, I must express my unfeigned regret that the able pen which claims its authorship has failed to trace the history of the interesting question which it discusses in many aspects in which it is our interest as well as our duty to consider it.

No truth is more plainly written in the political history of our country than the one which teaches us of the continued inroads which northern fanaticism has unceasingly attempted upon our peculiar institutions. Forgetful of the active and profitable part which their fathers took in the measures which led to the permanent establishment of domestic slavery in the South, a portion of the northern people have waged a relentless warfare upon our rights, interests and feelings. It has been conducted with an energy that never tires and marked with an enthusiasm that fanaticism alone can enkindle. However insignificant its first beginnings may have been, I agree with you in the opinion you have expressed that it has now reached a point which challenges our attention and demands our most serious consideration. That we may read in the history of the last few months the fact that there exists on the part of a large portion of the northern people a settled purpose to deny to us our constitutional right to an equal participation in the Mexican territory so recently purchased with our joint blood and treasure, no one will pretend to call in question. This determination so recently sealed with the most solemn testimonial known to our constitution and laws puts at rest all doubt and cavilling upon this point. The extent to which it may cause itself to be felt in the legislative department of the government only remains to be seen.

In now setting upon the proper policy to be pursued by the South for the further maintenance of her just and constitutional rights we must institute a more scrutinizing inquiry into the political associations by which we are surrounded than seems to have occupied the attention of those who prepared the preamble and resolutions adopted at your meeting. I do not flatter myself that I shall be enabled to furnish you with any new facts upon a subject which has so properly claimed your serious attention, but I cannot refrain from a brief reference to some which you have omitted in this connection and which according to my apprehensions deserve to be most deliberately considered.

The course which the two political parties of the North have pursued towards the South is widely different, and it becomes us as well in reference to the duty we owe to ourselves as to others to mark that difference. It may save us from a false step in an important and delicate duty, and in any contingency can be productive of no harm. I will not stop now to trace the history of the abolition question in the halls of Congress as connected with the reception of abolition petitions, nor can it be necessary to remind you, Gentlemen, that during that eventful struggle the records of Congress will be searched in vain for the vote of a single Northern Whig given in favor of the exclusion of these petitions; and yet they were excluded for years by the almost united votes of Southern representatives with the aid of Northern democratic votes. Would it not therefore be unjust to adopt the language so often used by Southern men that all the north of both parties are equally untrue and unsound upon the slavery question?

But we approach a practical test and one which bears upon the point of our investigation. The North threatens to exclude us from the newly acquired territories of New Mexico and California by the enforcement of the Wilmot proviso. How stand the parties at the North upon this issue? Whilst a sufficient number of the Northern democrats both in the Senate and the House of Representatives have been found who in addition to the united Southern vote would defeat this measure so justly odious to us and thereby save the South from this gross aggression upon her rights, not a single Northern Whig in either branch of Congress has yet been produced who was willing to cast his vote in opposition to this measure of wrong and injustice. Does this fact speak no language of interest to the South? Was there nothing in it to command your consideration or awaken your sense of gratitude towards one portion of our Northern brethren whilst you complain with so much justice and propriety of the daring outrage sought to be done us by the other? Are friends and foes to be treated alike with indifference and scorn? Do we regard with the same feelings and emotions the men who have invoked all the powers of the General Government for our oppression and those who have with us declared that our peculiar institutions, whether in the states or territories, cannot be reached by any legislative act of the United States government?

For myself I have been disposed to regard with feelings of a vastly different character these two classes of Northern men. Taught by my experience and observation to look to the northern democracy whenever I sought for the friends of the South upon this important question beyond our own limits, I have watched their movements with an anxious interest and have as yet seen no cause to regret the confidence which I have been disposed to place in their professions of regard for our constitutional rights. When they consented and indeed urged the nomination of a distinguished citizen for the Presidency who had openly avowed his opposition to the Wilmot proviso I had indulged the hope that . . .

* From an incomplete draft in the handwriting of Howell Cobb among the Erwin papers.

SOURCE: Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Editor, The Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911, Volume 2: The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H. Stephens, and Howell Cobb, p. 133-5

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