Kentucky Governor Magoffin's Response to the Commissioner from Alabama

(Transcribed and proofed from The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series IV, vol. I, pp. 11-15.)

Frankfort, Ky., December 28, 1860.

Hon. S. F. HALE
Commissioner from the State of Alabama:

Your communication of the 27th instant, addressed to me by authority of the State of Alabama, has been attentively read. I concur with you in the opinion that the grave political issues yet pending and undetermined between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States of the Confederacy are of a character to render eminently proper and highly important a full and frank conference on the part of the Southern members, identified, as they undoubtedly are, by a common interest, bound together by mutual sympathies, and with the whole social fabric resting on homogeneous institutions. And coming as you do in a spirit of fraternity, by virtue of a commission from a sister Southern State, to confer with the authorities of this State in reference to the measures necessary to be adopted to protect the interests and maintain the honor and safety of the States and their citizens, I extend you a cordial welcome to Kentucky.

You have not exaggerated the grievous wrongs, injuries, and indignities to which the slave-holding States and their citizens have long submitted with a degree of patience and forbearance justly attributable alone to that elevated patriotism and devotion to the Union which would lead them to sacrifice well-nigh all save honor to recover the Government to its original integrity of administration and perpetuate the Union upon the basis of equality established by the founders of the Republic. I may even add that the people of Kentucky, by reason of their geographical position and nearer proximity to those who seem so madly bent upon the destruction of our constitutional guarantees, realize yet more fully than our friends farther south the intolerable wrongs and menacing dangers you have so elaborately recounted. Nor are you, in my opinion, more keenly alive than are the people of this State to the importance of arresting the insane crusade so long waged against our institutions and our society by measures which shall be certainly effective. The rights of African slavery in the United States and the relations of the Federal Government to it, as an institution in the States and Territories, most assuredly demand at this time explicit definition and final recognition by the North. The slave-holding States are now impelled by the very highest law of self-preservation to demand that this settlement should be concluded upon such a basis as shall not only conserve the institution in localities where it is now recognized, but secure its expansion, under no other restrictions than those which the laws of nature may throw around it. That unnecessary conflict between free labor and slave labor, but recently inaugurated by the Republican party as an element in our political struggles, must end, and the influence of soil, of climate, and local interests left unaided and unrestricted save by constitutional limitations to control the extension of slavery over the public domain. The war upon our social institutions and their guaranteed immunities waged through the Northern press, religious and secular, and now threatened to be conducted by a dominant political organization through the agency of State Legislatures and the Federal Government must be ended. Our safety, our honor, and our self-preservation alike demand that our interests be placed beyond the reach of further assault.

The people of Kentucky may differ variously touching the nature and theory of our complex system of government, but when called upon to pass upon these questions at the polls I think such an expression would develop no material variance of sentiment touching the wrongs you recite and the necessity of their prompt adjustment. They fully realize the fatal result of longer forbearance, and appreciate the peril of submission at this juncture. Kentucky would leave no effort untried to preserve the union of the States upon the basis of the Constitution as we construe it, but Kentucky will never submit to wrong and dishonor, let resistance cost what it may. Unqualified acquiescence in the administration of the Government upon the Chicago platform in view of the movements already inaugurated at the South and the avowed purposes of the representative men of the Republican party, would, I feel assured, receive no favor in this State. Whether her citizens shall, in the last resort, throw themselves upon the right of revolution as the inherent right of a free people never surrendered, or shall assert the doctrine of secession, can be of little practical import. When the time of action comes (and it is now fearfully near at hand) our people will be found rallied as a unit under the flag of resistance to intolerable wrong, and being thus consolidated in feeling and action, I may well forego any discussion of the abstract theories to which one party or another may hold to cover their resistance.

It is true that as sovereign political communities the States must determine, each for itself, the grave issues now presented; and it may be that, when driven to the dire extremity of severing their relations with the Federal Government, formal, independent, separate State action will be proper and necessary. But resting, as do these political communities, upon a common social organization, constituting the sole object of attack and invasion, confronted by a common enemy, encompassed by a common peril -- in a word, involved in one common cause, it does seem to me that the mode and manner of defense and redress should be determined in a full and free conference of all the Southern States, and that their mutual safety requires full co-operation in carrying out the measures there agreed upon. The source whence oppression is now to be apprehended is an organized power, a political government in operation, to which resistance, though ultimately successful (and I do not for a moment question the issue), might be costly and destructive. We should look these facts in the face, nor close our eyes to what we may reasonably expect to encounter. I have therefore thought that a due regard to the opinions of all the slave-holding States would require that those measures which concern all alike and must ultimately involve all should be agreed upon in common convention and sustained by united action.

I have before expressed the belief and confidence, and do not now totally yield the hope, that if such a convention of delegates from the slave-holding States be assembled, and, after calm deliberation, present to the political party now holding the dominance of power in the Northern States and soon to assume the reins of national power, the firm alternative of ample guarantees to all our rights and security for future immunity or resistance, our just demands would be conceded and the Union be perpetuated stronger than before. Such an issue, so presented to the Congress of the United States and to the Legislatures and people of the Northern States (and it is practicable, in abundant time before the Government has passed into other hands) would come with a moral force which, if not potent to control the votes of the representative men, might, produce a voice from their constituents which would influence them. But if it fail, our cause would emerge, if possible, stronger fortified by the approbation of the whole conservative sentiment of the country and supported by a host of Northern friends who would prove, in the ultimate issue, most valuable allies. After such an effort every man in the slave-holding States would feel satisfied that all had been done which could be done to preserve the legacy bequeathed us by the patriots of '76 and the statesmen of '89, and the South would stand in solid, unbroken phalanx a unit. In the brief time left it seems to me impracticable to effect this object through the agency of commissioners sent to the different States. A convention of authorized delegates is the true mode of bringing about co-operation among the Southern States, and to that movement I would respectfully ask your attention, and through you solicit the co-operation of Alabama.

There is yet another subject upon which the very highest considerations appeal for a united Southern expression. On the 4th of March next the Federal government, unless contingencies now unlooked for occur, will pass into the control of the Republican party. So far as the policy of the incoming administration is foreshadowed in the antecedents of the President elect, in the enunciations of its representative men and the avowals of the press, it will be to ignore the acts of sovereignty thus proclaimed by Southern States, and of coercing the continuance of the Union. Its inevitable result will be civil war of the most fearful and revolting character. Now, however the people of the South may differ as to the mode and measure of redress, I take it that the fifteen slave holding States are united in opposition to such a policy, and would stand in solid column to resist the application of force by the Federal authority to coerce the seceding States. But it is of the utmost importance that before such a policy is attempted to be inaugurated the voice of the South should be heard in potential, official, and united protest. Possibly the incoming Administration, would not be so dead to reason as after such an expression to persist in throwing the country into civil war, and we may therefore avert the calamity. An attempt "to enforce the laws" by blockading two or three Southern States would be regarded as quite a different affair from a declaration of war against 13,000,000 of freemen; and if Mr. Lincoln and his advisers be made to realize that such would be the issue of the "force policy," it will be abandoned. Should we not realize to our enemies that consequence and avert the disastrous results! But if our enemies be crazed by victory and power and madly persist in their purpose, the South will be better prepared to resist.

You ask the co-operation of the Southern States in order to redress our wrongs. So do we. You have no hope of a redress in the Union. We yet look hopefully to assurances that a powerful reaction is going on at the North. You seek a remedy in secession from the Union. We wish the united action of the slave States, assembled in convention within the Union. You would act separately; we unitedly. If Alabama and the other slave States would meet us in convention, say at Nashville or elsewhere, as early as the 5th day of February, I do not doubt that we would agree in forty-eight hours upon such reasonable guarantees, by way of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as would command at least the approbation of our numerous friends in the free States, and by giving them time to make the question with the people there, such a reaction in public opinion might yet take place as to secure us our rights and save the Government. If the effort failed the South would be united to a man, the North divided, the horrors of civil war would be averted (if anything can avert the calamity). And if that be not possible we would be in a better position to meet the dreadful collision. By such action, too, if it failed to preserve the Government, the basis of another confederacy would have been agreed upon, and the new government would in this mode be launched into operation much more speedily and easily than by the action you propose.

In addition to the foregoing, I have the honor to refer you to my letter of the 16th ultimo to the editor of The Yeoman and to my letter to the Governors of the slave States, dated the 9th of December, herewith transmitted to you, which, together with what I have said in this communication, embodies, with all due deference to the opinions of others, in my judgment, the principles, policy, and position which the slave States ought to maintain. The Legislature of Kentucky will assemble on the l7th of January, when the sentiment of the State will doubtless find official expression. Meantime, if the action of Alabama shall be arrested until the conference she has sought can be concluded by communication with that department of the government, I shall be pleased to transmit to the Legislature your views. I regret to have seen in the recent messages of two or three of our Southern sister States a recommendation of the passage of laws prohibiting the purchase by the citizens of those States of the slaves of the border slave-holding States. Such a course is not only liable to the objection so often urged by us against the abolitionists of the North of an endeavor to prohibit the slave-trade between the States, but it is likewise wanting in that fraternal feeling which should be common to States which are identified in their institutions and interests. It affords me pleasure, however, to add, as an act of justice to your State, that I have seen no indication of such a purpose on the part of Alabama. It would certainly be considered an act of injustice for the border slave-holding States to prohibit, by their legislation, the purchase of the products of the cotton-growing States, even though it be founded upon the mistaken policy of protection to their own interests. I cannot close this correspondence without again expressing to you my gratification in receiving you as the honored commissioner from your proud and chivalrous State, and at your courteous, able, dignified, and manly bearing in discharging the solemn and important duties which have been assigned to you.

I have the honor to be, with sentiments of high consideration, your friend and obedient servant,


Scanned and proofed by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University.