To The Hon. HERSHEL V. JOHNSON,
Speir’s Turnout, Jefferson County, Ga.,
New York, December 30, 1860
My Dear Sir,—Since I wrote you last, I have seen, with much pleasure, that you have been elected a member of your State convention. Your eloquence and popularity will give you great influence in that body; I still have hopes that your wise counsel will be listened to, and that the empire State of the South will not allow herself to be dragged into a precipitate and hasty action by the example of South Carolina. It is impossible to contemplate the events which are now enacting in Charleston without feeling, as a true friend of the South, the deepest regret and the most fearful apprehensions.
Never was a good and righteous cause so much damaged as the just claims of the whole South for its Constitutional rights are at this moment by the revolutionary movement of South Carolina.
Mr. Gorter showed me, a few days ago, a letter of yours, recently written to his father-in-law. You give, indeed, a gloomy picture of the state of feeling in Georgia. If your anxious forebodings should really prove true, and the advocates of immediate and separate secession should carry the day in your convention, then this great and prosperous Republic is doomed to pass under all the horrors of anarchy and civil war.
To us conservative men of the North, who have fought the battles of the South for many years, and though defeated now, are still unconquered, it is a sad and incomprehensible spectacle to see the ferocity with which your great State rushes into the secession movement, at the example, nay, I may say, under the dictation of South Carolina. We cannot understand that the same policy should be pursued by two States whose vital interests are so different, and whom we have learned to look upon as rivals, just as their seaports, Savannah and Charleston, are rivals, for commercial supremacy.
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It appears to me very probable that the government, being averse to adopting any aggressive action against South Carolina, will most likely, upon her taking possession of the custom-house, annex Charleston to Savannah as a port of entry. This course plainly could be adopted only in the event that Georgia delays the final act of secession. The impetus which such a state of things would give to the growth of Savannah would be lasting, while its immediate effect would be to open the eyes of the people of Georgia to the advantages of adhering to the Union.
The second sober thought and the practical sense of the American people would undoubtedly unite the whole of Georgia upon the policy of co-operation with all the slaveholding States, if a free discussion of these vital questions were possible at this moment. It is, however, very clear to us here at the North, that a reign of terror exists at the South which silences the voice of every, conservative patriot, and renders it impossible for the people to arrive at a correct judgment.
The members of the convention have been elected under this state of things, and I fear the worst unless you and Stephens can stem the torrent. I hope that your united influence will be exerted to the effect of having the final action of the convention submitted to the people for their final ratification. This would not be asking too much, or any thing to which the people are not fully entitled. It is the course which has been generally pursued by all conventions for the amendment or formation of a constitution, in nearly all the States. It seems to me that when a convention passes an ordinance of secession, it takes a step fraught with the most fearful consequences, and it cannot hesitate to submit that act to the people for their ratification.
It would be no more than fair to the people, although very disagreeable to the precipitate gentlemen of the Yancey school. It would give time to reflect, and as the vote would be simply yea or nay, would be free of that active and partisan canvass which existed upon the election of rival delegates.
Pray let me know whether, in your judgment, this should not be attempted, and whether you think it could not be carried. Every dav which can be gained is of immense importance. Though the Republican leaders in Congress have thus far disappointed my expectations, I have strong hopes that they will be compelled to yield under the pressure of public opinion.
In our own city and State some of the most prominent men are ready to follow the lead of Weed, and active agencies are at work to bring about a compromise. Last week the governors of seven Republican States were here in caucus, and I am credibly informed by a leading Republican, that they will all recommend to their legislatures, in their opening messages next month, the unconditional and early repeal of the personal-liberty bills, passed by their respective States, without waiting for any amendment of the fugitive-slave law by Congress. In regard to the Territories, the restoration of the Missouri line, extended to the Pacific, finds favor with most of the conservative Republicans, and their number is increasing daily.
I sent you the day before yesterday a pamphlet, entitled The Border States. It is written by John P. Kennedy, of Maryland, and evinces great statesmanship and elevation of thought. I recommend it to your attentive perusal. It seems to me almost impossible that such appeals should remain unheeded by so intelligent, high-toned, and patriotic a people as our Southern brethren.
Do they not see that secession is exactly what the Abolition party desires most to see, in order to perpetuate the reign of their party, and its nefarious principles. They know that they can never attain this in the present Union, and are therefore content to have their sway in the remaining half, sure to crush the national Democracy when once deprived of its Southern support.
I hope you will find leisure to let me hear from you, etc.