Confederate Truths: Documents of the Confederate & Neo-Confederate Tradition from 1787 to the Present.

Threatening War Over Slavery in the Territories in the U.S. Senate, Feb. 18, 1850

Threating War Over Slavery in the Territories, Feb. 18, 1850

Disunion and civil war was commonly brought up as a possibility if the slave states did not get what they considered a satisfactory solution. The following excerpts of a speech in the U.S. Senate gives an idea of the temper of the debate in which the fighting spirit of different sections of the country in a potential civil war is freely commented upon. (Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 31st Congress, 1st Session, pages 165-176, Slavery in the Territories, Speech of Mr. Downs, of Louisiana, In the Senate, February 18, 1850, excerpts from page 169-70 & 172.)

[Page 169&70] "Now, as to making any exorbitant demand by the South: We do not come here asking anything, but an equal participation in that which we bore an equal share in acquiring. We do not even ask half, although we are half of the Union. We do not even ask half, although we are half of the Union, and although we have expended half — ay, more than half — of the blood and treasure that were expended. We give up to you all the gold, all the fine harbors, all the advantages, in short; but, to save our honor; to save ourselves, if possible from any injury hereafter; to prevent ourselves from becoming inferiors or dependants, we express our willingness to accept this small boon. And, what is most astonishing, sir, is, that even this cannot be granted to us. Well, sir, while such things as these exist; while so small a request as this cannot be complied with, gentlemen must not be surprised that the voice of the South should come up here and tell them — and that voice will become louder and louder – that this is not the entertainment to which they were invited in the formation of this Confederacy; that they love the Union, and will maintain it as long as they can with honor; but the moment they discover that they are not to enjoy that equality which was contemplated at the time of the formation of the Confederacy ― I will not say what the South will do in such an event; but I will say that, so far as I am concerned, I shall adopt their action and that of my State, whatever that may be; I will follow their lead. It is not for me to point out what they should do, and I will not pretend to say what they will do; but I will say that if they, under the circumstances, consider the Union dissolved, and separate themselves from those who treat them with so much injustice – an event which I hope in God may never happen; but if it must come, let those who deny to us our rights, bear the responsibility. We ask but little; we will be satisfied with little; we desire but to save our honor; and that we will do, let the consequences be what they may."

[Page 172] "A few Words with reference to another point advanced on this subject and I have done with it.

The Senator from Kentucky further states that if this Union were dissolved, it would not be sixty days before war would commence. I do not intended to make any boasts of southern valor compared with northern valor, on the subject of fighting. Americans from all quarters of the Union all fight with equal perseverance and energy. If there is any difference between the North and the South, it is that the North are a little more careful to know what they are fighting about, whilst we of the South go into it without much reflection. Our northern friends are more prudent, more wise; they are as brave, but they consider the cost. So they will do in case this Union is dissolved; and when they come to count the cost, they will find that there is not much inducement to fight – not much to be made by fighting. War is not a money-making business. There never was much money made by it, and never will be. Even in the case of the party that proves victorious in war, they lose ten times more than they gain. The New England people are a wise, a trading people; and, I venture to say, they will never go into such a fight; and even if they had an expectation of gaining ever so much, I am sure they would not be for engaging in such a war. I am satisfied of it."