Predicting an Expenditure of Uncounted Millions
The Washington Peace Conference could be said to have failed because of a lack of compromise. The victorious Northern sectional party, the Republicans, was now in control of the federal machinery and patronage and an ability to dictate terms. Commodore Stockton (below) was prescient in his prediction of how the Black Republicans would seduce the North into a war of conquest over their sister States to the South.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Predicting an Expenditure of Uncounted Millions:
“[Washington Peace Conference] Debate focused mainly on slavery and its extension, and on constitutional arrangements designed to maintain political power. [James B.] Clay [of Kentucky], for example, found “slavery but an incident to the great question of the balance of power between the different sections and different interests.” [James A.] Seddon [of Virginia] talked bluntly of “the acquisitive disposition” of Northerners, of their greed for land and for office. “The great class of protected interests at the North,” he said, “….joined with the land-seekers to secure power.”
The bitter clash between Seddon and [George S.] Boutwell [Massachusetts] on February 18 demonstrated the emotional impact of the argument over slavery and its extension. “We hold our property, yes, our property in slaves…We feel that in…the protection of the African race, we have a mission to perform, and not a mission only but a right and duty…In all this time we have contributed far more to the greatness of the North than to our own. Yet all this time we have been assailed, attacked, vilified and defamed, by the people of the North…Your people thought they were doing God a service in signing a petition…for the mercy to John Brown and his ruffian invaders of our soil. And when these men met the just reward of their crime…they were looked upon as the victims of oppression, as martyrs to a holy and righteous cause.”
Boutwell replied…”Massachusetts has made war upon slavery wherever she had the right to do it….The North will never consent to the separation of the States…if the slave States will…faithfully abide by their constitutional obligations, and remain in the Union until their rights are in fact invaded, all will be well. But if they take the responsibility of involving the country in a civil war…but one course remains to those who are true to that Government.
“We are earnest in our determination to have our rights under the Constitution defined and guaranteed,” said J. Dixon Roman of Maryland. “Our safety, as well as our self-respect, requires this.” [Commodore Robert] Stockton [of New Jersey] called upon Republicans by name, urging them to give up the [sectional Republican] Chicago platform “to save your country.” Stockton listed the inducements “with which the Republican leaders would seduce the North into fratricidal war”: “The expenditure of uncounted millions, the distribution of epaulets and military commissions for an army of half a million of men, the immense patronage involved in the letting of contracts, the inflation of prices and the rise of property which would follow the excessive issue of paper money, made necessary by the lavish expenditure;—these, indeed, are the enormous bribes which the Republican party offers.”
Seddon…insisted that “Virginia will not permit coercion”—a position which Lott M. Morrill of Maine interpreted as “an attitude of menace.” “It gives aid and comfort,” he said,” to those who trample upon the laws and defy the authority of this Government.” At this point Stockton shouted “Silence sir!” and “rushed toward Senator Morrill with violent and angry gesticulations.” “We will not permit our Southern friends to be charged with bad faith…! No black Republican shall…”
(Washington Peace Conference, Robert G. Gunderson; Antislavery and Disunion, 1858-1861, J. Jeffery Auer, Editor, Peter Smith, 1968, pp. 385-389)