Secession and Readmission
In the following mid-1864 letter to Charles Sumner, General Gantt of Arkansas questions the revolutionary logic of the radical Republicans in Congress which claimed sovereign States had become mere territories after unsuccessfully seeking political independence. Radicals like Sumner had forgotten that the States created the limited government, and the latter had absolutely no authority to question a solemn decision of a State’s electorate.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Secession and Readmission; Letter to Hon. Charles Sumner from Gen. E. W. Gantt, of Arkansas.
FIFTH-AVENUE HOTEL, June 1, 1864.
Hon. Chas. Sumner:
SIR: But for your resolution and action in reference to Arkansas politics, I feel sure that I should not have appeared before the public again. The subject which calls forth this letter being entirely of a public character, induces me to address you through the columns of the New-York TIMES.
Upon the application of the State of Arkansas to resume her relations — temporarily disturbed — with the National Government, by sending her constitutionally-chosen representatives for that purpose, you have seen fit to introduce the following resolution, to wit:
Resolved, That a State pretending to secede from the Union, and battling against the National Government to maintain their position, must be regarded as a rebel State, subject to military occupation, and without representation on this floor, until it has been readmitted by a vote of both Houses of Congress; and the Senate will decline to entertain any application from any such rebel State until after such a vote of both Houses.
From this I infer that you intend to oppose our peace offering, and to break up, if possible, our loyal State organization, effected as it has been at immense personal hazard, and wonderful exertions and determination upon the part of our loyal people.
When you say that a "State pretending to secede" must be "readmitted" by a vote of both Houses of Congress, what are we to understand you to mean? Do you mean that the State really did secede? That is, that it got out of the "compact?" If that be so does it not occur to you that it went out as a State and became a separate sovereignty? If this be so, "readmission," it strikes me, is a legal impossibility. The Sovereign Government of Arkansas should apply for "annexation" and not "readmission." But do you mean that it only pretended it was out, while in point of fact it was in the Union? Then how could you "readmit" that which never was out? It would place the Government in the awkward attitude, it seems to me, of fighting against the people of a State because they "pretended to secede," and yet had not, and at the same time declaring that they did go out and must be "readmitted."
But do you mean that the secession ordinances passed by certain legislatures and conventions reduced the States in which the same were passed to Territories? If so, how? If the ordinances referred to put the States out, why they went out as States. It won’t do to say they had just enough sovereignty to scramble out of the Government, and that then they rumbled into Territories. The sovereignty reserved that could take them out, could hold them up as States. As such, they could form compacts with other Governments, or new combinations of their own. They could not possibly work their way out of the Government, and being out, fall back to the Government as a part of its territory — no more than they could merge into the Russian possessions. A doctrine so dangerous might destroy the Government in a month. Secession ordinances passed by twenty States, reducing them to Territories, would stop the wheels of Government.
But you may intend this as a punishment because our State "pretended to secede." If so, we are already punished enough. But why discriminate? Missouri pretended to secede, and so did Kentucky. There was no question raised over them. And Mr. BOULINEY, of Louisiana, remained in the Congress of the United States more than one year after Louisiana pretended to secede.
But, then, your opposition may arise from want of regularity in the reorganization. That it was without precedent I admit. That the people, groaning under anarchy, oppression and despair, wrought out a government from the wreck around them, with no beaten path to follow, is true.”
(New York Times, June 3, 1864)