War Between the States Sesquicentennial—Separation is Common Sense
Faced with Republican party intransigence and Lincoln’s deafening silence on the crisis facing the country, former President John Tyler worked hard to create a Peace Convention to solve the sectional differences peacefully. His efforts proved futile as the Republicans favored party solidarity over saving the country from war.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
The War Between the States Sesquicentennial:
Separation the Dictate of Common Sense:
“Events moved swiftly as the New Year opened. Between January 9 and January 19 Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida all seceded and, following South Carolina’s example, seized federal forts and arsenals as they departed the Union. On January 5 Buchanan dispatched the unarmed Star of the West to Charleston harbor to reinforce and provision the small garrison at Fort Sumter, still in federal hands.
The ship was fired upon and turned back on January 9…[and subsequent non-provocative] White House policy…[John] Tyler considered a “wise and statesmanlike course.” He was willing to appease the South Carolina radicals without shame if such a policy would buy cooling-off time, however little. On January 15 his advocacy of appeasement seemed justified when the Virginia General Assembly proposed that a peace convention of all the States convene in Washington on February 4.
Although this mitigatory gesture was largely the legislative work of Governor John Letcher and William C, Rives, Tyler’s behind-the-scenes work in the Virginia peace movement was so prominent that in a very real sense he was the father of the peace convention.
The bloody alternative to speedy accommodation Tyler also outlined to his fellow Virginians:
“If the Free and Slave States cannot live in harmony together…does not the dictate of common sense admonish to a separation in peace? Better so than a perpetual itch of irritation and ill feeling. Far better than an unnatural war between the sections….Grant that one section shall conquer the other, what reward shall be reaped by the victor? The conqueror will walk at every step over smoldering ashes and beneath crumbling columns…Ruin and desolation will everywhere prevail, and the victor’s brow, instead of a wreath of glorious evergreen…will be encircled in withered and faded leaves bedewed with the blood of the child and its mother and the father and the son. The picture is too horrible and revolting to be dwelt upon.”
The picture was too horrible and revolting. For this reason Tyler suggested that should a convention fail, the secessionist States should be permitted their exit from the Union in peace. These departed States, he felt, might then convene, adopt the United States Constitution as their own constitution, amend it with “guarantees going not one iota beyond what strict justice and the security of the South require,” and then invite the other States “to enter our Union with the old flag flying over one and all.”
On the very day Tyler’s appeal for a twelve-State peace convention saw print in Richmond, the legislatures of Pennsylvania and Ohio…were reported in Virginia papers as having offered troops and funds to the federal government to subjugate the seceded States.
Gloomy as the future seemed, Tyler reluctantly accepted appointment as one of Virginia’s five commissioners to the peace convention. His colleagues were James A, Seddon, William C. Rives, John W. Brockenbrough, and George W. Summers. [Tyler] wanted to preserve the Union and keep Virginia in it…[and not watch] federal troops march through Virginia en route to slaughter South Carolinians and Georgians. His, it will be remembered, was the only vote against [Andrew] Jackson’s Force Bill [against South Carolina] in 1833.”
(And Tyler Too, A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler, Robert Seager II, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963, pp. 448-450)