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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

This attitude explains the second Secession


For

the North and West the firing on the Stars and Stripes was the decisive issue. For Virginia and to a great extent for the other Southern States which had not yet seceded it was rather the President's demands for State troops to coerce a sister State. The doctrine of State Sovereignty was in these States generally held to be a fundamental principle of the Constitution and the essential condition of their liberties. They had no desire to leave the Union so long as it were understood that it was a union of Sovereign States. But the proposal to use force against a recalcitrant State seemed to them to upset the whole nature of the compact and reduce them to a position of vassalage. This attitude explains the second Secession, which took Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas out of the Union. It explains also why the moment the sword was drawn the opinion of these States, strongly divided up to that very moment, became very nearly unanimous. Not all their citizens, even after the virtual declaration of war against South Carolina, wanted their States to secede, but all, or nearly all, claimed that they had the _right_ to secede if they wanted to, and therefore all, or nearly all, accepted the decision of their States even if it were contrary to their own judgment and preference.

It is important to understand this attitude, not only because it was very general, but because it was the attitude of one of the noblest sons the Republic ever bore,

who yet felt compelled, regretfully but with full certitude that he did right, to draw the sword against her.

Robert Lee was already recognized as one of the most capable captains in the service of the United States. When it became obvious that General Scott, also a Virginian, but a strong Unionist, was too old to undertake the personal direction of the approaching campaign, Lee was sounded as to his readiness to take his place. He refused, not desiring to take part in the coercion of a State, and subsequently, when his own State became involved in the quarrel, resigned his commission. Later he accepted the chief command of the Virginian forces and became the most formidable of the rebel commanders. Yet with the institution, zeal for which is still so largely thought to have been the real motive of the South, he had no sympathy. Four years before the Republican triumph, he had, in his correspondence, declared Slavery to be "a moral and political evil." Nor was he a Secessionist. He deeply regretted and so far as he could, without meddling in politics--to which, in the fashion of good soldiers, he was strongly averse--opposed the action which his State eventually took. But he thought that she had the right to take it if she chose, and, the fatal choice having been made, he had no option in his own view but to throw in his lot with her and accept his portion of whatever fate might be in store for her armies and her people.

Virginia now passed an Ordinance of Secession, and formed a military alliance with the Southern Confederacy. Later she was admitted to membership of that Confederacy, and the importance attached to her accession may be judged by the fact that the new Government at once transferred its seat to her capital, the city of Richmond. The example of Virginia was followed by the other Southern States already enumerated.


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