Slavery & Secession: Treason Against the Hopes of the World

Liberty Letters, Thomas Jefferson, 1820

Editor’s Introduction: In an effort to preserve the balance of power in Congress between slave and free states, the Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820 admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Furthermore, with the exception of Missouri, this law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which repeal Abraham Lincoln opposed in his famous October 16, 1854, Peoria Speech). Three years later the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories (which again Lincoln protested with considerable vigor—we will be providing internal links to these speeches soon).

What follows are two letters from Thomas Jefferson that he penned in reaction to this law several months after the bill was passed by Congress. Note his prediction that it would end in Civil War, that he was opposed to such a war, and that slavery, secessionism, and the likely Civil War that would accompany this battle was “unwise and unworthy” and the result would “perpetrate [an] act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.”

Again, this all points to the remarkable fraud perpetrated by some historical revisionists that the moral, religious, and political issues raised by slavery, both by its proponents and opponents was not at the root of the Civil War, and equally, continues to place light on that Libertarian perpetuated fraud that Lincoln was not vigorously opposed  to slavery, morally, politically, and religiously dating back to his earliest political writings and speeches, as if his opposition to this repulsive practice was a political afterthought. And yet again, we see some of the same claiming Jefferson favored secession as the proper remedy for the state rights dispute. The Jefferson Letters below are two among many that demonstrate otherwise.

Is there anything more pathetic than those who take aim at the moral underpinnings of the great heroes of American History, and do so in the presence of radiant beams of light and truth to the contrary? And just what are their motives? To bring about anarchy? To inspire even greater division between black and white on the road to it?

Steve Farrell, Editor In Chief, The Moral Liberal. Source help from “Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858,” published by The Library of America; as well as online help from The Library of Congress and Wikipedia.

April 22, 1820, Jefferson Letter to John Holmes

I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read the newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors. an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress, to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?

I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of 76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. If they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.

to yourself as the faithful advocate of union I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.

Thomas Jefferson

And from Jefferson’s letter to William Short dated April 13, 1820

… Although I had laid down as a law to myself, never to write, talk or even think of politics, to know nothing of public affairs & therefore had ceased to read newspapers, yet the Missouri question aroused and filled me with alarm. The old schism of federal & republican, threatened nothing because it existed in every state, and united them together by the fraternism of party. But the coincidence of a marked principle, moral & political with a geographical line, once conceived, I feared would never more be obliterated from the mind; that it would be recurring on every occasion & renewing irritations until it would kindle such mutual & mortal hatred, as to render separation preferable to eternal discord. I have been among the most sanguine in believing that our Union would be of long duration. I now doubt it much, and see the event at no great distance, and the direct consequence of this question: not by the time which has been so confidently counted on. The laws of nature control this, but by the Potomac Ohio, and Missouri, or more probably the Mississippi upwards to our Northern boundary, my only comfort & confidence is that I shall not live to see this: and I envy not the present generation the glory of throwing away the fruits of their fathers sacrifices of life & fortune, and of rendering desperate the experiment which was to decide ultimately whether man is capable of self government? This treason against human hope will signalize their epoch in future history, as the counterpart of the medal of their predecessors. …

For more on the Missouri Compromise and to see these letters in the original go to the Library of Congress website here.

Editor’s introduction, formatting and spelling modernization, Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.