Address of Hon. Henry L. Benning, of Georgia, 1861

From Addresses Delivered before the Virginia State Convention by Hon. Fulton Anderson, Commissioner from Mississippi; Hon. Henry L. Benning, Commissioner from Georgia; and Hon. John S. Preston, Commissioner from South Carolina; February, 1861. Richmond: Wyatt M. Elliott, 1861.

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention,

      I have been appointed by the Convention of the State of Georgia, to present to you the ordinance of secession of Georgia, and further, to invite Virginia, through you, to join Georgia and the other seceded States in the formation of a Southern Confederacy. This, sir, is the whole extent of my mission. I have no power to make promises, none to receive promises; no power to bind at all in any respect. But still, sir, it has seemed to me that a proper respect for this Convention requires that I should with some fulness and particularity, exhibit to the Convention the reasons which have induced Georgia to take that important step of secession, and then to lay before the Convention some facts and considerations in favor of the acceptance of the invitation by Virginia. With your permission, then, sir, I will pursue this course.

      What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? That reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction; a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. This conviction was the main cause. It is true that the effect of this conviction was strengthened by a further conviction that such a separation would be the best remedy for the fugitive slave evil, and also the best, if not the only remedy, for the territorial evil. But, doubtless, if it had not been for the first conviction the step would not have been taken. It, therefore, becomes important to inquire whether this conviction was well-founded.

      Is it true, then, that but for the separation from the North, slavery would be abolished in Georgia? I address myself to the proofs of that proposition.

      In the first place, I say that the North hates slavery. And I use the expression, the North hates slavery, designedly. Hate is the feeling, and it is the whole North that bears it. That this is true of the Black Republican party at the North will, I suppose, be admitted. If there is a doubt upon it in the mind of any one who listens to me, a few of the proofs which fill this room, will, I think, be sufficient to satisfy him. I beg to refer to a few of the proofs; and the first that I shall adduce consists in two or three sentences from a speech of Mr. Lincoln's, made in October, 1858. They are as follows: "I have always hated slavery as much as any abolitionist; I have always been an old line Whig; I have always hated it, and I always believed it in the course of ultimate extinction, and if I were in Congress and a vote should come up on the question, whether slavery should be excluded from the territory, in spite of the Dred Scott decision, I would vote that it should."

      These are pregnant sentences. They contain both a sentiment and a principle of political conduct. The former is that his hatred of slavery equals that of an abolitionist, and, therefore, that it equals that of Sumner or John Brown. The latter is that his action against slavery is not to be restrained by the Constitution of the United States. If you can find any degree of hatred greater than that, I should like to see it. This is the sentiment of the chosen leader of the Black Republican party, and can you doubt that it is not entertained by every member of that party? You cannot, I think. He is a representative man; his sentiments are the sentiments of his party; his principles of political action are the principles of political action of his party. I insist, then, that it is true that at least the Republican party of the North hates slavery.

      My next proposition is, that the Republican party is the North. That party is in a permanent majority there, and in a government organized like the governments of the Northern States and our own Government, a majority, where it is permanent, is equivalent to the whole. The minority is powerless if the majority is permanent. Now, is this majority of the Republican party permanent? I say it is. That party is so deeply seated at the North that you cannot overthrow it. It has the press÷it has the pulpit÷it has the school-house÷it has the State organizations÷the governors, legislatures, mayors, in fact, all official life. Now it has the General Government in addition. It has that inexhaustible reserve to fall back upon and to recruit from, the universal feeling at the North that slavery is a moral, social and political evil. Withthis to fall back on, recruiting easy. This is not all. . . .

Houghton Mifflin Company