|Leonidas Spratt (1818 - 1903) is the fire-eater
no one knows about (and, apparently, no one has ever
photographed; I have been unable to find a picture of the
man). He escapes notice in most histories of the
antebellum period, in favor of such men as Yancey and
Ruffin and Rhett. But Spratt was just as passionate in
defense of the South and its peculiar institution. He was
an advocate of re-opening the slave trade, and was
involved in the use of the yacht Wanderer as a slave
vessel in the late 1850's (see Erik Calonius's book The
Wanderer for the details of this episode).
Spratt was born in 1818, and by the middle of the century he was editor of the Charleston Southern Standard. His major accomplishment as a fire-eater was converting the Southern Commercial Convention into a vehicle for secession, as well as a passionate pro-secession/pro-slavery speech at the Vicksburg Convention in 1859. He was an early and vocal advocate for re-opening the African slave trade. Once South Carolina seceded he served as her commissioner to Florida. During the war he served as judge-advocate on General Longstreet's staff. After the war he made his living as an attorney in Charleston and Richmond, finally dying in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1903.
In this letter Spratt advances the idea that the South should be forthright in describing what it is doing in forming the Confederacy.
The South is now in the formation of a Slave Republic. This, perhaps, is not admitted generally. There are many contented to believe that the South as a geographical section is in mere assertion of its independence; that, it is instinct with no especial truth---pregnant of no distinct social nature; that for some unaccountable reason the two sections have become opposed to each other; that for reasons equally insufficient, there is disagreement between the peoples that direct them; and that from no overruling necessity, no impossibility of co-existence, but as mere matter of policy, it has been considered best for the South to strike out for herself and establish an independence of her own. This, I fear, is an inadequate conception of the controversy.
The contest is not between the North and South as geographical sections, for between such sections merely there can be no contest; nor between the people of the North and the people of the South, for our relations have been pleasant, and on neutral grounds there is still nothing to estrange us. We eat together, trade together, and practice, yet, in intercourse, with great respect, the courtesies of common life. But the real contest is between the two forms of society which have become established, the one at the North and the other at the South. Society is essentially different from government--as different as is the nut from the bur, or the nervous body of the shell-fish from the bony structure which surrounds it; and within this government two societies had become developed as variant in structure and distinct in form as any two beings in animated nature. The one is a society composed of one race, the other of two races. The one is bound together but by the two great social relations of husband and wife and parent and child; the other by the three relations of husband and wife, and parent and child, and master and slave. The one embodies in its political structure the principle that equality is the right of man; the other that it is the right of equals only. The one embodying the principle that equality is the right of man, expands upon the horizontal plane of pure democracy; the other, embodying the principle that it is not the right of man, but of equals only, has taken to itself the rounded form of a social aristocracy. In the one there is hireling labor, in the other slave labor; in the one, therefore, in theory at least, labor is voluntary; in the other involuntary; in the labor of the one there is the elective franchise, in the other there is not; and, as labor is always in excess of direction, in the one the power of government is only with the lower classes; in the other the upper. In the one, therefore, the reins of government come from the heels, in the other from the head of the society; in the one it is guided by the worst, in the other by the best, intelligence; in the one it is from those who have the least, in the other from those who have the greatest, stake in the continuance of existing order. In the one the pauper laborer has the power to rise and appropriate by law the goods protected by the State--when pressure comes, as come it must, there will be the motive to exert it--and thus the ship of State turns bottom upwards. In the other there is no pauper labor with power of rising; the ship of State has the ballast of a disfranchised class: there is no possibility of political upheaval, therefore, and it is reasonably certain that, so steadied, it will sail erect and onward to an indefinitely distant period.
Such are some of the more obvious differences in form and constitution between these two societies which had come into contact within the limits of the recent Union. And perhaps it is not the least remarkable, in this connection, that while the one, a shapeless, organless, mere mass of social elements in no definite relation to each other, is loved and eulogized, and stands the ideal of the age, the other comely and proportioned with labor and direction, mind and matter in just relation to each other, presenting analogy to the very highest developments in animated nature is condemned and reprobated. Even we ourselves have hardly ventured to affirm it--while the cock crows, in fact, are ready to deny it; and if it shall not perish on the cross of human judgment, it must be for the reason that the Great Eternal has not purposed that still another agent of his will shall come to such excess of human ignominy.
Such are the two forms of society which had come to contest within the structure of the recent Union. And the contest for existence was inevitable. Neither could concur in the requisitions of the other; neither could expand within the forms of a single government without encroachment on the other. Like twin lobsters in a single shell, if such a thing were possible, the natural expansion of the one must be inconsistent with the existence of the other; or like an eagle and a fish, joined by an indissoluble bond, which for no reason of its propriety could act together, where the eagle could not share the fluid suited to the fish and live, where the fish could not share the fluid suited to the bird and live, and where one must perish that the other may survive, unless the unnatural Union shall be severed--so these societies could not, if they would, concur. The principal that races are unequal, and that among unequals inequality is right, would have been destructive to the form of pure democracy at the North. The principle that all men are equal and equally right, would have been destructive of slavery at the South. Each required the element suited to its social nature. Each must strive to make the government expressive of its social nature. The natural expansion of the one must become encroachment on the other, and so the contest was inevitable. Seward and Lincoln, in theory at least, whatever be their aim, are right. I realized the fact and so declared the conflict irrepressible years before either ventured to advance that proposition. Upon that declaration I have always acted, and the recent experience of my country has not induced me to question the correctness of that first conception.
Nor is indignation at such leaders becoming the statesmen of the South. The tendency of social action was against us. The speaker to be heard must speak against slavery; the preacher to retain his charge, must preach against slavery; the author to be read, must write against slavery; the candidate, to attain office, must pledge himself against slavery; the office-holder, to continue, must redeem the pledges of the candidate. They did not originate the policy, but they pandered to it; they did not start the current, but they floated on it; and were as powerless as drift-wood to control its course. The great tendency to social conflict pre-existed; it was in the heart of the North--it was in the very structure of Northern society. It was not a matter of choice but of necessity that such society should disaffirm a society in contradiction of it. It was not a matter of choice but of necessity that it should approve of acts against it. In possession of power, it flowed to political action on the South, as fluids flow to lower levels. The acts of individuals were unimportant. If I had possessed the power to change the mind of every Republican in Congress, I would not have been at pains to do so. They would have fallen before an indignant constituency, and men would have been sent to their places whose minds could never change. Nor in fact, have they been without their use. As the conflict was irrepressible, as they were urged on by an inexorable power, it was important we should know it. Our own political leaders refused to realize the fact. The zealots of the North alone could force the recognition; and I am bound to own that Giddings, and Greeley, and Seward, and Lincoln, parasites as they are, panderers to popular taste as they are, the instruments, and the mere instruments, of aggression, have done more to rouse us to the vindication of our rights than the bravest and the best among us.
Such, then, was the nature of this contest. It was inevitable. It was inaugurated with the government. It began at the beginning, and almost at the start the chances of the game were turned against us. If the foreign slave trade had never been suppressed, slave society must have triumphed. It extended to the limits of New England.
Pari possu with emigrants from Europe came slaves from Africa. Step by step the two in union marched upon the West, and it is reasonably certain, had the means to further union been admitted, that so they would have continued to march upon the West, that slave labor would have been cheaper than hireling labor, that, transcending agriculture, it would have expanded to the arts; and that thus one homogeneous form of labor and one homogeneous form of society, unquestioned by one single dreamer, and cherished at home and honored abroad, would have overspread the entire available surface of the late United States. But, the slave trade suppressed, democratic society has triumphed. The States of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware found an attractive market for their slaves. They found a cheaper pauper labor to replace it; that pauper labor poured in from Europe; while it replaced the slave, it increased the political power of the Northern States. More than five millions from abroad have been added to their number; that addition has enabled them to grasp and hold the government. That government, from the very necessities of their nature they are forced to use against us. Slavery was within its grasp, and forced to the option of extinction in the Union or of independence out, it dares to strike, and it assents its claim to nationality and its right to recognition among the leading social systems of the world.
Such, then being the nature of the contest, this Union has been disrupted in the effort of slave society to emancipate itself; and the momentous question now to be determined is, shall that effort be successful? That the Republic of the South shall sustain her independence, there is little question. The form of our society is too pregnant of intellectual resources and military strength to be subdued, if, in its products, it did not hold the bonds of amity and peace upon all the leading nations of the world. But in the independence of the South is there surely the emancipation of domestic slavery? That is greatly to be doubted. Our property in slaves will be established. If it has stood in a government more than half of which has been pledged to its destruction, it will surely stand in a government every member of which will be pledged to its defence. But will it be established as a normal institution or society, and stand the sole exclusive social system of the South? That is the impending question, and the fact is yet to be recorded. That it will so stand somewhere at the South I do not entertain the slightest question. It may be overlooked or disregarded now. It has been the vital agent of this great controversy. It has energized the arm of every man who acts a part in this great drama. We may shrink from recognition of the fact; we may decline to admit the source of our authority; refuse to slavery an invitation to the table which she herself has so bountifully spread; but not for that will it remain powerless or unhonored. It may be abandoned by Virginia, Maryland, Missouri; South Carolina herself may refuse to espouse it. The hireling laborer from the North and Europe may drive it from the seaboard, As the South shall become the centre of her own trade, the metropolis of her own commerce, the pauper population of the world will pour upon us. It may replace our slaves upon the seaboard, as it has replaced them in the Northern States; but concentrated in the States upon the Gulf it will make its stand, condensed to the point at which the labor of the slave transcends the want of agriculture, it will flow to other objects; it will lay its grant grasp upon still other departments of industry; its every step will be exclusive; it will be unquestioned lord of each domain on which it enters. With that perfect economy of resources, that just application of power, that concentration of forces, that security of order which results to slavery from the permanent direction of its best intelligence, there is no other form of human labor that can stand against it, and it will build itself a home and erect for itself, at some point within the present limits of the Southern States, a structure of imperial power and grandeur--a glorious Confederacy of States that will stand aloft and serene for ages amid the anarchy of democracies that will reel around it.
But it may be that to this end another revolution may be necessary. It is to be apprehended that this contest between democracy and slavery is not yet over. It is certain that both forms of society exist within the limits of the Southern States; both are distinctly developed within the limits of Virginia; and there, whether we perceive the fact or not, the war already rages. In that State there are about 500,000 slaves to about 1,000,000 whites; and as at least as many slaves as masters are necessary to the constitution of slave society, about 500,000 of the white population are in legitimate relation to the slaves, and the rest are in excess. Like an excess of alkali or acid in chemical experiments, they are unfixed in the social compound. Without legitimate connection with the slave, they are in competition with him. They constitute not a part of slave society but a democratic society. In so far as there is this connection, the State is slave; is so far as there is not, it is democratic; and as States speak only from their social condition, as interests, not intellect, determine their political action, it is thus that Virginia has been undecided--that she does not truly know whether she is of the North or South in this great movement. Her people are individually noble, brave, and patriotic, and they will strike for the South in resistance to physical aggression; but her political action is, at present, paralyzed by this unnatural contest, and as causes of disintegration may continue--must continue, if the slave trade be not re-opened--as there will still be a market at the South for her slaves -- as there will still be pauper labor from abroad to supply their places, and more abundant from industrial dissolutions at the North, and the one race must increase as the other is diminished--it is to be feared that there the slave must ultimately fail, and that this great State must lose the institution and bend her proud spirit to the yoke of another democratic triumph. In Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and even Tennessee, and North Carolina, the same facts exist with chances of the like result.
And even in this State (South Carolina) the ultimate result is not determined. The slave condition here would seem to be established. There is here an excess of one hundred and twenty thousand slaves, and here is fairly exhibited the normal nature of the institution. The officers of the State are slave-owners, and the representatives of slave-owners. In their public acts they exhibit the consciousness of a superior position. Without unusual individual ability, they exhibit the elevation of tone and composure of public sentiment proper to a master class. There is no appeal to the mass, for there is no mass to appeal to; there are no demagogues, for there is no populace to breed them; judges are not forced upon the stump; governors are not dragged before the people; and when there is cause to act upon the fortunes of our social institution, there is perhaps an unusual readiness to meet it. The large majority of our people are in legitimate connection with the institution-- in legitimate dependence on the slave; and it were to be supposed that here at least the system of slave society would be permanent and pure. But even here the process of disintegration has commenced. In our larger towns it just begins to be apparent. Within ten years past as many as ten thousand slaves have been drawn away from Charleston by the attractive prices of the West, and laborers from abroad have come to take their places. These laborers have every disposition to work above the slave, and if there were opportunity would be glad to do so; but without such opportunity they come to competition with him; they are necessarily resistive to the contact. Already there is the disposition to exclude him; from the trades, from public works, from drays, and the tables of hotels, he is even now excluded to a great extent. And when enterprises at the North are broken up; when more laborers are thrown from employment; when they shall come in greater numbers to the South they will still more increase the tendency to exclusion; they will question the right of masters to employ their slaves in any works that they may wish for; they will invoke the aid of legislation; they will use the elective franchise to that end; they may acquire the power to determine municipal elections; they will inexorably use it; and thus this town of Charleston, at the very heart of slavery, may become a fortress of democratic power against it. As it is in Charleston, so also is it to a less extent in the interior towns.
Nor is it only in the towns the tendency appears. The slaves, from lighter lands within the State, have been drawn away for years for higher prices in the West. They are now being drawn away from rice culture. Thousands are sold from rice fields every year. None are brought to them They have already been drawn from the culture of indigo and all manufacturing employments. They are yet retained by cotton and the culture incident to cotton; but as almost every negro offered in our markets is bid for by the West the drain is likely to continue. It is probable that more abundant pauper labor may pour in, and it is to be feared that even in this State, the purest in its slave condition, democracy may gain a foothold, and that here also the contest for existence may be waged between them.
It thus appears that the contest is not ended with a dissolution of the Union, and that the agents of that contest still exist within the limits of the Southern States. The causes that have contributed to the defeat of slavery still occur; our slaves are still drawn oft by higher prices to the West. There is still foreign pauper labor ready to supply their place. Maryland[,] Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, possibly Tennessee and North Carolina, may lose their slaves, as New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have done. In that condition they must recommence the contest. There is no avoiding that necessity. The systems cannot mix; and thus it is that slavery, like the Thracian horse returning from the field of victory, still bears a master on his back; and, having achieved one revolution to escape democracy at the North, it must still achieve another to escape it a' the South. That it will ultimately triumph none can doubt. It will become redeemed and vindicated, and the only question now to be determined is, shall there be another revolution to that end? It is not necessary. Slavery within the seceding States at least is now emancipated if men put forward as its agents have intrepidity to realize the fact and act upon it. It is free to choose its constitution and its policy, and you and others are now elected to the high office of that determination. If you shall elect slavery avow it and affirm it; not as an existing fact, but as a living principle of social order, and assert its right, not to toleration only, but to extension and to political recognition among the nations of the earth. If, in short, you shall own slavery as the source of your authority, and act for it, and erect, as you are commissioned to erect, not only a Southern, but a Slave Republic, the work will be accomplished. Those States intending to espouse and perpetuate the institution will enter your Confederacy; those that do not, will not. Your Republic will not require the pruning process of another revolution; but, poised upon its institutions, will move on to a career of greatness and of glory unapproached by any other nation in the world.
But if you shall not; if you shall commence by ignoring slavery, or shall be content to edge it on by indirection; if you shall exhibit care but for a Republic, respect but for a democracy; if you shall stipulate for the toleration of slavery as an existing evil by admitting assumptions to its prejudice and restrictions to its power and progress, re-inaugurate the blunder of 1789; you will combine States, whether true or not, to slavery; you will have no tests of faith; some will find it to their interest to abandon it; slave labor will be fettered; hireling labor will be free; your Confederacy is again divided into antagonist societies; the irrepressible conflict is again commenced; and as slavery can sustain the structure of a stable government, and will sustain such structure, and as it will sustain no structure but its own, another revolution comes--but whether in the order and propriety of this, is gravely to be doubted.
Is it, then, in the just performance of your office, that you would impose a constitutional restriction against the foreign slave trade? Will you affirm slavery by reprobating the means of its formation? Will you extend slavery by introducing the means to its extinction? Will you declare to Virginia if she shall join, that under no circumstances shall she be at liberty to restore the integrity of her slave condition? that her five hundred thousand masters without slaves shall continue? that the few slaves she has shall still be subject to the requisitions of the South and West? that she shall still be subject to the incursions of white laborers, without the slaves to neutralize their social tendencies? and thus, therefore, that she must certainly submit to be abolitionized, and when so abolitionized, that she must surely be thrown off, to take her fortunes with the Abolition States? Will you say the same to Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee? Will you declare to the State of South Carolina that, if the canker of democracy eats into her towns and cities; if her lighter lands are exposed, her forms of culture are abandoned, she must still submit to it? To Texas, that to her imperial domain no other slaves shall come than those she may extort from older States; and that she must submit to be the waste she is, or else accept the kind of labor that must demoralize the social nature of the State? Will you do this, and yet say that you erect slavery and affirm it, and, in your ministrations at its altar, own it as the true and only source of your authority? Individually, I am sure you will not. I am too well assured of your intelligent perception of the questions at issue, and of your devotion to the great cause you have espoused, to entertain a doubt upon that subject; but others may, and that I may meet suggestions likely to arise, I will task your indulgence further.
Then why adopt this measure! Is it that Virginia and the other Border States require it? They may require it now, but is it certain they will continue to require it? Virginia and the rest have never yet regarded slavery as a normal institution of society. They have regarded the slave as property but not slavery as a relation. They have treated it as a prostitution, but have never yet espoused it. Their men of intellect have exhibited enlightened views upon this subject, but their politicians who have held the public ear have ever presented it as a thing of dollars, and to be fought for, if need be, but not to be cherished and perpetuated. And is it certain that when better opinions shall prevail; that when they join, if they shall join, a Slave Republic, a Republic to perpetuate the institution, when there shall be less inducement to sell their slaves, and the assurance that when they shall sell them they will fall under the rule of a democracy which must unfit them for association in a slave Confederacy--the people of these States may not solicit an increase of slaves. And is it policy to preclude the possibility of such an increase? But admit the change may never come, yet against all the evils to result from the slave trade these States are competent to protect themselves. The failure of the General Government to preclude that trade by constitutional provision by no means precludes them from such a prohibition. If they may never want them, they may keep them out, without the application of a Procrustean policy to all the other States of the Confederacy. It may be said that without such general restriction the value of their slaves will be diminished in the markets of the West. They have no right to ask that there slaves, or any other products, shall be protected to unnatural value in the markets of the West. If they persist in regarding the negro but as a thing of trade--a thing which they are too good to use, but only can produce for others' uses--and join the Confederacy, as Pennsylvania or Massachusetts might do, not to support the structure, but to profit by it, it were as well they should not join, and we can find no interest in such association.
Is it that the Cotton States themselves require it? If so, each for itself may adopt the prohibition. But they do not. The political leaders of the country are not ready for the proposition, as they were not ready for the measure of secession. Many leaders of the South, many men who meet you in Convention, have been forced to that position by a popular movement they had never the political courage to direct; and so, perhaps, in any case the whole machinery of society must start before the political hands upon the dial plate can indicate its progress; and so, therefore, as this question is not moved--as the members of this Congress are charged to perfect the dissolution of the old government, but have not been instructed as to this permanent requisition of the new--they may be mistaken, as they would have been mistaken, if by chance they had met six months ago and spoken upon the question of secession. And they are mistaken, if, from any reference to popular feeling, they inaugurate the action now proposed. The people of the Cotton States want labor; they know that whites and slaves cannot work together. They have no thought of abandoning their slaves that they may get white labor; and they want slaves, therefore, and they will have them -- from the Seaboard States, if the slave trade be not opened, and they cannot heartily embrace a policy which, while it will tend to degrade the Seaboard States to the condition of a democracy, will compel them to pay double and treble prices for their labor.
It may be said in this connection that, though the Cotton States might tolerate the slave trade, it would overstock the country and induce a kind of social suffocation. It is one of the most grievous evils of the time that men have persisted in legislating on domestic slavery with what would seem to be an industrious misapprehension of its requisites. It is assumed that it is ready to explode while it is in an ordinary state of martial law, as perfect as that which, in times of popular outbreak, is the last and surest provision for security and order. It is assumed that the negro is unfit for mechanical employments, when he exhibits an imitative power of manipulation unsurpassed by any other creature in the world; and when, as a matter of fact, we see him daily in the successful prosecution of the trades, and are forced to know that he is not more generally employed for reason of the higher prices offered for him by our fields of cotton. It is assumed that he cannot endure the cold of the Northern States, when he dies not more readily in Canada than Domingo, and when the finest specimens of negro character and negro form to be met with in the world are on the northern borders of Maryland and Missouri. It is assumed that whenever he comes in contact with free society we must quail before it, when it is evident that the question which shall prevail is dependant on the question which can work the cheapest; and when it is evident that with slaves at starvation prices--slaves at prices to which they will be reduced by the question whether we shall give them up or feed them--at prices to which they will be reduced when the question comes whether they shall starve the hireling or the hireling the slave, the system of domestic slavery, guided always by its best intelligence, directed always by the strictest economy, with few invalids and few inefficients, can underwork the world. And it is assumed that, hemmed in as we will be, but a slight addition to our slaves will induce disastrous consequences. But it is demonstrable that negroes are more easily held to slavery than white men; and that more in proportion, therefore, can be held in subjection by the same masters; and yet in the Republic of Athens of white slaves there were four to one; and in portions of the Roman Empire the proportion was greater still; and upon this ratio the slaves might be increased to forty millions, without a corresponding increase among the whites, and yet occur no disaster; but on our rice lands, isolated to a great extent where negroes are employed in thousands, there is often not one white man to one hundred slaves. Nor is there greater danger of an overcrowded population. Slaves may be held to greater density than freemen; order will be greater, and the economy of resources will be greater. Athens had seven hundred to the square mile, while Belgium, the most densely populated state of modern Europe, has but about three hundred and eighty-eight to the square mile; and with a population only as dense as Belgium, South Carolina could hold the population of the Southern States, and Texas three times the present population of the Union.
Is it that foreign nations will require it? As a matter of taste they might perhaps. There is a mode upon the subject of human rights at present, and England, France, and other States that are leaders of the mode, might be pleased to see the South comply with the standard of requirement, and, provided only no serious inconvenience or injury resulted, would be pleased to see the South suppress not only the slave trade, but slavery itself. But will our failure to do so make any greater difference in our relations with those States? Men may assume it if they will, but it argues a pitiable want of intelligence and independence, an abject want of political spirit, to suppose it. France and England trade in coolies, and neither will have the hardihood to affirm that between that and the slave trade there is an essential difference, and practising the one they cannot war with us for practising the others. Nor, in fact, do they wage war upon the slave trade. Spain permits the trade in Cuba, though she acknowledges the mode by professing to prohibit it. Portugal and Turkey do not even so much. Even England lends her ships to keep the slave trade open in the Black Sea; and almost every slave bought in Africa is paid for in English fabrics, to the profit of the English merchant, and with the knowledge of the British government. In view of these facts, it were simple to suppose that European States will practice sentiment at the expense of interest. And have they interest in the suppression of the slave trade? Three years ago in my report to the Commercial Convention at Montgomery, I said that European States are hostile to the Union. Perhaps "they see in it a threatening rival in every branch of art, and they see that rival armed with one of the most potent productive institutions the world has ever seen: they would crush India and Algeria to make an equal supply of cotton with the North; and, failing in this, they would crush slavery to bring the North to a footing with them, but to slavery without the North they have no repugnance; on the contrary, if it were to stand out for itself, free from the control of any other power, and were to offer to European States, upon fair terms, a full supply of its commodities, it would not only not be warred upon, but the South would be singularly favored--crowns would bend before her; kingdoms and empires would break a lance to win the smile of her approval; and, quitting her free estate, it would be in her option to become the bride of the world, rather than as now, the miserable mistress of the North."
This opinion seemed then almost absurd, but recent indications have rendered it the common opinion of the country; and as, therefore, they have no repugnance to slavery in accordance with their interests, so also can they have none to the extension of it. They will submit to any terms of intercourse with the Slave Republic in consideration of its markets and its products. An increase of slaves will increase the market and supply. They will pocket their philanthropy and the profits together. And so solicitude as to the feeling of foreign States upon this subject is gratuitous: and so it is that our suppression of the slave trade is warranted by no necessity to respect the sentiment of foreign States. We may abnegate ourselves if we will, defer to others if we will but every such act is a confession of a weakness the less excusable that it does not exist, and we but industriously provoke the contempt of States we are desirous to propitiate. Is it that we debase our great movement by letting it down to the end of getting slaves? We do not propose to re-open the slave trade; we merely propose take no action on the subject. I truly think we want more slaves. We want them to the proper cultivation of our soil, to the just development of our resources, and to the proper constitution of society. Even in this State I think we want them; of eighteen million acres of land less than four million are in cultivation. We have no seamen for our commerce, if we had it, and no operatives for the arts; but it is not for that I now oppose restrictions on the slave trade. I oppose them from the wish to emancipate our institution. I regard the slave trade as the test of its integrity. If that be right, then slavery is right, but not without; and I have been too clear in my perceptions of the claims of that great institution--too assured of the failure of antagonist democracy, too convinced the one presents the conditions of social order, too convinced the other does not, and too convinced, therefore, that the one must stand while the other falls, to abate my efforts or pretermit the means by which it may be brought to recognition and establishment.
Believing, then, that this is a test of slavery, and that the institution cannot be right if the trade be not, I regard the constitutional prohibition as a great calamity If the trade be only wrong in policy it would be enough to leave its exclusion to the several States that would feel the evils of that policy; but it is only upon the supposition that it is wrong in principle, wrong radically, and therefore never to be rendered proper by any change of circumstances which may make it to our interest, that it is becoming in the general government to take organic action to arrest. The action of the Confederacy is, then, a declaration of that fact, and it were vain to sustain the institution in the face of such admissions to its prejudice.
It will be said that at the outset of our career it were wise to exhibit deference to the moral sentiment of the world; the obligation is as perfect to respect the moral sentiment of the world against the institution. The world is just as instant to assert that slavery itself is wrong, and if we forego the slave trade in consideration of the moral feeling of the world, then why not slavery also? It were madness now to blink the question. We are entering at last upon a daring innovation upon the social constitutions of the world. We are erecting a nationality upon a union of races, where other nations have but one. We cannot dodge the issue; we cannot disguise the issue; we cannot safely change our front in the face of a vigilant adversary. Every attempt to do so, every refusal to assist ourselves, every intellectual or political evasion, is a point against us. We may postpone the crisis by disguises, but the slave republic must forego its nature and its destiny, or it must meet the issue, and our assertion of ourselves will not be easier for admissions made against us. And is not in fact from a sense of weakness there is such admission? Is there a man who votes for this measure but from misgivings as to slavery, and as to the propriety of its extension? Therefore is there not the feeling that the finger of scorn will be pointed at him without; and is he who doubts the institution, or he who has no higher standard of the right than what the world may say about it, the proper man to build the structure of a slave republic? The members of that Convention are elected to important posts in the grand drama of human history. Such opportunity but seldom comes of moulding the destiny of men and nations. If they shall rise to the occasion, they shall realize their work and do it, they will leave a record that will never be effaced; but if they shall not--of they shall shrink from truth, for reason that it is unhonored; if they shall cling to error, for reason that it is approved, and so let down their character, and act some other part then that before them, they will leave a record which their successors will be anxious to efface--names which posterity will be delighted to honor.
Opinions, when merely true, move slowly; but when approved, acquire proclivity. Those as to the right of slavery have been true merely so far, but they came rapidly to culmination. I was the single advocate of the slave trade in 1853; it is now the question of the time. Many of us remember when we heard slavery first declared to be of the normal constitution of society: few now will dare to disaffirm it. Those opinions now roll on; they are now not only true but are coming to be trusted; they have moved the structure of the State, and men who will not take the impulse and advance must perish in the track of their advancement. The members of your Convention may misdirect the movement--they may impede the movement--they may so divert it that another revolution may be necessary; but if necessarily that other revolution comes, slavery will stand serene, erect aloft, unquestioned as to its rights or its integrity at some points within the limits of the Southern States, and it is only for present actors to determine whether they will contribute or be crushed to that result.
I hope you will pardon this communication; it is too long, but I have not had time to make it shorter. I hope also you will find it consistent with your views to urge the policy I have endeavored to advance. If the clause be carried into the permanent government, our whole movement is defeated. It will abolitionize the Border Slave States--it will brand our institution. Slavery cannot share a government with democracy--it cannot bear a brand upon it; thence another revolution. It may be painful, but we must make it, The Constitution cannot be changed without. The Border States, discharged of slavery, will oppose it. They are to be included by the concession; they will be sufficient to defeat it. It is doubtful if another movement will be so peaceful; but no matter, no power but the Convention can avert the necessity. The clause need not necessarily be carried into the permanent government, but I fear it will be. The belief that it is agreeable to popular feeling will continue. The popular mind cannot now be worked up to the task dispelling the belief; the same men who have prepared the provisional will prepare the permanent constitution; the same influence will affect them. It will be difficult to reverse their judgment in the conventions of the several States. The effort will at least distract us, and so it is to be feared this fatal action may be consummated; but that it may not is the most earnest wish I now can entertain.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
L. W. SPRATT