Call for a Referendum on a Tennessee Secession Convention
Speech of Tennessee Governor Isham
January 7, 1861
THE ninth section of the third article of the Constitution, provides
that, on extraordinary occasions, the Governor may convene the General
Assembly. Believing the emergency contemplated, to exist at this time
I have called you together. In welcoming you to the capitol of the State,
I can but regret the gloomy auspices under which we meet. Grave and momentous
issues have arisen, which, to an unprecedented degree, agitate the public
mind and imperil the perpetuity of the Government.
The systematic, wanton, and long continued agitation of the slavery question,
with the actual and threatened aggressions of the Northern States and
a portion of their people, upon the well-defined constitutional rights
of the Southern citizen; the rapid growth and increase, in all the elements
of power, of a purely sectional party, whose bond of union is uncompromising
hostility to the rights and institutions of the fifteen Southern States,
have produced a crisis in the affairs of the country, unparalleled in
the history of the past, resulting already in the withdrawal from the
Confederacy of one of the sovereignties which composed it, while others
are rapidly preparing to move in the same direction. Fully appreciating
the imortance of the duties which devolve upon you, fraught, as your action
must be, with consequences of the highest possible importance to the people
of Tennessee; knowing that, as a great Commonwealth, our own beloved State
is alike interested with her sisters, who have resorted, and are preparing
to resort, to this fearful alternative, I have called you together for
the purpose of calm and dispassionate deliberation, earnestly trusting,
as the chosen representatives of a free and enlightened people, that you
will, at this critical juncture of our affairs, prove yourselves equal
to the occasion which has called for the exercise of your talent and patriotism.
A brief review of the history of the past is necessary to a proper understanding
of the issues presented for your consideration.
Previous to the adoption of the Federal Constitution, each State was
a separate and independent Government-a conplete sovereignty within itself
--and in the compact of union, each reserved all the rights and powers
incident to sovereignty, except such as were expressly delegated by the
Constitution to the General Government, or such as were clearly incident,
and necessary, to the exercise of some expressly delegated power. The
Constitution distinctly recognizes property in slaves--makes it the duty
of the States to deliver the fugitive to his owner, but contains no grant
of power to the Federal Government to interfere with this species of property,
except "the power coupled with the the duty," common to all civil Governments,
to protect the rights of property, as well as those of life and liberty,
of the citizen, which clearly appears from the exposition given to that
instrument by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Dred
Scott vs. Sandford. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Chief Justice
"Now, as we have already said in an earlier part of this opinion upon
a different point, the right of property in a slave is distinctly and
expressly affirmed in the Constitution."
"And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress a
greater power over slave property, or which entitles property of that
kind to less protection than property of any other description. The only
power conferred, is the power coupled with the duty, of guarding and protecting
the owner in his rights."
This decision of the highest judicial tribunal, known to our Government,
settles the question, beyond the possibility of doubt, that slave property
rests upon the same basis, and is entitled to the same protection, as
every other description of property; that the General Government has no
power to circumscribe or confine it within any given boundary; to determine
where it shall, or shall not exist, or in any manner to impair its value.
And certainly it will not be contended, in this enlightened age, that
any member of the Confederacy can exercise higher powers, in this respect,
beyond the limits of its own boundary, than those delegated to the General
The States entered the Union upon terms of perfect political equality,
each delegating certain powers to the General Government, but neither
deterring any power to the other to interfere with its reserved rights
or domestic affairs; hence, there is no power on earth which can rightfully
determine whether slavery shall or shall not exist within the limits of
any State, except the people thereof acting in their highest sovereign
The attempt of the Northern people, through the instrumentality of the
Federal Govermuent--their State governments, and emigrant aid societies--to
confine this species of property within the limits of the present Southern
States--to impair its value by constant agitation and refusal to deliver
up the fugitive--to appropriate the whole of the Territories, which are
the common property all the people of all the States, to the Southern
man who is unwilling to live under a government which, may by law recognize
the free negroe as his equal; "and in fine, to put the question where
the Northern mind will rest in the belief of its ultimate extinction"
is justly regarded by the people of the Southern States as a gross and
palpable violation of the spirit and obvious meaning of the compact of
Union--an impertinent intermeddling with their domestic affairs, destructive
of fraternal feeling, ordinary comity, and well defined rights.
As slavery receded from the North, it was followed by the most violent
and fanatical opposition. At first the anti-slavery cloud, which now overshadows
the nation, was no larger than a man's hand. Most of you can remember,
with vivid distinctness, those days of brotlierhood,.when throughout the
whole North, the abolitionist was justly regarded as an enemy of his country.
Weak, diminutive and contemptible as was this part in the purer days of
the Republic, it has now grown to collossal proportions, and its recent
rapid strides to power, have given it possession of the.present House
of Representatives, and elected one of its leaders to the Presidency of
the United States; and in the progress of events, the Senate and Supreme
Court must also soon pass into the hands of this party--a party upon whose
revolutionary banner is inscribed, "No more slave States, no more slave
Territory, no return of the fugitive to his master"--an "irrepressible
conflict" between the Free and Slave States; "and whether it, be long
or short, peaceful or bloody, the struggle shall go on, until the sun
shall not rise upon a master or set upon a slave."
Nor is this all; it seeks to appropriate to itself, and to exclude the
slaveholder from the territory acquired by the common blood and treasure
of all the States.
It has, through the instrumentality of Emigrant Aid Societies, under
State patronage, flooded the Territories with its minions, armed with
Sharp's rifles and bowie knives, seeking thus to accomplish, by intimidation,
violence and murder what it could not do by constitutional legislation.
It demanded, and from our love of peace and devotion to the Union, unfortunately
extorted in 1819-'20, a concession which excluded the South from about
half the territory acquired from France.
It demanded, and again received, as a peace offering in 1845, all of
that part of Texas, North of 36 deg. 30' North latitude, if at any time
the interest of the people thereof shall require a division of her territory.
It would submit to nothing less than a compromise in 1850, by which it
dismembered that State, and remanded to territorial condition a considerable
portion of its territory South of 36 30.
It excluded, by the same Compromise, the Southern people from California,
whose mineral wealth, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate, is
not surpassed on earth, by prematurely forcing her into the Union under
a Constitution, conceived in fraud by a set of adventurers, in the total
absence of any law authorizing the formation of a Constitution, fixing
the qualification of voters, regulating the time, place, or manner of
electing delegates, or the time or place of the meeting of such Convention.
Yet all these irregular and unauthorized proceedings were.sanctified by
the fact that the Constitution prohibited slavery, and forever closed
the doors of that rich and desirable territory against the Southern people.
And while the Southern mind was still burning under a humiliating sense
of this wrong, it refused to admit Kansas into the Union upon a Constitution,
framed by authority of Congress, and by delegates elected in conforinity
to law, upon the ground that slavery was recognized and protected.
It claims the constitutional right to abolish slaverv in the District
of Columbia, the forts, arsenals, dock-yards and other places ceded to
the United States, within the limits of slaveholding States.
It proposes a prohibition of the slave trade between the States, thereby
crowding the slaves together and preventing their exit South, until they
become unprofitable to an extent that will force the owner finally to
abandon them in self-defence.
It has, by the deliberate Legislative enactments of a large majority
of the Northern States, openly and flagrantly nullified that clause of
the Constitution which provides that- "No person held to service or labor
in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into service or labor, but
shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or another,
shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged
from such labor may be due."
This provision of the Constitution has been spurned and trampled under
foot by these "higher law " nullifiers. It is utterly powerless for good,
since all attempts to enforce the fugitive slave law under it are made
a felony in some of these States, a high misdemeanor in others, and punishable
in all by heavy fines and imprisonment. The distempered public opinion
of these localities having risen above the Constitution and all other
law, planting itself upon the anarchical doctrines of the " higher law,"
with impunity defies the Government, tramples upon our rights, and plunders
the Southern citizen.
It has, through the Governor of Ohio, as openly nullified that part of
the Constitution which provides that-"A person charged in any State.with
treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from jistice and be found
in another State, shall, on demand of the executive authority of the State
from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having
jurisdiction of the crime."
In discharge of official duty, I had occasion, within the past year,
to demand of the Governor of Ohio " a person charged in the State (of
Tennessee) with the crime " of slave stealing, who had fled from justice,
and was found in the State of Ohio.' The Governor refused to issue his
warrant for the arrest and delivery of the fugitive, and in answer to
a letter of inquiry which I addressed to him, said: 'The crime of negro
stealing not being known to either the common law or the criminal code
of Ohio, it is not of that class of crimes contemplated by the Federal
Constitution, for the commission of which I am authorized, as the executive
of Ohio, to surrender a fugitive from the justice of a sister State, and
hence I declined to issue a warrant," &c.; thus deliberately nullifying
and setting at defiance the clause of the Constitution above quoted, as
well as the act of Congress of February 12th, 1793, and grossly violating
the ordinary comity existing between separate and independent nations,
much less the comity which should exist between sister States of the same
great Confederacy; the correspondence connected with which is herewith
It has, through the executive authority of other States, denied extradition
of murderers and marauders.
It obtained its own compromise in the Constitution to continue the importation
of slaves, and now sets up a law, higher than the Constitution, to destroy
this property imported and sold to us by their fathers.
It has caused the murder of owners in pursuit of their fugitive slaves,
and shielded the murderers from punishment.
It has, upon many occasions, sent its emissaries into the Southerri States
to corrupt our slaves; induce them to run off, or excite them to insurrection.
It has run off slave property by means of the "underground
railroad," amounting in value to millions of dollars, and thus made
the tenure by which slaves are held in the border States so precarious
as to materially impair their value.
It has, by its John Brown and Montgomery raids, invaded sovereign States
and murdered peaceable citizens.
It has justified and "exalted to the highest honors of admiration, the
horrid murders, arsons, and rapine of the John Brown raid, and has canonized
the felons as saints and martyrs."
It has burned the towns, poisoned the cattle, and conspired with the
slaves to depopulate Northern Texas.
It has, through certain leaders, proclaimed to the slaves the terrible
motto, "Alarm to the sleep, fire to the dwellings, poison to the food
and water of slaveholders."
It has repudiated and denounced the decision of the Supreme Court.
It has assailed our rights as guarantied by the plainest provisions of
the Constitution, from the floor of each house of Congress, the pulpit,
the hustings, the school-room, their State Legislatures, and through the
public press, dividing and disrupting churches, political parties, and
It has, in the person of the President elect, asserted the equality of
the black with the white race.
These are some of the wrongs against which we have remonstrat- ed for
more than a quarter of a century, hoping, but in vain, for their redress,
until some of our sister States, in utter despair of obtaining justice
at the hands of these lawless confederates, have resolved to sever the
ties which have bound them together, and maintain those rights out of
the Union, which have been the object of' constant attack and encroachment
No one will assert that the Southern States or people have, at any time,
failed to perform, fully and in good faith, all of the duties which the
Constitution devofves upon them.
Nor will it be pretended that they have, at any time, encroached or attempted
aggression upon the rights of a Northern sister State. The Government
was for many years under the control of Southern statesmen, but in originating
and perfecting measures of policy, be it said to the perpetual bonor of
the South, she has never attempted to encroach upon a single constitutional
right of the North. The journals of Congress will not show even the introduction
of a single proposition, by any Southern Representative, calculated to
impair her rights in property, injure her trade, or wound her sensibilities.
Nor have they at any time demanded at the hands of the Federal Government,
or Northern States, more than their well-defined rights under the Constitution.
So far from it, they have tolerated these wrongs, from a feeling of loyalty
and devotion to the Union, with a degree of patience and forbearance uparalleled
in the history of a brave and free people. Moreover, they have quietly
submitted to a revenue system which indirectly, but certainly, taxes the
products of slave labor some fifty or sixty millions of dollars annually,
to increase the manufacturing profits of those who have thus presistently
and wickedly assailed them.
To evade the issue thus forced upon us at this time, without the fullest
security for our rights, is, in my opinion, fatal to the institution of
slavery forever. The time has arrived when the people of the South must
prepare either to abandon or to fortify and maintain it. Abandon it, we
cannot, interwoven as it is with our wealth, prosperity, and domestic
happiness. We owe it to the mechanic whose shop is closed, to the multiplied
thousands of laborers thrown out of employment, to the trader made bankrupt
by this agitation. We owe it to ourselves, our children, our self-respect
and equality in the Government, to have this question settled permanently
and forever upon terms consistent with justice and honor, and which will
give us peace and perfect securiity for the present and future.
Palliatives and opiates, in the character of legislative compromises,
may be applied, afording momentary relief; but there will be no permanent
safety, security, or peace, until Northern prejudice has been eradicated,
and the public sentiment of that section radically changed and nationalized.
To attempt the application of effective remedies before this great object
has been accomplished, is like cleansing the stream while the fountain
itself is poisoned.
The consequences and immense interests which are involved in the proper
solution of the difficulties that surround us, the deep, lasting, and
vital importance of settling them upon principles of justice and equality,
demand the most serious consideration of the whole people, as well as
that of the public functionaries of the State. Whilst I cheerfully submit
to your discretion the whole question of our federal relations, having
no doubt myself as to the necessity and propriety of calling a State Convention,
yet I respectfully recommend that you provide by law for submitting to
the people of the State the question of Convention or No Convention, and
also for the election of delegates by the people, in the ratio of legislative
representation, to meet in State Convention, at the Capitol, at Nashville,
at the earliest day practicable, to take into consideration our federal
relations, and determine what action shall be taken by the State of Tennessee
for the security of the rights and the peace of her citizens.
The question of Convention or No Covention, can and should be determined,
and the delegates chosen at the same election, which can be very easily
accomplished by heading one set of tickets CONVENTION, and another set
NO CONVENTION. If a majority of the people vote for Convention, then the
persons receiving the largest number of votes in their respective counties
and districts, to be commissioned as delegates.
This will place the whole matter in the hands of the people, for them,
in their sovereignty, to determine how far their rights have been violated,
the character of redress or guaranty they will demand, or the action they
will take for their present and future security.
If there be a remedy for the evils which afflict the country, consistent
with the perpetuity of the Union, it will, in my opinion, be found in
such constitutional amendments as will deprive the fanatical majorities
of the North of the power to invade our rights, or impair the security
or value of our property.
Clear and well defined as our rights are, under the present Constitution,
to participate equally with the citizens of all other States in the settlement
of the common Territories, and to hold our slaves there until excluded
by the formation of a State Constitution, yet every organized Territory
will become a field of angry, if not bloody, strife between the Southern
man and the Abolitionist, and we shall see the tragedies of Kansas reenacted
in each of them, as they approach the period of forming their State Constitutions.
Plain and unmistakable as is the duty of each State to deliver up the
fugitive slave to his owner, yet the attempt to reclaim is at the peril
of the master's life. These evils can be obviated to a great extent, if
not entirely, by the following amendments to the Constitution:
Ist. Establish a line upon the northern boundary of the present Slave
States, and extend it through the Territories to the Pacific Ocean, upon
such parallel of latitude as will divide them equitably between the North-and
South, expressly providing that all the territory now owned, or that may
be hereafter acquired North of that line, shall be forever free, and all
South of it forever slave. This will remove the question of existence
or nonexistence of slavery in our States and Territories entirely and
forever from the arena of politics. The question being settled by the
Constitution, is no longer open for the politician to ride into position
by appealing to fanatical prejudices, or assailing the rights of his neighbors.
2d. In addition to the fugitive slave clause provide, that when slave
has been demanded of the executive authority of the State to which he
has fled, if lie is not delivered, and the owner permitted to carry him
out of the State in peace, that the State so failing to deliver, shall
pay to the owner double the value of such slave, and secure his right
of action in the Supreme Court of the United States. This will secure
the return of the slave to his owner, or his value, with a sufficient
sum to indemnify him for the expenses necessarily incident to the recovery.
3d. Provide for the protection of the owner in the peaceable possession
of his slave while in transitoin, or temporarily sojourning in any of
the States of the Confederacy; and in the event of the slave's escape
or being taken from the owner, require the State to return, or account
for him as in case of the furitive.
4th. Expressly prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery in the District
of Colimbia, in any dock yard, navy yard, arsenal, or district of any
character whatever, within the limits of any slave State.
5th. That these provisions shall never be changed, except by the consent
of all the slave States.
With these amendments to the Constitution, I should feel that our rights
Were reasonably secure, not only in theory, but in fact, and should indulge
the hope of living in the Union in peace. Without these, or some other
amendments, which promise an equal amount and certainty of security, there
is no hope of peace or security in the government.
If the non-slaveholding States refuse to comply with a demand so just
and reasonable ; refuse to abandon at once and forever their unjust war
upon us, our institutions, and our rights ; refuse, as they have heretofore
done, to perform, in good faith, the obligations of the compact of union,
much as we may appreciate the power, prosperity, greatness and glory of
this government; deeply as we deplore the existence of causes which have
already driven one State from the Union ; much as we may regret the imperative
necessity which they have wantonly and wickedly forced upon us, every
consideration of self-respect require that we should assert and maintain
our "equality in the Union, or independence out of it."
In my opinion, the only mode left us of perpetuating the Union upon the
principles of justice and equality, upon which it was originally established,
is by the Southern States, identified as they are in interest, sentiment,
and feeling, and must, in the natural course of events, share a common
destiny, uniting in the expression of a fixed and unalterable resolve,
that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution must be respected, and
fully and perfectly secured in the present government, or asserted and
maintained in a homogeneous Confederacy of Southern States.
Mere questions of policy may be very often properly compromised, but
there can be no compromise of cardinal and vital principles; no compromise
between right and wrong. Principle must be vindicated, and right triumphant,
be the consequences what they may. To compromise the one, or abandon the
other, is not only unmanly and humiliating in the extreme, but always
disastrous in its final results.
The South has no power to reunite the scattered fragments of a violated
Constitution and a once glorious government. She is acting on the defensive.
She has been driven to the wall, and can submit to no further aggression.
The North, however, can restore the Constitutional Union of our fathers,
by undoing their work of alienation and hate, engendered by thirty years
of constant aggression, and by unlearning the lessons of malignant hostility
to the South and her institutions, with which their press, pulpit, and
schools have persistently infected the public mind.
Let them do this, and peace will again establish her court in the midst
of this once happy country, and the union of these States be restored
to that spirit of fraternity, equality, and justice, which gave it birth.
Let them do this, and the vitality which has been crushed out of the
Constitution may be restored, giving renewed strength and vigor to the
But can we hope for such results? Two months have already passed, since
the development of facts which make the perpetuity of the Union depend,
alone, upon their giving to the South satisfactory guarantees for her
chartered rights. Yet, there has been no proposition at all satisfactory,
made by any member of the dominant and aggressive party of that section.
So far from it, their Senators and Representatives in Congress have voted
down and spurned every proposition that looked to the accomplishment of
this object, no matter whence emanating ; and the fact that their constituents
have, in no authoritative manner, issued words of rebuke or warning to
them, must be taken as conclusive proof of their acquiescence in the policy.
In view of these facts, I cannot close my eyes to the conclusion that
Tennessee will be powerless in any efforts she may make to quell the storm
that pervades the country. The work of alienation and disruption has gone
so far, that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to arrest
it; and before our adjournment, in all human probability, the only practical
question for the State to determine will be whether she will unite her
fortunes with a Northern or Southern Confederacy; upon which question,
when- presented, I am certain there can be little or no division in sentiment,
identified as we are in every respect with the South.
If this calamity shall befall the country, the South will have the consolation
of knowing that she is in no manner responsible for the disaster. The
responsibility rests alone upon the Northern people, who have wilfully
broken the bond of union, repudiated the obligations and duties which
it imposes, and only cling to its benefits. Yet even in this dark hour
of responsibility and peril, let no man countenance the idea for a moment,
that the dissolution of the Federal Union reduces the country to anarchy,
or proves the theory of self government to be a failure. Such conclusions
would be not only erroneous but unworthy of ourselves, and our revolutionary
ancestry, while our State governments exist, possessing all the machinery,
perfect and complete, which is necessary to the purposes of civil government,
just as they existed before the Union was formed.
The sages and patriots of the revolution, when in the act of severing
their connection with the mother country, and establishing the great cardinal
principles of free government, solemnly declared that governments were
instituted among men to secure their rights "to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness; deriving their just powers from the consent of the
governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of
these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and
to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles,
and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely
to effect their safety and happiness. But when a long train of abuses
and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same obiect, evinces a design
to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their
duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their
Recognizing these great principles, the peopleof Tennessee incorporated
in their declaration of rights, as a fundamental article of the Constitution
of the State, "That government being instituted for the common benefit,
the doctrine of non -resistance against arbitrary power and oppression
is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind."
Whatever line of policy may be adopted by the people of Tennessee, with
regard to the present Federal relations of the State, I am sure that the
swords of her brave and gallant sons will never be drawn for the purpose
of coercing, subjugating, or holding as a conquered province, any one
of her sister States, whose people may declare their independence of the
Federal Government, for the purpose of being relieved from " a long train
of abuses and usurpations." To admit the right or policy of coercion,
would be untrue to the example of our fathers and the glorious memories
of the past, destructive of those great and fundamental principles of
civil liberty, purchased with their blood ; destructive of State soveriegnty
and equality; tending to centralization, and thus subject the rights of
the minority to the despotism of an unrestrained majority.
Widely as we may differ with some of our sister Southern States as to
the wisdom of their policy; desirous as we may be that whatever action
taken in this emergency, should be taken by the South as a unit; hopeful
as we may be of finding some remedy for onr grievances consistent with
the perpetuity of the present Confederacy, the question, at last, is one
which each member of the Confederacy must determine for itself, and any
attempt on the part of the others to hold, by means of military force,
an unwilling sovereignty as a member of a common Union, must inevitably
lead to the worst form of internecine war, and if successful, result in
the establishment of a new and totally different government from the one
established by the Constitution-the Constitutional Union being a Union
of consent, and not of force, of peace, and not of blood-composed of sovereignties,
free, and politically equal. But the new and coercive government, while
it would "derive its powers" to govern a portion of the States "from the
consent of the governed" would derive the power by which it governed the
remainder from the cannon and the sword, and not from their consent --
a Union, not of equals, but of the victors and the vanquished, pinned
together by the bayonet and congealed in blood.
I devoutly trust that a merciful Povidence may avert such a calamity,
and believe that there is no respectable portion of our people, whatever
may be their differences of opinion upon other questions, who are so blind
to reason, or so lost to patriotism and every sentiment of civil liberty,
as to give countenance to a policy so fatal in its results, and so revolting
to every sentiment of humanity.
While I sincerely trust that Tennessee may never be driven to the desperate
alternative of appealing to arms in defence of the rights of her people,
I nevertheless deem it proper, in view of the present excited state of
the public mind and unsettled condition of the country, to call your attention
to the fact that, with the exception of a small number of volunteer companies,
we have no military organization in the State, the militia havig disorganized
immediately after the repeal of the law which required drills and public
parades. Independent of the impending crisis, I regard a thorough re-organization
of the militia as imperatively demanded by every considerition of prudence
and safety. I therefore submit the question to your consideration, with
the earnest hope that you will adopt such plan of organization as will
secure to the State at all times, and under all circumstances, an efficient
and reliable military force.
I am unable, in the absence of full reports from the clerks of the several
counties, to inform you as to the military strength of the State. Such
reports as have been made to this department sliall be laid before you.
I do not doubt, however, that the milita strength of the State may be
safely estimated at one hundred and twenty thousand men.
It is proper, in this connection, that I call your attention to the report
of John Heriges, Keeper of Public Arms, herewith transmitted, showing
the number, character, and Icondition of the public arms of the State,
and respectfully recommend that you provide for the purchase of such number
and character of arms, for the use of the State, as may be necessary to
thoroughly arm an efficient military force.
I regret that I cannot close this communication with the foregoing recital
of facts pertaining to the all important political crisis of the day.
But a comparative failure of crops for two successive years, with the
destruction of commercial confidence, resulting in the suspension of commercial
transactions, general stagnation of trade, and financial embarrassment
which pervade the whole country, with its ever attendant evil of general
pecuniary distress, at the beginning of which many of the banks in the
State suspended specie payment, thereby incurring the penalties prescribed
by the banking code of the last session.
It is asserted, and I suppose truly, that the condition of the banks
was such as not to make suspension necessary on their own account; that
by the adoption of a purely selfish policy, they could have weathered
the storm and sustained themselves, but to have done so they must have
cut off all discounts, and enforced the collection of their debts from
the people, which would have increased the general distress. It is also
argued, with great earnestness, by a very large number of the people,
that you should pass laws for relief, and in order to enable the banks
to afford the greatest possible assistance to the people until another
crop can be made, that the penalties incurred by the suspension of the
banks should be released.
While I am confident in the opinion that the suspension of specie payment
by the banks a he banks is wrong in principle, and tends to depreciate
the currency and unsettle the standard of value, I am equally confiderit
that the policy of relief laws, to which this general pecuniary distress
has driven the public mind, is, to say the least of it, of doubtful policy,
and generally injurious in their ultimate effects upon the community.
The idea of freeing a people from pecuniary distress by legislation, is,
to my mind, an impossibility. Yet so universal is the anxiety expressed,
and so confident the hope of relief from the adoption of the policy suggested,
that while I cannot concur in the truth of the argument, or recommend
the adoption of the policy, I do not feel at liberty obstinately to stand
between the people of the State and their chosen Representatives, to prevent
the adoption of such legislation connected with these questions as they
may think will promote their interest and general welfare.
I therefore submit to your consideration these questions for such action
as you in your discretion, may see proper to take with regard to them.
I am aware that there are many questions of a general character with
regard to which the constituents of many of you desire legislation, but
having convened you in extraordinary session, upon what I conceived to
be an extraordinary occasion in the history of the country, and feeling
the necessity of prompt and immediate action upon the absorbing questions
connected with the political crisis of the day, I have intentionally avoided
submitting any others than those to which I have especially called attention,
trusting that no material interest will suffer by being postponed until
the next regular session of the General Assembly.
With the earnest hope that your session may be short and agreeable, and
devoutly trusting that an All Wise Providence may watch over your deliberations,
and guide and direct you in the adoption of such measures as will redound
to the general welfare, peace, prosperity, and glory of our State and
country, the questions, fraught as they are with weighty responsibilities
and fearfully important consequences, are respectfully committed to your
Library of Congress
Public Acts of the State of Tennessee, Passed at the Extra Session of the Thirty-Third
General Assembly, for the Year 1861." Published by Authority. Nashville, Tenn.;
E. G. Eastman & Co., Public Printers, Union and American Office, 1861..