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Washington was like a great village in the days of President Pierce and President Buchanan. My own pride in the federal city was such that my heart would swell within me at every glimpse of the Capitol: from the moment it rose like a white cloud above the smoke and mists, as I stood on the deck of the steamboat (having run up from my dinner to salute Mount Vernon), to the time when I was wont to watch from my window for the sunset, that I might catch the moment when a point on the unfinished dome glowed like a great blazing star after the sun had really gone down. No matter whether suns rose or set, there was the star of our country,—the star of our hearts and hopes.

When our friends came up from Virginia to make us visits, it was delightful to take a carriage and give up days to sight-seeing; to visit the White House and Capitol, the Patent Office, with its miscellaneous treasures; to point with pride to the rich gifts from crowned heads which our adored first President was too conscientious to accept; to walk among the stones lying around the base of the unfinished monument and read the inscriptions from the states presenting them; to spend a day at the Smithsonian Institution, and to introduce our friends to its president, Mr. Henry; and to Mr. Spenser Baird and Mr. George, who were giving their lives to the study 139of birds, beasts, and fishes,—finding them, as Mr. George still contended, "so much more interesting than men," adding hastily, "We do not say ladies," and blushing after the manner of cloistered scholars; to hint of interesting things about Mr. George, who was a melancholy young man, and who had, as we know, sustained a great sorrow.

Washington in 1845.

Then the visits to the galleries of the House and Senate Chamber, and the honor of pointing out the great men to our friends from rural districts; the long listening to interminable speeches, not clearly understood, but heard with a reverent conviction that all was coming out right in the end, that everybody was really working for the good of his country, and that we belonged to it all and were parts of it all.

This was the thought behind all other thoughts which glorified everything around us, enhanced every fortunate circumstance, and caused us to ignore the real discomforts of life in Washington: the cold, the ice-laden streets in winter; the whirlwinds of dust and driving rains of spring; the swift-coming fierceness of summer heat; the rapid atmospheric changes which would give us all these extremes in one week, or even one day, until it became the part of prudence never to sally forth on any expedition without "a fan, an overcoat, and an umbrella."

The social life in Washington was almost as variable as the climate. At the end of every four years the kaleidoscope turned, and lo!—a new central jewel and new colors and combinations in the setting. 140 But behind this "floating population," as the political circles were termed, there was a fine society in the fifties of "old residents" who held themselves apart from the motley crowd of office-seekers. This society was sufficient to itself, never seeking the new, while accepting it occasionally with discretion, reservations, and much discriminating care. The sisters, Mrs. Gales and Mrs. Seaton, wives of the editors of the National Intelligencer, led this society. Mrs. Gales's home was outside the city, and thence every day Mr. Gales was driven in his barouche to his office. His paper was the exponent of the Old Line Whigs (the Republican party was formed later), and in stern opposition to the Democrats. It was, therefore, a special and unexpected honor for a Democrat to be permitted to drive out to "the cottage" for a glass of wine and a bit of fruit-cake with Mrs. Gales and Mrs. Seaton. Never have I seen these gentlewomen excelled in genial hospitality. Mrs. Gales was a handsome woman and a fine conversationalist. She had the courteous repose born of dignity and intelligence and a certain reticence which makes for distinction. She was literally her husband's right hand,—he had lost his own,—and was the only person who could decipher his left-hand writing. So that when anything appeared from his pen it had been copied by his wife before it reached the type-setter. A fine education this for an intelligent woman; the very best schooling for a social life including diplomats from foreign countries, politicians of diverse opinions, artists, authors, musicians, 141women of fashion, to entertain whom required infinite tact, cleverness, and an intimate acquaintance with the absorbing questions of the day.

Of course the levees and state receptions, which were accessible to all, required none of these things. The r?le of hostess on state occasions could be filled creditably by any woman of ordinary physical strength, patience, self-control, who knew when to be silent.

Washington society, at the time of which I write, was comparatively free from non-official men of wealth from other cities who, weary with the monotonous round of travel,—to the Riviera, to Egypt, to Monte Carlo,—are attracted by the unique atmosphere of a city holding many foreigners, and devoted not to commercial but to social and political interests. The doors of the White House and Cabinet offices being open on occasions to all, they have opportunities denied them in their own homes. Society in Washington in the fifties was peculiarly interesting in that it was composed exclusively of men whose presence argued them to have been of importance at home. They had been elected by the people, or chosen by the President, or selected among the very best in foreign countries, or they belonged to the United States Army or Navy service, or to the descendants of the select society which had gathered in the city early in its history.[4]

As I had come to Washington from Virginia, where everybody's great-grandfather knew my great-grandfather, where the rules of etiquette were 142only those of courtesy and good breeding, I had many a troubled moment in my early Washington life, lest I should transgress some law of precedence, etc. I wisely took counsel with one of my "old residents," and she gave me a few simple rules whereby the young chaperon of a very young girl might be guided: "My dear," said this lady, "my dear, you know you cannot always have your husband to attend you. It will be altogether proper for you to go with your sister to morning and afternoon receptions. When you arrive, send for the host or the master of ceremonies, and he will take you in and present you. Of course, your husband will take you to balls; if he is busy, you simply cannot go! I think you would do well to make a rule never, under any circumstances, to drive in men's carriages. There are so many foreigners here, you must be careful. They never bring their own court manners to Washington. They take their cue from the people they meet. If you are high and haughty, they will be high and haughty. If you are genially civil but reserved, they will be so. If you talk personalities in a free and easy way, they will spring some audacious piece of scandal on you, and the Lord only knows where they'll end."

Now, it so happened that I had just received a request from a Frenchman who had brought letters to be allowed to escort Madame and Mademoiselle to a fête in Georgetown. We were to drive through the avenue of blossoming crab-apples, and rendezvous at a spring for a picnic. I forget the name of 143our hostess, but she had arranged a gay festival, including music and dancing on the green. I had accepted this invitation and the escort of M. Raoul, and received a note from him asking at what hour he should have the honor, etc., and I immediately ran home and wrote that "Madame would be happy to see M. Raoul à trois heures"—and that Madame asked the privilege of using her own horses, etc. I made haste to engage an open carriage, and congratulated myself on my clever management.

The afternoon was delicious. Monsieur appeared on the moment, and we waited for my carriage. The gay equipages of other members of the party drove up and waited for us. Presently, rattling down the street, came an old ramshackle "night-hawk," bearing the mud-and-dust scars of many journeys, the seats ragged and tarnished, raw-boned horses with rat-eaten manes and tails, harness tied with rope,—the only redeeming feature the old negro on the box, who, despite his humiliating entourage, had the air of a gentleman.

What could I do? There was nothing to be done!

Monsieur handed me in without moving a muscle of his face, handed in my sister, entered himself, and spoke no word during the drive. He conducted us gravely to the place of rendezvous, silently and gravely walked around the grounds with us, silently and gravely brought us home again.

I grew hot and cold by turns, and almost shed tears of mortification. I made no apology—what could I say? Arriving at my own door, I turned 144and invited my escort to enter. He raised his hat, and with an air of the deepest dejection, dashed with something very like sarcastic humility, said he trusted Madame had enjoyed the afternoon,—thanked her for the honor done himself,—and only regretted the disappointment of the French Minister, the Count de Sartiges, at not having been allowed to serve Madame with his own state coach, which had been placed at his disposal for Madame's pleasure!

As he turned away, my chagrin was such I came very near forgetting to give my coachman his little "tip."

I began, "Oh, Uncle, how could you?" when he interrupted: "Now Mistis, don't you say nothin'; I knowed dis ole fune'al hack warn't fittin' for you, but der warn't nar another kerridge in de stable. De boss say, 'Go 'long, Jerry, an' git er dar!'—an' I done done it! An' I done fotch 'er back, too!"

I never saw M. Raoul afterward. There's no use crying over spilt milk, or broken eggs, or French monsieurs, or even French counts and ministers. I soon left for Virginia, and to be relieved of the dread of meeting M. Raoul softened my regret at leaving Washington.

I am sorry I cannot, at length, describe the brilliant society of Washington during the few years preceding the Civil War. I have done this elsewhere, and need not repeat it here. But for the anxieties engendered by the exciting questions of the day, my own happiness would have been complete. I found and made many friends. My husband was appreciated, my children healthy and good, my home 145delightful. Many of the brilliant men and women assembled in Washington were known to me more or less intimately, and everybody was kind to me. President Buchanan early noticed and invited me. "The President," said Mr. Dudley Mann, "admires your husband and wonders why you were not at the levee. He has asked me to see that you come to the next one." I once ventured to send him a Virginia ham, with directions for cooking it. It was to be soaked overnight, gently boiled three or four hours, suffered to get cold in its own juices, and then toasted. This would seem simple enough, but the executive cook disdained it, perhaps for the reason that it was so simple. The dish, a shapeless, jelly-like mass, was placed before the President. He took his knife and fork in hand to honor the dish by carving it himself, looked at it helplessly, and called out, "Take it away! Take it away! Oh, Miss Harriet! You are a poor housekeeper! Not even a Virginia lady can teach you."

The glass dishes of the épergne contained wonderful "French kisses"—two-inch squares of crystallized sugar wrapped in silver paper, and elaborately decorated with lace and artificial flowers. I was very proud at one dinner when the President said to me, "Madam, I am sending you a souvenir for your little daughter," and a waiter handed me one of those gorgeous affairs. He had questioned me about my boys, and I had told him of my daughter Gordon, eight years old, who lived with her grandmother. "You must bring her to see Miss Harriet," he had said—which, in due season, I did; an event, with 146its crowning glory of a checked silk dress, white hat and feather, which she proudly remembers to this day. Having been duly presented at court, the little lady was much "in society," and accompanied me to many brilliant afternoon functions.

She was a thoughtful listener to the talk in her father's library, and once, when an old politician spoke sadly of a possible rupture of the United States, surprised and delighted him by slipping her hand in his and saying, "Never mind! United will spell Untied just as well"—a little mot which was remembered and repeated long afterward.

An interesting time was the arrival in Washington of the first Japanese Embassy that visited this country. All Washington was crazy over the event. I have told elsewhere of my own childish behavior upon that occasion—when, not having much of a head to speak of, I lost the little I had. Having already cared for the health of my soul by honest confession, I need not repeat it here. I was nervous lest the Japanese dignitaries should recognize me as the effusive lady who had met them en route, but I carefully avoided wearing in their presence the bonnet and gown they had seen, and if they remembered they gave no sign.

Washington lost its head! There was something ridiculous in the way it behaved. So many fêtes were given to the Japanese, so many dinners, so many receptions, we were worn out attending them. "I don't know what we have come here for," said one senator to another; "there's nothing whatever done at the House." "I know," his friend 147replied; "we came here to wait on the Japanese at table."

At the end of one of the balls given them I had seated myself at the door of an anteroom, while my husband was struggling for his carriage in the street. Across the room Miss Lane, with her party, also waited. A young man whom I had seen in society, but whose name I had not heard, approached me, and commenced a harangue of tender sympathy for my neglected position,—so young, so fair, so innocent! Oh, where, where was the miscreant who should protect me? Why, why could I not have been given to one who could have appreciated me—whose life and soul would have been mine, and more in the same strain. I did not, in accordance with stage proprieties, exclaim, "Unhand me, villain!" At first I affected not to hear, but finally rose, crossed the room, and joined Miss Lane. She had not heard, and I did not deem the incident, although novel and most annoying, important enough for inquiry. I did not know him, there was no need for investigation—no call for pistols and coffee.

A few days after I saw him again at the Baron de Limbourg's garden-party. I had joined with Lord Lyons and the Prince de Joinville in the toast to Miss Lane, pledged in the famous thousand-dollar-a-drop "Rose" wine, and was again in the foyer waiting for my carriage when my would-be champion again approached me. "Mrs. Pryor," he said in calm, measured tones, "I am Lieutenant —. I feel perfectly sure you will grant my request. Take my arm and go with me to speak to Miss Lane." 148 I instantly divined his intention. Walking up to Miss Harriet, he said penitently: "Miss Lane, you witnessed my intrusion upon Mrs. Pryor the other evening and her exquisite forbearance. In your presence I humbly beg her pardon." He had, poor fellow, found General Cass's wines too potent for him. He had "lost his head"—that was all. I knew somebody whose head had been by no means a sure fixture without the excuse of General Cass's fine wines. Dear Miss Lane, so thoroughly equipped for her high position by her residence at the court of St. James, had only kindness then and ever for the wife of the young Virginia congressman. Years afterward, when both our heads were gray, we talked together of these amusing little events in our Washington life.

Memory lingers upon the delightful friends who made my Washington life beautiful: Miss Lane, Mrs. Douglas, Lady Napier, Mrs. Horace Clarke (née Vanderbilt), lovely Mrs. Cyrus H. M'Cormick, Mrs. Yulee, the Ritchies, the Masons, Secretary Cass's family, Mrs. Canfield, Mrs. Ledyard, and my prime favorite, Lizzie Ledyard. Ah! they were charming and kind! Even after social lines were strictly drawn between North and South, I had the good fortune to retain my Northern friends. All this I love to remember and would enjoy writing all over again, were it possible twice to give time to social records. Nor can I pause to do more than hint at the spirit of the Thirty-sixth Congress, the struggles, vituperation, intemperate speech, honest efforts of the wise members.

The nomination of Lincoln and Hamlin on a 149purely sectional platform aroused such excitement all over the land that the Senate and House of Representatives gave themselves entirely to speeches on the state of the country. Read at this late day, many of them appear to be the high utterances of patriots, pleading with each other for forbearance. Others exhausted the vocabulary of coarse vituperation. "Nigger thief," "slave-driver" were not uncommon words. Others still, although less unrefined, were not less abusive. Newspapers no longer reported a speech as calm, convincing, logical, or eloquent—these were tame expressions. The terms now in use were: "a torrent of scathing denunciation," "withering sarcasm," "crushing invective," the orator's eyes the while "blazing with scorn and indignation." Young members ignored the salutation of old senators. Mr. Seward's smile after such a rebuff was maddening! No opportunity for scornful allusion was lost. My husband was probably the first congressman to wear "the gray," a suit of domestic cloth having been presented to him by his constituents. Immediately a Northern member said, in an address on the state of the country, "Virginia, instead of clothing herself in sheep's wool, had better don her appropriate garb of sackcloth and ashes." In pathetic contrast to these scenes were the rosy, cherubic little pages, in white blouses and cambric collars, who flitted to and fro, bearing, with smiling faces, dynamic notes and messages from one representative to another. They represented the future which these gentlemen were engaged in wrecking—for many of these boys were sons of Southern widows, 150who even now, under the most genial skies, led lives of anxiety and struggle. Thoroughly alarmed, the women of Washington thronged the galleries of the House and the Senate-chamber. From morning until the hour of adjournment we would sit spellbound, as one after another drew the lurid picture of disunion and war.

When my husband's time came to speak on "the state of the country," he entreated for a pacific settlement of our controversy. "War," he urged, "war means widows and orphans." The temper of the speech was all for peace. He made a noble appeal to the North for concession. He prophesied (the dreamer) that the South could never be subdued by resort to arms! My Northern friends were prompt to congratulate me upon his speech on "the state of the country," and to praise it with generous words as "calm, free from vituperation, eloquent in pleading for peace and forbearance."

The evening after this speech was delivered we were sitting in the library, on the first floor of our home, when there was a ring at the door-bell. The servants were in a distant part of the house, and such was our excited state that I ran to the door and answered the bell myself. It was snowing fast, a carriage stood at the door, and out of it bundled a mass of shawls and woollen scarfs. On entering, a man-servant commenced unwinding the bundle, which proved to be the Secretary of State, General Cass! We knew not what to think. He was seventy-seven years old. Every night at nine o'clock it was the custom of his daughter, Mrs. Canfield, 151to wrap him in flannels and put him to bed. What had brought him out at midnight? As soon as he entered, before sitting down, he exclaimed: "Mr. Pryor, I have been hearing about secession for a long time—and I would not listen. But now I am frightened, sir, I am frightened! Your speech in the House to-day gives me some hope. Mr. Pryor! I crossed the Ohio when I was sixteen years old with but a pittance in my pocket, and this glorious union has made me what I am. I have risen from my bed, sir, to implore you to do what you can to avert the disasters which threaten our country with ruin."

We had this solemn warning to report to our Southern friends who assembled many an evening in our library: R. M. T. Hunter, Muscoe Garnett, Porcher Miles, L. Q. C. Lamar, Boyce, Barksdale of Mississippi, Keitt of South Carolina, with perhaps some visitors from the South. Then Susan would light her fires and show us the kind of oysters that could please her "own white folks," and James would bring in lemons and hot water, with some choice brand of old Kentucky.

These were not convivial gatherings. These men held troubled consultations on the state of the country,—the real meaning and intent of the North, the half-trusted scheme of Judge Douglas to allow the territories to settle for themselves the vexed question of slavery within their borders, the right of peaceable secession. The dawn would find them again and again with but one conclusion,—they would stand together: "Unum et commune periclum una salus!" 152 But Holbein's spectre was already behind the door, and had marked his men! In a few months the swift bullet for one enthusiast; for another (the least considered of them all), a glorious death on the walls of a hard-won rampart—he the first to raise his colors and the shout of victory; for only one, or two, or three, that doubtful boon of existence after the struggle was all over; for all survivors, memories that made the next four years seem to be the sum of life,—the only real life,—beside which the coming years would be but a troubled dream.

The long session did not close until June, and in the preceding month Abraham Lincoln was chosen candidate by the Republican party for the presidency. Stephen A. Douglas was the candidate of the Democrats. The South and the "Old Line Whigs" also named their men. The words "irrepressible conflict" were much used during the ensuing campaign.

The authorship of these words has always been credited to Mr. Seward. Their true origin may be found in the address of Mr. Lincoln, delivered at Cincinnati, Ohio, in September, 1859. On page 262 of the volume published by Follett, Foster, and Company in 1860, entitled "Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas," may be found the following extract from Mr. Lincoln's speech:—

"I have alluded in the beginning of these remarks to the fact that Judge Douglas has made great complaint of my having expressed the opinion that this government 'cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.' He has 153complained of Seward for using different language, and declaring that there is an 'irrepressible conflict' between the principles of free and slave labor. [A voice, "He says it is not original with Seward. That is original with Lincoln."] I will attend to that immediately, sir. Since that time Hickman of Pennsylvania expressed the same sentiment. He has never denounced Mr. Hickman; why? There is a little chance, notwithstanding that opinion in the mouth of Hickman, that he may yet be a Douglas man. That is the difference! It is not unpatriotic to hold that opinion, if a man is a Douglas man.

"But neither I, nor Seward, nor Hickman is entitled to the enviable or unenviable distinction of having first expressed that idea. That same idea was expressed by the Richmond Enquirer in Virginia, in 1856, quite two years before it was expressed by the first of us. And while Douglas was pluming himself that in his conflict with my humble self, last year, he had 'squelched out' that fatal heresy, as he delighted to call it, and had suggested that if he only had had a chance to be in New York and meet Seward he would have 'squelched' it there also, it never occurred to him to breathe a word against Pryor. I don't think that you can discover that Douglas ever talked of going to Virginia to 'squelch' out that idea there. No. More than that. That same Roger A. Pryor was brought to Washington City and made the editor of the par excellence Douglas paper, after making use of that expression, which in us is so unpatriotic and heretical."

On November 6, 1860, Mr. Lincoln was elected President of the United States. On the following December 20 we heard that South Carolina had seceded from the union. We were all, at the time the news arrived, attending the wedding of Mr. Bouligny and Miss Parker. The ceremony had 154taken place, and I was standing behind the President's chair when a commotion in the hall arrested his attention. He looked at me over his shoulder and asked if I supposed the house was on fire.

"I will inquire the cause, Mr. President," I said. I went out at the nearest door, and there in the entrance hall I found Mr. Lawrence Keitt, member from South Carolina, leaping in the air, shaking a paper over his head, and exclaiming, "Thank God! Oh, thank God!" I took hold of him and said: "Mr. Keitt, are you crazy? The President hears you, and wants to know what's the matter."

"Oh!" he cried, "South Carolina has seceded! Here's the telegram. I feel like a boy let out from school."

I returned, and bending over Mr. Buchanan's chair, said in a low voice: "It appears, Mr. President, that South Carolina has seceded from the union. Mr. Keitt has a telegram." He looked at me, stunned for a moment. Falling back and grasping the arms of his chair, he whispered, "Madam, might I beg you to have my carriage called?" I met his secretary and sent him in without explanation, and myself saw that his carriage was at the door before I re?ntered the room. I then found my husband, who was already cornered with Mr. Keitt, and we called our own carriage and drove to Judge Douglas's. There was no more thought of bride, bridegroom, wedding-cake, or wedding breakfast.

This was the tremendous event which was to change all our lives,—to give us poverty for riches, 155mutilation and wounds for strength and health, obscurity and degradation for honor and distinction, exile and loneliness for inherited homes and friends, pain and death for happiness and life.

Apprehension was felt lest the new President's inaugural might be the occasion of rioting, if not of violence. We Southerners were advised to send women and children out of the city. Hastily packing my personal and household belongings to be sent after me, I took my little boys, with their faithful nurse, Eliza Page, on board the steamer to Acquia Creek, and, standing on deck as long as I could see the dome of the Capitol, commenced my journey homeward. My husband remained behind, and kept his seat in Congress until Mr. Lincoln's inauguration. He described that mournful day to me,—differing so widely from the happy installation of Mr. Pierce; "o'er all there hung a shadow and a fear." Every one was oppressed by it, and no one more than the doomed President himself.

We were reunited a few weeks afterward at our father's house in Petersburg; and in a short time my young congressman had become my young colonel—and congressman as well, for as soon as Virginia seceded he was elected to the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, and was commissioned colonel by Governor Letcher.

We bade adieu to the bright days,—the balls (sometimes three in one evening), the round of visits, the levees, the charming "at homes." The setting sun of such a day should pillow itself on golden clouds, bright harbingers of a morning of beauty and 156happiness. Alas, alas! "whom the gods destroy they first infatuate."

The fate of Virginia was decided April 15, when President Lincoln demanded troops for the subjugation of the seceding states of the South. The temper of Governor Letcher of Virginia was precisely in accord with the spirit that prompted the answer of Governor Magoffin of Kentucky to a similar call for state militia, "Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states!" Until this call of the President, Virginia had been extremely averse from secession, and even though she deemed it within her rights to leave the union, she did not wish to pledge herself to join the Confederate States of the South. Virginia was the Virginian's country. The common people were wont to speak of her as "The Old Mother,"—"the mother of us all," a mother so honored and loved that her brood of children must be noble and true.

Her sons had never forgotten her! She had fought nobly in the Revolution and had afterward surrendered, for the common good, her magnificent territory. Had she retained this vast dominion, she could now have dictated to all the other states. She gave it up from a pure spirit of patriotism,—that there might be the fraternity which could not exist without equality,—and in surrendering it she had reserved for herself the right to withdraw from the confederation whenever she should deem it expedient for her own welfare. There were leading spirits who thought the hour had come when she might demand her right. She was not on a 157plane with the other states of the union. "Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts had expressly reserved the right to withdraw from the union, and explicitly disclaimed the right or power to bind the hands of posterity by any form of government whatever."[5]

A strong party was the "union Party," sternly resolved against secession, willing to run the risks of fighting within the union for the rights of the state. This spirit was so strong that any hint of secession had been met with angry defiance. A Presbyterian clergyman had ventured, in his morning sermon, a hint that Virginia might need her sons for defence, when a gray-haired elder left the church, and turning at the door, shouted, "Traitor!" This was in Petersburg, near the birthplace of General Winfield Scott.

And still another party was the enthusiastic secession party, resolved upon resistance to coercion; the men who could believe nothing good of the North, should interests of that section conflict with those of the South; who cherished the bitterest resentments for all the sneers and insults in Congress; who, like the others, adored their own state and were ready and willing to die in her defence. Strange to say, this was the predominating spirit all through the country, in rural districts as well as in the small towns and the larger cities. It seemed to be born all at once in every breast as soon as Lincoln demanded the soldiers.

When it was disclosed that a majority of the 158Virginia Convention opposed taking the state out of the union, the secessionists became greatly alarmed; for they knew that without the border states, of which Virginia was the leader, the cotton states would be speedily crushed. They were positively certain, however, that in the event of actual hostilities Virginia would unite with her Southern associates. Accordingly, it was determined to bring a popular pressure to bear upon the government at Montgomery to make an assault on Fort Sumter. To that end my husband went to Charleston, and delivered to an immense and enthusiastic audience a most impassioned and vehement speech, urging the Southern troops to "strike a blow," and assuring them that in case of conflict, Virginia would secede "within an hour by Shrewsbury clock." The blow was struck; Mr. Lincoln called upon Virginia for a quota of troops to subdue the rebellion, and the state immediately passed an ordinance of secession. Here, in substance, is my husband's Charleston speech, as reported at the time by the New York Tribune:—

"Mr. Roger A. Pryor, called by South Carolina papers the 'eloquent young tribune of the South,' was on Wednesday evening serenaded at Charleston. In response to the compliment he made some remarks, among which were the following: 'Gentlemen, for my part, if Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin were to abdicate their office to-morrow, and were to give to me a blank sheet of paper whereupon to write the conditions of reannexation to the union, I would scorn the privilege of putting the terms upon paper. [Cheers.] And why? Because our grievance has 159not been with reference to the insufficiency of the guarantees, but the unutterable perfidy of the guarantors; and inasmuch as they would not fulfil the stipulations of the old Constitution, much less will they carry out the guarantees of a better Constitution looking to the interests of the South. Therefore, I invoke you to give no countenance to any idea of reconstruction. [A voice, "We don't intend to do anything of the kind."] It is the fear of that which is embarrassing us in Virginia, for all there say if we are reduced to the dilemma of an alternative, they will espouse the cause of the South against the interests of the Northern Confederacy. If you have any ideas of reconstruction, I pray you annihilate them. Give forth to the world that under no circumstances whatever will South Carolina stay in political association with the Northern states. I understand since I have been in Charleston that there is some little apprehension of Virginia in this great exigency. Now I am not speaking for Virginia officially; I wish to God I were, for I would put her out of the union before twelve o'clock to-night. [Laughter.] But I bid you dismiss your apprehensions as to the old Mother of Presidents. Give the old lady time. [Laughter.] She cannot move with the agility of some of the younger daughters. She is a little rheumatic. Remember she must be pardoned for deferring somewhat to the exigencies of opposition in the Pan Handle of Virginia. Remember the personnel of the convention to whom she intrusted her destinies. But making these reservations, I assure you that just so certain as to-morrow's sun will rise upon us, just so certain will Virginia be a member of the Southern Confederation. We will put her in if you but strike a blow. [Cheers.] I do not say anything to produce an effect upon the military operations of your authorities, for I know no more about them than a spinster. I only repeat, if you wish Virginia to be with you, strike a blow!'"

160 The effect, however, of the speech was not merely the adoption of the ordinance of secession by Virginia. In precipitating the assault upon Sumter the speech had another and now little known consequence.

It must be borne in mind that when only South Carolina had seceded, the Republican party, with the assent of the President-elect, had proffered to the South a compromise in these terms: "The Constitution shall never be altered so as to authorize Congress to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states."[6] Of course, no Southern state would oppose a proposition which for the first time made slavery eo nomine an institution under federal protection, and guaranteed it perpetual existence in the slave-holding states. Equally evident was it that a measure supported by Lincoln and the entire Republican party would prevail in every Northern state. The mere pendency, then, of such an overture, if not intercepted in its passage by an act of hostility between the seceded states and the federal government, would have certainly bound the border states to the union, and have insured the miscarriage of the secession movement.

Had not the attack on Sumter been made at the critical moment, the Republican compromise, as already intimated, would have prevailed, and slavery have been imbedded in the Constitution and fastened upon the country beyond the chance of removal,—except by revolution, or the voluntary renunciation of its cherished interests by the slave-holding South. 161The latter alternative is an inconceivable possibility; and hence, but for the "blow" which prompted hostilities and prevented a pacific solution, slavery would exist to-day as a recognized institution of the republic.

I do not pretend that this consummation was desired or anticipated by the Virginia secessionist, but affirm only that he "builded better than he knew," and that but for his act the nation would not now be free from the reproach of human slavery.


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