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SECESSION AND RECONSTRUCTION.
The conduct of Tennessee upon the question of secession is full of interest, and in certain respects, is almost pathetic. It has been shown that from the time when Andrew Jackson became one of the great figures in national affairs, down almost to 1860, Tennessee had a part in making the history of the country not inferior to that of any other State in the Union. She had been the leader of the new States, and in the policies which they represented, and probably her public men had done more than those of any other State to produce the new order which arose about the end of the first quarter of the 19th century. Having done so much for the Republic, loving it sincerely, having pride in its achievements and in her own honorable part in its history, Tennessee was compelled in 1861 to take sides on a question, the determination of which could be reached only by an appeal to arms, and which involved the existence of the Union. It is very certain that no State gave up more than Tennessee in leaving the Union, and that none is more thoroughly entitled to have it believed that it acted upon conviction.
Four distinct influences operated powerfully upon her people at this time. The first was a sincere and intense love of the Union, coupled with pride in its greatness. The second, was a belief, not in secession as a constitutional right, but in the doctrine of strict construction of the Federal Constitution as taught by the men who had led the Democratic party in the South from the time of James Madison, and the accompanying fear of undue assumptions of power by the Federal Government. The third was the proslavery sentiment of a majority of the people who were convinced that the institution of slavery, so clearly approved by the Constitution, and supported by the Federal Courts, was being unconstitutionally attacked and limited. The fourth was a sectional feeling from which no State in the Union was exempt at that time, if any be exempt now.
The first of these four held Tennessee in the Union long after the actual secession of the Southern States had begun. The others grew in strength and intensity as the sectional controversy progressed, and finally became ascendant by reason of the policy of the Federal Government immediately after the attack upon Fort Sumter, in April, 1861.
Mr. Lincoln's first call for volunteers to suppress insurrection was the immediate cause of the secession of Tennessee. A brief recital of events is necessary at this point.
The State was strongly represented in the Democratic national Convention at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1860, and her delegates assumed a position so conservative and so unsatisfactory to the extreme southern element, that they were regarded throughout the South with disapproval and distrust. When the Convention, having adjourned without reaching a conclusion, re-assembled at Baltimore, the Tennessee delegates still hoped by maintaining a conservative position to bring about a compromise between the extreme factions of the party. Almost immediately it became apparent that this hope was without foundation, and when the disruption of the Convention occurred, Tennessee was one of the States that withdrew, and nominated John C. Breckenridge for the presidency. On May 9th, 1860, a Convention composed of delegates from twenty-two States met at Baltimore, and nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president. To the party thus organized, its adherents gave the name of “Constitutional Union Party.” Its Convention declined to adopt a platform, but contented itself with a simple resolution declaring for the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the laws. There was no Republican electoral ticket in Tennessee in 1860, and Bell and Everett carried the State by a plurality substantially commensurate with the Douglas vote and with the ordinary democratic majority. That is to say the full whig strength went to Bell and Everett, and the majority of the demo
cratic votes to Breckenridge, while Douglas was supported by about 10,000 conservative Democrats. The result indicated a small preponderance of Union sentiment in the State, but really that strength was much greater than appeared from this vote. South Carolina went out of the Union in December, 1860, and one after another the larger slaveholding Southern States followed her. The border States, notably Tennessee and Kentucky, still hoped to be the means of accommodating affairs and of preventing actual disruption. It is a striking fact that the Whig leaders of Tennessee continued to hope to save the Union by a compromise, even after hostilities had begun. A majority of the prominent men of the State were Whigs. Among these were John Bell, Neill S. Brown, Balie Peyton, Return J. Meigs, Robert Hatton, John C. Brown, Thomas A. R. Nelson, Horace Maynard, William G. Brownlow, John Netherland, William B. Campbell, John Marshall, Robert L. Caruthers, and Gustavus A. Henry.
Among the more conspicuous Democrats were Andrew Johnson, A. O. P. Nicholson, Isham G. Harris, Cave Johnson, and Landon C. Haynes. Andrew Johnson, however, remained always, a Union man, and Cave Johnson went with the State reluctantly when she seceded. Chief among the Unionists was John Bell, who had been the leader of the Whig party in Tennessee from its first appearance in the State. The secession leader was Isham G. Harris, the Governor of the State. He was not a disunionist for the sake of disunion, but believed that the constitutional rights of the Southern States were being infringed so far as to justify, indeed to require, secession.
On the 8th of December, 1860, the Governor issued a call for a special session of the Legislature to begin January 7th, 1861, the object being as declared in the call, to "consider the present condition of the country.”
The General Assembly met at the time named, and the Governor sent in a message which clearly indicated his own position, but did not suggest radical measures. He declared that he had no doubt of the necessity, and the propriety of calling a Convention to consider the subject of the Federal relations of the State, and advised the Assembly to provide by law for submitting to the people the question of “convention or no convention." He said further, "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.” He suggested five amendments of the Federal Constitution: First, the establishment of a line on the northern boundaries of the slave States and extending to the Pacific, north of which, all territory should be forever free, and south of it forever slave; Second, a strengthening of