Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Botetourt Resolutions

The Botetourt Resolutions were written by the Honorable John J. Allen, a resident of Botetourt County, on the eve of the American Civil War.

The Resolutions begin with a recitation of Virginia’s accomplishments before, during, and after the Revolutionary War.

“Throughout the whole progress of the republic she [Virginia] has never infringed on the rights of any State, or asked or received an exclusive benefit.

“On the contrary, she has been the first to vindicate the equality of all the States, the smallest as well as the greatest.”

“But claiming no exclusive benefit for her efforts and sacrifices in the common cause, she had a right to look for feelings of fraternity and kindness for her citizens from the citizens of other States, and equality of rights for her citizens with all others; that those for whom she had done so much would abstain from actual aggressions upon her soil, or if they could not be prevented, would show themselves ready and prompt in punishing the aggressors; and that the common government, to the promotion of which she contributed so largely for the purpose of “establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility,” would not, whilst the forms of the constitutions were observed, be so perverted in spirit as to inflict wrong and injustice and produce universal insecurity.”

“These responsible expectations have been grievously disappointed.”

“Owing to a spirit of pharisaical fanaticism prevailing in the North in reference to the institution of slavery, incited by foreign emissaries and fostered by corrupt political demagogues in search of power and place, a feeling has been aroused between the people of the two sections, of what was once a common country, which of itself would almost preclude the administration of a united government in harmony.”

“For the kindly feelings of a kindred people we find substituted distrust, suspicion and mutual aversion. For a common pride in the name of American, we find one section even in foreign lands pursuing the other with revilings and reproach. For the religion of a Divine Redeemer of all, we find a religion of hate against a part; and in all the private relations of life, instead of fraternal regard, a “consuming hate,” which has but seldom characterized warring nations.”

“This feeling has prompted a hostile incursion upon our own soil, and an apotheosis of the murderers, who were justly condemned and executed.”

Judge John Allen, author of the Botetourt Resolutions, goes on to say the northern areas of the nation were spreading “incendiary publications” in an effort to “incite to midnight murder and every imaginable atrocity against an unoffending community.” …

“It is shown in their openly avowed determination to circumscribe the institution of slavery within the territory of the States now recognizing it, the inevitable effect of which would be to fill the present slaveholding States with an ever increasing negro population, resulting in the banishment of our own non-slaveholding population in the first instance and the eventual surrender of our country, to a barbarous race, or, what seems to be desired, an amalgamation with the African.”

“And it has at last culminated in the election, by a sectional majority of the free States alone, to the first office in the republic, of the author of the sentiment that there is an “irrepressible conflict” between free and slave labor, and that there must be universal freedom or universal slavery; a sentiment which inculcates, as a necessity of our situation, warfare between the two sections of our country without cessation or intermission until the weaker is reduced to subjection.”

The document continues to say Virginians would not censure others for “resorting to their ultimate and sovereign right to dissolve the compact which they had formed and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Allen then explains how the states separately and together “dissolved their connection with the British Empire.” He emphasizes the sovereignty of the separate states and the right of each separate sovereign state to care for itself. “The foundation, therefore, on which it was established, was federal, and the State, in the exercise of the same sovereign authority by which she ratified for herself, may for herself abrogate and annul.”

He writes that the states had an obligation to uphold the constitution while a part of the union, “but when a State does secede, the constitution and the laws of the United States cease to operate therein. No power is conferred on Congress to enforce them.”

He calls the use of power by the federal government “a dangerous attack on the rights of the States,” comparing it to the British government and colonies. He writes that the people have the right to take back the powers granted under the constitution, and calls the election of Abraham Lincoln “a standing menace to the South – a direct assault upon her institutions – an incentive to robbery and insurrection,” because he has the power to appoint postmasters and other officers in the southern states.

He then echoed the words of the forefathers by reciting what freeholders of Botetourt said in February 1775 to the Virginia Continental Congress: ““That we desire no change in our government whilst left to the free enjoyment of our equal privileges secured by the constitution; but that should a wicked and tyrannical sectional majority, under the sanction of the forms of the constitution, persist in acts of injustice and violence towards us, they only must be answerable for the consequences. That liberty is so strongly impressed upon our hearts that we cannot think of parting with it but with our lives; that our duty to God, our country, ourselves and our posterity forbid it; we stand, therefore, prepared for every contingency.””

The document resolves that a convention should be called immediately so the people can decide if Virginia should remain in the Union. The state should remain in the Union only if its “equality, tranquility and rights” are guaranteed; otherwise, the State should “adopt in concert with the other Southern States, or alone, such measures as may seem most expedient to protect the rights and insure the safety of the people of Virginia.”

The document can be viewed in its entirety on the Internet or in the Southern Historical Society Papers, volume 1, in the Virginia Room of the Roanoke City Library, Main Branch. There are minor differences in the documents; the above quotes are copied from the latter source.

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