Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gov. Magoffin's Response to Commissioner Hale

Way back on October 28, 2010 I posted about Alabama secession commissioner Stephen F. Hale's late December 1860 visit to his native Kentucky to converse with the state legislature and Governor Beriah Magoffin (pictured here) to attempt to convince the Bluegrass State to seriously consider secession.  Hale thought the opportunity was prime as many of the slave states were at the time were meeting in convention to debate the proposition of leaving the Union.

While posting Hale's entreaty was certainly important, I must confess I should have quickly followed up that post with Magoffin's reply. Better late than never, I will do so here.

Magoffin opened his written response with a warm welcome to Kentucky for the native son and by mentioning that he agreed with Hale's opinion that the issue of sectional differences was currently alarming. He also concurred that the South had long suffered from wrongs by the North, particularly in regard to fugitive slaves. Magoffin explained that "the people of Kentucky, by reason of their geographical position and nearer proximity to those who seem madly bent upon the destruction of our constitutional guarantees, realize yet more fully than our friends father south the intolerable wrongs and menacing dangers. . ."

Magoffin wrote that it was important for the North to finally and formally recognize slavery as a valid institution and sanctioned by the Constitution. "The war upon our social institutions and their guaranteed immunities waged through the Northern press, religious and secular, and now threatened to be conducted by a dominant political organization [Republican Party] through the agency of State Legislatures and the Federal Government must be ended. Our safety, our honor, and our self-preservation alike demand that our interests be placed beyond the reach of further assault."

The governor explained that "Kentucky will never submit to wrong and dishonor, let resistance cost what it may." And further, that "When the time for action comes (and it is now fearfully near at hand) our people will be found rallied as a unit under the flag of resistance to intolerable wrong." However, unlike the heated, impetuous and fleeing Gulf states, Magoffin recommended calm debate, deliberation and diplomacy within the Union family. If that more prudent course was pursued "the firm alternative of ample guarantees to all our rights and security for future immunity or resistance, our just demands would be conceded and the Union perpetuated stronger than before."

Magoffin stated, at the present time, the difference between the Kentuckys and Missouris and the more hot-spurred South Carolinas, Mississippis and Alabamas was that the border states saw its best chance of redressing constitutional wrongs within the Union, while the Deep South states saw no chance of being appeased as a member of the United States. "You have no hope of redress in the Union. We yet look hopefully to assurances that a powerful reaction is going on at the North. You seek a remedy in secession from the Union. We wish the united action of the slave States, assembled in convention within the Union. You would act separately; we unitedly."

Magoffin closed his letter with an intriguing reference to the interstate slave trade, which in my opinion vividly demonstates its importance to the Bluegrass State at the time. "I regret to have seen in the recent messages of two or three of our Southern sister States a recommendation of the passage of laws prohibiting the purchase by citizens of those States the slaves of the border slave-holding States."  This type of blackmail "is not only liable to the objection so often urged by us against the abolitionists of the North of an endeavor to prohibit the slave trade between the States, but it is likewise wanting in that fraternal feeling which should be common to States which are identified in their institutions and interests."  The governor thought it would likewise be bad policy "for the border slave-holding States to prohibit, by their legislation, the purchase of products of the cotton-growing States, even though it be founded upon the mistaken policy of protection to their own interests."

To sum up Magoffin and thus Kentucky's position on secession at this early point, it would be that while Kentucky saw eye-to-eye with Alabaman and the Gulf States on this the problem and origin of sectional differences, they viewed the solution to those issues much differently.

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