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Chapter XXXIII. The Cause—My Motives and Defence by Ephraim McDowell Anderson

Chapter XXXIII. The Cause—My Motives and Defence 
Ephraim McDowell Anderson

Being now in the Confederate service, and fully committed to the fortunes of those States which had separated from the Union, and maintained their right to do so by arms, I wish my record to show the motives and reasons which influenced me in an act of such grave responsibility; they will be briefly stated, with as little cicumlocution as possible.

The doctrine of State rights has been settled by arms, adversely to the States. The whole fabric has been tumbled to the ground, and the States are now nothing, not even respectable corporations; for corporate rights cannot be invaded without what in law is called a "quo warranto," and a regular trial in court. The executive, under the new order of things, by a simple scratch of his pen, has annihilated a State government, placing all authority in the hands of a military chief, and numerous petty chiefs under him, and constituting them absolute masters of the lives, liberty, and fortunes of its people.

In the history of governments, one precedent is sufficient, if submitted to, to establish a claim of right: they never go back of their own accord. In monarchies and aristocracies they are sometimes forced to return to their ancient usages or principles by revolution ; in republics this result has, in a few instances, been accomplished by the voice of the people, interposed before the reign of faction became fixed and absolute.

Our own government presents an instance of this character. In the early period of the republic, when John Adams was President, some laws were passed by Congress and approved by the executive, showing clearly a determination by the party in office to usurp and exercise, through the Congress of the United States and the executive of the general government, powers that were at once despotic and destructive of liberty.

A law was enacted, known as "the alien law," giving the President authority to seize and transport any alien at his will and pleasure.

A man's life, and security in its enjoyment, are indispensable, in order to take care of and preserve his property and the means of living. This law at once gave the President of the United States the control of both; for if you have authority to take my life or person, you can certainly contrive to reach "the means whereby I live." With military force the executive could arrest a man and subject him immediately to such rigors and hardship of confinement as to end his life or destroy his constitution, and if there was anything left of either by the time he was conveyed to the hold of a ship, the process of transportation could readily be so conducted as to end the helpless exile. We know now, by full experience, how easily one's life is taken or his constitution broken by arbitrary imprisonment; the administration of Mr. Lincoln furnishes ample testimony on this subject.

It was said, however, as a palliative for the enactment of this law, that they were only aliens, not Americans that were subject to its provisions. Conceding, for a moment, for the sake of argument, that this might be the case, was it not strange and unnatural that, in this government, an act of such brutal tyranny should be adopted towards foreigners, invited to our shores by the genius and spirit of free institutions? What profound hypocrisy, with such a law upon our records, to proclaim to the world, to the wanderer and exile, that this was a land of liberty I Was not this enactment a fatal departure from every sentiment of freedom, and a prodigious stride towards the most revolting tyranny? But even this palliation was not true; for the executive  could arrest an American obnoxious to its vengeance transporting him away in the night, and speedily ending his life or ruining his constitution by inhuman severity before it would be possible to remedy the wrong : the pestilent hold of a transport ship, and the weight of chains and fetters, would soon finish the victim. If any one be disposed to doubt the character and effect of such a law, giving the power of arrest, let him inquire into some of the thousands of cases that occurred during the late administration, in which arbitrary arrests were made without law.

It might be said that no executive would dare do all this. Alas! we know by sad experience that a President, with power in his hands, has dared do anything.

If an unfortunate American had been arrested under this law, the apology would have been, that it was entirely a mistake, and should be promptly corrected. Before martial law was utterly abolished and put an end to in England, such mistakes and apologies were made there j citizens were seized and disposed of with informal dispatch, under the pretext that they belonged to the military service and jurisdiction. If search was made for the unhappy victim, and he was found at all, it would perhaps be in his grave, or in some loathsome sink or dungeon, where the clank of his chains was the only sound that reached his ear, and in the wasted frame and shadowy skeleton, the once robust and vigorous man could no longer be recognized. In addition to the alien law, an act called "the sedition law" was passed by the same Congress. If any one spoke disrespectfully of the President, or used improper language in referring to that exalted personage, he or she was subjected to fine and imprisonment.

These two acts were worthy of each other and of the spirit from which they emanated: they were a fresh exhibition of that temper and disposition which has oftentimes marked the character and conduct of a large portion of the New England people. When the Puritans came to the rock of Plymouth, it is true that they were seeking freedom in their religious worship and opinions. It must not, however, be inferred from this that they were by any means favorable to toleration, for such an inference would be very erroneous. While they had power in the mother country, they enforced their tenets and doctrines, like Mahomet, with the sword; and, when deprived of their ascendancy, their attention was turned to a new sphere, in which they could freely exercise their own faith and at the same time exclude all heresy.

In the new home the Pilgrim Fathers had chosen, laws and penalties were soon enacted in reference to faith, manners and appearances, of a character the most rigid, exacting and intolerant; and whenever religious opinions or sentiments in morals, or a style of manners and conduct, were expressed or exhibited, differing from their own peculiar views and habits, those who uttered, or were chargeable with them, were immediately subjected to fines and public reproof: if still contumacious, they were followed up with persecution, and, finally, driven into exile. Such was the fate of Roger Williams and his followers. The old "Blue laws" were an exhibition of this same temper. There was, indeed, no compromise, no conciliation or forbearance in the genius and temper of the old Puritans. Whatever their passions or sentiments dictated, whatever their hopes and wishes aspired to or desired, whatever their vengeance claimed or thirsted for, was followed up with an iron will and merciless, unshrinking resolution. Austere in appearances, they were yet Jesuits in their principles and practices, conceiving that ''the end justified the means."

The numerous Indian tribes inhabiting the regions, which the early Puritans desired to occupy, were in their way, besides often annoying them with hostilities, not always unprovoked, and they adopted the readiest plan to get rid of them—without scruple or remorse, they were pitilessly exterminated. The Wapanoags, Pokanokets, the Narragansetts and the Pequods are all gone—annihilated—not a single descendant of those once numerous tribes can be found upon the broad surface of America, while the natives occupying the regions to the South and West, which were settled by a race more truly Christian and more susceptible of the feelings of sincere humanity, are in greater numbers now than they were in early times. This is true of the Ottoways, the Pottawattomies, the Cherokees, the Creeks, the Chickasaws and Chocktaws—in better condition and more numerous than when the white man first came to their shores.

The witches also encountered the vindictive and superstitious suspicion of the good Puritans: they ran a tilt at the poor women, and consigned them by scores, old and young, with unpitying cruelty and barbarism, to deaths the most inhuman and horrible.

These peculiar traits of Puritan character, giving tone to New England sentiment, and, finally, to the national government, while New England counsels prevailed in it, were brought prominently into action in the days of the elder Adams: they were neither heretics, Indians nor witches now, but the poor aliens, and the insolent, audacious and out-spoken denunciators of a New England President, who were to feel the weight of the heavy and pitiless hand that had banished heretics, exterminated Indians, and given witches to the flames.

The first minds and the most distinguished patriots of that day at once took the alarm at "the alien and sedition laws," and promptly placed themselves in organized opposition to an administration and a Congress that were making such fearful strides to despotic authority and a consolidated government.

The papers called "The Federalist," written chiefly by Madison and Hamilton, had, while recommending the Constitution to the States, pointed out the care and caution exercised in its provisions to guard against consolidation, which they considered fatal to republican government. The powers granted, they declared, were specific, definite, and could not be transcended—all others being reserved to the States and the people.

Thomas Jefferson was presented as a candidate for the Presidency in opposition to John Adams, and a platform of principles was adopted, on which he was placed, expounding the nature, character and structure of the government, and the checks and balances designed as a security for liberty and a protection against usurpation. The Virginia resolutions of '98, drawn by Mr. Madison, and the Kentucky resolutions of '99, drawn by Mr. Jefferson, embodied this platform and its principles. They declared that the general government was one of limited and specified powers; that the States were sovereign parties to the compact, and, as such, had the right to judge of its infractions, and, in any controversy with the Federal power, could determine the mode and measure of redress. In the convention that framed the Constitution, the right to coerce a State which might contest the power of the government, had been proposed as one of its articles, and had been almost unanimously rejected.

Such were the principles presented to the nation, vindicating the doctrine of State rights, and supported by the ablest minds and the best patriots of those times. Even in New England, a strong and devoted band, which had never yielded to the excesses and intolerance of the dominant faction, warmly and zealously defended the principles enunciated by the Republican or Democratic party, and entered the contest with energy and determination. 

Among the founders of the Republic, my own ancestors had occupied an honorable position. On one side, my grandsire was One of those officers who fought through the Revolution, from the beginning to the close, and assisted in those early councils which supported and sustained the feeble and tottering infancy of the now confederacy. He took the strongest ground in the Senate of the United States against the alien and sedition laws, warmly supported the resolutious of '98 and '99, and assisted in putting down the usurping admiiustration and Congress, that had alike defied the Constitution and trampled upon the principles of liberty. On the other side, my great-grandsire was one of the chiefs of that gallant band which, at King's mountain, turned back the tide of war, and bore the flag of freedom in triumph over that hard-fought field. He, too, was a zealous supporter of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions and of the election of Mr. Jefferson, and gave his cordial and decided efforts to the cause.

Arrayed in behalf of the people and the States, and the great principles of constitutional freedom, were the finest intellects and the most devoted patriots in the nation, and, in advance, such men as Jefferson and Madison, aided by statesmen, able in council, and warriors, tried in the field—veterans of the Revolution—the conscript fathers of the Republic—

"The dead, but sceptred sovereigns,
Whose spirits rule us from their urns."

The contest was fierce and bitter, for usurping tyranny never yielded up in any age, either its victims or its power, without a daring and vindictive struggle. John Adams and his official counsellors were dismissed from their stations by the voice of the nation. The principles and platform of the Republican or Democratic party were fully endorsed, the alien and sedition laws were promptly repealed, and the policy and practice of the government conformed in every respect to those doctrines upon which both civil and political liberty wore considered equally based.

In the course of years, many of the men who had sustained the views and conduct of John Adams and his party, came forward, renounced their old opinions, and gave in their adhesion to the Democratic party. Among these was John Qnincy Adams, who, being baptized into the faith he now professed, received high diplomatic positions from Mr. Jefferson and successive Democratic Presidents.

The platform and principles triumphantly sustained in the election of Mr. Jefferson, have always been avowed and declared as the creed of the party which, with the exception of brief intervals, ruled the nation for sixty years. Within that period no other party, no distinguished statesman, has even publicly denounced the resolutions of '98 and '99. The Southern people have been reared in the belief that they contained the sound exposition of the character of the government and the rights of the States

Educated in these opinions—believing that the right of coercion, refused by the convention to the general government, could not be rightfully exercised by it ; believing, moreover, that the States, in any controversy with Federal authority, had a right to judge of the mode and measure of redress—I gave my best efforts conscientiously to sustain their action, and freely and cheerfully periled my life for the cause; as gloom and darkness overshadowed, it became dearer from suffering, and, though now lost, its memory still lingers with all the emotion of a first and devoted love.

It has been said that a government which could be dismembered by the unresisted action of States composing it, would be weak and constantly subject to division. That may be true. Yet, without some check, is not consolidation equally certain and irresistible? Which of the two is preferable—States separate and independent, or a government consolidated? On this subject, let us appeal to the truth and examples of history.

The States of Greece were sovereign and independent, issuing money, raising armies, equipping navies, waging war and making peace—bound together sometimes by no tie at all, and, at others, by a league intended almost exclusively for defence against foreign aggression or invasion. At times they carried on war with one another, which often lasted for a considerable period. Yet the proud name and vast renown of the Grecian States have come down to us, the brightest and most glorious in all the memories of those heroic times.

Throughout these distinguished States, and in the days of their separate sovereignty, the finer arts achieved their noblest triumphs. It was then the Corinthian, the Doric and Ionic column rose to adorn and beautify the structures of learning and the temples of the gods; then, the genius of Praxitiles, Apelles, Phidias and other great masters gave life, grace and spirit to the Parian marble, and inspiration to the speaking canvas. In that age, the muses of poetry and eloquence crowned their early, perhaps their greatest and most gifted votaries: Homer, Hesiod and Pindar wrote and sang in numbers that still live, and Demosthenes, Cleon, Pericles, and a host of others, immortalized the Grecian Areopagus and Forum. History, Learning and Philosophy still invoke the shades of Thucydides and Xenophon, of Longinus and Aristotle, of Socrates and Plato. The pass of Thermopylae is remembered as the tomb of that devoted baud; who gave their lives to save the freedom of their country, while the recollection yet survives of Marathon and Leuctra, of Platsea and countless victories, whose proud trophies were deposited in the temples of the god of war. Such was Greece in the days of her independence and the sovereignty of her States. What was she when consolidated? Her name and story are lost in obscurity and oblivion. Her genius and freedom expired together; the muses ceased to dwell in the groves of Parnassus, and presided no longer at the fountain of Castalia; her great works and noble structures were left to the waste of time, and rapidly mouldered into ruins. Yet, still they furnish materials for the antiquary and tourist—

"Still stretch their column'd vistas far away—
The gloomy sadness of their long array."

How wide the difference, how unequal the comparison, between the lifeless and dead embodiment, the soulless remains, and that living Greece, whose lustre shone so brightly in that illustrious age, when the glory of art and science, of eloquence and arms, and the spirit and inspiration of liberty, gave her name and memory to immortality!

Ephraim McD. Anderson, Memoirs: Historical and Personal; Including the Campaigns of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade (St. Louis: Times Printing Company, 1868), 116-123.


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