The Civil War News & Views Open Discussion Forum

North (East) vs South 1790s

Here is another issue that was used politically to stir emotion to split the union, and it was not over the protection of the slavery institution.


..."The measures about which the fiercest conflict raged were those providing for the public debt and national bank, which the republicans believed the federalists wished to make engines of power and patronage to the national government. In his famous report of January 14, 1790, submitting his plan for supporting the public credit, Hamilton described a well-funded national debt as a desirable asset of government, and as having also a tendency "to cement more closely the Union of the States." But the South generally objected to the whole scheme, and General Henry Lee, Governor of Virginia, when the measures were before Congress, wrote to Madison saying he would rather see the Union dissolve than submit to "the rule of a fixed and insolvent majority." John Taylor of Caroline wrote a pamphlet against the national bank, and a few years afterwards, June 1, 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote him one of his most remarkable letters, strongly deprecating the idea which had been under discussion in Virginia of withdrawing that state and North Carolina from the Union. There is doubt about the correct reading of a passage of this letter, one version being that Taylor had written to Jefferson, "it was not unwise now to estimate the separate mass of Virginia and North Carolina, with a view to their separate existence," and this version was accepted as correct, until George Tucker, in the Southern Literary Messenger for May, 1838, stated positively that an error of copying had been made in consequence of the fading of the press copy from which Jefferson s letter was taken, and that close inspection showed the real reading to be "it is not usual now," etc. This statement must be accepted as correct, for the letter and the press copy have been destroyed, and it disconnects Taylor with any inclination towards disunion. He was, moreover, an inflexible man, who did not change his opinions, and shortly before the termination of his first service in the Senate he resisted serious overtures for the dissolution of the Union made to him by two of the most powerful federalists in public life.

These overtures were made in a conversation held with him by Rufus King and Oliver Ellsworth early in May, 1794, a few days after he had made his bitter speech advocating suspension of the payment of British debts, one month before Congress adjourned, and when, having expressed his
intention of resigning from the Senate, he would, it was believed, be free to use to its full extent his great influence among the people of his state. King invited him into one of the committee rooms of the Senate, where they could converse without interruption, saying he wished to confer with him seriously and candidly upon a very important subject. When they were alone he opened the conversation by saying it was utterly impossible that the Union could continue that the South and East never agreed, and that the former clogged and counteracted every operation of government. When the two federalist Senators from South Carolina, Ralph Izard and William Smith, should be replaced by anti-federalists, the Southern interest would prevail, and the East would never submit to Southern politics. Under the circumstances, therefore, a dissolution of the Union by mutual consent was preferable to a forced dissolution. At this point of the conversation Oliver Ellsworth entered the room, apparently by accident, but Taylor thought by pre-arrangement. King, however, declaring he had not mentioned the subject to Ellsworth before, repeated what he had been saying, and Ellsworth agreed with him. In the conversation which followed King was the chief spokesman, but Ellsworth occasionally joined in to express his concurrence. King said that a friendly arrangement should be made by members of the Senate and House fixing the out lines of a separation; he was himself indifferent as to the line of division from the Potomac to the Hudson. Taylor replied commending friendly and cool discussion of great
political subjects, but saying he highly approved of supporting the Union, if possible, and that no material contrariety of interests opposed it; but if he was mistaken an amicable separation was certainly preferable to a hostile one. Before this extremity was reached, however, he thought an effort should be made to unite the two parties now distracting the government. The public debt was the main cause of dissension, because the federalists were suspected of a determination to use it as a political machine instead of paying it, while the anti-federalists were suspected of an intention
to destroy the debt."....

..."Mr. Henry Adams says he regarded the Union as a matter of expediency rather than of obligation,! but this remark is as true of those who opposed him as it is of him and his party. At the time he entered the Senate the Virginia statesmen certainly manifested as great an attachment to the Union as the Eastern federalists, and it was from the latter that the most serious threats of disunion came. Taylor wished for an amendment to the constitution to safe guard the rights of the states, because, he said, it would be "a ligament of the Union," and did not think of destroying the Union. When he entered the Senate the parties were nearly equally divided, and Madison was leading the attack on the federalists. In March, 1793, a series of resolutions, gravely impugning Hamilton s administration of the Treasury Department, and charging irregularity in the use of government funds, had been introduced in the House by William B. Giles of Virginia, but it was generally believed that Giles was acting at Madison s instigation, and Madison made an exhaustive speech in favor of the resolutions. Jefferson had retired from office and was giving direction to a party which was destined in six years time to obtain control of the government and keep it for twenty-four years. Madison had introduced early in the session his bill to discriminate by tonnage dues against the vessels of nations not in treaty with the United States, the object being to compel Great Britain, to whom nearly all the vessels entering our harbors belonged, to make a treaty. She was even then arresting American vessels on the high seas, seizing their cargoes, and making the United States an assistant in her war with France. That war was being waged furiously and was
involving the world."...

..."Madison thought that King and Ellsworth meant to warn Taylor that disunion was likely to follow a continuance of the policy of the anti-federalists, and Taylor thought a disunion plot was being actually hatched. Madison was probably right, but it is impossible to escape the conclusion that King and Ellsworth were at this time seriously thinking ofthe desirability of breaking up the Union. They were then in close political cooperation with two men, who, a few years later, stood in the front line of the disunion forces George Cabot of the Essex junto, Chairman of the Hartford Convention in 1814, and Caleb Strong, who, as Governor of Massachusetts in 1812, resisted the order of the President, calling Massachusetts troops into the field in time of war

Fortunately, the guiding force in the administration of the government was not in the hands of Taylor s party of unbending conservatives, nor with the intolerant federalists, but with men who followed neither and were able to check both."...

David Upton