I am of the opinion that the Judge was actively involved in the politics of the era and gives a good report of the politics occurring prior to the Civil War. I came across this article while doing family research. Judge Harris was a distant relative on my mother's side of the family. I must tell you that mother will be 100 next Saturday. Please post your viewpoint of this information.
The information about Judge Wiley P. Harris, II was taken from a 1935 publication by Dunbar Rowland entitled COURTS, JUDGES AND LAWYERS OF MISSISSIPPI.
Judge Harris lived his entire live in Mississippi. He was well educated, intelligent and a mature man during the years preceding the Civil War. He was a leader in the secession movement in Mississippi.
His autobiography is included in the publication listed above.
As a person who lived through the most tragic years of this nation, Wiley P. Harris was in a very good position to give his views as to what he saw as the issues of secession. He also tells of his personal views of those who owned slaves. His views are quire interesting.
From the autobiography of Judge Wiley P. Harris, II, in part:
"I grew weary of the bench, and averse indeed to public life, and though I was persuaded that I might attain to the bench of the court of last resort, in the State, and the opportunity to stand for that place presented itself, I declined to be a candidate. The idea I had then was, that, a life on the bench was not suited to me, that I had taken office too young as it was, and I wanted the active life and freedom which law practice would give. I had determined to retire from the office I held when my term expired. The idea of entering political did not occur to me. It was foreign to my instincts and distasteful altogether. Circumstances, however, about his period forced me to take part in public affairs, and I have not been able to free myself wholly from them since. The existence of slavery in a part of the states; its destiny and influence was always the subject of jealous regard. Everyone seemed to recognize it as a disturbing element destined to impels the states to dangerous collisions. Depending on local law for its existence, it divided the Union into slave and free states. The North came to mean antislavery. The South slavery. It was a political factor to use a well worn modern term, in this, that by the Constitution one free white man in a slave state had more political weight than the like man in a free state. The basis of representation in the national government was the free white population and three-fifths of all other persons, excluding Indians. This was held by Northern statesmen as an inequality. The owner of an hundred slaves it was said voted for himself and three-fifth of his adult male slaves and thus multiplied himself may times. When the question of annexing Texas to the Union was under consideration in the senate of the United States, Mr. Webster put his opposition to the admission partly on the ground that it was a slave state, contending, in that connection, that it tended to perpetuate an inequality in representation injurious to the just weight of the free states, and which by the addition of new slave states would become more and more oppressive. There was in the subject, the glows of an intense political rivalry, calculated to swallow up all other questions. When I first came to take heed of the political controversies, the tariff question was the most conspicuous. This question involving the power of the Federal congress to protect manufacturers, was a healthy question in itself and one which always, and everywhere arises between manufacturing people and agricultural people and the slave and free states were divided from each other, unluckily, owing to situation and climate, substantially into agricultural, and manufacturing states, the slave states being almost exclusively agricultural states. I remember distinctly that in the discussions on the subject of a protective tariff which the Whigs of the slave states from political connections only persuaded themselves to advocate under the lead of Mr. Clay, they were charged with aiding the abolitionists by supporting in congress, a tariff which discriminated against the products of slave labor. It was imputed to the North that one object sought sought in these tariffs, was the discouragement and disparagement of slavery. The tariff question and indeed, all other questions were at last merged in the slavery question. There was ever since I intelligently remember an uneasy feeling lest the South should strengthen its influence against the natural tendencies to growth and consequent influence of the free states, by annexing territory and the addition of new states. The direction of natural extension tended southward.
The annexation of Texas, and the war and treaty with Mexico by which new territory was acquired were the proximate causes of the collision which took place in 1851. The discussions which took place on the admission of Texas disclosed that there was to be a contest for supremacy...by the North and on the part of the South for such accessions of slave territory was would balance the free states carved out of the Northwestern territory and the country obtained from Louisiana. If this could not be secured then the South must consult its safety by separation from the free states. This alternative began to present itself to the southern statesmen. There was no mistaking the fact the the acquisition of the states became the leading idea on both sides of the line. The North, like Russia, had a pretext to wit, a philanthropic object. The release (of) human beings from bondage, or at all events to confine slavery to its limits. To surround it by a "cordon of free States." But the overpowering motive was to give the free states an ascendancy so decisive, by the acquisition of new states as to give the control of the national government into their hands; so that its policy could be shaped according to the views of that section. Mere antipathy to slavery in the view of northern people was never strong enough o urge them to war; and it may be said that neither the love of slavery as such, nor the opposition to protective duties, nor to internal improvement by congress of itself was, or all combined strong enough to urge the South to take the risk of separation. The prospect of sectional demarcation alone impelled the Southern people to take that step. The slave holding class was but a fraction of the population. The merchants, lawyers, mechanics, and the bulk of the farmers were not dependent on slavery and were indifferent to the ownership of slaves, comparatively, that is to say, they were not impelled by any desire to be slave owners in the action they took. As a matter of fact the men who were most active in the political movement which led to secession, were not slave owners; few of them held slaves at all. The great slave owners always selected as the types of the class "The River Planters" were without influence. They were unpopular as a class. I make some exceptions of course, but as a class they deserved o be unpopular. The insufferable arrogance and ostentation of these people at home, and abroad, drew upon the actual antipathy everywhere.
I have felt that the disappearance of this type is not amongst the calamities of the South. The steam boats on the Mississippi, from Memphis to New Orleans were always crowded and monopolized by them. They talked about "boll-worm" and "cotton worm", "my commission merchant", "my overseer", and the manner of treating runaways, etc, etc., in a loud tone at meals and everywhere, ignoring everybody save "the commission merchant" to whom the planter was generally in debt. They carried this to the watering places and to the summer resorts and became a thorough nuisance and a recognized nuisance. They were generally ignorant, bigoted and intolerant of contradiction.
The people, generally, were disposed stoutly to maintain the right of the "South" to her influence in the common government, to a fair share of the territory acquired. The slave holders, as a class, were averse o the movement. They were just where they desired to remain."
Excerpted from "A Harris Family Journey" by Robert E. Harris, Copyright 1994. (H Holman, Feb. 2010)