1861 February 20 House of Representatives

Speech of the Hon. Muscoe R.H. Garnett, of Virginia.

…Do gentlemen imagine that the men who have, with the utmost calmness and deliberation, in seven States of the Union, called conventions, assembled together at great hazard to their business, encountered the risks of revolution, declared their States outside of the Union, whose deputies have met at Montgomery and formed a new constitution, inaugurated a President, and who are proceeding to raise an army, and to make treaties with foreign nations–do you imagine, I say, that these men will permit you, a foreign nation as they esteem you, to collect revenue in their ports? Do you fancy that they will not resort to reprisals, retaliation, and to every measure which the law of nations authorizes for the vindication of their independence?

Admit that the people of South Carolina and the other seceding States are mad, fanatical, blind, what you please; condemn their action by every term, which the most violent among you have chosen to heap upon them, still you know the history of the country shows, all Christendom knows, that they are brave men; men who will shed the last drop of their blood in vindication of their honor. And do you suppose that such men, who have taken this solemn position in the eyes of the world, will retreat from it, will give it up at the first exhibition of force that you choose to make by stationing ships of war off their harbors? No, gentlemen; this executing the laws as you call it is coercion, and coercion is war; and in your heart of hearts you know it–you know it; and while the sands of life are still running for this Congress, the question of peace or war is in your hands.

Acknowledging the independence of the Confederated State, and you may have peace throughout your borders; you may possibly keep with you the border slave States peaceably, perhaps permanently, probably till they have exhausted every conciliatory device to restore and reform the Union. Fail to recognize that independence, and with Mr. Lincoln’s avowed opinions, on the 4th day of March next, whether you pass your force gills or not, but especially if you pass them, you will inaugurate a war, and open war, to be conducted according to the laws of nations, between you and them. It will be a war in which their object is to vindicate their independence, and assert and maintain their right to govern themselves; a war in which your object is to conquer men who do not choose to live under your Government, and to force your yoke upon an unwilling people. And in that war, do you doubt where Virginia will stand? Do you doubt where Kentucky will stand? Do you doubt where any of the border States will stand? Do you think they will be so mean, so craven, as not to rush to the defense of the rights of the sister States whose interests in common with their own are invaded.

University of Virginia alumnus Muscoe R. H. Garnett (1821-1864), was a member of the Viriginia House of Delegates, the U. S. House of Representatives, and the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia.

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