The South versus the North, 1855

[This correspondence was reprinted in the Schenectady Cabinet on August 28, 1855, having appeared in the Syracuse Herald at an earlier date.]


Interesting Correspondence between a North Carolinian and Hon. George Geddes.

From the Syracuse Journal.

We have been permitted to read two very interesting letters—one from a prominent citizen of N. Carolina to Hon. George Geddes, of Fairmount, in this county, and the other Mr. Geddes’ reply to the same. Thinking that this correspondence, involving, as it does, a discussion of a great question in our national politics, would be equally as interesting to our readers and the public as it is to ourselves, we have obtained the consent of Mr. Geddes to publish it, omitting the name- and address of the North Carolinian, as a matter of propriety, his having been written and sent as a private letter.

After reading the correspondence, we think our readers will agree with us that Mr. Geddes has answered the questions of his Southern friend, pointedly, candidly and ably. We subjoin the letters, and earnestly invite to them the attention of our readers.


JULY 26, 1855.

My Dear Sir:  What think you of the present condition of the political world, in the country now?  We are looking to the North, and we find nothing in the aspect of affairs there which given us the least hope, and wo think that the South will have to stand as one man against the tide of Abolition that is fast making headway against her rights under the Constitution. As far as my opinion is worth anything, I think that there is a settled and fixed determination in this part of the world to take a stand on the question fairly, and sec if the South can have her rights as she comprehends them. The election for Congress is now going on in this State. The “American party’ ‘ are doing all they can. Where is “Seward,” now? I tell the people of this part of the country that I think he will save the Union of the States yet—he will come to the rescue. He is in this part of the country now very odious.


FAIRMOUNT, N.Y., July 31, 1855.

My Dear Sir: I was much pleased to receive your letter of the 26th inst. It brings to my mind the pleasant days I spent in North Carolina—most of them in your company. These days were especially pleasant to me, as they were full of interest in presenting to my observation a condition of society which cannot be understood without being seen, and which, to be well understood, requires much more of personal observation that I have been able to give. Had I the command of my time, I would spend the winter in the South, among the people, until I had learned just the ideas that are there prevalent among all classes of men—that I might be able to view your social relations from the same points of observation that they are viewed by you. You have seen US here at the North, and you know something of us. How fortunate it would be for the country, if more of you knew us, and more of our law-makers knew you.

But this knowledge, to be useful, should be full. In this matter, I am inclined to think that we have some advantages over you gentlemen of the South. Our newspapers print, and thus put into the thoughts of all our people, everything your newspapers see fit to say for, or, I was about to say, against, slavery. But if I say against, it must be understood as only applying to such paragraphs as advertise runaways, or that offer packs of dogs to hunt, or that tell of shooting negroes in swamps. These and kindred notices of tbe workings of slavery as a social institution are here thought to be arguments against Slavery, though they are not so considered in Carolina. Your papers print nothing against slavery, as they understand it, or, if they do print anything on that side of the question, we at the North never see it, through we search with care.—  We cannot suppose that your papers are silent because there is nothing to say against slavery, but we suppose it is because the discussion of the subject is prohibited by public opinion among you.

We of the North understand you of the South to say that the subject of Slavery shall not be discussed either in the South, or in Congress, or even in the Free States.  How can it otherwise happen, than that we should, under such circumstances, fail to understand each other’s true position.

As I have said, I think the North is better informed on the merits of the controversy, than is the South; but after all we know but little of you — though you know less of us — and while your side refuses to talk over the matter with us, certainly but very few of your people will at all understand the question.

In your letter you say you “are looking to the North, and find nothing in the aspect of affairs there which gives the least hope, and we think that the South will have to stand as one man against the tide of Abolition that is fast making headway against her rights under the Constitution.”

Allow me to reply, we of the North are looking anxiously to the South, and we see nothing in that direction which gives us the least hope, and we see no other course for us than to stand as one man against the tide of Slavery that is fast making headway against our rights under the Constitution.

Since the formation of the National Government we think that the interests of Slavery have been constantly overthrowing, and setting at nought the rights of Freedom.  You are so fully informed, that it would appear a work unnecessary to call your attention to instances, yet you will allow me to remind you that by the Constitution, the “citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States,” and that here at the North, the States generally admit negroes to citizenship, and thereby bring them under the protection of the Constitution of the United States, which gives them the rights of citizenship — absolutely and without qualification — in every State.  You at the South put them in prison, and sell them for the costs of their imprisonment into what you then please to call legal Slavery.  From that Slavery they escape, and your dogs are put on their tracks — and if they are not caught, in due time your own State of North Carolina outlaws them, and authorizes anybody to kill them.  If they come on here, and that fact is known, they are followed, and here the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 requires them to be given up, though they were born here, and have been guilty of no crime whatever, unless it be a crime for a citizen of one State to journey into another State.

We have protested against this.  We have sent a man from Massachusetts to your sister Carolina to test these laws in the courts of that State, and grey-headed and venerable as he was for age and character, and as the fully authorized agent of the sovereign State, he was driven away, and owed his personal safety to the presence of a daughter.  Thus is one of our rights under the Constitution stricken down.

Men living among slaves may think it strange that the North should make negroes citizens — they may say it is in bad taste, and in every way condemn it — but their abhorrence of our manner of treating negroes cannot be greater than is ours of the way in which negroes are treated among you.

You have heard of Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped in Washington City, and who for twelve years served a slave-master on the Red River, and was then reclaimed by the State of New York. — Why does not Louisiana pay or see that he is paid for the false imprisonment, and the twelve years of hard work?  But I will not multiply instances of this kind — but call your attention to the outrages that are every day being committed in the new territories west of the Missouri.

The South puts its presidential votes in the market, and at the auction a Senator from Illinois, bids “the freemen of Nebraska and Kansas,” and your politicians take the offer, and spread the black pall over that vast plain, destined, if left free, to sustain many millions of people.  And now the revolver and knife, wielded by slave drivers from the Slave States, usurp the government, and a weak and feeble administration aids and abets by removing a Governor who shows some signs of opposition.

Can you wonder that these things cause us here to look about and see whether there is no remedy?  Slavery has become aggressive.  Once it was called a State institution, and had its existence only by virtue of local laws.  Now it claims the right to go on the free territory of the General Government, and there stand securely, under what it pleases to call the guarantees of the Constitution.  We are thus driven to inquire, what are the guarantees for Slavery in the Constitution!  And to the discussion of this question, together with the discussion of another question, “What are the constitutional rights of freedom?” the North invites the South. 

But the South refuses the discussion, or any other discussion in which Slavery is involved.  The only terms on which the South will talk with us, are, that we admit the whole matter in dispute, and allow the Constitution to be construed by Southern men, and accept, without question, their interpretation.  This we cannot do.  We can only say that we are ready, willing, ANXIOUS, to have the Constitution fully carried out at all points, but we wish to set down deliberately with our Southern friends and discuss and determine fairly and justly what the Constitution really intends in regard to our mutual rights and duties in relation to this momentous question.

You say, that “there is a settled and fixed determination in this part of the world to take a stand on the question fairly, and see if the South can have her rights as she comprehends them.” Can you object that in this part of the world we should take a stand too, and see if we cannot have our as we comprehend them?  This must be so.  You at the South will have your rights as you comprehend them, and we at the North will have our rights as we comprehend them.  You begin the war, and we accept the issue.  You refuse any other solution of this question, than such as force may give.  You deny the Courts.  Your Legislators make bargains, get your part of the spoils, and then repudiate, on the ground that the bargain was unconstitutional — and by the invasion of a peaceable community, by armed bands, you take possession of the Government, and then talk about having your rights, by uniting together in one solid body and putting yourselves on the presidential market, sell out the loaves and fishes to such faction at the North as will cringe the lowest at your feet.

You may do this.  You have done it so often, that, judging the future by the past, you think you can succeed once more, at least.  You may find yourselves mistaken. — Sometime you must fall.  It cannot be that 350,000 slave holders can forever rule a great nation like this, whose fundamental principle of government is that, “before the law all men stand free and equal.”

To me it seems strange that you as a Southern man complain.  What have we done here at the North that is so offensive to the South? We have not wrested one inch of territory from Slavery. — We have allowed you to buy and sell our politicians whenever you wished, and at your own prices.  You have either had a slaveholder, or some one more subservient than a respectable slaveholder could be made, at the head of affairs, nearly the whole time we have had a national existence.  You have extended your boundaries as you pleased; you have made just such laws as suited your purposes.  And now what more is desired?

You express fears from the Abolitionists.  They cannot injure you.  All they ask is that you will talk this matter over with them.  They are not fighting men — they are talking men.  They say you will not talk with them, because you are afraid they will convert you to their views; and they say further that they wish only to convince you that you will best consult your own interests by adopting their conclusions.

Really they say nothing more calculated to offend you than many of your own best men have said, and among them Washington and Jefferson.  But you will not raise this matter with them, any more than your Senators will discuss the Constitution with such men as your old College mate, Gov. Seward.

The only thing that I can see for you to complain about, is, that there appears to be at the North a pretty well settled purpose of not allowing the bargain made with the Illinois Douglass to be carried out, by making either him, or any one like him, President.  And perhaps you may complain of the further purpose that the North has formed — not to let ruffians from Missouri rule Nebraska and Kansas, but to hold the South to the old bargain, that no slave States shall be formed out of territory north of the Compromise line.

Look at the history of the past, and see if in this determination you have really any cause to complain.

In your letter you ask, “Where is Seward now?” and say you will tell the people of your part of the country that you think he will save the union of the States yet — that he will “come to the rescue,” and you add, “he is in this part of the country now, very odious.”

You, sir, are a man of education and travel, and you knew Gov. Seward personally long ago, and you have carefully observed his course of action in public life.  All these advantages you have for forming a correct opinion.  I am not surprised to learn that there are gentleman like you at the South who correctly estimate our much abused great man.  You are correct in supposing that he is the “coming man,” to save the Union — and he will save it, if he saves it at all, by bringing the Government not only of the Union, but of the States, to a strict and full observance of the Constitution — not as the Constitution may be understood by one or another section of interest, but as it was understood by the illustrious men who framed it.

Gov. Seward may now be very odious, not only in your part of the country, but among scheming politicians everywhere; but for all that, there is no man, nor any ten men united, so confidently looked to all over the East, North and West, as the one who is to bring back the Government to that line of healthy action from which it began to depart on the fourth day of March, 1829, and from which it has, only for short intervals that were far apart, ever since continued to diverge.

I have written you a long letter, but your questions demand a reply fuller than I have given, and you demand frankness on my part.

Entertaining for you personally the greatest respect, and hoping again to see you in my own house, I subscribe myself,

Your friend and well wisher,