ANGUISH and WAR, 1863


R. S. Donnell. VOICE FROM NORTH-CAROLINA – THE SECESSIONISTS: THEIR PROMISES AND PERFORMANCES; THE CONDITION INTO WHICH THEY HAVE BROUGHT THE COUNTRY; THE REMEDY, ETC. 31 July 1863. (Richard Spaight Donnell); Reprint from the RALEIGH (N.C.) STANDARD, of July 31, 1863. [New York: Anson D. F. Randolph Publisher, 1863]. 21pp.

Richard Spaight Donnell [1820 – 1867] was a delegate from Beaufort County at the 1861 Secession Convention held in the House of Commons (the lower house of assembly) in Raleigh, NC. He was not present on the first day of the Convention, 20 May 1861, and therefore he did not vote for secession or joining the Confederacy. Also, he was the grandson of Richard Dobbs Spaight, who was a delegate from North Carolina to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. It seems from the views, expressed here in late July 1863 by him, he establishes that he felt misled, and devastatingly so, by the secessionist leaders at the Convention. The fact that R. S. Donnell was a delegate to the 1861 North Carolina Secession Convention, participated in the negotiations on policy with other delegates, heard promises in public and behind closed doors made by other delegates especially the secessionist leaders of the Convention, then, based on these promises, and this involvement at the Convention provides substantial creditability for his testimony about commitments made by the secessionist leaders and the outcomes of their performance.


(directly quoting pages 11 through 15 from the above book.)

First and foremost, they promised that secession should be peaceable.

Secondly. They promised that if perchance war should ensue, it would be a very short war; that it would not last six months; that the Yankees would not fight; that one Southerner could whip from ten to one hundred of them; that England and France would speedily recognize us, and render us every assistance we might desire; that whatever might be their abstract opinions of the subject of Slavery, their interests would impel them to promote its perpetuity in the Southern States; that if, after all, they should not be disposed to assist, Cotton was King, and would soon bring all the crowned heads of Europe on their knees in supplication to us; would compel them to raise the blockade – should one be established – in thirty days, in sixty days, in ninety days, in one hundred and twenty days, in six months, in nine months, in one year at the furthest.

Thirdly. They promised us that all the Slave States, except Delaware would join the Southern Confederacy; that Slavery should not only be perpetuated in the States, but that it should be extended into all the Territories in which the negro could live; that all the grievances occasioned by the non-execution of the Fugitive Slave Law should be speedily redressed; that slave property should be established upon a basis as safe as that of landed property.

Fourthly. They promised us that the new government should be a mere Confederacy of States, of [each state enjoying] absolute sovereignty and equal rights; that the States [end of page 11] should be tyrannized over no such ‘central despotism’ as the old Government at Washington; that the glorious doctrine of State rights and nullification, as taught by Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Calhoun, should prevail in the new Confederacy; that the sovereignty of the States and their judicial decisions should sacredly respected.

Fifthly. They promised us the early and permanent establishment of the wealthiest and best government on earth, whose credit should be better than that of any other nation; whose prosperity and happiness should be the envy of the civilized world.

And lastly, they promised us that if war should ensue, they would go to the battlefield, and spill, if necessary, the last drop of their blood in the cause of their beloved South.


While such have been their promises, what have their performances? Instead of secession being peaceable, as they promised that it would, it has given rise to such a war as has never before desolated any country, since the barbarians of the North overran the Roman Empire.

So far from the war’s ending in six months, as they said it would, should it ensue, it has already lasted more than two years; and if their policy is to be pursued, it will last more than two years longer; and, notwithstanding their predictions, the Yankees have fought on many occasions with a spirit and determination worthy of the descendants of those austere old Puritans [end of page 12] whose heroic spirit and religious zeal made Oliver Cromwell’s army the terror of the civilized world – or of those French Huguenots, ‘who, thrice in the sixteenth century, contended with heroic spirit and various fortunes against all the genius of the house of Lorraine, and all the power of the house of Valois.’ England and France have not recognized us – have not raised the blockade – – have not shown us any sympathy, nor is there any probability that they ever will; and that Cotton is not King, is now universally acknowledged. And Maryland has not joined the Confederacy, nor has Kentucky nor Missouri ever really been with us. Slavery has not only bee perpetuated in the States, nor extended into the Territories, but Missouri has passed an act of emancipation, and Maryland is ready to do so rather than give up her place in the Union, and the last hope of obtaining one foot of the Territories for the purpose of extending Slavery has departed from the Confederacy forever. The grievances caused by the failure of some of the Northern States to execute the Fugitive Slave Law, have not only been remedied, but more slaves have been lost to the South forever since secession was inaugurated, than would have escaped from their masters in the Union in five centuries. And how have they kept their promise that they would respect the sovereignty and rights of the States? Whatever the [Confederate] Government may be in theory, in fact we have a great military consolidation, which almost entirely ignores the existence of the States, and disregards the decisions of their highest judicial tribunals. The great central depotism at Washington, as they were pleased to call [end of page 13] it, was at any time previous to the commencement of the secession movement, and even for some time after it had commenced, a most mild and beneficent Government compared with the central despotism at Richmond, under which we are now living.


Instead of an early and permanent establishment of the ‘wealthiest and best government in the world, with unbounded credit,’ what have we got? In spite of all the victories which they profess to have obtained over the Yankees, they have lost the States of Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and in my humble opinion have lost them forever; and, in all probability, Alabama will soon be added to the number. This will leave to the Confederacy but five States out of the original irteen, and of these five the Yankees have possession of many of the most important points, and one third of their territory. So far, the Yankees have never failed to hold every place of importance which they have taken, and present indications are, hat Charleston will soon be added to the number. The campaing of General Lee into Pennsylvania has undoubtedly proved a failure, and with it the last hope of conquering a peace by a successful invasion of the enemy’s country. Our army has certainly been very much weakened and dispirited by this failure and the fall of Vicksburgh, and how long even Richmond will be safe no one can tell. As the RICHMOND ENQUIRER (newspaper) said some time ago, ‘They [the Yankees] are slowly but surely gaining upon us acre by acre, mile by mile,’ [end of page 14] and, unless Providence interposes in our behalf – of which I see no indications – we will, at no great distance of time, be a subjugated people.

As to our unbounded credit based upon the security of King Cotton, it is unnecessary to speak. When we see one of the most influential States in the Confederacy discrediting a very large part of the Confederate currency, and the Confedrae government itself repudiating, to some extent, its most solemn obligations, we can not but suppose that the confidence of other nations in the good faith and credit of this government is small indeed. As regards their promise ‘to go to the war and spill the last drop of their blood in the couse of their beloved South,’ I will say nothing. Every body knows how the Secessionists of North-Carolina have kept that promise. Every body knows that the leaders, with a few honorable exceptions, will neither fight nor negotiate. . . .” [ends middle of page 15]

Written by: Richard Spaight Donnell [1820 – 1867], 1861 Secession Convention Delegate, Beaufort County and representative of that county in the North Carolina House of Commons (1862 – 1864) as published by THE RALEIGH STANDARD on 31 July 1863. He was not present on May 20th or May 21st, 1861 when the major votes on secession and joining the Confederacy were taken and registered by the county delegates.

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