1860-1861 NC Legislative Futility

“The problem of why these sections [of the United States] went to war lies deeper. It is one of emotions, cultivated hostilities, and ultimately of hatred between the sections. Bloodshed was ‘necessary’ because men associated their rivals with disliked and dishonorable symbols and crowned their own interests with moral sanctions. Differences were but the materials with which passions worked. Each side, in the end, fought the other from principles and the glory of God, for the preservation of civilizations, for the maintenance of honor. The conflict was the work of politicians and pious cranks! The peoples knew little of each other as realities. They were both fighting mythical devils.”
Avery Craven, “The Coming of the War Between the States: An Interpretation,” from his AN HISTORIAN AND THE CIVIL WAR [Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, c.1964, 1967]: 29.

Politics is a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. Ambrose Bierce

In the 1860 – 1861 session for the North Carolina Senate and House of Commons, the legislative actions taken by county representatives reflect a general absence of practicality and an increasing propensity for making threats against the United States of America without a single representative in the General Assembly or the 1861 Secession Convention who could predict, with any degree of accuracy, the outcome of the fighting or the war. During 1860 and 1861, compromise, the hallmark of a stable government, especially a republic, was destroyed by the reckless threats and heated propaganda that flowed from North Carolina’s secessionist leaders. The following resolution is a classic example of the futile proclamations and provocations passed during the session. After South Carolina secedes, followed by the other one-party states from the lower South, it was becoming clearer that a government led by Abraham Lincoln and a Congress without Southern representation was willing to go to war to prevent the dismemberment of the Union.

House Resolution Number 20 [North Carolina House of Commons, Legislative Session of 1860-61]

Introduced by Mr. Love, of Jackson [County]

RESOLUTION ON COERCION

Resolved by the General Assembly of North-Carolina, That the Union being formed by the assent of the States relatively, and being consistent only with freedom and the republican institutions guaranteed to each, cannot and ought not to be maintained by force; that the government of the Union has no power to declare or make war against any of the States which have been its constituent members; that when any one or more of the States has determined or shall determine under existing circumstances to withdraw from the Union, we are unalterably opposed to any attempt on the part of the federal government to coerce the same into reunion or submission, and that we will resist the same by all the means in our power.

[this is the complete resolution]

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FREE AFRICAN AMERICAN ENSLAVEMENT IN NORTH CAROLINA, 1861

It defies belief that free Negroes would voluntarily enslave themselves unless they were living in conditions of sever deprivation, i.e., work, housing and food for their families, and viewed themselves as powerless to prevent intimidation. The harsh conditions at home created by the Civil War put all of their limited freedoms at greater risk and undoubtably forced the men listed below into making tough, survival choices. Finally, such extreme legislation, especially in 1860 and 1861, provides further documentation of how slave property was the uncontested, most important issue for the men serving as representives in the North Carolina General Assembly and in 1861 Secession Convention.

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LEGISLATION BY THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY, ca. February, 1861.

AN ORDINANCE ALLOWING FREE NEGROES TO ENSLAVE THEMSELVES

Be it Ordained, etc., That any free negro, being twenty-one years of age, who may desire to become the slave of any white person, may petition the County Court in the county in which said negro may reside, stating the person he or she may select, and said court shall have full power and authority in their discretion, to convey an deliver said negro to the person selected as his or her slave, according to the provisions of this ordinance.

Be it further ordained, That such petition may be filed in either vacation, or at any term of the County Court, and at the first term after the filing said petition, the court shall [end page one, begin page 2] order the clerk to make due publication of such petition by advertising, the same for the space of thirty days, at the Court House door, and two or more public places in said county, and at the next succeeding term, the said court, twelve Justices being present, shall hear and determine said petition, and make such order or decree as many be necessary to convey absolute and complete right and title to the person selected, to such negro as his or her slave forever.

Be it further ordained, That such negro shall be present, in court, and shall be privately examined by one or more members of the court touching his free consent to such petition. And such a negro shall not be liable to the debts of the person selected, which may have been contracted prior to the order of the court declaring him or her a slave.

Be it further ordained, That the costs shall be paid by the person selected s the master or mistress of such negro, and shall be the same as in other cases of petition.

Be it further ordained, That this ordinance shall be in force from and after its ratification.

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NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY, February 1861.

Presented by Mr. Williams, for the Committee

REPORT ON FREE NEGRO ENSLAVEMENT

The Committee to whom was referred a Resolution to authorize and empower the County Courts to permit free negroes to enslave themselves, and also the petitions of Duncan Artis (Wilson County), Thomas Craig, Martha Craig, Mary Ann Rankin and others, beg leave to report that they have considered the same, and recommend the passage of the accompany ordinance.

A. D. WILLIAMS, Chairman

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ENSLAVEMENT OF DUNCAN ARTIS, A FREE NEGRO, OF WILSON COUNTY, NC by the 1861 NORTH CAROLINA SECESSION CONVENTION, 8 November 1861.

Presented by Mr. Thompson. [ERVIN APPLEWHITE THOMPSON, 1861 NC Secession Convention County Delegate from Wayne County, NC. Born in Wayne County in Stony Creek Township in 1827 and died in 1882 in the Insane Asylum in Raleigh, NC] Information on Mr. Thompson from: John Gilchrist McCormick, PERSONNEL OF THE CONVENTION OF 1861 [Chapel Hill, NC: James Sprunt Historical Monographs, #1, 1900], page 84.

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