To the People of Washington County:
Under existing circumstances, I feel it to be my duty to take your advice upon some important questions which will, in all probability, arise for the consideration and action of the convention, now shortly to be convened. Your delegates were elected under a pledge to co-operate with the border slave States in an effort to settle our difficulties with the Northern States upon honorable and just terms, and under no circumstance to vote for an ordinance of secession, unless the same was referred back to you for your rejection or approval. The majority received by myself and colleague was very large, so great as to leave no doubt but that you heartily approved our position. You will see by reference to the journals of the convention that our grievances were defined, our rights asserted by way of instruction to commissioners to be elected to co-operate with the border slave States in an adjustment of the questions at issue between the North and South. Commissioners were elected to meet at Frankfort, Ky., on the 27th of May, and after full consideration it was left to a majority of the voters of the State to say whether they would co-operate with the border States in such a settlement or would secede.
Thus matters stood, and the friends of the Union and co-operation, and of secession, had taken the field upon this issue, when news reached us that the United States troops had not been withdrawn from Fort Sumter, and that in anticipation that supplies, if not also reinforcements, were to be sent, a fight ensued, which resulted in the destruction and evacuation of the fort, since which time has followed a proclamation of the President, calling for troops to retake the forts in the seceded States, and enforce the laws. Amongst other States, Arkansas was called upon to furnish a regiment for that purpose. The reports as to the ground upon which the fight was commenced are contradictory, as well as to the extent of the preparation for a general war, between the slave and free States, but enough is known to leave but little doubt that there is imminent danger of a protracted and deadly civil war. Against the coercion policy of the Government this, as well as the other border slave States, protested, and by a resolution of our convention we declared that we would resist coercion if attempted. In view of these facts, and after seeking information as well from the border States as to their action, as from citizens of this State, I felt it to be my duty, in obedience to an order for that purpose, to call the convention together, to meet on the 6th of May. The question presented for your consideration is, under existing circumstances, what will you have your delegates do? Shall they adhere to the position taken by them before the election, and which you so unanimously endorsed, or will you expect of them to vote for an unconditional ordinance of secession, which is not to be referred back to you for approval? Do you wish to remain in connection with a government that, if not already at war with a large proportion of the slave States, is threatening and preparing to engage in such a war? Or would you prefer to cut loose from the old confederacy, and free yourselves from all further alliance to it? The effect of this act would be, on the one hand, to release you from all obligations to the old government, and, on the other, to deprive you of its protection and aid, such as its military defense on our borders, its Federal courts, land office, mail service, etc. Of this you will consider.
But again, will you secede and maintain an independent position, and await some general settlement and co-operation of all the slave States, or will you secede and unite at once with the Confederate States? Should you prefer the former, that is, to maintain an independent position until a government may be formed by the border States in common with the seceded States, and act in concert with them, you will necessarily incur the expense of supporting your own government and of defending it; but should you, on the other hand, prefer to unite with the Confederate States, and make common cause with them, you will necessarily assume the responsibility of furnishing men and money to aid them in the support and defense of their government.
I am induced to call your attention particularly to this matter, because I find a strong if not a prevailing opinion here that in no event should troops be drawn from this portion of the State; that our exposed condition in event of secession will demand that the troops in this part of the State should be kept here for our own defense. None should be misled or deceived in this matter. If the State unites with the Southern Confederacy she must necessarily come under obligations to furnish troops to fight at any and all points, at home and abroad, wherever required. And the fact is not to be disguised, that as the northern and western counties have the largest white population, a heavy demand must be made on them. There is but little hope, for a time at least, of a reunion of the States under the old Government, and as the border slave States contain, according to the late census, 2,085,858 more inhabitants than the Confederate States, we can readily see, that should they act together in the establishment of a government, composed of the fifteen slave States, they will have it in their power, in such organization, as far as may be practicable, to protect our rights and promote our interests in common with theirs.
I have thus hastily and imperfectly presented for your consideration the outlines of our present condition, and of the prominent question likely to be considered by the convention. There never was a time when we should act with more prudence than the present, and, as our interests are one, we should, if possible, act as a united, people. I desire to know your will, what would you have me do? I hope you will act at once, and can, in conclusion, only pledge myself to obey your instructions, and reflect your will fearlessly and faithfully. I have intentionally omitted a reference to the original cause of our present difficulties, or to those upon whom rests the fearful responsibility of destroying and breaking up our once glorious and happy, but now prostrate and ruined, government. You all know my sentiments. I have endeavored to avert the calamity that is now upon us, with regard to which my mind has undergone no change. But it would be useless and improper to dwell upon the past.
Our duty to ourselves and our country demands all our thoughts and all our energies. Let us look to the present and the future, and do all that we can to save our people from the calamity of civil war and utter ruin. For weal or woe, my destiny is yours. Your obedient servant,
Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History
Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.