In the late 1850s Southern secessionists were generally disillusioned. Some of them, such as South Carolina statesman Robert Barnwell Rhett, had been working for three decades to achieve independence and yet it seemed that secession was no closer. The opportunities of 1844 and 1850 to break with the Union and establish an independent Southern confederation had been thrown away. The secessionists had no way to know that Southern independence was just over the horizon.
Rhett was asked to speak to his constituents at Grahamville, South Carolina, in Beaufort district in July of 1859. His mood was clearly foul. He claimed to believe that Southerners would eventually embrace resistance, but read his words. He rebuked his countrymen for their acquiescence to demands and injustices which weakened the South and emboldened the North. Rhett’s memoir, A Fire-Eater Remembers, edited by William C Davis, quotes part of his speech on pages 7 and 8:
Delay is the canker of great enterprises. There may be wisdom in delay, when delay leads to action. I can understand the importance of time for preparation, although the necessity for preparation is usually our folly. But I cannot understand, how a base naked submission to unconstitutional misrule for thirty years, can be anything else but a base and wicked imbecility. Two generations have passed away, since I reached the years of manhood. I found, when I entered into life, the whole South inflamed on the vital matter of unconstitutional taxation. We had before us the very question which occasioned the resistance of our fathers to British misgovernment; and their glorious example in the independence they achieved rather than endure it. Yet we submitted to the principle of unjust and unconstitutional taxation imposed upon us by the North, and we have borne it to this day. Our submission soon produced its natural fruit, of renewed interference and aggression on the institution of slavery. Yet, we still have men, not actually in mocker, warning us against haste; and entreating caution in our measures. Can it be unreasonable at any time to be free; and to cast off a pragmatical and vulgar tyranny? Is not a whole life of endurance of unconstitutional oppression, enough for any wisdom in delay – too much, for safety or honor? How long shall we stand, the resistless and despised victims of northern fanaticism and rapacity? How long shall we cry “wait!” whilst the North advances in power and insolence; and each successive year brings her nearer to the consummation of her policy of domination over us, and over this continent? Shall we wait until the expedient of John Quincy Adams for emancipating our slaves shall be enforced? He declared that the general government, by the treaty-making power, could constitutionally abolish slavery in the South. Insurrections may be produced; and then, the general government, having a right to interpose her military power, as the condition of peace, may by treaty ordain emancipation. Whether by this, or the more direct way of congressional legislation, providing for “the general welfare,” – who doubts, that the day when the northern people possess the power, and will it, emancipation will be a law of Congress? Shall we wait for this blissful consummation – when the fires of insurrection will light up our homes, and the North shall stand by to watch and guard the conflagration? Such things will probably never be, because the South will not await their fearful coming, but will anticipate them. When will she anticipate them; and act out her redemption? When will her mighty heart beat free in the enjoyment of her rights, safe under the shield of her own protection; and, casting off the incubus of ignorance, and error, and fear, which now like a foul toad sits upon her bosom, rise up and command the liberation and independence of the South?